Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Anais and Jefferson and The Kit and a Blind Tiger

Anais and Jefferson
A wonderful musical evening yesterday with new discoveries, amazing performances, and the promise of two more potentially great gigs in the next couple of months. We went to the Blind Tiger Club in Brighton which I think is a lovely venue but Dave is generally unimpressed by. Plusses are bunting, sparkly lights and Crabbie’s Ginger Beer; minus is mostly the seating which isn’t very comfortable unless you’re first through the door, but at least there is some.

The gig was Vermont singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell who is back in the UK to finally promote the album, Child Ballads, a collaboration with Jefferson Hamer which has been three years in the making. Their painstaking work was obvious in every note and everyone in the club was transfixed from start to finish. The pair have selected English and Scottish folk songs and brought them ‘back home’ with gorgeous Americana harmonies and guitars. I love the recording which we’ve had on the iPod for a while, but seeing the work performed live was breathtaking. Both Anais and Jefferson are so talented and their voices blend together perfectly. I hadn’t seen Jefferson before and he’s certainly worth a look - almost as beautiful as the lace-up leather boots Anais was wearing! The recording seems to favour Anais more but the gig was a definite partnership. If they’re coming anywhere near you over the next couple of months (and the gig isn’t already sold out!) make sure you get yourself a ticket. This one’s a real treat.

This Is The Kit
Anais and Jefferson were preceded by Bristol’s This Is The Kit performing a set of their own songs. Quirky and lyrically interesting, after a slightly nervous start we both were impressed with their singing. Briefly checking them on Facebook, I think the band performs in a variety of combinations around pivotal Kate Stables, and we saw a duo of Kate and Rozi. I wouldn’t necessarily travel especially to see them again, although I’d support a local-to-me gig, but I will be keeping an eye on their future work and will probably download at the weekend if there’s an album available.

The aforementioned potentials started taking shape when I got home from a drab day at work. Dave reminded me of April’s Pete Mulvey gig at Lewes Con Club which we had looked into but not yet got around to booking. I very much like his album and he’s got a great voice, but he’s apparently sharing the bill with Birds Of Chicago who I don’t yet know at all. More research required so I’ll be on YouTube if you need me!
Then as we were rushing to get ready, Dave also mentioned that Rachel Ries is playing in the Brighton Festival Fringe in May. We saw Rachel once before, last year at the Blind Tiger Club in Anais Mitchell’s Young Man band. I’ll be interested to see more of her work, and she is sharing the bill with Brighton’s Emily Baker who I think is really good. Emily played support for a fun Amy Wadge gig at The Greys, several years ago now, and I’m definitely up for hearing how her music has evolved and discovering what she’s doing now.

So that’s Pete Mulvey in Lewes in April and Rachel Ries/Emily Baker at Brighton Festival Fringe in May. Please don’t go buying the last tickets for either until I’ve got mine!

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Pork with Black Olives recipe

Pork with Black Olives
I'd like to share this favourite dinner recipe of ours. It's a simplification of a Spanish dish. We usually serve the quantity below as two portions for dinner, but then don't have anything else with it. I have also served it as four portions with a carb side dish when entertaining.


Ingredients:
175g pork tenderloin fillet
1 tbsp plain flour
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
1 small onion, fairly finely chopped

400g tin chopped tomatoes
200ml chicken stock
100ml white wine
90g black olives, pitted and halved
2 tbsp dried parsley

We usually get a whole +Sainsbury's tenderloin fillet when I cook this meal, and keep half for next time in the freezer. Slice the fillet into 1cm thick slices and flatten them out with the heel of your hand (or a meat mallet if you've got one).
Mix the flour, salt and pepper together into a bowl and dredge the pork slices. Go easy on the salt because the olives will add a salty taste to the dish later on.
Heat a couple of glugs of good quality olive oil in a large deep frying pan and brown the pork slices. Remove them from the pan and set aside.
Add a little more oil to the pan if needed and lower the heat. Fry the onion until softened but not browned. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock and wine, and bring to the boil. I like the Napolina tomatoes and use Kallo organic stock cubes.
When the sauce begins to boil, lower the heat again and return the pork to the pan. Make sure all the slices are submerged and leave on a slow simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally to make sure the sauce doesn't stick.
Add the olives to the pan with a generous couple of tablespoons of parsley. Stir and leave to cook for about another half an hour before serving. I probably only put about 60g of olives into the actual dish. We buy them from the deli aisle in a 90g tub but, strangely, several always vanish between halving and cooking!

Enjoy!

Monday, 25 February 2013

Musings on Storytelling Sunday and my name

Storytelling Sundays mask
Last weekend, I went to the first Storytelling Sunday, a series of workshops led by Sally-Shakti Willow. I didn’t really know what to expect from the session, but I like stories and hoped there might be some good advice I could use to improve my writing. As someone who usually stays on the perimeter at these kinds of things, I certainly did not expect to get as involved as I did or to have such an emotional reaction to the work. Just over a week later and, like an excellent play that stays with you after the curtain has fallen, the workshop is still very much in my thoughts. I keep being drawn back to mull over the issues that affected me so strongly.

Sally-Shakti is a lovely woman, warm and kind, and the atmosphere she created for the workshop was like a supportive bubble with only the group inside. Sounds odd, I know, but it really worked and I believe feeling so safe was the catalyst for allowing myself to open up. The workshop explored our names, how we feel about them and how well we relate to them. I don’t like my name. It doesn’t fit me. I tend to use the abbreviated ‘Steph’ but, as this is such a short sound, I have learned I need to say the long ‘Stephanie’ when I first meet new people, otherwise they mishear and I end up embarrassed, repeating myself. So as we zoomed round the group, I said ‘Stephanie’, the word left hanging awkwardly in the air. It’s my name, but it’s not me.

I was surprised that a good half of us felt disconnected from our names so my quandary is not so unusual! We looked up the words in baby name books to see if an ancient meaning might provide a connection. Stephanie means ‘garlanded’ or ‘wreathed’ or ‘crowned’. I’ve never been a woman who particularly decorates herself and the thought of being crowned? Well, that’s really not me either. A new friend, Suesie suggested hidden depths, perhaps I haven’t yet found my ‘thing’, the talent that will earn my wreath. This did resonate quietly at the time although I didn’t consciously pick up on it until several mulls later. I spoke about my Mum, relating her explanation of why my sister and I have unusual names (hey, I was storytelling!). Mum was a teacher and didn’t want to be reminded of previous students when she spoke about her own children. She ignored the names of children she had taught and, in the 1970s, Stephanie was much more unusual than it is now. She was aware that I might not like it though, so my middle name was ‘plain’ Jane in case I wanted something simple instead. However, using a different name to your given one is difficult to enforce and requires a strength of character that little me didn’t have. You have to repeatedly correct people and I wasn’t comfortable with that level of attention. Stephanie stayed.

I talked over the workshop with my partner, Dave. Interestingly, he’s fine with his first name, but has issues with his surname, which has a silent ‘e’ on the end. He believes he should keep the ‘e’ as it was important enough to his ancestors that they kept it, but he finds endlessly repeating ‘with-an-e-on-the-end’ to be wearying and is also uncomfortable with the extra attention it brings. At Dave’s suggestion, we tried an exercise of using our middle names and found it a fun but weird experience. Ourselves as Dave & Steph are very different to how we imagined Hugh and Jane would be. Try it yourself!

It was thinking about my Mum spending ages poring over names for her baby that choked me up at the workshop – and is doing so again now as I relive the experience by writing about it. I know she put a lot of effort into trying to get our childhoods right and effectively complaining makes me feel ungrateful. At least my name is generally pronounced correctly. My sister is Adrienne - that’s with an Ay (for ‘orses) sound at the beginning, not an Add, and hit the last syllable, not the first. Yes, this could be a lot more difficult.

I have started to understand that perhaps it is not my name that’s really causing the problem here, but the person I think of when that label is used. I recoil because I don’t like who I used to be and I still see her. I need to start seeing the person I am now instead – the one who is becoming confident, who has medals for running, who is discovering art and jazz and shoe shopping! I think as I become happier with myself, I’m probably going to find that my name is more relevant to who I am now. So, at the end of this long, self-indulgent essay, we have the reason for this blog’s title, Stephanie Jane. It’s my name and I am going to find a way to marry the two of us – that name to this woman and this woman to that name.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Seed and Sultana Flapjack recipe

This post is intended as a destination to which I can point all those who peer suspiciously at my breakfast on the bus, their exclamations of "you made it yourself?" seeming to imply that baking is some form of dark art that simply wouldn't tolerated in their house!

The breakfast in question is a wedge of flapjack with added mixed seeds, sultanas and chopped banana. It is very simple - as is most of my cooking - and the longest part of the recipe is the leaving-it-to-chill-in-the-fridge stage which it is quite happy doing unsupervised.

Ingredients:
100g butter
3 dessert-spoons of Golden Syrup
150g porridge oats
75g sultanas
75g mixed seeds
(pumpkin, linseed, sesame, sunflower, chopped nuts, ...)
1 over-ripe banana, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to about 190C and grease a baking tin. I use a loose-bottomed 8" round cake tin like the one pictured below, but any tin of similar proportions would be fine. The loose-bottom is very helpful when removing the flapjack once cooled, though I expect a tin with springform sides would work just as well.

Put the butter and Golden Syrup in a saucepan over a low to medium heat and leave until the butter has melted. The saucepan needs to be large enough for ALL the ingredients. And ideally, the Golden Syrup needs to be Lyle's - cheaper ones like the +Sainsbury's version work ok, but they don't quite taste the same!

In the meantime, weigh out the dry ingredients and chop the banana. The sultanas can be swapped with pretty much any dried fruit if you prefer. I have used chopped apricots, chopped dates and cranberries, all of which have been nice but sultanas are usually cheaper! For the seeds, I used to buy the Omega Seed Mix bags from Julian Graves until the shop in Eastbourne closed down. I now make my own mixes with the tubs from ESK.

When the butter is melted, take the pan off the heat and mix well until combined with the syrup. Add the banana and stir to coat and separate the pieces. Add the oat-seed-sultana mix and stir until everything is coated - it will darken in colour and stop looking 'dusty' when ready.

Empty the saucepan into the baking tin and smooth to a flat surface. Put into the oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden-brown on the top.

Remove from oven and push flapjack down with a spoon to condense it. This helps make the bars easier to eat on the run. Leave until cool, then remove the sides of the tin and put the flapjack into the fridge to chill for at least a couple of hours.

When chilled, cut into segments - I get eight from a batch - and wrap individually in clingfilm. If kept in the fridge, the flapjack lasts for about a week.