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>Day 186: Happy Birthday!

17 September, 2009 Leave a comment

>Today’s soundtrack: Stevie Wonder – Hotter Than July

Son No 1 is 22 today, so a quick phone call to wish him a happy one – I couldn’t get through to him initially, turns out he’s been sitting (and passing!) literacy and numeracy tests as a precursor to an interview next week with the Civil Service. Good for him, at least one member of the Waring family is having some success on the job front!

I left him to ponder on his plans for the evening and turned my thoughts to the day’s activities. However with a stone of tomatoes provided yesterday by the aged parents, I had some cooking to do – pay attention, recipe fans!

I’d already done a quick supermarket run first thing to pick up the other ingredients I wanted for today’s recipe – a sweet pepper and tomato soup, basic recipe courtesy of the New Covent Garden soup company – included in their cook book, which Mrs W has kindly bought me at Christmas. The site’s got plenty of recipes, but not this one – but no matter, this is how it breaks down:

Take six red peppers, cut in half and de-seed. Place cut side down on a baking tray (or probably two).

Skin your tomatoes by putting them in a bowl of boiling water for a minute or two. If you then pierce the skins with a knife, they will come away easily from the tomato. (Really – I had my doubts about this process but it does work like a dream).

Now the recipe calls for eight tomatoes, but I ignored that. Quite apart from the fact I had twenty-odd tomatoes to get rid of, eight tomatoes vs. six red peppers just didn’t seem like the right ratio.

So all twenty-odd tomatoes went onto the baking trays with the peppers, cut in half with the cut side up, this time.

Splash of olive oil over the veg, spoonful of sugar too, salt and pepper. Oh, and a scant handful of fresh basil leaves and stems, chopped.

Stick in a hot oven (190 degrees C) for about an hour. Bits will go black but don’t fret.

In the meantime, chop up an onion or two, a garlic clove or two, and fry gently in your big soup pot for about 15 mins. You want them to go soft, but not brown.

When your veg are roasted, throw the red (and black) gloopy mess on top of your onion/garlic mixture. Bring to the boil then take off the heat for a while. Whizz them up with your whizzy tool of choice into a smooth paste. Add a litre of vegetable stock (proper ready made stock please, not a couple of Vegetable Oxos) and stir thoroughly. Bring to a slow simmer and cook for a while and serve or freeze as you choose.

Some more fresh basil added at this stage would also be very nice.

Apparently you can serve this stuff cold, but really, it’s crying out to be eaten hot, with lots of white crusty bread dipped in, isn’t it?

There are very few people who really deserve the epithet of ‘genius’, but in my humble opinion, Stevie Wonder is one of the people who does. Almost twelve months ago to the day, I saw Stevie in Manchester. He was magnificent, as you would expect, despite a penchant for audience participation I could have done without. I came to hear you sing, Stevie, not 14,000 tone deaf Mancs!

Hotter Than July my be Stevie’s last great album, coming off the back of a run of albums that just might be the greatest series of albums ever – from Music of my Mind through to Songs in the Key of Life. Hotter…is not quite up to that standard, but would be most other artist’s best ever.

Master Blaster (Jammin’) is the track the album is probably best known for, although every track is a winner really. However on my son’s birthday, the only track I can really give you is ‘Happy Birthday’. Credited with introducing a national holiday on Martin Luther King’s birthday (and so not really that appropriate for a personal birthday celebration!) it is possibly one of the few songs that has actually had a real impact on the ‘real’ world.

But that’s not all the Stevie you’re getting today. I can’t take the chance on ‘Talking Book’ coming up anytime soon on the soundtrack, so here’s a bit of ‘Superstition’ for you.

Not just any old Superstition though. Superstition played live on Sesame Street. I came across this on another blog (the excellent Dust on the Stylus) some time back, and can do no more than copy the original poster’s comments before playing you the track…

“It’s the song as we know it but with – is it possible? – even more funk. Then it goes into an uber-funky jam for two minutes, then a false ending. Then – you fucking what? – a minute of Stevie singing ‘Sesame Street’! Over Superstition! Bear in mind that, ten years into a career of classics, the guy was only 22 or 23 here; he has the kudos, the track record, the long-term immersion in music that make it seem to be something he breathes. Set free from the bonds of this earth, he’s adrift in funk heaven. At the same age ‘young’ pop stars like Noel Gallagher and Morten Harket were still years away from making their first records.”

Go on – play it – all the way through. It is the funkiest seven minutes you’ll have all year!

Categories: Andrew, recipe, soup, Stevie Wonder

>Day 38: Breaking Eggs With a Big Stick

22 April, 2009 1 comment

>Today’s soundtrack: Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home

“Breaking eggs with a big stick” is one of my mother’s expressions (she’s got a few) that I have always taken to mean ‘taking a lot on, getting loads done’. Which is what I’ve been doing today. I googled the expression though, just to see if I was right. Apparently it actually means doing things in a showy or ostentatious manner…so I’ve been wrong all these years.

I don’t care. I’ll carry on using it the way I’ve always used it.

So I’ve been breaking eggs with a big stick today.

Started out by taking myself off to Tesco to do the shopping. (In Northwich, not Helsby – I’m still boycotting that store until they revise their checkout policy. However I have to go to Tesco somewhere to get the points on the credit card!) That done, it was back home to clean the fridge out. Actually, I’ll rephrase that. It was back home to disinfect the fridge, which had sadly degenerated into a state of some squalor. So it was out with the Mr Muscle, all detachable parts chucked into the dishwasher, and the fridge innards sprayed and swabbed. Happily our fridge is now so clean, you could store food in it. Safely.

Having got the fridge into shape, it was on with the (metaphorical) pinny to get some cooking done. ” Yay!” shouts the Massive. “Recipes! At last!!” Well, ok then. Reflecting my current circumstances, it was bread and soup again.

But posh bread and soup. I have standards, you know.

Bread was (of course) made in the breadmaker, but this time with added seedy stuff. Linseed, poppy seeds, sesame seed, sunflower and pumpkin seeds all added to the regular white bread mix. And we’ll be nothing if not regular with all that lot flushing through our system.

I know. Too much information.

So the soup – carrot and coriander today. With three separate coriander elements to consider. Firstly fry up an onion (or two, if they are little) in some oil, along with a teaspoon or two of ground coriander.

While the coriander and onion are frying off, dry roast some coriander seeds (again, a teaspoon or two) in a hot frying pan (just the seeds, no fat or oil) until they begin to brown. Using a pestle and mortar, crush the seeds until you have a fine powder and add that to the onion mix.

Take a couple of pounds of carrots and chop up into discs and add to the pan. I also added a couple of sticks of celery (to add some depth to the flavour) and a couple of peeled, chopped potatoes (to help thicken the soup) but these are optional – it’s the carrots that are important (like, duh!). Stir them round so they are coated in the spice mix, then add some stock (again, I used chicken but vegetable stock would be fine) to cover the vegetables. Add some water if you need to to achieve coverage.

Bring to a boil then leave to simmer for as long as you like, but at least until the veg are tender. Whizz them all up with your whizzy thing until you have a smooth texture. Take a pot of fresh coriander, and snip the stalks into the soup. Stir this round and cook gently for a while. Then add the coriander leaves and stir gently. Your soup’s now ready for freezing (and eating), although you might want to stir in some cream or creme fraiche before serving.

Phew! And if that wasn’t enough, while all the cooking was going on, I tidied up my ‘study’ (my den, really), putting shedloads of free magazine cds into big storage boxes I bought at Homebase yesterday, and then I got out into the garden to tidy up some of the lawn edges, trim the plants around the border and re-compost the flower beds.

Not bad eh? I’m goosed now though. Oh, and I’ve also got a meeting in my diary with a recruitment consultant in Chester arranged for Friday morning as well. Also toying with applying for a job advertised on t’internet today, although as it’s overseas we need to have a talk about it before I commit.

Postman delivered a CD today I’ve been waiting for for a while – it’s a CD by Richard Hawley, recorded live at the charmingly-named ‘Devil’s Arse’ cavern in the Peak District. It’s been uploaded to iTunes, but I’ve yet to give it a listen. But you should investigate Richard Hawley anyway. The self-styled ‘specky twat from Sheffield’ has a voice like treacle and a delightful way with a lyric and a tune. I commend ‘Coles Corner’ to you in particular.

And apropos of completely nothing – have you ever wondered what Led Zep’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ would have sounded like if it had been written and recorded in 1964 by the Beatles instead? Of course you have!

Well wonder no more….

I’ve already written about Bob Dylan, and already written too much today, so I’ll not dwell on today’s soundtrack except to say that ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ is one of the greatest albums ever made – by anyone, ever. Recorded in 1965 and as relevant now as it was then, on the cusp of Dylan’s switch to ‘electric’ music, it includes biting social commentary (Maggie’s Farm, Subterranean Homesick Blues) beautiful love songs (She Belongs to Me, Love Minus Zero) and pure poetry (Gates of Eden, It’s Alright Ma). Oh, and pop songs (Mr Tambourine Man) as well.

If you wish to understand why some believe Dylan to be a genius, you could do worse than start here.

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows…..

>Day 23: Busy Busy!

7 April, 2009 1 comment

>Today’s soundtrack: Dr Feelgood – Down By The Jetty

Well, in stark contrast to yesterday, I’ve not stopped today!

Up early this morning to trawl the job sites (nothing doing, obviously) and to get my paperwork together in advance of signing on just after lunch. Needed to get them to sign off on a particular piece of paperwork today, and despite half expecting to be pushed from pillar to post, the lady who signed me on was very happy to do the necessary while I waited. So again, it’s not the most pleasant of experiences, but it has been remarkably painless (and quick) both visits so far.

And they are going to give me money as well!

Before setting off, I finally got round to confirming the green light for Latitude this year, so got the ticket bought post haste – and happily one of the lightweights I referred to a while ago (See Day 9) turned out to be far less lightweight than expected so I’ve got some company as well! Just need to work on the other two ‘Musketeers’ now – you know who you are!

Last year, Latitude was a real highlight for me – a nice, compact festival in (generally) decent weather with a good range of bands and a remarkably strong lineup. The headliners were excellent, but the real joy was in discovering some real gems on some of the smaller stages. And getting our picture taken with Seasick Steve, of course. This year the lineup is slightly (but only slightly) less appealing than last year, but there’s a lot of acts to be announced yet.

My Latitude photo album can be found on Photobucket here if you’re interested.

After signing on, I headed off to Northwich to pick up the raw ingredients for tonight’s culinary masterpiece. I hinted at carrot and coriander soup, but Mrs W put in a request for some ham & lentil soup instead, so that’s what we shall be having, with some thick lumps of home-made bread (baked a wholewheat loaf last night – bit ‘heavier’ than the others, but a delight toasted and will set the soup off perfectly.)

You don’t want the recipe for this as well, do you? Really? Oh, ok then.

Take a gammon or bacon joint (smoked or unsmoked – your choice) and wash it under cold water to reduce the saltiness. Cover in a big pot with boiling water (might take a couple of litres), and boil the joint for an hour or two, until the meat is tender and starts to break up easily. Remove the meat ands set to one side – you’ll need it again soon.

Add a couple of chopped onions to the pot, along with three or four chopped sticks of celery and the same number of chopped carrots. Cook until the carrots begin to get tender, then add a decent cupful of split red lentils (check the pack – they probably won’t need pre-soaking, but just make sure and soak if necessary). Continue cooking until the lentils and veg are tender – probably another hour or so.

NB: you can cook the veg along with the meat if you want – will all be blended at the end so it’s difficult to ‘overcook’ the veg.

Once you’re happy with the tenderness of your veg and lentils, do the whizzy thing with your hand blender to get your desired consistency. Taste and season although you shouldn’t need any salt.

While your veg are cooking, and when the meat is cool enough to handle, take as much as you want to return to the soup and pull it into ‘flakes’. It’s far nicer if you do this by hand rather than cutting into cubes – but if you prefer cubes, be my guest. Add the flaked/cubed meat back to the blended soup and heat through until you are happy.

You can add herbage and cream if you want but really, it doesn’t need it.

Easy stuff, honestly. Takes a long time to cook from start to finish but there is very little actual ‘cooking’ involved – just chuck stuff into the pan when necessary and let it look after itself.

Dr Feelgood’s brand of rhythm ‘n’ blues is stripped down to the bone, and so much the better for it. Down By The Jetty is their first album – recorded in mono in 1976 – and the short, sharp songs were the precursor to the punk explosion that was just round the corner. The original (and best lineup) had Lee Brilleaux on vocals and harp (no, not the big stringy thing), Wilco Johnson on guitar, John B. Sparks on bass and The Big Figure behind the drumkit. The whole group was tight as a gnat’s chuff, not an ounce of fat anywhere and no more notes played than absolutely necessary. Brilleaux (now sadly deceased) exuded anger and tension in his trademark off-white jacket and narrow tie, as tight as a wound spring. Wilco moved around as if on rails, manic stares in all directions, wielding his guitar like a machine gun, seemingly playing rhythm and lead at the same time. The engine room kept the beat sharp and tight. But rather than me try and describe it, just listen here or watch below. And learn – just how lean and focused rock and roll can be.

These boys deserve two clips – firstly doing ‘Roxette‘ on the Whistle Test, with (overlong) introductions from David Hepworth and Mark Ellen:

Then doing ‘She Does It Right’ live on ‘The Geordie Scene’ in 1975:

Categories: dr feelgood, Latitude, recipe, soup

>Day 11: Cooking. Doesn’t get. Tougher than this.

26 March, 2009 Leave a comment

>Today’s soundtrack: Interpol – Our Love To Admire

You’ll have to forgive me if this is a bit disjointed today – I’m writing this in between trips to the kitchen to stir my pots. Big pan of broccoli and Stilton soup on the go and I need to check it’s not boiling too vigorously on a regular basis.

Very nice recipe and actually quite easy – fry off a couple of onions in some butter along with a finely chopped potato for around ten minutes until the onion has softened (but not browned). Add a couple of heads of broccoli (just the florets, not the stalks) and toss round until all the butter has been soaked up, then cover with stock (I’m using chicken, but use vegetable if you want to be purist about this. Also, use liquid stock, not cubes. If you can’t/won’t make your own, you can buy cartons of stock from all good supermarkets – and probably from some bad ones as well.) Add a spot of water if the stock does not cover the veg, then cover and simmer gently until all the veg are suitably soft and breaking up. Take off the heat, then give the mixture a good old blend with one of those hand blender things. What do you mean, you haven’t got a hand blender thing?

When the soup is blended to your satisfaction, put back on a gentle heat and break up a big lump of Stilton into small chunks. (How big a lump? I don’t know – as big as you like but probably not one of the big round ones. I’m using about 250g today.) Add the Stilton gradually to the soup, stirring as you go, until it has all melted. Taste and season to your liking. Finally, add a couple of tablespoons of double cream and stir in gently. Don’t let the soup boil once the cream’s in!

There you go – job’s a good ‘un. You learn stuff reading all this – and all for free!

So yeah, all quiet on the job front today. Went out early for groceries and bought a copy of the FT, but nowt of interest in there. Spent some time registering formally with the recruitment agency who have been most attentive so far, and sending that back to them.

Also managed to pick up five tickets to go and see Depeche Mode in Manchester in December – Kevin and his mates coming up from Birmingham, looking forward to what should be a good night. Depeche are one of those bands that (for me, anyway) have got better and better as they’ve matured – from what were quite lightweight synth-pop days to a very dark and intense band in their middle years. Dark and intense obviously loads better. Whilst I’m glad Dave Gahan has got over his various addictions, I hope he’s managed to do that without losing the ‘edge’ to his performance.

Interpol currently playing in the background – another quite intense band who have spent a lot of time listening to Joy Division and their ilk. Saw them live at Latitude last year (see opposite), where they headlined the final night to great effect. On the first few listens, they can sound a touch samey, but perseverance uncovers a band with a good ear for a tune and a nice line in lyrics. “Our Love To Admire” is the most recent album, but I would also recommend “Antics”to you.

Started a new book last night – Anathem, by Neal Stephenson. Bloody hell, it’s big. 900-odd pages big. But it comes with a good reputation and pedigree – I read his ‘Cryptonomicron/Baroque Cycle’ books last year and enjoyed them a lot, although they are heavy going at times. The books are densely plotted with a lot of technical and historical detail included, and can be difficult to get into, but if you persevere than they are a very satisfying and rewarding read. Let’s hope Anathem is equally rewarding. Looks like I’ve plenty of time to find out…

So what’s Brian Eno got to say to us today?

“Only a part, not the whole”

Well I only used the broccoli florets, not the whole head – is that what you mean, Brian?

Right, off to crumble Stilton…