Archive | July, 2013

Life Hack Kitchen: Ridiculously Easy Homemade Pizza

10 Jul

Pizza 0

Okay… So most of the time this blog is about books, films, music and bad television, but if there’s something in this world I love more than books, films, music and bad television it’s food.

I won’t pretend to be a kitchen whizz. When flicking through most cookery books I’ll skim past anything that requires me to go hunting for some obscure spice I’m unlikely to use more than once every quarter century, and if the preparation time exceeds 15 minutes and the cooking part involves more than 2 pans, I’m not interested.

"Add the rosemary to your particle accelerator..." Fuck off, Heston.

“And simply add the rosemary to your particle accelerator…”

Now, granted, the easiest way to have pizza in the comfort of your own home is to order one online and have it delivered, but that can cost you anywhere between about £7 and £15. You could always buy one in the supermarket, but a decent supermarket pizza will still come to around £4 or £5. This recipe is for those of you who are on a bit of a budget but still want some of that calorific, doughy, cheesy goodness. I’ve worked out that for two vegetarian versions of this pizza, you won’t need to spend much more than £2.50. For two. And you can make them, from start to finish, in less than 30 minutes.

Seriously… If I’d come up with this when I was in university I may well have been crowned King of the Students.

For this you will need:

  • 2 x Plain Naan Breads
  • ½  tube of tomato puree
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Dried basil and oregano
  • 1 x ball of mozzarella
  • Your choice of toppings – Olives, sliced peppers, mushrooms, pepperoni, jalapenos etc
  • Grated cheddar

Here we go.

1) Pre-heat the oven to 200°C. (You can use steps 2-5 as your pre-heat time.) Before the oven has heated up, remove the shelf and place the naans on it, side by side.

Pizza 1

2) Squeeze the tomato puree into a bowl. Add a sprinkling of oregano and basil and a glug of extra virgin olive oil and mix well with a whisk. The aim is to turn this into your sauce, so add a little water (not too much) if necessary until you have the right consistency.

3) Spread the sauce on the naan breads using a dessert spoon, making sure to spread it evenly.

Pizza 2

4) Add your toppings. I’ve used sliced red peppers, mushrooms, jalapenos and sweetcorn, but feel free to improvise.

Pizza 3

5) Chop up the mozzarella ball into cubes or strips, and add these. A single ball won’t cover them both, so top this up with some grated cheddar to make sure your pizzas are covered.

Pizza 4

6) Place these in the oven for 15 minutes.

7) Take pizzas from the oven. Eat.

Pizza 5

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Katie Hopkins, and other fictional characters

5 Jul

Katie Hopkins

Do you remember, when Disney released its live action remake of 101 Dalmatians in 1996, how everyone said, “You’ll never believe what that Cruella de Vil’s done now… She only tried to make a coat out of dalmatian puppy fur, that cruel bitch”?

No? You don’t remember that?

Okay. Well, how about when Francis Ford Coppola released Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992, and scores of people said, “Blimey… That Dracula’s a bit of a bastard, isn’t he?”

"Do that shitty English accent one more time, and I swear to God I'll cut your throat."

“Do that shitty English accent one more time, and I swear to God I’ll cut your throat.”

Don’t remember that either? Oh, yeah. That’s right. Because it didn’t happen. And do you know why that is? Because Cruella de Vil and Dracula are fictional characters. They don’t exist. They were created by other people (Dodie Smith and Bram Stoker, respectively) to titillate and entertain.

And so, to Katie Hopkins.

Katie Hopkins

Hopkins rose to prominence on the 2007 series of The Apprentice (the UK version) and has since carved herself a career as a caricature of the kind of go-getting, career-minded woman she imagines impresses those who are genuinely successful in business. She pops up with nauseating regularity on everything from Question Time to 10 O’Clock Live and – most recently – This Morning, and no matter what the topic of conversation can be relied on to adopt the most posturingly heartless stance, because hey… It’s a dog eat dog world out there, you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs, and PLEASE GOD FUCKING KILL ME NOW.

On her This Morning appearance Hopkins revealed that she judges her children’s prospective friends based not on their individual personalities but on the names their parents gave them. So Tyler and Chantelle, for example, are out. Simon appears to be more neutral, and if she learned that one of her children had befriended a Simon her next question would be, “Where does Simon live?” I imagine that if said Simon lived somewhere borderline gentrified (e.g. Brixton) her next question after that would be, “And what does his Mummy do for a living?”

"Well, Mummy, for one thing, she wouldn't eat a kangaroo's arsehole on national television because Ant and Dec told her to."

“Well, Mummy, for one thing, she wouldn’t eat a kangaroo’s arsehole on national television because Ant and Dec told her to.”

Her comments have provoked a Twitch Hunt, and not without justification, because the Katie Hopkins who appears on television is an awful human being with very few – if any – redeeming features. She’s what would happen if you took Lowri Turner and turned her mindless, ill-informed bigotry and selfishness up to 11. In fact, I can only imagine that Lowri resents Hopkins in the same way that Josh Hartnett must kind of resent Channing Tatum, but that’s for another blog post.

Pictured: The fickle finger of fame.

Pictured: The fickle finger of fame.

All that Hopkins has done is join a growing list of people who make a living out of being publicly obnoxious. It’s a list that includes Jeremy Clarkson, Toby Young, the Telegraph’s James Delingpole, and the Daily Mail’s Liz Jones and Melanie Phillips. These are writers and “personalities” who adopt a predictable, reactionary stance on just about any issue; gruff, armchair generals, posing as the enemies of an imagined liberal orthodoxy and the forces of “political correctness gone mad”.

Don’t get me wrong… There are left-wing and liberal writers who are objectionable and wrong-headed, but they don’t appear to draw pleasure from winding up and antagonising at least 50% of their readers, and neither do they then pose as free speech martyrs in the same way their conservative counterparts do… endlessly… while enjoying unlimited free speech.

For one thing, it seems that while liberal and left-wing readers will go out of their way to read things that offend them, most right-wing readers couldn’t give a toss what the likes of Polly Toynbee and George Monbiot think about anything, so posing as the winder-upper of knee-jerk conservatives in a column for the Guardian or Independent would be pointless.

"I love nothing more than listening to Ladysmith Black Mambazo while driving my Prius. In your face, petrol heads."

“I love nothing more than listening to Ladysmith Black Mambazo while driving my Prius. In your face, petrol heads.”

What’s important to remember is that each of these writers and “personalities” is a fictional character. The only difference between James Delingpole and Uriah Heep or Katie Hopkins and the aforementioned Cruella de Vil is that Heep and de Vil were created by third parties, whereas Delingpole and Hopkins created themselves. They identified a niche (climate change skepticism and faux-libertarianism in Delingpole’s case, full-blown villainy in Hopkins’s) and exploited it. It’s how they make money.

As such, their public personas are  no less fake, no less theatrical than the “hero” and “villain” wrestlers you’ll find in WWE. Granted, some wrestlers may, after years in the job, begin to suffer from personality crises (Exhibit A: Hulk Hogan’s appearance in his own divorce case), but no-one believes the Undertaker (real name: Mark Callaway) goes home from an afternoon of Smackdown Raw to work at the Co-Op Funeral Home.

"Was your mother fond of lilies?"

“Was your mother fond of lilies?”

If you want evidence of this, look at the career of Melanie Phillips. Now, while it’s certainly true that many people who start off as left wing become increasingly conservative in middle and old age, Phillips’s journey from socialist to ultra-conservative seems to have coincided exactly with her move to whichever newspaper was willing to pay her the most.

Whenever Twitter bursts into flames over the latest offering from Phillips, or Clarkson, or Rod “Fucking” Liddle, or Katie Hopkins, it’s music to their ears. Tweets, trends, column inches, airtime and, yes, blog posts like this one keep them in work. After her bonkers little rant on the This Morning sofa the other day, you can guarantee some fucker on Question Time was straight on the blower to her agent, finding out if she’s available any time after the series comes back in September.

Because this is the face of somebody whose opinion on the situation in Syria I simply have to know.

Because this is the face of somebody whose opinion on the situation in Syria I simply have to know.

Treating these obnoxious people like fictional characters, talking about their latest antics in the same tone that we would discuss the behaviour of anti-heroes in shows like Breaking Bad, The Sopranos or The Wire may seem counter-intuitive – after all, you wouldn’t want people to think you approve of what they’re saying – but in the long run it will be agony for the armies of obnoxiousness. As well as cold hard cash, they thrive on genuine disapproval. They love nothing more than pissing off “libtards”, “lefties, and “feminazis”.

How upset would they be to hear those people laughing at everything they said, as they might laugh at Alf Garnett, Basil Fawlty or Papa Lazarou? Spittle-flecked anger and indignation lends their work a validity it doesn’t deserve. Laughing at it neutralises it altogether.

Author

David Llewellyn is the author of six novels, most recently Ibrahim & Reenie, which you can buy here.

5 Ways ‘Man of Steel’ Could Have Been So Much Better

2 Jul

Man of Steel

Okay, so I finally got around to watching Man of Steel about a fortnight after everyone else, and maybe I should have watched it the day it came out. Maybe, just maybe, I should have refused to watch any of the trailers, thereby preventing myself from getting caught up in all the hype. Because, let’s face it, the trailer made Man of Steel looked like the GREATEST MOVIE OF ALL TIME.

And, do you know what? It really isn’t.

This isn’t to say it’s a terrible film, because it’s not. Like almost every other film Zack Snyder has directed, it looks great. Hans Zimmer’s score is good, though obviously nowhere near as stirring as the classic John Williams theme. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane make a lovely Jonathan and Martha Kent, Henry Cavill certainly looks the part as Superman, and Michael Shannon is brilliantly menacing as General Zod. Most of the ingredients were in place for an excellent sci-fi adventure, but the end result just didn’t quite hit the spot. Here, then, and with quite a few spoilers, are 5 ways I think it could have been better.

1) Less Destruction

Pictured: Destruction

Pictured: Destruction

Seriously. The last hour of this movie is an endless orgy of destruction. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like explosions as much as the next guy. Explosions are the lingua franca of popular cinema, more universal than slapstick, witty dialogue or romance. But when it comes to destruction there are a few pre-requisites to stop it from being boring:

  • It must be genuinely awesome; i.e. it must inspire genuine awe. For it to achieve this the director must pause to let me absorb what I’m seeing, not jump cut to another shot of destruction every 1.2 seconds.
  • Where possible, it must use practical effects. Show me a real building exploding (the hospital in The Dark Knight) and there will be a palpable frisson of danger. Someone could have got hurt, for real. I’m glad they didn’t, but still… On the other hand, show me buildings that never existed bursting into computer-generated flames (Transformers: Dark of the Moon), and there’s a good chance I’ll feel nothing.
  • Reign it in a little. Give me time to collect my thoughts between scenes of devastation. Explosions are like punchlines. You have to give your audience time to catch their breath before hitting them with another.

2) More Character Development

Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Man of Steel's answer to Tom-Tom.

Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Man of Steel‘s answer to TomTom.

2,000 years ago the Roman poet Horace warned his pupils against resorting to the easy get-out of Deus ex machina, or “the gods in the machine”, to resolve plots. Meaning, don’t just have the gods turn up and make everything alright to sort out your narrative. And yet, in 2013, it’s apparently cool to have Russell Crowe’s Jor-El do exactly that. Perhaps it was written into Crowe’s contract that he would get considerably more screen-time than Marlon Brando in the 1978 movie.

Whatever. We should have had far less Crowe (the opening scenes and a brief bit of exposition when Clark/Superman stumbles into the Kryptonian spaceship would have done it) and a lot more time on Lois Lane’s colleagues at the Daily Planet. That way, when they’re in peril at the end of the movie, I would have given a fuck about them.

3) No Dream Exposition

Man of Steel

Okay, so I know the screenplay was written by David S. Goyer, but I’m going to lay this one firmly at the feet of story co-writer Christopher Nolan, because he tried exactly the same shit in The Dark Knight Rises.

YOU CANNOT DELIVER EXPOSITION IN A DREAM SEQUENCE.

The point, in TDKR, when Bruce Wayne is given a vital piece of information by a dead Ra’s al Ghul in a fucking dream was the point when it dawned on me it wasn’t anywhere near as good a film as I’d hoped it would be. Using a dream sequence for exposition purposes should be on the same storytelling shit list as “And then I woke up, and it was all a dream.”

Which you learn not to do when you’re fucking 10.

4) Start Small

Pictured: Not starting small.

Pictured: Not starting small.

In the comics and the original Christopher Reeve movies Superman can be a bit of a bastard. He goes out of his way to get into bar fights, simply so he can demonstrate his god-like strength, and he isn’t afraid of getting into a fracas with lowly street trash. And, okay, so you might argue that someone with Superman’s powers should have bigger fish to fry than muggers and bank robbers, but this is how the storyteller and filmmaker gets us on Superman’s side. By showing him vanquishing small-fry criminals they humanise the character and show us that he’ll combat evil, no matter what scale it’s on.

Not so the Man of Steel Superman. When confronted with a sleazy redneck in some roadside diner, Man of Steel Superman gets his revenge by destroying the man’s truck (in one of the film’s 2 moments of humour – see point 5). Now, alright, so I appreciate that Snyder & Co. are trying to sell us a Superman who is actually scared of his own powers, and knows that he could kill the man with a single punch, so why not have him knock the guy out by flicking him in the forehead? It would be funny, proportionate, and it would warm the audience up for what’s to come.

As it is, in Man of Steel we have a Superman whose first on-screen heroics take the form of him wrestling a burning, off-shore oil rig (pictured above). From about the halfway mark on the film ditches humanity for scale, reducing the humans caught up in General Zod’s diabolical plans to little more than screaming extras.

5) More Humour and Warmth

But not like this.

But not like this.

Humour is a tricky one to pull off. Try forcing too much humour into a movie and you end up with Richard Pryor mugging about in Superman III. Get the humour wrong and you end up with Peter Parker’s Venom-infected emo-swagger and jazz hands in Spiderman 3. I’m not talking a laugh a minute, but just something to give the film a bit of levity. More importantly than humour, however, Man of Steel is critically lacking in warmth. The opening scenes on Krypton and flashbacks to Clark Kent’s childhood and adolescence offer a glimpse of what could have been, with Costner’s Jonathan Kent in particular giving the film some much-needed heart, but as soon as Zod & Friends turn up on earth the film forsakes emotion for so much fire and broken glass. A scene in which, post-destruction, Superman whizzes back to his mother’s house felt tacked on, as if the writers had only just remembered Superman has a mum.

These are all things that can be remedied in a sequel. With all the clunky exposition out of the way, Man of Steel 2 (or whatever they decide to call it) could be a far leaner, warmer and more engaging film than its predecessor. As it is, we’re left with a movie that will only remind people how cruel they were to Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns.