Tuesday, 6 January 2015

new year, new post

Hey, hi. How have you been? Me, I've had a horrible virus since day two of my Christmas holiday. It started with a flu and is carrying on like a clingy friend who won't leave your house after a party and is just making everything really awkward. I now have bronchitis but thankfully it seems to be improving a bit. But generally, it's been pretty shit.

This virus has meant no indulgence this holiday season. None. Not even a drop of anything on New Year's Eve. I still have a huge bowl of Quality Street in the kitchen. I have a fridge full of prosecco. I had to throw away the rest of the chocolate trifle. Sad times all round. On the plus side, I'm down 6lbs and haven't had a problem getting back on the good eating wagon this year. Yay?

I am, in all seriousness, heartbroken. Christmas is my favourite time of year and I feel like I've completely missed it. This bug has completely kicked my ass; I think this is the worst I've felt in a very, very long time. Not much I can do about it now, though. Think I need to plan something special to look forward to in the coming months.

Anyway, it's that time of year again - not resolutions because no one does that anymore, but my annual List of Stuff. Last year's list was:
  • Learn when to say no (and yes.) I'm terrible at delegating; my first instinct is to say yes to everything. On the other hand, I'm not always good at accepting social invitations and sometimes my instinct is to find an excuse not to go - then I do end up going and having a brilliant time. I suppose I just need to think a little more before giving anyone an answer. 
I think I'm a bit better at this now, but I know I found myself saying "Why the HELL did I say I'd do this?!" more than once last year.
Now the silly thing is, I probably do take a photo a day. I just didn't keep up the Flickr album but probably could complete if it I could be arsed. Which I'm not. Still need to learn how to use my camera properly.
  • Okay seriously now, get that weight off. This is getting silly.
Vintage and curves are really trendy right now, so I'll just keep on being trendy.
  • Figure out what to do for our 10th wedding anniversary.
We had a brilliant but incredibly busy holiday in California and renewed our vows on a beach in La Jolla. It was really wonderful, personal, and fun.
  • Continue with the organising and purging, starting with the mahoosive pile of paperwork that's been shoved in drawers in the spare room.
Oh yeah. I forgot about that pile.
  • Get back into knitting. Because I'm wild like that.
I did and then I stopped again, but I will get back to it.
  • Get my veggie plot going again.
Sort of did this, but realised that it's almost impossible to have a decent veg plot with a puppy who a) eats everything that isn't nailed down and b) digs like his life depends on it. Did manage to grow a couple of impressive courgette plants and spaghetti squash, though. 

Rightyo, now on to the List of Things for 2015:
  • Getting stuck in a bit of a rut again and I'm starting to get bored. I need to find something new to do - take a course, go somewhere new, find a new hobby, take on a bit of extra work, etc.
  • Totally and completely stop worrying about people who are not worth the energy, and focus a lot more on those who are. No matter how unjust, hurtful, or ridiculous some opinions are of me, they simply shouldn't matter. This is the only kind of detox that actually has any sort of purpose. 
  • See more dance/theatre. I've been gradually doing this more over the years and I absolutely love it. There is nothing like seeing a live performance. I was spoiled for choice back in Montreal and it's a bit more of a trek to see shows now, but it's only a short trip to London from here.
  • Get back into running. Weirdly, I enjoyed running - it was good to get outdoors, just me and my brain. There is a 24 hour running marathon happening here in the summer (each person does a 4 mile circuit, I think) and I'd like to take part. 
Happy new year! 

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Kate Bush: Before the Dawn, Eventim Apollo (review)

28/08: Following on from people who are getting silly money for this, I've put four pieces of confetti from the Kate Bush concert on eBay - all proceeds will go to charity (TBD - am thinking along the lines of Amnesty Int'l, Oxfam, or British Red Cross.) Auctions end this evening at 8:30ish UK time.

29/08: The auction has ended and £50 is now in the hands of Medecins Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders! I'm floored that people will pay £10-15 for one piece of confetti, but really pleased I was able to raise this much for charity. Bless you, you crazed Kate fans!

In case it's not obvious, this post will contain spoilers and information that people who don't know/care about Kate Bush may find utterly pointless. I won't list all the tracks, although if you're curious, here is the setlist: http://www.wonderingsound.com/news/kate-bush-setlist-2014/  Also, this isn't really a proper review; it's a collection of ramblings from a middle-aged Kate fan who has a terrible short term memory and needs to write this stuff down before she forgets.

Right, let's carry on.

We had tickets in row E, and I was absolutely astounded to learn that this was the front row. They had removed rows A-D to accommodate the deeper stage; I had expected to be peering between the heads of the four rows ahead of me (as often happens when you're only 5'4".) We followed the letters along and when they stopped at E, I had Paul check the tickets to make sure I wasn't misreading something. A woman a couple of rows back called over, "Congratulations - you're in the front row!" as other people around her smiled at my shocked face. Hands shaking, I took a few photos of the stage. You cannot take a panoramic shot with your iPhone when you have the shakes, just FYI. We tucked our phones away knowing that we'd been asked not to view the show through a lens, and remarkably, everyone else did the same. Not one glowing screen appeared (that I could see), just like in the olden days when I used to go to concerts as a teen and all we had were chalkboards and quills.

The show started promptly at 7:45 with a barefooted Kate leading her background singers out on the stage. No opening act, no messing about, here's bloody well Kate fucking Bush. We erupted into applause, roaring at the sight of this woman we've waited so very long to see. "Where have you been?" she joked with us. She seemed a bit tentative, which may be just my interpretation based on what we know about her reluctance to perform live, and the audience seemed to cheer her on in encouragement. It was like 8,000 people were saying "It's alright, Kate - come on out now."

Once I got over the fact that I was looking at actual real life Kate Bush (about four songs in), I worried a bit. Although she could have come out and burped the phone book and I would have been elated, the fact that the show started out so...normally was troubling. She stood, she sang, she twirled around a bit. She thanked the lighting director (which seemed a somewhat awkward thing to do after only the second song) and then thanked her son Bertie for encouraging her to do this tour, who stood in front of us with the other backing vocalists. She talked a bit between songs, punctuated by enthusiastic applause throughout. She launched into "Running Up That Hill" and the place imploded. It was amazing and exciting, but where were the theatrics?

The lights suddenly dimmed and French percussionist Mino Cinelu stepped forward, whirling an object around his head that made an ethereal humming sound. Cannons shot yellow slips of tissue paper with words from Tennyson on them at us. A screen dropped down to show a short film about an astronomer reporting a ship in distress. Well okay then, this was the show I was looking for.

"The Ninth Wave" was performed in its entirety, combining film, dialogue, and dance. Huge billowing sheets were swept across the stage by performers draped in alien-like fish skeletons (stay with me, here), falling over the front of the stage like a waterfall. Frantic rescuers chopped at the ice with axes, finally making an opening with a chainsaw, as Kate momentarily bobbed up to the surface from underneath the stage. A film of Kate projected on a screen at the back of the stage was her "reality"; a woman in a lifejacket struggling to stay afloat in icy water. On stage was the "dream". A fairly rudimentary (i.e. it was controlled by a couple of blokes pulling on ropes) but incredibly effective helicopter sort of contraption moved across the audience, puffing out fog and panning its search light over us. Paddy Bush's tinny voice reported the loss of one female overboard to the rescue team back at the base. The following songs told the rest of the story from drowning to rebirth, ending with the lights brightening in sunrise and an utterly joyful, soul-lifting rendition of "The Morning Fog."

After a 20 minute intermission, during which we all blinked in a daze trying to register what we've just seen, the second half led us through "A(n Endless) Sky of Honey." A wooden puppet that looked like an artist's model, a child, wandered around the set observing everything and everyone in wonder. I felt less connected (what a pretentious word) to this half simply because "Hounds of Love" was such a big part of my teenage life and the later albums happened a little more quietly in the background of my adult life. I got a similar sense from the audience around me; there was less head-bobbing, chair dancing, and singing along. I feel like this section created a different atmosphere, similar to watching a West End show in which you aren't overly familiar with the songs. This is not a bad thing, by any means. I just had to switch gears and take it in differently.

Kate's son Bertie was central to this half, although he was very much present throughout. It's obvious that he was the main motivation and inspiration to do this tour (is it a tour when it's only at one venue? I dunno.) I often caught him casting a close eye over his mother during the performance, non-verbally reassuring her. Bertie fit into the show perfectly, and performed a solo with a new song called "Tawny Moon."

In between the polished, powerful two main performances she was just Kate - for example she remarked "Oh, there's a tree!" when a piece of the set was still lodged in her piano from an earlier scene and "It wasn't even for real!" with a large smile when we all cheered her return to life before "Morning Fog." She thanked us for receiving her so positively and seemed to visibly relax by the end of the show, which went out with a bang with "Cloudbusting." Being able to stand a few feet from one of my idols while singing at the top of my lungs "Yay-e-yay-e-yay-e ohhhh!" along with her will be a moment I will cherish for a very long time. We whooped and we waited, but that really was the end of the show. That lasted for three hours.

I don't want to call this a "comeback tour" because her last album "50 Words for Snow" is a relatively new release. The fact that she hasn't been on stage for so many years doesn't negate what she's been doing in the studio. She's not being hauled out at Newmarket Races to sing the three hits she had in the 80s with five other ageing, balding bands from the same era. I don't really feel like she's been absent, this is simply a new tour. A very long overdue tour, but a just a tour nonetheless. I think this is reflected in the songs she chose to perform. This isn't a "Kate's Greatest Hits" show, it's an intricate piece of theatre.

I'm glad that there were no special guests (despite rumours of Peter Gabriel hopping up on stage to sing "Don't Give Up" with her), a huge chorus of professional dancers, or a rendition of "Wuthering Heights". After I saw the show, I knew that would have been out of place. It was an elaborate production however it was simple in that the stage only ever contained the musicians, Kate, her vocalists, and a very small number of performers to help with some elements such as the fabric sea and the wooden puppet.

It was mostly what I expected but still surprising and amazing. The hamsters that run my brain are still making the wheels whizz round in my head as I try to take it all in. And the Internet is undoubtedly billowing smoke as we all post our thoughts about the show over the past twelve hours.

"Does that mean you liked it?", she asked at the end. Yes, very much so, Kate. Please come back and do it again sometime.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

five (a bit late)

Isla is 5

Oh my dear Isla, youngest child of mine and often (unintentionally) forgotten. It was your birthday a week ago today and I'm just getting around to writing your blog post now. But I know you won't be too bothered about the lateness as it means your birthday is being dragged out a little bit longer.

You were my biggest baby and I think you often have the biggest personality. I love the faces you make when I take your picture and even the tantrums you throw when you're having a diva strop (sometimes.) It's so hard not to laugh. I love how brave you can be; you have no qualms about belting out "Frozen" songs over a microphone in front of a crowd or being a fairy in a ballet show. Your "YouTube videos" are hilarious (and no, we will not upload them to YouTube ever.)

You are my big little girl, Isley Piley. Small enough to still pick up and cuddle, but big enough to walk confidently through life. Never, never stop being you. I love you to the moon and back.

Thursday, 19 June 2014


Mia, my middley, you have shattered all preconceptions I had about little girls. You would rather wear your brother's rugby top than a dress, play Minecraft instead of Barbies, and by the end of each day, you're covered from head to toes in a layer of something.
But you also love ballet classes, making (those godforsaken) loom band bracelets, belting out songs from "Frozen", and having your nails done. You are actually quite shy and can be incredibly self conscious, contradictory to the roaring Mimi most people see.
You are, most importantly, your own fabulous little person. Happy 7th birthday Mia Yoshiko, my rainbow baby. You are full of awesome.

Monday, 12 May 2014

what the hell am i doing here?

I think it was Mother's Day everywhere else in the world other than the UK yesterday. It was definitely Mother's Day back home in Canadaland and with it came lots of posts from Facebook friends about motherhood. Most of it sentimental, some quite funny, and a few about how difficult it is to be a mother and how under-appreciated we are.

A friend posted a link to this video about "the toughest job in the world", which turned out to be motherhood (note: it's a greeting card ad, so don't feel enraged when you get to the end to find out you've shed tears over a commercial.) The message is that we're unpaid, work 365 days a year, and do most of our tasks standing or moving around. As the unsuspecting interviewees put it, they're inhuman working conditions. "Why would anyone have kids?" a friend of my friend asked. Well. Good question.

I've always said that being a parent is the toughest job I've ever had. There are no sick days, no holidays, and they always want something. I cannot tell you how many times I hear "I'm thirsty/hungry" over the course of a day. I'VE JUST FED YOU A MASSIVE ROAST DINNER. YOU DON'T NEED TO EAT AGAIN FOR AT LEAST ANOTHER HOUR. NOW LEAVE ME ALONE SO I CAN HAVE A PEE.

There is no privacy. They howl and try to bash the door down in a zombie-like frenzy if you ever attempt to shut yourself in any room in the house.

You cannot make or receive phone calls because there is a special signal installed in all telephones that incites children to riot as soon as you say, "Hello?"

You will never eat a hot plate of food ever again. Just eat sandwiches or vegetables and dip from now on and save yourself any disappointment. And make sure the sandwich is a variety your kids don't like because they will stop at nothing to eat it.

Being Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny will add a whole new level of stress to your life. If you get caught, you will be the crappiest parent of all time. Retrieving a tooth in the pitch dark and sticking a coin under your kid's pillow without making any noise is like Tom Cruise dangling from the ceiling in "Mission Impossible."

And sometimes they can just be little shits.

I think I've aged 20 years since having kids. I'm always tired. I'm always on the verge of losing my rag with someone. I'm an introverted only child so why I decided to fill my house with kids is a mystery.

But being a parent is also a pretty great thing. My kids make me laugh, like proper belly laugh. They ask me questions that make me wonder why things are the way they are. They give me an excuse to see Pixar films at the cinema and ride on merry go rounds. They love me unconditionally, throwing their arms around me for hugs each morning. Even when I've been a little shit.

It isn't at all logical and I definitely couldn't sell this job to anyone. I think having kids simply makes me a better person. I'm no longer self-centred and I've discovered I have this endless supply of love for these little beings. I want to teach them things and learn along with them. I'm so curious to see what sort of people they'll become. It's not why we decided to have kids in the first place - that I can't really verbalise - but it's what I've discovered since becoming a parent.

Having kids is not for everyone and not everyone has a good time with it, but for me, it's just what makes sense. Sticky walls, Lego foot injuries, and all.
Still one of my favourite photos of the kids: Christmas Card Fail
Christmas Card Fail, 2010

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Mamta's/Kavey's lamb biryani: AKA what to do with leftover lamb

A well-used recipe from Mamta's Kitchen
A very well-loved Mamta recipe I printed up in 2010
I've used and loved the recipes from the wonderful Mamta's Kitchen site for ages now. When I want an Indian recipe, I head to Mamta's because I know it'll be failsafe and delicious.

I stumbled upon her daughter Kavey on Twitter and discovered that she's been posting recipes, too. I had a lot of leftover lamb from Easter dinner and remembered Kavey's post about her mum's lamb biryani (http://www.kaveyeats.com/2014/03/mamtas-delicious-lucknowi-style-lamb-biryani.html), which happened to be posted the same week I made the Worst Biryani Ever.

I should have realised when I read the recipe that it was never going to even remotely resemble biryani. It was sort of like a pilau rice dish or maybe a distant relative of paella if you used your imagination, but whatever it was, it was not biryani. It was incredibly sloppy due to far too much stock. How it got 337 five star reviews on the BBC Food site is beyond me. And don't even get me started about people giving recipes five stars when they have to amend most of it to make it edible.
Really, really not biryani
This is totally not biryani and I can only apologise.
So anyway, proper biryani. Had I done two more minutes of Googling I would have realised that it is a dish of two parts that are layered and baked. Kavey's recipe reinforced this, and I bookmarked it with a promise to give it a go one day. Enter my copious amounts of leftover lamb and a need to get at least one more meal out of it without resorting to shepherd's pie. I used leg of lamb, but I think shoulder would be much better (and cheaper.) 

I didn't stray far from Kavey's recipe; I didn't have saffron or rose water for the rice and used coconut oil to saute everything instead of ghee. As I used cooked lamb, I only simmered it for about 20 minutes. The final dish was absolutely, gloriously scrumptious and I would very happily eat the lamb curry on its own. 

I prepared it ahead of time so I only had to pop it in the oven when I got home from work. Kavey asked her mum about preparing it in advance, and Mamta advised that I chill the rice quickly under cold water before assembling to prevent any nasty bacteria from setting up house in my baking dish overnight. I would add that once you've made this dish, don't reheat it again to avoid the nasties. You ever wonder what often causes "Delhi Belly"? Rice that's been sitting around too long or has been reheated too many times. It ain't pretty. 

The onions do take a while to brown, so heed Kavey's note about it taking about 20-30 minutes until it goes sticky and lovely like this:
Browned onions
And don't freak out about using so many onions because they will shrink big time. There is a Japanese word that escapes me for the crunchy layer of rice that forms at the bottom of the pan, but it is one of my favourite things in the world. I greedily scooped out all of this golden layer for myself. Oh yes I did.

So, thank you Kavey for sharing your mum's beautiful recipe and for giving me something more creative to make with my leftover lamb. All five of us loved it and I would make it again in a heartbeat.

Lamb Biryani

Sunday, 6 April 2014

review, sort of: savion glover, sole sanctuary

It's not often you'll find one of my reviews on this site but as no one asked me to review Savion Glover's latest show "SoLe Sanctuary" (currently at Sadler's Wells theatre in London), here it is. Actually, this isn't a proper review; it's more of a response to the lukewarm reviews I came across on t'internet (of which there were only two, but both for major British newspapers.)

So here's the thing - most people here will know Savion Glover as the tap dancer who was digitally tracked to animate the feet of Mumble, the penguin from "Happy Feet". For those of us from North America, we also know him from the wildly popular production "Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk" that had a good run on Broadway in the 90s. We also know him from the films "Jelly's Last Jam" and "Tap". And yeah, probably "Sesame Street", too. The point is, we know what to expect when we see him tap.

We know he's not going to leap into the air and turn a sofa on its side or shuffle his way up a grand staircase. He's not going to do jazz hands and big-toothed smiles to big band music. He's going to use his feet like percussive instruments, moving very little else. He is going to blow us away with his intricate rhythms and make us wonder how he's making any sound because we can't really see his feet  moving.

His latest show, SoLe Sanctuary, does exactly this. It's 80 minutes of percussion, sometimes with music or singing, but mostly just his and Marshall Davis Jr's taps. He strips tap down to its essence: sound. He doesn't look out into the audience because he doesn't need to; I spent the entire show staring at his feet, my jaw on the floor.

His segments with Davis Jr were like conversations, moving between finishing each other's sentences and trying to outdo each other. They smiled broadly as the other danced, showing a longtime familiarity but also marking respect. It was difficult to tell if these segments were ad libbed; their faces made us believe that some of the steps were being seen for the first time on that stage.

I think drummers would enjoy this show or at least get something more out of it. I don't think I fully appreciated how intricate these rhythms were and my rudimentary understanding of tap didn't help much, either. Still, I was transfixed. I found myself shaking my head at these impossible steps and nodding along to the sounds. The audience erupted with applause and whoops at the end of each segment and gave a standing ovation at the finale.

There was no intermission but I think a break would have disrupted the flow of the show. It also left us wondering how the hell these men could tap for that long without collapsing. It was, in a word, astounding.

Thank you Savion for educating me about traditional African American tap and for blowing me away with the sounds that came out of your feet. I am inspired.