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:  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 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 (, 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.

Tuesday 1 April 2014

and then the kate bush ticket gods smiled upon me

My first year at York university was in 1986. I had really big hair and I thought I was pretty cool because I was a Fine Arts Student. I was on my way to get my BFA (or as most of us fondly called it, a "Bachelor's of Fuck All") and I wore a lot of black and was very, very deep.

I made friends with a guy called Tony during the first week on campus. He was gay, so don't get all excited - this story doesn't involve true love or anything like that. It mostly involves nose piercing, hair dying in the co-ed residential bathrooms, and Kate Bush.

Tony was a massive Kate Bush fan and a vegetarian. "I'm vegetarian too," I blurted out. I wasn't, but from that point on, I was. I did know who Kate Bush was thanks to "Hounds of Love" becoming a huge hit that year, and I was already a fan. So Tony and I became inseparable, did a lot of very silly things at university, and I was now a Kate-loving vegetarian because I was incredibly impressionable and keen to please. Good thing I didn't bond with a heroin-smoking Kajagoogoo fan, really.

Tony introduced me to Kate's back catalogue along with some B sides from his "The Singles File" boxed set. I made cassette recordings of everything and Kate became my soundtrack to my weekend job; the graveyard shift at the Shell station. Her music was also a handy way to coax my uni roommate out of our room. Playing this at full blast usually had the desired effect:

I fell in love with her music. I still know every word to every song and certain songs always evoke specific memories. "The Dreaming" will always remind me of my job at Shell because it was my favourite album and I played it over and over during my shifts.

When I moved to Montreal, "Sensual World" came out which introduced us all to the wonderful Trio Bulgarka. I learned that one of her songs was based on Molly Bloom's words in James Joyce's Ulysses and immediately set out to read it and love it. Which was a really stupid idea because I had absolutely no idea what the book was about (although a later course in Irish literature would help me decipher the story.) And of course there was Book of Dreams by Peter Reich ("Cloudbusting") and millions of other references I would pick up over the years.

28 years later (god, really?) my friend Steph alerted me that Kate is going on tour. WHAT? A quick Google confirmed she was indeed touring for the first time since 1979. Oh. My. Giddy. Aunt.

I knew I had a one in a bazillion chance of getting tickets. She has a huge fanbase and this was to be her only tour, made up of just 22 shows. I cracked my knuckles last Friday morning, opening up a few browser tabs, and hoped for the best. I didn't expect to get tickets, but I had to try. But I did. I got tickets. I got opening night tickets in row E. I just kept refreshing the page and magically the little icon went green and I clicked madly, not even looking at what night or what seats I was getting.

Even with the confirmation page staring back at me, I couldn't believe I actually got tickets. I wouldn't close the window until the confirmation email came in and even then I had to read the email a dozen times to make sure I had indeed secured tickets to Kate Bush.

I don't know how I managed it, but by the gods, I am absolutely thrilled about it. My 45-year-old self is high fiving my 17-year-old self. And telling her to stop smoking and acting like an idiot.

(I'm not vegetarian anymore, sorry Kate.)

Thursday 23 January 2014

cheddar and jalapeno pepper muffins

So what do you do when you're stuck indoors with two poorly children, attempting to work from home, while it's absolutely pissing down with rain? You bake, obviously.

I was looking through the Internet (I like read the whole entire thing when I'm procrastinating) for a grain-free baked good recipe. I was going to make something sweet but as I'm attempting to wean myself off sugar/the need for sugar, I went for something savoury instead. And anyway, healthy substitutes for cakes always taste like a loofah covered in Stevia powder. Don't try to tell me they don't; you're just so ravenous from being on a diet that you think it tastes good. I've been there. I know.

Anyway, I decided to make something resembling cornbread muffins to go with my leftover chilli for lunch. I found this basic almond flour muffin recipe on Elena's Pantry, added some extras, and doubled it: To my huge surprise (see my comment about substitution failures) they turned out to be pretty damned tasty.

They aren't corn muffins because they don't, you know, contain corn. They do have a very similar texture and a little bit of sweetness you'd get with cornbread. They are very passable and tender cheesy muffins that went well with my chilli. And then I ate another just to be sure. It was still good, but I'll have to try another one tomorrow to make sure they're still delicious the next day. Shall keep you posted.

You could add all sorts of things to the basic muffin batter, sweet or savoury. I was thinking of doing a breakfast version with bacon (I know, I know - this will do nothing to dissuade people from posting bacon jokes on my Facebook page), spinach, mushrooms, and cheese or a pizza version with tomatoes, basil, cheese, and pepperoni. It'll just depend on how many deadlines I'm trying to avoid.

Here's the recipe.
Cheddar Jalapeno Muffins
Cheddar and Jalapeno Muffins
(Makes 8 large 'Merkin sized muffins)


8 oz blanched almond flour (approx. two cups)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup shredded mature cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced (or more if you want more heat)
1 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp mild chilli powder
8 oz eggs (four large eggs)
2 oz honey (approx. two tablespoons)
1 teaspoon cider vinegar

Preheat the oven to 180C/170C fan assist/350F. Line a muffin tin, or if you've got a very well seasoned tin like I do, just spray a little oil on it.

Put the almond flour, baking soda, cheese, jalapeno peppers, chilli powder, and sea salt in a bowl and combine. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, honey, and vinegar. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir well.

Bake for around 15 minutes, until the edges are brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for 30 minutes, then cool completely on a wire rack before storing.

Friday 3 January 2014

holey tops, batman!

The other day, I noticed my black t-shirt had tiny little holes in the front, just below my belly button. Annoyed, I chucked it thinking it must have been damaged in the washing machine. Then the second t-shirt got holes in the same spot. Then a third. Either some sort of moth was living in my navel (possible as I can't actually see it) or something else was amiss.

Thanks to Google, I found out that this is a common occurrence when you switch to a granite worktop (counter.) It's caused by rubbing up against the edge and seems to affect jersey tops more than others. I cannot even make this stuff up. 

I suppose this means an apron is needed until I lose enough stomach or grow longer arms. 

Thursday 2 January 2014

aubergine (eggplant) with ragu sauce

I stopped writing about food on this blog because I thought people who were here to read all about my thrilling life wouldn't want to read about the food I make. As only about three of you read this blog anymore and food is a huge part of our lives, the food is back.

This is also to help keep me on track with the Not Eating of the Crap. If I blog about the Not Crap I'm eating, I might actually not eat Crap. (I really need to get back to work; my brain has obviously packed it in.)

Yesterday was all about carbs thanks to too much bubbly the night before. And Pringles. And chocolate cake. I made a big batch of spaghetti bolognaise last night, and the world seemed a slightly better place. A little leftover sauce made a healthier lunch for me today, with the addition of one small aubergine and mozzarella balls. I'm feeling all smug and virtuous now. I've stuck to my diet for 6 1/2 hours so far. BOOYAH.

Oh Christ, I'm annoying. Here's the recipe.

Aubergine Bolognaise With Mozzarella
(Serves 4, or less with extras for the next day)

For the bolognaise:
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 stalk celery, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
1 onion, oh you get the idea. Cut everything up small.
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
500g beef mince/ground beef
1 glass of red wine
1 tin plum tomatoes
1 box (about 2 cups) of passata/tomato sauce
Dash of worcester sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Handful of fresh basil

For the aubergine/eggplant base:
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 aubergines/eggplants, thinly sliced
250g fresh mozzarella
Fresh basil to garnish

To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large shallow pan over medium heat. Fry off the beef until it browns - try not to move it around too much so you get some nice crispy bits (rather than boiling it.) Remove the beef from the pan.
Add the celery, carrots, onion and garlic to the pan, and stir until it starts to soften.
Put the beef back in the pan along with the glass of wine. Let the wine bubble and reduce a bit, then add the tomatoes, passata/tomato sauce, worcester sauce, and salt and pepper.
Let it simmer, covered, for at least half an hour but ideally 1-2 hours. This can also be left to simmer in a slow cooker, or cooked ahead and frozen.

For the aubergines, heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large frying pan. Toss in the aubergines and cook them off until they brown a little. Add the sauce and heat through. Just before serving, tear up the mozzarella and add it to the pan, and let it melt a little. Garnish with fresh basil if you like that sort of thing.