Friday, 30 August 2013


Jambalaya, that smokey, spicey rich dish that tastes of the deep south, a dish that evokes thoughts of warm Louisiana nights down by the bayou as the lighting bugs flit or heady jazz floating through the streets of New Orleans.  Every family will have their own version and their own secret ingredients that go into it.

Remember to rhyme the 'Jam' with 'Tom' if you want to pronounce it right!
I must admit, I romanticise this dish having never been to the deep south of America (and it being on my bucket list of places to visit).  For now, to indulge my fantasy, when I dream of Mardi Gras and Haitian magic, I will put my own spin on this classic Creole meal, aided by The Spicery.
If I was being true to the origins of this dish I would flavour it with alligator and turtle meat, however these ingredients are a little difficult to find in Kent!  There are a few rules that you must follow though.

You always start with the holy trinity - onion, celery and pepper.  You also need a white meat, chicken thighs are my favourite, and good smoked sausage; chorizo or andouille.  Finally (although I left them out of this version as I was feeding a pregnant lady) you want good shellfish, normally prawns or mussels, and finally, rice.  Beyond that, the sky is really your limit.
This version has been taste tested by us a number of times and it is really good.   If you are craving the heat and spice that only the deep south can provide, I recommend this.  

Jambalaya with Hot Sauce

1 medium onion - chopped
2 sticks celery - finely chopped
2 bell peppers - deseeded and chopped
3 cloves garlic - finely chopped
1 tin chopped tomato
3 chicken thighs, skin removed and chopped into chunks
1 large, good quality chorizo sausage, chopped
3 good quality smoked sausages, chopped
1 packet raw prawns
300g long grain rice
2 tsp Cajun seasoning
2 tsp chilli flakes
2 tsp Cholula hot sauce
2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground bay
2 tsp parsley
2 tsp chives
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp basil
For the hot sauce

You don't need to make this, you can use shop bought but I just love the smokey rich hot flavour that this adds and end up sloshing it all over my jambalaya.  I would serve it separate in a jug and allow people to help themselves though as the heat levels can be a bit surprising!

2 chipotle chillis
1 birdseye chilli
2 tablespoons tomato puree
2 tsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
100 ml water

Cooking wise, it's pretty simple.

In a large, heavy bottomed pan heat 2 tablespoons of oil and gently fry the onions, celery, garlic and peppers until they are soft.
Add the chicken, sausage, chorizo, cajun seasoning, chilli flakes, hot sauce and paprika and mix well together, letting the meats slowly brown and allowing the chorizo to release its oils, then add the tin of tomatoes.

Add the rice, bay, parsley, chives, thyme and basil and enough water to cover the jambalaya half way up (you may need to top this up as the rice cooks and the water absorbs).  Bring to the boil and keep an eye on it, stirring occasionally to stop the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan and adding more seasoning and spices if required.

For the hot sauce, soak the chipotles in a mug of boiling water for about 10 minutes, then put the softened chillis and the birdseye chilli (minus the seeds and stem), tomato puree, vinegar, salt and water into a blender and blend until smooth.
When the rice is cooked you are ready to serve!  We like this with salad, fresh baked bread and a scattering of chopped spring onions on the top for crunch!  This is a fantastic meal to serve if you have people coming over for dinner as it is relatively quick and you can just stick the lid on and let it cook on its own without worrying about it.

Just go easy on the chilli if you aren't sure about tolerance levels!

Grab your friends, make some Sazerac's and stick some Dixieland on.  Laissez les bons temps rouler.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Dreaming of Midsummer

Some plays are meant to be performed in a non-traditional environment.  Forget stuffy and slightly strange smelling theatres with threadbare red velvet seats; some plays scream for a setting surrounded by verdant green trees, softly trickling water and blue skies stretching for as far as the eye can see
Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is one such a play.  I have no doubt that most people know the plot but for those of you who may be unfamiliar it centers around four young Athenians caught in a love tangle that is exacerbated by the antics of mischievous fairies ruled by their squabbling King and Queen who are currently at loggerheads over a child, whilst a bunch of travelling (fairly incompetent) Players get ready to perform a play at the Duke's upcoming nuptials, transformations into donkeys notwithstanding.  The majority of the action takes place in the woods inhabited by the Fae Folk and even the most talented set builder cannot emulate nature's own spectacular backdrops. 
On the Bank Holiday Monday we had tickets to go and see The Pantaloons perform at Mt Ephraim.  I have heard of this company before - their founder and Director (in all senses of the word), Steve Purcell, went to University with me (he was a couple of years below me but I remember him from around campus) and my father-in-law had messaged me about this particular production as he had recently seen it in Nottingham and told me to keep my eyes open for it locally.  The very next day Hannah messaged me to say they were performing at Mt Ephraim and did we want to get tickets?
Stupid question really.
Mt Ephraim is a glorious location for outdoor theatre, with the performance down on the lawns by the glossy lake with the great house at the top of the sweeping garden paths framed by the old garden walls.
The Pantaloons themselves are, according to their website,  a 'young, vibrant theatre company whose style draws from a wide variety of popular theatre traditions from commedia dell'arte and clowning to stand-up comedy and silent movies. In their theatre, your imagination is just as important as theirs.'  Quite frankly I think they are underselling themselves.
We arrived, picnic blankets in hand in the late afternoon sun and set up shop right at the front near the stage.  This is a particularly dangerous move as the Pantaloons believe in audience interaction and participation but this is all part of the fun.  As someone who has been on stage, believe me, you feed off the energy of the audience and we wanted to be close to interact with the actors and get right into the thick of it!
The show starts before, well, the show starts.  The Players sit and softly sing on the steps of the garishly painted gypsy caravan that provides all the set that they need.  They laugh and joke with the audience as they enter, stealing the odd crisp from a carelessly guarded open packet.
The anticipation builds as you realise that there are only 5 Players ready to jump between characters in a fast paced, funny and rather cheeky production.  I have never seen Shakespeare performed like this, from the opening act it had me in absolute stitches and there was a very clever use of props and music throughout the production with all of the talented ensemble singing throughout.
It is with a guitar and a song that the Players signal that the play is ready to start - and then they draw the audience in, selecting small children to play the fairies Cobweb and Peaseblossom, sending them on missions for salt and vinegar flavoured crisps and half-eaten chocolate bars, and, in the case of the adult pulled up to play Mustard Seed, a pickled onion the size of the dog that wandered onto the set. They even went through the audience to find out people's professions and incorporated them into the script; Snug, one of the wandering Players became an Infection Control Officer as his day job.  Apparently, when questioned, (s)he replied in a broad Welsh accent that 'is a'right actually'. 
The guitars, ukuleles and banjo's played numerous roles alongside that of musical instruments creating atmosphere over the top of the action. (The guitar sequence throughout the fight between the four Athenians in the woods was particularly memorable).  In the hand of the devilishly mischievous and slightly sinister Puck the ukulele becomes the flower that casts the spell over the unsuspecting humans and causes Queen Titania to fall in love with the distinctly 'luvvie' Bottom.
The Banjo is equally utilised to cast spells over the cast and the audience and both are artistically symbolised on the doors of the caravan.   The fiddle is even cleverly turned into Bottom's mask!
These five actors breathed fresh life into a performance that was probably a lot closer to how Shakespeare originally imagined it.  Clowns are clowns, they joke and laugh and adlib with quick wit, they banter with each other and the audience, frequently going off script and utilising current cultural references and even sit amongst the audience for parts of the show.
Their acting is superb.
The location itself added its own magic to the production.  As Titania and Oberon make their first appearance dragonflies and butterflies flitted amongst them like tiny fairies.
The actors aren't afraid to give their performance some welly, reacting and responding to the audience and playing off each other.  It's the subtle exchanges over and above the main script that really bring their characters to life in front of you.
Quickfire costume changes meant that the play moved along at a good pace, with the audience continuously entertained throughout.  The costumes also ensured that at all times you knew what characters the actors were playing as they chopped and changed between them, the same technique we employed in Teechers and Pint Size Henry V.
The fairies for example wore colourful neckerchiefs and bright skirts whilst the Players wore ridiculous outfits and the human mortals were distinguished by their polka dot dresses and military jackets (which must have been absolutely boiling!).
Oh.  I said that sitting near the front was dangerous.  I was right.  Luckily Stella managed to capture the moments for me on her camera phone.  Gee thanks.

Very early on I got singled out and was selected to play the role of Hipployta.  This basically meant very light interaction with the cast throughout the production.  Then I made a big mistake.  I challenged them at the start of the second half that they hadn't embarrassed me enough yet.  I was later dragged onto the stage and serenaded.  I gave as good as I got and gazed at the poor guy like a love struck fool in a desperate attempt to put him off.  It didn't work. 
Pantaloons - I can confirm that your challenge, which you accepted, was complete!
If you get the opportunity, please, please go and see this wonderful, energetic, vibrant company.  This was easily one of the best theatre experiences of my life.
And if you do go, remember to get involved.  Sing, clap, cheer, be a gloomy tree or a squirreling forest animal or a screech owl.  Holla "Hey Nonny Nonny" back at them.  This troop want to be interacted with - they thrive on it (they told us so afterwards when they came to chat to us).  Please, be a part of the show.

You will love it.

Monday, 26 August 2013

The Dolphin

When I first set up this blog it was originally to showcase places in Canterbury and the surrounding areas that I love.  It has evolved a bit since then but every so often I want to take it right back to its roots, which normally means a pub tour.  Cue obligatory pub sign photo.
Welcome to The Dolphin.  Across the road from The Parrot, down the street from The Millers Arms, it completes the trio of best pubs located within a hundred yard radius of the River Stour's water mill.   It does boast the achievement of still being Canterbury's only 1930's built pub named after a marine mammal.  Don't believe me?  The sign proves it.  If I find The Humpback Whale lurking down a side street I will be sure to point it out.
Another pub that is extremely popular with the locals, it has a couple of serious points going in its favour.

1) Stacks of board games that you can just help yourself to.  I have spent Christmas Eve in here before very drunk, very happy, probably very loud and playing scrabble very unsuccessfully.
2) Quirky decorations.  I mean seriously, what other public house is decorated with Michelin Men, multiple Fred the Homepride mascot figurines and Tonka Toys?  Somehow, and I have no idea how as it breaks every design rule in the book, it works.  There is even a Meccano Eiffel Tower in the window.
3) Fabulous food.  The menu is brilliant, burger fiends will love The Burger and the chips can (and do) stop a Brit at 30 paces.  The Dolphin takes pride in the fact that it serves 'Good Pub Food', no frills, no meaningless lengthy descriptions, no ingredients you need a dictionary to understand.  It's good quality and comes in huge portions. 
4) Drinks.  Every good pub needs drinks I agree, it kind of comes with the territory, but this place won Pub of The Year and was included in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide for the second year in a row in 2012.  Little beauties like these are the reason why.
You may have noticed that The Dolphin has a slightly quirky, humorous edge to it.  For example if you want to order food and have it delivered outside you won't be given a table number.  Nothing so mundane.  Instead you must strut proudly out into the garden with one of these.
Tomfoolery with said sign is also encouraged

There is lots of other evidence of the idiosyncratic nature of this particular pub.  The artwork may give you a bit of a clue. 
However, there are a lot of pubs out there with good food, board games, good drink and a personality.  There has to be more to The Dolphin?  Well, yes there is.  Quite a bit more actually.  It's almost the length of the pub again and in the summertime it is very, very popular.

Welcome to one of the best beer sorry Pimms gardens in Canterbury.

It's that perfect mixture of loungeability (made up but should be a word so it's staying), covered seating, atmospheric lighting and privacy.  Plus which fairy lights always make somewhere look nice.
During the summer months my friends and I tend to congregate here, starting with large jugs of Pimms and moving onto wine and beer as the night draws in.  We love it so much that Steve and I, and John and Ellie last week both held our 'It's-two-days-to-the-wedding-and-we-need-to-relax-with-some-friends-and-not-talk-about-the-wedding' informal gatherings at this pub.  It's that kind of place.  Unlike some of the other pubs, here you can have large groups (I think that there were about 15 of us last week) in one place without annoying other people too much and allow everyone to have a seat.
Inside the pub is significantly smaller but only due to the fact that most of the time the larger tables are reserved for booked parties who are eating here.  If you want a table with friends inside for dinner, book in advance.  Even on a Wednesday.  You can see below that groups were just starting to arrive and fill up the spaces.  
So that's the Dolphin, easily one of my favourite summertime hangouts and for me it is filled with great memories and associated with some of the greatest events of our lives.  It's also just a great place to chill out and relax with friends and family on a long hot summers afternoon.