Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I Saw Nick Cave Smile (Maybe)

The last time I did Glastonbury Festival, back in 1998, one of the most memorable gigs was Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; the gloomy weather and sullen band suited each other perfectly. It was also the one and only time I've spotted myself on TV at a festival, when I watched the coverage (kindly recorded by my mum) back at home afterwards. Standing there swaying along to 'Red Right Hand' in the rain with Michael (my boyfriend at the time), sporting my delightful fluorescent yellow kagool (which I still own) - I looked thoroughly depressed, but I was having a good time, honest!

The next time I saw Nick Cave live was with his other band Grinderman (essentially a pared-down version of the Bad Seeds) at this year's Latitude Festival, almost exactly ten years later. I was livid with myself when my camera battery died (I have since bought a spare) right at the start of the gig and I failed to get any shots of the eccentrically photogenic star. But it was still a great show, and Cave had lost none of his trademark aloofness - delivering the amusingly titled 'No Pussy Blues' with glorious deadpan sincerity.

Then when the opportunity arose to review a Bad Seeds gig in Cave's (and my) adopted hometown of Brighton last weekend, I jumped at the chance. Usually I would avoid the soulless Brighton Centre like the plague, but was trusting in Cave's profusely theatrical charisma to invigorate even this most dreary of venues, and thankfully he didn't disappoint. Shaking me firmly out of a torpid Sunday hangover state, the ageing rockers delivered an awesome set that was just as good, if not better, than when I first saw them in that muddy field in Somerset a whole decade ago. Seeming noticeably more laid back here on home turf, Cave was on top form, strutting about and bantering with the enthusiastic crowd. At one point I thought I even detected the tiniest hint of a smile beneath that roguish moustache. It seems the scowling goth is mellowing in his old age, or perhaps he was just happy at the thought of sleeping in his own bed after the gig - I know I would be. You can read my write-up of the gig at: www.thedetour.co.uk and see more photos at: www.flickr.com/photos/rowstar.

And should you be concerned that I'm turning all mainstream stadium gig-goer on you, here is a review and photos of Peggy Sue's altogether more lo-fi happening at the Hanbury last week.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Killer Trifle (and Other Delights)

We had a few friends over for dinner on Saturday night, which meant that for most of last week I was preoccupied with planning, researching, shopping for and preparing a feast for the occasion. With so many dietary requirements to cater for (a coeliac, a vegan, one nut-allergic and one lactose-intolerant person), this proved quite a challenge - but one to which I rose with my usual foodie enthusiasm. Rather than serving up a sit-down meal (which makes more work for the hosts and means guests feel obliged to eat what's on their plate), we went for a more informal help-yourself buffet arrangement, comprising of the following:
  • Butternut squash, sweet potato, roasted garlic and ginger soup
  • Spicy roasted vegetable, tomato and rice soup (which was actually more like a stew)
  • Home-made garlic and sundried tomato focaccia bread
  • Home-made granary bread
  • Gluten-free garlic naan bread (courtesy of Waitrose)
  • Cheeseboard
  • Various crackers and crisps
  • Garlic and dill marinated green olives
  • Jalapeno peppers
  • Rocket (delicious sprinkled on the butternut squash soup)
  • Houmous
  • Caramelised onion and goats' cheese tarts (courtesy of Ezinda, via Waitrose)
For dessert, I made three separate trifles (one vegan, one gluten-free and one full-fat-everything-goes version), all of which were eye-wateringly boozy. You may be forgiven for thinking of trifle as a garish retro pudding à la Abigail's Party; but not in my house - I have reinvented this most misunderstood culinary genre and made it my own. Forget any notion of tinned mandarins, bland trifle sponges, sherry or (heaven forfend!) jelly - the main ingredients of the Rowstar Trifle are rum and chocolate, with just a nominal amount of fruit (soaked in rum of course). This version was pretty much made up as I went along, with the odd reference to the trusty kitchen shelf, and went something like this (from bottom layer up):
  1. Chocolate cake soaked in Mount Gay golden rum
  2. Bananas soaked in Havana Club dark rum
  3. Simple chocolate sauce (from Green & Blacks' chocolate cookbook, with added rum)
  4. Mascarpone topping (stolen from Nigella's mascarpone trifle recipe), with a splash of Smith & Wray white rum
  5. White Chocolate custard (made like standard home-made custard, but with white chocolate grated in at the end)
  6. Mascarpone topping, as above but with melted dark chocolate swirled in
  7. Caipirinha syllabub (made with lime juice, sugar, cachaça and double cream)
  8. Dark and white chocolate shavings to decorate
Silence descended upon the kitchen as everyone (apart from Ian, who it turns out doesn't like bananas) devoured theirs with gusto and even, in certain cases (naming no names), came back for seconds. One poor guest (who shall also remain nameless) was overcome and had to have a 'little lie down' afterwards - surely the testament to a great pudding if ever there was one! Most of the meal went un-photographed (I can't think of everything), but I did manage to get the above shot of one of the trifles before it was totally demolished. Do feel free to request further elaboration on ingredients and method should you feel inspired to concoct your own; and I heartily recommend that you do.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sussex Gastro Pubs Series: The George & Dragon at Burpham



The Sunday pub-walk is a longstanding tradition in the Stanfield family, and one that I have continued to observe into adulthood, despite no longer having the obligation of a dog to exercise. I'd thought we must have discovered every decent country watering hole in Sussex in the last however many years of weekend adventures, so it was a pleasant surprise to find somewhere new to fuel up at before braving the elements today. The George and Dragon at Burpham (pronounced at 'Burfam') is tucked away at the end of a long winding country cul-de-sac, right in the middle of a sweet little village. I guess it's what one would call a 'gastropub' - the focus being very much on the food, and with more of a chic restaurant feel than your usual rustic rural tavern. But it's still cosy and friendly, and amazingly buzzy despite being so far off the beaten track.

At around £15 for a main course, the food isn't cheap, but it's good. There was only one vegetarian option for each course, so I went for the soup of the day (onion & Gruyere) as a main course, while the others had roast beef and poached haddock, respectively. We were all impressed with the quality of ingredients, preparation and presentation of our choices and didn't resent paying a little more for something a cut above the usual Sunday roast. Having been so impressed with the mains, it would have seemed a crime not to sample the desserts, which all sounded so delicious that it was difficult to choose. I couldn't resist the 'dark chocolate brownie with homemade vanilla ice cream'; my companions picked 'orange and cinnamon bread and butter pudding' and 'raspberry panacotta' between them. The awed silence that accompanied the devouring of our puds (pictured above) was testament enough to their excellence, and by the end we were all quite blissfully replete.

Everyone was glad of the walk that followed - a circular route that took us out of the village via its Norman churchyard and up onto the ridge behind. Apart from an alarming number of animal corpses along the way, it was a lovely landscape, and you could see for miles from the up on the tops. But what had started out as a pleasantly mild afternoon suddenly turned into a miserable murky evening when a cloud of menacing mist descended, chasing us back into the village at an alarming rate. But it was worth it to see the dramatic sunset that ensued, and we were safely inside the car and on our way by the time it really came on to rain.

Today's itinerary was provided by our rather out-of-date edition of Pub Walks in West Sussex by Mike Power - a very useful guide to finding country pubs which have a decent walk nearby.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rough and Tumble: Big Bad Bond is Back

"As long as there's plenty of man-flesh and a good car chase, I'll be happy" I said as we parked up at the marina to go and see the new Bond film last night, prepared to be disappointed on the basis of mixed reviews. The second half of my wish came true almost immediately as a dogged Daniel Craig trashes yet another Aston Martin in the very opening scene - a rip-roaring chase sequence around a dusty, meandrous Italian town. The rest of the film continues at a similarly frenetic pace, as Bond battles to square some very personal scores left hanging in the previous installment, Casino Royale. Quantum of Solace is effectively a direct sequel, and while wounds are still fresh for our embittered hero, some of the plot details were a little hazy for those of us who had been busy doing other stuff in the two years since Craig made his debut in the role. But with all the brawling, bleeding, brooding and almost nonstop breakneck bedlam, it's easy enough to get caught up in the moment and not worry too much about the finer intricacies of exactly what is going on and why.

What I love about Craig's 007 is that he is HARD, almost superhero tough; leaping from buildings and bumping people off without a flicker of remorse. But he also bears the scars of these intense run-ins and occasionally betrays a softer underside, especially when dealing with vulnerable women. His cold single-mindedness in this particular pursuit thankfully leaves little room for the sleazy conquests of past Bond eras however. Just one (slightly unconvincing) seduction occurs towards the beginning, and even then we are spared the sordid details. The only downside to this is that there is only one, ONE (!) bare torso shot in the entire film. WTF? After that drool-inducing snug swimwear scene in Casino Royale, I was at least hoping for a cheeky glimpse of naked arse, but sadly it wasn't to be. I suspect a subtle marketing ploy directed at middle-aged housewives, ensuring that they (we) will keep coming back on the promise of more. Well it worked, dammit! Lustful thoughts aside, it was a cracking action film that kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. Perhaps not for fans of the oldschool Bond tradition - no excessive sex, gadgets or puns - but for me the ideal antidote.

Friday, November 07, 2008

A Smile Restored

It feels as though I've been going on and on about teeth for the last year or so, and that regular readers must be bored of hearing about them - but people do still seem to be interested and are always asking me about my dental adventures. Well, now that they are all mended (yay!) and the hardcore dentistry is done at last, I can talk about the actual process without too much anxiety. So here is one final post (promise!), in a little more detail, before I put the whole gruesome episode behind me.

For those of you playing catch-up, I lost or broke ten of my teeth in total (as well as fracturing my jaw), in a bicycle accident last year. Having rejected the NHS's offer of dentures, I made my own plans for getting implants done abroad (where they are significantly cheaper), and went on the first trip to Hungary back in April. This involved a fairly intense operation for which I was sedated for two hours or so while metal pegs were drilled into my gum and the surrounding bone that had been damaged in the accident was repaired. I was in and out of the dentist's chair for another eight days after that, getting my stitches checked and having a couple of root canals - these were actually the worst bit of the entire process. The implants and bone augmentation had to be left to fuse to my own jaw bone for six months before the new teeth could be attached, and it felt like a long time in between with nothing to show for all the trouble.

Last month I went back to have the process completed - this involved being sedated again to have the implants 'exposed' and seven broken teeth filed down ready to be crowned. Compared to the previous treatment this felt like a breeze - the sedation is really very effective and you hardly remember anything afterwards. Once they had taken moulds of my teeth, the technicians created the new ones from porcelain in a matter of days, and the rest of my time there was spent literally trying them on for size - checking the fit, colour and bite before they were finally stuck in. For the more ghoulish among you, This X-Ray was taken afterwards and shows exactly what I had done. It was very strange to have a mouthful of perfect teeth again, after so long living with them being such a mess, and although in theory I could use them almost straight away, it took a bit of getting used to the action of chewing again. But I am happy to report that I've since devoured several pizzas without too much hassle, and am working my way up to nuts, crisps and apples!

I can't say that any of it was a pleasant experience exactly, but the level of care and dedication I received from my Hungarian dentist far surpassed any medical treatment I have had here in the UK. Even with the travel and accommodation, it cost a third of what it would have done at home, and all happened to smoothly and professionally. The dental practice was clean, modern and comfortable (you could even watch TV while being drilled!), and all of the staff who looked after me were wonderfully kind and patient throughout. I guess I was fortunate to discover such a great place to get the work done (you do hear some horror stories about dental tourism, usually in the Daily Express) - especially since it was a bit of a random coincidence finding them in the first place. I 'd certainly recommend them to anyone else who might be thinking about getting implants, or any other extensive dental work. Free consultations are currently scheduled in London, Eastbourne and Dublin - drop me a line if you would like further details.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Happy Happy Joy Joy

I didn't sleep at all well last night. Anxious to keep abreast of election progress across The Pond, I woke at one, two and four am, switching on the bathroom radio to check the latest incoming results. In my drowsy state, I vaguely recall coming back to bed at one point and mumbling "Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania" to the unresponsive comatose body next to me. I'd set my alarm for six, an hour earlier than usual, so that I could find out the final result as soon as possible, and watch the news reports for posterity before heading off to work. When I flicked on the TV at one minute past I was confronted with a smiling waving Obama, flanked by his wife and kids; cheers, balloons and streamers filling the air all around them. It was clear from this cheesy snapshot alone that I was looking at a Democrat victory; and the butterflies that had been bothering me all night immediately turned to prickly goosebumps.



The moving montages of overwhelmed revellers that followed - particularly of Obama's Kenyan relatives singing and dancing in the streets (see above) - reinforced my own feeling of sheer elation at this momentous happening. I haven't stopped smiling since (an unusual state of affairs for this usually scowling lady). It's impossible to sum up the weight of hopes, dreams and expectations now resting on America's first black president, but he has already changed so much just by being elected. Let's hope that those who put him in power remain as enthused and inspired throughout his tenure as they are today; he will certainly need their continued commitment and support in order to make a decent job of it. The last thing I heard on the radio before leaving the house was Obama promising to buy his little girls a puppy to take to the White House with them - slightly vomit-inducing, but then I guess he's entitled to a bit of schmultz, for today at least. If you are reading this Mr Obama (ha ha), please do the right thing and get a rescue dog!

It does seem felicitous that tonight's Guy Fawkes celebrations should coincide with the day's exciting news, and though I won't be sticking around in Lewes to partake of its excessive bonfire antics this evening (I don't like loud bangs or big crowds), I shall certainly be raising a toast from afar. After all, the only thing missing from this thrilling day so far is the pop of a champagne cork. Bring it on.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Obligatory Election Post

I haven't felt this excited and anxious about an election since 1997, when as a politically fired-up and naively optimistic student I stayed up all night to watch Labour take power from the Tories in that spectacular landslide victory. It is one of the most enduring memories of my university years - from our euphoric cheering as Portillo got knocked off his seat (by a gay Labour candidate no less), to the pop of champagne and our soaring spirits as the final results sunk in, then running out of the house at some ridiculously early hour to buy up all the morning papers and whooping the news in the streets to oblivious passers - it all comes back to me in gleefully vividly detail.

Despite not being a voter in today's US election, the tension surrounding its outcome is as great, if not greater, than on that day eleven years ago. This is not, nor has ever aspired to be, a current affairs blog, and I don't intend to start ranting about the whys and wherefores - though anyone who knows me will be well aware of my political leanings. The world could be a whole different place by this time tomorrow, and I cannot WAIT to find out which way it is going to go. I doubt I'll have the stamina to stay up all night this time (unless these pesky butterflies in my stomach keep me awake), but it will certainly be the first thing on my mind when I rise. Hope is hanging in the air like the teasing promise of a first fairytale kiss; please, oh please let me open my eyes in the morning and find a prince not a frog.

Photo by mdumlao98 on Flickr

Monday, November 03, 2008

As If By Magic...

How appropriate that the first photo of me flashing my shiny new gnashers should be whilst dressed as an evil magician, flanked by Ant in drag as my 'lovely' assistant (who I accidentally sawed in half). Says it all really. The picture was taken on Saturday night during a Halloween party at Sara & Sean's house - my first major social occasion since returning from the recent dental trip. It was a great party, especially as most people had risen to the costume challenge so enthusiastically, and were a real pleasure to photograph. I finally pulled the drag card on Ant, nearly a year after he gave me an IOU last Christmas, promising to go out in women's clothes upon my whim. He was initially a little sulky about the whole prospect, but soon got into character and upstaged me as always. Frankly he's lucky I used it for a fancy dress party and not just a family wedding or something (though I can't say I wasn't tempted)! The other guests included Myra Hindley, Harold Shipman, the Joker, Papa Lazaru, the Devil, and the usual compliment of zombies, freaks, witches and ghouls. If you're feeling brave, have a look at the rest of my pictures from the night at: www.flickr.com/photos/rowstar/sets/72157608596540144