Just Sous Just Me

Musicians, inspired recipes, songs and food adventures.


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Tamworth and the Mid-Festival Meltdown Salad Fix

Ruth's Festival Fuelling Fruit Salad

Ruth’s Festival Fuelling Fruit Salad

Hitting the New-England Highway each year as I drive away from Tamworth back to Sydney, my mind is undoubtedly swimming with many vast and varied wonderful musical moments and memories.  Mixed feelings of relief and exhaustion follow due to having survived it all once again because if there is one time of the year when musicians must be well nourished, match-fit both physically and mentally, the Tamworth Country Music Festival is it. Preparation and fore-thought is vital to endure this festival and to emerge on the other side of it intact rather than a dishevelled wreck which can occur after grabbing food on the run, sleep-deprivation, navigating roundabouts and the ever escalating build-up of traffic adding stress to reaching sound-checks on time only then having to locate a car-park after loading our equipment on to the stage – all of this madness carried out under searing degrees of 39 Celsius plus.  It’s a case of every musician for themselves in these conditions, not to mention the punters who follow a similar regime trying to get around and see as many favourites performing as possible over the ten days.  It’s a conundrum how this is achieved on the smell of an oily bucket of chips laced with chicken salt 🙂

During previous festivals, musician friends and I used to have competitions to see who could do the most gigs over ten days. In 1998 I did thirty-nine gigs, ten of which were in the attractive time-slot of midnight till 3am at the West Tamworth Leagues Club Legends Bar, followed by a few 8am Bluegrass Breakfast gigs and various shows throughout the day, then back to the midnight slot. In those days my body could handle it but now am a bit more selective and wiser (I hope). With that kind of carry-on, coupled with salubrious accommodation (such as squash court floor one particular year) there would always be what I label the inevitable ‘Mid-Festival Meltdown’, something I try to intercept from occurring these days.

Starmaker Grand Final View From The Stage

Starmaker Grand Final View From The Stage

While not hurtling around town from venue to venue navigating roundabouts, camels and cowboy hats, alternatively am required to be on a stage reading charts for more than ten hours backing Starmaker hopefuls, previous winners and students of the Academy of Country Music. Sustaining the level of concentration required for this (including executing fiddle solos in feel-good keys of C# and F#) can only be fuelled by sensible food options. In the words of Ian Lees – Musician of the Year 2014, “There’s nothing worse than staring at a chart and all you can see is a burger”.  Mercifully, the Starmaker organisers supply us with a beautiful fruit platter and some healthy vegetarian wraps on the busiest day which is a very welcoming sight indeed as catering for the musicians is usually a rare or substandard occurrence. (One day, we were presented morning tea in the form of a tray lined with hot-pink iced cupcakes and a plate of chocolate chip biscuits next to a crate full of Coke – not really my idea of musician nourishment however it’s the thought that counts). During these situations, I am grateful to have the hand-bag almonds on hand, never leaving home without them.

The Atrium in Ruth's House

The Atrium in Ruth’s House

It only took thirteen festivals to find her, but serendipitously my angelic Tamworth host Ruth Blakely now opens her home and her highly nutritional kitchen to me every year. Ruth’s home is quite simply Nirvana and an essential link to my survival of this festival. Every morning, she prepares an incredible fresh fruit salad of mangoes, strawberries, paw-paw, rockmelon, blueberries and what ever else of what seems to be endless supplies of fruit on-hand. After this, if she isn’t rushing off to work herself, she will offer to cook up a hot breakfast of eggs, bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes. Then, she will fill up jars with almonds, cashews and macadamia nuts for us to take away. Being a host to musicians for several years, she has surely observed the plight  we face every day and understands the value of a good breakfast in order to face the daily marathon, because when we leave her home each day we are often at the mercy of the un-known, food-wise. Sometimes all we will have time for later in the day in between shows, is a quick and easy no-queue-waiting soggy white bread salad sandwich in a plastic container. Or, if there is more than five minutes to spare, perhaps extravagance in the form of a roast dinner for $26.

Performing with The Bushwackers at the Longyard Hotel

Performing with The Bushwackers at the Longyard Hotel

A night off is not something I get to experience much during the festival, however do manage to squeeze one in this time. As all of my time not involved with performing has been writing charts and learning songs and repertoires, there’s been no time to go to any local restaurants or even do any research on where is best to eat out. Plus my ears need a rest from all of the music as some on-stage volume levels have been monumentally decibelic. A quiet, cleansing salad is in order so I rummage through the well-stocked fridge full of love and nourishment, with the addition of some of Ruth’s own home-grown produce to create this one.

Mid-Festival Meltdown Salad Fix

Mid-Festival Meltdown Salad Fix

As for any salad, you can add any ingredients you like but being absolutely fresh is the key. Even better if you are lucky enough to pick the produce straight from the garden. Realising my schedule for the next few days would be nothing short of monolithic, this was a definite pick-me-up :-).

Mid-Festival-Meltdown Salad

1 Bunch of English Spinach Leaves

1 Bunch of Rocket Lettuce

1 Zucchini, thinly sliced with a mandolin

1 Cucumber, sliced

Vine Ripened Cherry Tomatoes, cut in half

Basil Leaves, torn

Juice from freshly squeezed lemon

1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Sea Salt and Cracked Black Pepper

Dried Chilli Flakes

Method:

Place all ingredients in a bowl, add the lemon juice and olive oil and gently toss. Consume immediately. Goes nicely with a cup of organic green-tea

* You can also add sliced boiled eggs, or for the non-vegetarians some sliced grilled chicken breast.

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Peanuts in Coke Bottles and The Time Jumpers

Knoxville Carpark Mural

Knoxville Carpark Mural

To say that Nashville has opened my eyes, ears and taste buds to new heights is an understatement. The level of musicianship is sky-scraperingly good. The food options vary from organic, wholesome, tasty goodness to off the Richter-Scale sugar and cholesterol levels. And sights like the monstrous Opryland atrium spanning nine acres of lush indoor gardens including a river with a gondola, or the fifteen semi-trailers surrounding Broadway worth of Taylor Swift’s touring machinery must be seen to be believed. My violin has been lovingly repaired, restored and polished by talented Luthier Jennifer at the Fiddle House and the mighty Bushwackers have had a run of well-received shows at venues all over town during our involvement with the Americana Festival and Sounds Australia.

A Musicians Dream Sign

A Musicians Dream Sign

Musicians are taken care of by signs such as this on bustling Broadway. I so wanted to dismantle one and pack into my suitcase in order to temporarily place outside the front of certain performing venues in Sydney where No-Stopping signs are often conveniently situated. No wonder the musicians in Nashville are so approachable and happy in spite of only being remunerated by tips. Even when not touring with Paul Simon, his Drummer Jim Oblon performs regularly at the FooBar with a slick, four piece band as a blisteringly-good guitarist smashing out the blues and blues-inspired country standards for tips alone. He plays for the love of it and we all buy CD’s from him after seeing him walk around in the break with a tip bucket :-).

With Rick Price and Sam Hawksley at the Rutledge

With Rick Price and Sam Hawksley at the Rutledge

Which brings me to the Time Jumpers.  Any band with the likes of twenty-time Grammy award winner Vince Gill as a member, would not be playing for tips. I think not. They are playing for the love of it as this ten piece exquisite band are all individually in high demand outside of being a Time Jumper and this doesn’t stop any one of them showing up every single Monday Night at Third and Lindsley (with the exception of a coinciding world tour of course). Where to start with trying to describe the magnificent Time Jumper experience? A good place is probably with the fiddles. I have played in bands with more than one fiddle in my time but never have I heard anything as finely tuned, sweet sounding with killer intonation to match as that of the triple-fiddle tones of Larry Franklin, Kenny Sears and Joe Spivey. (I’d like to use every adjective for ‘Sublime’ found in the thesaurus to describe their sound but will settle for ‘Superlative’ for the moment). It’s jaw dropping to say the least and not once do any of them try to out-play or out-clever each other during their solo moments – their personalities are identified through their own playing each having something different to say, and then coming back together for their three-part distinguished sound.  Can it get any better?

Union Station Hotel Foyer

Union Station Hotel Foyer

Well yes it can because enter stage-left pedal-steel extraordinaire Paul Franklin, Nashville’s top session steel player for two decades. ‘All Aboard’ is an instrumental written by Paul and was one of my favourites of the night. Tuning into the associated train whistle noises created by all instruments on a bed of descending diminished chord-cluster made you feel as if you were actually on board the train. Eat your heart out ‘Orange Blossom Special’. Likewise, the reed work of Accordionist Jeff Taylor cuts through accurately and spell-bindingly – pure genius. Next,  additional Grammy Award winner veteran  ‘Ranger Doug’ Green arises from his seat behind the band and Yodels us all to Nirvana in a most chivalrous manner. If your eyes were closed, you’d be forgiven for thinking the lead guitar work subtly emanating from Andy Reiss would be Charlie Christian or Wes Montgomery. Every phrase tantamount to excellence. Drummer Billy Thomas (Robert Plant) and Bassist Dennis Crouch provide the back-bone with absolute first-class sensitivity and feel.

Dawn Sears, positioned regally at the front of the stage is now the second singer who has made me cry, Bonnie Raitt being the first and only till hearing Dawn. (I never attend a Bonnie concert without a box of Kleenex, and didn’t think to bring any to the Time Jumpers so know to do so next time. ) The delivery of her own composition ‘So Far Apart’ tears my heart apart it’s so hauntingly beautiful and the entire room is gob-smacked and mesmerised by her vocal propensity. We meet Joe Spivey at the bar during the break and he is very friendly and happy to give us his time and a picture with him. He tells us the Time Jumpers have literally just stepped off a plane from Switzerland where they had been performing at a country music festival, so please forgive us if we seem a bit faded due to travelling. You would never have picked that from these high level musicians (except for maybe Vince Gill donning a pair of shorts and a track-suit top).

What is the culinary element to this story you maybe wondering? Here it is. We obviously haven’t come here for the food tonight but at least there is salad with the option of Ranch dressing on the side at Third and Lindsley. Of more interest than an iceberg lettuce (which seemed to be the main ingredient in my mediterranean selection) was what I learned at the merchandise table where Jean, widow of original Time Jumper pedal steel player John Hughey who died in 2007, is seated. Jean still collects admission fees on the door and rarely misses a TJ performance and has many stories and happy to share them. I mention the fact I like to write about food and music adventures so she offers me this tasty morsel: “John and I spent many years on the road together, travelling to shows, criss-crossing all over the USA and we hated flying so we always drove, no matter how far the miles we weren’t ever getting on a plane if you paid us to! It’s a Southern tradition to put salted peanuts in the coke bottles and shake them up as the concoction enables you to stay awake for hours on end, and was the method we and other musicians used as a fatigue deterrent for driving such monumental distances”.

Peanuts in Coke? I laugh at the bizarreness and am perplexed but not at all surprised at this invention originating from the land also responsible for the creation of Peanut Butter and Chocolate together. Might take Jean’s advice and try Peanuts in Coke next time I drive to Tamworth 🙂


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There’s No Salad Here Darlin’, This Is A Honky-Tonk !

Image

If you happen to be a deep fried food fanatic and like all of your meals to contain large components of melted cheese laden with potato chips, a Honky-Tonk is the restaurant most accommodating.  Alternatively if you are a calorie-counter, satisfaction will not come in the form of food but from listening to the bands play some of the greatest Country Music you will ever hear on the planet. I have already been transported to heaven listening to fiddler Aubrey Haynie on my first night out in Nashville and wonder if any more music I hear during my stay will match his level of excellence. And of course, it does just this at the World Famous Nashville Palace. The go-to venue for a complete dose of fine Western Swing and true tradition, performed by musicians well-trained and often descended from a long line of Hillbilly and Appalachian Ancestry.

Nashville PalaceToday we are watching the Spaghetti Westerneers who are performing a four-hour set with only one short break and the place is packed. Song after song of sweet, slick, well executed tradition by the masters. Twin Fiddles, Accordion, Bass, Guitar and a lead singer who has similar pipes to Roy Orbison (and an un-canny resemblance to Elvis, he surely must be an impersonator outside of working with the Westerneers).  The walls are lined with row upon row of cowboy boots and flourescent neon beer signs. This is Honky-Tonk Heaven at it’s best and in the words of Neil Young, ‘Are you ready for the country?’ We most certainly are.

Nashville Palace Menu

Nashville Palace Menu

The twin-fiddle action is making me hungry so consult the menu. Unlike other Nashville eateries, there is no mention of anything remotely like a salad. It’s all burgers, fried everything and more plus white bread sandwiches and I’ve forgotten the hand-bag almonds so will have to order something. I ask the very friendly waitress (as they all are in Nashville) the possibility of just a salad? Oh no this is not possible she replies, Honky-Tonks do not serve salad. As am still trying to avoid bread and cheese at all costs, I try to order the Turkey and Swiss Sandwich, but please hold the bread, the cheese and the chips so all that’s left will be the lettuce and tomato. Both the waitress and I have a laugh at how ridiculous this is and she says ‘Sorry Honey, nice try’.  I go in hard. A salad is out of the question and am curious to how they taste so settle for Fried Pickle Spears with Ranch Dressing instead. Washed down with a glass of Chardonnay, they were actually OK but I conclude those delicious American Dill Pickles are quite fine just as they are. Why fry them?

Stainless Steel Silver Bird Sculpture at Shelby Park, Nashville

Stainless Steel Silver Bird Sculpture at Shelby Park, Nashville

As the week evolves I discover almost anything fried will appear on a menu in America, even Coca-Cola.  Healthy restaurants certainly do exist but research is essential to find them before venturing out for a meal – the Urbanspoon App was useful for this task. Besides the almonds, I had better start carrying around an iceberg lettuce as well. In the mean time the music we are being exposed to is enough soul nourishment and I am yet to see the world-famous Time-Jumpers at Third and Lindsley. To be continued 🙂


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Joy McKean, Anne Kirkpatrick and the Heart-Shaped Scones

Scones and Jam

In one week from today an incredibly famous and talented woman will be visiting me and I am a tad nervous. During my recent trip to the Gympie Muster where she was also attending, I spent a little bit of time with her at the Artist World and was lucky enough to be part of the wonderful Tribute Show performed on the Main Stage organised in honour of her late husband Sllim Dusty, who passed away a decade ago. Regally positioned to the side of the stage, she was attentive and supportive during the two-hour-plus show with a cast of thousands including family members and a myriad of well-known Australian Country Music Artists. With a long and illustrious career spanning decades, an OAM and recognised as one of Australia’s leading song-writers and bush balladeers, the ‘Grand Lady’ of Australian Country Music Joy McKean is making a visit to my house for Morning Tea.

The idea of inviting Joy around came about after a series of consequences. Earlier in the year we had been in contact via email in regards to the case of a missing cheque which we both agreed was due to a mishap by Australia Post. As I had to re-send an invoice directly to Joy for a re-draw, this highly observant woman recognised my address listed as being none other than one associated with Henry Lawson who did in fact reside in my house sometime within the years 1914 to 1919. Joy is an afficiando of Lawson’s Work, her husband Slim Dusty having recorded several of his poems put to music and according to Joy was a Lawson fanatic. She and Slim once walked along Euroka Street years ago and she remembers seeing the plaque (still there) marking the fact that Lawson had indeed lived in the street.

Henry's House

Henry’s House

Astounded with her astuteness, I reply to Joy with a photo of the house attached and confirmation she is correct. She then responded back with some beautifully articulated  words about ‘how special it is that I now own this piece of history and will look at me in future as the custodian of a special place, also that Slim would have been quite excited about it too.’ (I have printed out this email and placed it inside a copy of ‘The World of Henry Lawson’ – Biography and volume of his works).  After some encouragement and suggestion from a few music industry people who are great mates with Joy, I invited her around for Morning Tea and a visit to Henry’s old house which she graciously accepted. She will be accompanied by her daughter Ann Kirkpatrick, another famous and talented Australian Contry Music singer.

It’s time to start thinking about what food to present. As this will be an historical occasion, I can’t think of anything better to serve Joy than some good old-fashioned Scones with Jam Cream and a nice cup of tea, can you? I am sure she would have had her fair share of scones during her extensive travels to regional Australian towns and probably knows how to bake excellent ones herself so I will have to research the art of scone making as have only ever attempted them once before in a previous life-time.

Scones

There can only be one place to turn for this recipe so I consult the writings of another equally famous woman. The legendary Cooking Master, original writer of all things food, author and journalist single-handedly responsible for shaping the cooking adventures of Australian kitchens, Margaret Fulton – Mother of Baking. If anyone has a decent scone recipe in their repertoire it must be Margaret. Not only do I find her recipe, there is also a video of exactly how to do it correctly. Just to be sure I check-out a few other recipes and how-to but Margaret’s approach seems to be the simplest. (I did try another recipe for comparison but the scones burned on the bottom before the top cooked. Straight in the bin).

Some people might think making scones is easy but if you’re not an experienced baker it can seem daunting. YouTube is a useful tool with instructional content for how-to-do just about anything nowadays so I carefully follow the well presented method and manage to replicate Margaret Fulton Scones perfectly. (The tactile feeling of rubbing silky butter into flour with your fingers has got to be one of life’s great pleasures). There’s a reason for them being heart-shaped and that is simply because my kitchen utensil drawer only contained a heart-shaped cookie cutter, no circular one in sight. There was no cream in the fridge either so used Greek yoghurt instead. Topped with Beerenburg Caramelized Fig Jam, surprisingly this combination was terrific.

Heart-Shaped Scones

When Joy and Ann visit next week, I will make sure there is cream available of course but will give them the option of Greek Yoghurt in case they’d like to give that a go. Joy being well-known not only for her song-writing but as a generous woman with her time and a kind-hearted soul, I think the Heart-shaped scones will work.

Epilogue

Flowers by Joy

Flowers by Joy

When they arrived in Euroka street today, Joy realised she had forgotten to write down the number of my house so quickly consulted the plaque in the street to find the six numbers listed knowing it would have to be one of them. As happens every second day in my street, there was a group of people following the Henry Lawson North Sydney Historical Walk and I could hear Ann talking to someone in the party (who recognised them and wanted a photo) so I went out into the street to greet these two gorgeous ladies.

I invited them into Henry’s House, and after soaking up a bit of historical ambience we sat down for Morning Tea. The Heart-shaped scones were noted, as was the Greek Yoghurt option while Joy entertained us by recounting a few of her vast collection of road stories, caravans and cooking capers. (She is currently writing her Auto-Biography which will undoubtedly be a fascinating read).  She also opted for the cream as had already had her dose of yoghurt with breakfast and informed me that Ann is actually the Queen of Scone Making! Turns out Ann is also very passionate in the kitchen and has ambitions for future writing about travelling and food. Being a successful Artist, just like her mother she has toured and performed extensively around the country so is very familiar with food options on the road and has her own fair-share of road stories.

Ann has kindly shared her scone recipe which originally came from Alistair Jones a musician who toured and wrote a few songs for Slim in the early nineties. This recipe is even easier than Margaret’s, and according to Ann produces brilliant scones every time.

Ann Kirkpatrick Scones (via Alistair Jones)

5 Cups Self-Raising Flour, sifted*

250 ml Pouring Cream

250 ml Water

Method

1) Preheat oven 220 C, grease and lightly flour a baking tray

2) In a bowl, combine flour and cream

3) Fill cream container with water then add to flour and cream mixture

4) Mix with a knife or spatula till combined

5) Tip out onto a floured surface, knead lightly (less handling the better)

6) Plop onto baking tray and roughly shape into a rectangle (There will be a lot of dough, so depending on the size of your oven you may need to do this in two lots – halve the amount on the baking tray and bake in two separate batches)

7) Using a knife, make indents lengthways and crossways, not cutting all the way through so dough is still in one piece

8) Bake for 10-15 minutes or till risen and lightly browned on top

Serve within Jam and Cream OR Natural yoghurt

* According to Ann these measurements make a mountain of scones, so unless you have lots of guests for Morning Tea, this recipe can easily be halved:  2 and 1/2 Cups Flour, Tip out half the 250ml cream carton then top up with water. Use the reserved cream to top baked scones. 🙂