Thursday, 28 August 2014

Chim Chim-in-ey

Sinead is a bad influence on me.  I was at work one day, happily minding my own business and pootling along with my day to day tasks and projects (and telling everyone I met - and a few people that I just shouted it at over the Campus Shop floor - all about the major speaker I'd just scored as part of a week I'm organising in the autumn) when my face book messaging service pinged at me.

I ignored it.

It flashed at me.  
I considered closing it down but by then it was too late.  I knew that there was something there, and I would be distracted until I read it.

It was a message from Sinead.  It was short, sweet, and to the point.  'Chimney Boys playing tonight in Broadstairs, if you fancy joining me?'

Ooh, it was tempting.  So, so tempting.  It was also a school night.  You can start to see why Sinead is a bad influence?  It was alright for her - she had just come back from the Edinburgh Fringe and was still on annual leave.  I, on the other hand, was very much still in work and had to be in on time for a meeting the next day.   On the other hand, I hadn't seen any of the Broadstairs Folk Festival yet (I had been a coward about it over the weekend when the weather was bad and I decided that the sofa was too warm and comfortable to even consider entertaining the idea of setting one toe outdoors) and this was the last week of the Festival.  I also liked The Chimney Boys, having seen them perform before at one of Green Diesel's gigs at The Ballroom.
Steve was going to be playing darts all night, I didn't have a rehearsal, so why the hell not.  I threw caution to the wind, messaged Shay back and told her I was on, and we arranged to meet at the Wrotham Arms (which was handy as that was where the gig was).
The Wrotham Arms is well known in Broadstairs as being a major live music venue, with gigs held every weekend and some major claims to fame if you have a nosey amongst the posters gracing the walls.  There is also a monthly Blues and Roots club.  I have no idea what Roots are when combined with Blues, but I would quite like to find out! It's probably nothing like the image I have of a banjo strumming, porch reclining, bit of hay chewing country boy band (although I secretly quite hope it is).
I rocked up to the Wrotham Arms only to be scared shitless by Ben when he bounded up to me and startled me when I was looking the other way.  Considering he and his band mates were on their 17th gig in about 10 days, they were looking surprisingly energetic; energetic enough to give me a minor heart attack anyway.

The eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed by now that the Chimney Boys lineup that night was looking remarkably similar to Green Diesel's regular line up.  The bands around here have a habit of swapping members for one off gigs when numbers are a bit low.  Sinead commented that seeing the Chimney Boys as an all male ensemble for a change (as none of the girls could make it) made a real difference to their sound.
The pub was packed - standing room only, and hotter than hell inside.  Beer was required so we snuck off to the bar and stocked up on some pints of Whitstable Bay Pale Ale - a light, refreshing beer that is easy to drink and not too strong.  It is brilliantly thirst quenching and seriously quaffable - perfect for a night like this.
We then squirmed our way to the front, threw our bags defiantly on the floor to mark our territory and engaged in conversation with the nice people around us as we waited for the band to finish warming up. 
The Chimney Boys have just bought out a new EP, Everything That Rises (buy it, I did, it's good and you can also get Morality Rises on Spotify) and the gig was splattered with songs from this throughout, as well as old favourites.

There was a bit of a pause after the first 8 songs or so and a mass rush for the loos (all that beer) plus a mass rush for the doors (seriously, it was SO hot!) and predictably a rush for the bar and then we launched into the second half.
Inevitably, we had lost our place and were much further back than before which gave us ample opportunity to watch the antics of the sound guy as he got up every 2 minutes to check and adjust the levels again.  The man resembled a jack in the box.
I've described their style before so I won't bother again, but you can listen to a couple of (incredibly poorly filmed) extracts from the night below! 
I think what I enjoy most about gigs like this (other than the fact I am out midweek with my friends) is the fact that the band members themselves seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves.
Everyone also gets a chance to showboat.  The drummer came up and sang in French (show off), the guitar players chopped and changed between various string instruments, and they all belted out the songs.
The atmosphere is joyful as well, with people who have come along simply because it is a live music night as part of the Festival standing, singing and dancing next to people who know all the words to the songs.

It's a good way to spend an evening.  Even if I didn't get home until gone midnight. 

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Thursday, 21 August 2014

Kibbeh, Falafel and Tabbouleh Mezze

One of the major issues with Steve playing cricket at the weekends is that it is nigh on impossible to estimate what time he will be barrelling through the front door in the evenings, hot, hungry and thirsty.
I've learned from experience that it is always useful to have something prepared for dinner that can be ready within 10 minutes, max, of this occurring.  A roast just won't cut it as you can guarantee that it will either only be ready an hour after he gets home, or it will be dry and overdone if the game runs long.
Mezze plates are fab for this - I can prep earlier in the day, do a little bit of last minute cooking and plate up before he has a chance to get his whites off.

Mezze is basically Arabic tapas - a selection of small finger food dishes that you can pick and mix a plateful from.  It is so easy to do and surprisingly filling - a platter like this will easily feed 3-4 people (I frequently do one as a starter for dinner parties).  As I have shown this before, I'm not going to go into the details of everything that appears on this one.  What I will do though is show you my recipes for Lamb Kibbeh (little lamb meatballs mixed with Bulgar wheat), Falafel (fried chickpea patties) and Tabbouleh (a Bulgar wheat salad).
I can make the kibbeh, tabbouleh and falafel earlier in the day (or the day before) and just leave them in the fridge until I'm ready to cook.  Then I just squeeze some lemon juice and olive oil over the tabbouleh, quick fry the kibbeh and falafel and we are ready to go! 

I normally start with the kibbeh and follow one of The Spicery's recipes for it - it's a fail safe.  They are succulent little balls with a bit of a 'bitty' texture inside due to the Bulgar wheat, and the spices just complement and enhance the flavour of the lamb. They are not dry in the slightest due to the quick cooking time, and they also make great little fridge raiders if you have any left over!  For about 20 little torpedo's you will need:

500g minced lamb
1 large, coarsely grated white onion
1 crushed clove of garlic
150g Bulgar wheat
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 tsp toasted cumin
1 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp all spice
1/2 tsp dried mint
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp dried marjoram
good sprinkling of sea salt

All you need to do is mash the whole list above into a smooth, pliable mess and then mould small handful's of the mixture into little torpedo shaped balls.  Allow these to sit in the fridge for at least half an hour before attempting to fry them.  When you are ready to go, heat a little oil in a large pan then fry them, turning them frequently so that they are brown all over.  They cook quickly; by the time you have browned them on all sides they will be cooked through.
Next up is the Tabbouleh; recipe adapted from The Spicery.  This is a fragrant, herby salad where the parsley and mint is as important as the Bulgar wheat and tomato.  Originally a Levantine dish, it can now be found all over the world and even has a national day (1st July) dedicated to it!   This makes a generous portion, and is great in lunchboxes with some pitta bread and a squeeze of fresh lemon the next day.

150g Bulgar wheat
1 tbsp tomato puree
A large bunch of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
A large bunch of fresh mint, roughly chopped
1 large white onion, finely chopped
250g cherry or vine tomatoes, halved
A couple of spring onions, thinly sliced
1 crushed clove of garlic
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin, lightly toasted
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp mint
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp all spice
Pinch of salt
Olive Oil
Pour 225ml of boiling water over the Bulgar wheat with the tomato puree, garlic and herbs and spices (not the fresh parsley or mint), cover and leave to sit for 10 minutes

Remove the lid, fluff up the Bulgar wheat with a fork, then mix in the fresh mint and parsley, onion, tomatoes and spring onions.
Just before serving squeeze the juice of half a lemon and a drizzle of olive oil over the top (Carluccio's lemon olive oil is superb for this) and add a bit of salt.  You are good to go!
(Ignore the tahini in the picture above- I still can't get this right and this batch just got binned!)
Finally the falafel.  If you have an electric mixer these are ridiculously easy to do.  I tend to think of falafel as fried balls of hummus - not strictly speaking accurate I know but it makes sense to me!  These ones have a texture similar to very soft potato cakes and a delicate flavour.  They are not dry in the slightest as I find shop bought ones can be.  You are supposed to serve them inside a pitta bread, but I prefer just to dunk them in hummus and drape a pickled anchovy over the top.  This will make about 15.

1 tin chickpeas in water (about 400ml tin)
3 spring onions (chopped into thirds)
1 large clove of garlic
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Large handful of fresh parsley
1 egg
Juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
50g plain flour (plus extra for coating the falafel in before frying)
Vegetable oil (for frying)

Stick all the ingredients in the blender (apart from the vegetable oil and the extra flour for frying) and blend
You should have a mix that looks fairly revolting and not dissimilar to dog sick.  Just go with it; it will taste better than it looks at this stage.
Using wet hands (it will stop the mixture sticking to you), form into patties and leave in the fridge for a half hour or so to firm up.  When you are ready to cook, roll the patties in flour and fry in a large pan until golden brown and crispy on all sides but soft in the centre.
Serve on a big platter with lots of other nibbles, give everyone a small plate and just dig in.
L-R falafel, kibbeh, olives, griddle halloumi, salami, Parma ham, pickled anchovies, tabbouleh, hummus, toasted pita bread, cream cheese stuffed pimento's
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Monday, 18 August 2014

Bagpipes and Roses

Jo and Callum's wedding day was beautiful.  A perfect day filled with love, laughter and a lot of Jäger.

Hang on, I'm starting at the end here.  Let's try again.
After the excesses of the previous day, the morning of the wedding I was up early.  Too early.  Hungover and shaky and in dire need of some air at 6am early.  I slipped out of the bedroom, desperately trying not to disturb Kate who was sleeping soundly, pulled the dress I was wearing the night before over my head, grabbed my cardigan, a pair of sandals and the room key and went for a walk.
Outside the Scottish air was bitingly fresh and I could hear the lonely cry of a kestrel over my head.  I wandered down to the lake and sat there for a bit, drinking in the first hints of what promised to be a beautiful day, then walked up the steep slope to the castle.  My feet were absolutely drenched so I let myself in through the front door and padded down the corridor to the toilets to find some towels.  There were a couple of other early risers around in their dressing gowns, lethargically chasing after small children whilst simultaneously clutching cups of coffee desperately in their hands.  I ran into Katherine, Fiona's sister who was sleepily heading towards the kitchens with her baby.  She gave me a startled look that clearly said, "if you don't have to be up at this time, why on earth are you!"

I was feeling much more clear headed now, so I walked back to the room, took a couple of painkillers for the wine fuelled headache that was pounding behind my eyes and went back to sleep.

A few hours later and I felt so much better.  A hot shower cleared the last of the lingering hangover away, whilst Alex, Carolyn's husband, rustled the four of us up a breakfast packed with scrambled eggs, toast and sausages from the supplies that Jo's parents had left in the kitchen for us.  The wedding wasn't until 1pm so we had a lazy morning of painting nails, chatting and catching up with life.  I haven't seen Carolyn since we finished sixth form, and although I have kept up to date with her news via the wonder of facebook, it is much nicer to be able to actually spend time with someone and hear their news in person!
Finally the time came for us to pile into the cars (we debated the long walk to the Church at the entrance of the gates to the Estate but it was just too daunting in heels) and Alex drove us down.
Drumtochty Church was beautiful, set against a backdrop of the forest and blue sky with the droning pibroch of the bagpipes soaring to meet the birdsong above.  The music greeted us as we paused at the gate of the Church where the photographers were asking guests for pictures before they headed down the gravel pathway.  Every tree lining the pathway had a white ribbon tied to its trunk, blowing gently in the breeze. 
Kate and I held back for a few minutes to admire the building, and then took our seats inside.  The interior was just as impressive, with high vaulted ceilings and lit candles lining the mantles.  Bunches of white roses graced the aisle ends whilst Callum looked as nervous as any groom, dressed in his traditional kilt and sporran.  We had been expecting the Scottish outfits - the previous day Paul had been incredibly excited about the fact that the ensemble came with a real dagger in his sock.
Orders of Service were laid out for us, printed on luxurious cream lustre paper, and soon the wedding party came in to take their seats, looking behind them expectantly every few minutes.
Outside the music changed, the doors opened and flooded the Church with a burst of streaming sunlight, and Jo and her proud father made their way down the aisle, followed by her bridesmaids.  (It's not the best picture below, but it's the only one I have of them walking down the aisle!)
Jo looked stunning.  Kate and I had been placing bets on the type of dress - I had gone with fitted fishtail satin, Kate had said lace with a fitted bodice and flared skirt.  Turns out we were both correct!  Jo was in a fitted satin dress with a skirt that flared from her knees and a diamante belt, with a delicate lace bolero.  Her hair was simply waved with the front sections pinned back and a diamante headband, with a fingertip veil and simple diamond earrings and bracelet.  I'm not good on flowers but I can tell you that she carried a nosegay of white and purple.  I'd seen her heels the day before when she had shown Kate and I around her room.  They were huge.  How she walked without tripping over is beyond me!
The service was simple; a few hymns, some readings and the exchange of vows.  The vicar was a personality - very stern and's the first time I have heard a reference to HIV included in a wedding service! (For the record, he was talking about the work that the charity that the church supports does), but it did add a bit of an unexpected tone to the proceedings.
After about an hour, the service was complete and the new Mr and Mrs disappeared for a few minutes to catch their breath and get a few minutes alone together.  Outside, we were handed bags of rose petals and formed into lines, ready to shower the newly weds in one of the odder wedding traditions out there.
Straight after the ceremony is always a bit of a strange time.  You talk to people but everyone is a bit distracted, more focused on getting camera's ready, trying to find a good spot and generally keeping half an eye on the front of the church for the appearance of the happy couple.
Finally the two came back around, ready for the family pictures.  By now the wind was starting to pick up a little and Jo was discovering why women don't tend to wear long floaty strips of tulle and lace from their head on a regular basis as it attached itself to her mother's hat every time the photographer's back was turned (I had a cathedral length veil on my own wedding day - they are a pain in the backside).
Then it was time to attempt to choke and blind the newlyweds with bits of dried flower petals. The two handled it like pro's before heading back to get some assistance in brushing off the worst of the debris from their hair, shoulders and dress.
Guests started to gradually trickle back to the Castle, ready for some drinks and canapes whilst the bridesmaids dragged the bride off for some makeup touch up's before the group photographs started.
Back at the castle, we were greeted with one surprise after another.  Jo had clearly gone all out with her wedding plans!  We stepped through the door to be offered a choice of sparkling rose prosecco, peach prosecco, Pimms and lemonade, champagne or a soft drink.  The peach prosecco was divine, but I made sure I sampled a bit of everything, purely to ensure a accurate comparison you understand!
Then there was the vodka luge, shaped in the form of a plane in honour of Callum.  I spotted a few guests trying this out immediately...
The sweetie bar (it was a whole 2 minutes before someone opened the first jar)...
The stand where you could select a postcard, write a message on it and post it back to the happy couple on the date you had randomly selected...
The pianist playing show tunes...
A chalkboard wedding book and holiday destination themed seating plan...
In fact, the entire wedding felt incredibly personalised and individual to both Jo and Callum.  There was nothing there that didn't have something about them marking it.  It was obvious that a lot of time, thought and love had gone into the planning, particularly by Jo, something that Callum did later comment on in his speech.
Outside Jo and Callum were having more photo's done, whilst the guests milled around, snagging canapes from the wait staff (one of the girls, Helen, was particularly adept at snagging one for a top up whenever our glasses were looking a little dry!) and comparing how badly our feet were hurting from our heels already. 
Everyone was also waiting for the perfect opportunity to grab the bride for a quick pic!  The weather held off - a couple of light showers but for the most part it was glorious sunshine all day.
It was then time to head inside the main ballroom for the wedding breakfast.  Places were marked out with love hearts and string, which later on could be seen attached to various items of clothing and necklines (and my wrist) as a useful name badge to identify people with later on!  Favours were mini bottles of spirits wrapped in kilts that we suspected (no accusations here!) may have once been used for the alcohol trolley on an air plane somewhere!
Tall candelabras swathed in flowers illuminated the green panelled room as happy chatter filled it whilst awaiting the arrival of the bride and groom for their first meal as a married couple.  We were sat at a table which included lots of old school friends, and people who went to the boys version of our school.  Topics of conversation involved a lot of reminiscing about our teachers, mutual friends, school productions and old drinking haunts. 
The food was lovely - there was just far too much of it!  I was absolutely stuffed and settled into a happy food stupor as the time that every member of the wedding party dreads approached - the speeches.  Richard, Jo's father gave a beautiful speech about his little girl, reminiscing about her pressing her belly button in front of the television, mimicking Bruce Forsyth and hoping that it would win her prizes.  Callum's was a lovely speech about his new wife, including how they first met at a mutual friends fancy dress party, and then he handed over, very nervously, to his Best Man.
He needn't have worried, his Best Man did him proud.  He struck that right balance of humourous, audience appropriate stories, a hint of 'what goes on tour stays on tour (which took me right back to the stories that Steve and his friends always hint at) and genuine affection.  He did good.
When the time came to cut the cake - a three piece tiered creation with a wonderful topper of Jo and Callum riding a plane like a rodeo bull and a reference to the Friends quote about lobsters - there was another surprise when they pulled out a traditional sword.  I'll be honest - I've seen Jo wielding a big knife before and this made me a little nervous!
borrowed photo
borrowed photo
Straight after the speeches I headed back to the room to change into shoes that were a little more suited to dancing in.  My trip back to the stable block was less eventful than Kate's.  When she headed down there later on she was startled by a deer that ran out right in front of her and then disappeared off into the forest.  When I came back, I followed the sound of music into the drawing room where a singer was belting out Les Mis at the top of his lungs.  His voice was impressive, and it encouraged everyone else to join in with the singing, and some impromptu dance moves.

Jo and Callum looked so happy - it was clear that with the speeches and formality over, they both could now just relax and enjoy the rest of the day.
Back in the ballroom, changes were rapidly occurring to turn it into the all night party space that the guests were clearly expecting!  Jo and Callum kicked off proceeding with a round of Jäegerbombs and that pretty much set the tone for the rest of the evening!
Before the gyrating masses could get properly stuck in though, Jo and Callum had to take to the floor for their first dance.  They sashayed around for a while, clearly on cloud 9 before frantically beckoning for everyone else to come and join them.
Then the dancing started - a mix (to start with) of 70's classics which had an older gentleman continuously grabbing the hand of any lady who had a vague sense of rhythm and swinging her around the dance floor for a bit (I lost track after 5 turns!), mingled with traditional wedding disco tunes from Paul's DJ decks. 
As the night got later and the mood shifted from relatively restrained to full blown party excitement, things just got rowdier.  More Jägerbombs flowed, the mountain goat ended up wearing a hat and by the time it came for Jo to throw the bouquet, the girls were clearly in full fighting spirit!
Girls grabbed partners and swung around the dance floor and around 10 Jo's favourite classic garage hits came on.  It was a party that took me right back to my youth and I was amazed at how many I could still remember to sing along to - it was brilliant!
At about midnight Kate and I called it a night and headed back to the stable block, leaving the party still in full swing behind us.

The following morning we got up late, ate another cooked breakfast care of kitchen supplies, then we packed up our bags, headed up to the castle to say goodbye (quietly, a lot of people were nursing hangovers!) and started the long journey back home.

Utterly brilliant wedding with wonderful people.

Love you Jo xx
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