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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The Loveless Cafe, Music City Roots and the Missing Biscuit Recipe

MCR

There’s only one way to describe the final Bushwackers show in Nashville and that is simply Going Out With A Bang (and a broken Lagerphone). Staged live at the Loveless Barn behind the famous Loveless Cafe we performed a set of tunes on the weekly two-hour Music City Roots radio show hosted by Jim Lauderdale. English ex-pat, founder of the band Traffic and rhythm guitarist on Hendrix’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’ plus composer of ‘Feelin’ Alright’ Dave Mason opened the night followed by a special showcase of Australian acts including Mustered Courage, Melody Pool, Catherine Britt and Bill Chambers as The Hillbilly Killers and the indisputable Aussie music legend Paul Kelly. This performing vehicle, via simultaneous radio and web-cast enabled the voice of the Bushwackers to be well and truly heard by the packed-to-the-rafter audience and music fans world-wide, a tremendous and unforgettable experience.

BootsThis is our second last day in Nashville and we are certainly trying to pack in as much as possible in between our finale performances. We’ve sound-checked early afternoon at the Loveless and have a few hours before show-time so shopping is now on the agenda. We head to Oprymills, a massive retail-outlet shopping mall of steroidal proportion – Tennessee’s largest. Architecturally designed in a giant circle spanning two kilometres, satellite navigation is needed to find your way around this building and it’s almost impossible figuring out where it starts and ends. An entire day is needed here to shop leisurely and find exactly what you want but we only have one hour to spare?  I hit the ground running and manage to buy all the necessary items ordered by family back home within this time-frame, and am even shown by one shop assistant a short-cut, staff-only passage down endless lonely grey corridors through the bowels of the building in order to get to the other side of the mall in half the time. Miraculously, it worked as had no idea when or if I would make it out alive and emerge directly in front of a Cowboy Boot Warehouse.  With five minutes to spare, I snatch up a very nice pair of Dan Post, hand-crafted Mexican-made boots, the real deal. The shop assistant clinched the sale by telling me I simply can not leave Nashville without them. (She’s right. I have worn them nearly every day since returning to Sydney, they are fabulously comfortable and blister-proof too).

Halloween is on the horizon

Halloween is on the horizon

The credit-card action and lightning-speed of the shopping has made us all ravenous. Lucky for us the Loveless Cafe is catering for the evening before the show, and what a delectable spread is presented of pure heart and soul, traditional Southern cooking at it’s best. The food is assuredly made with love even though the cafe name suggests otherwise. Mashed potato, the most silky smooth, buttery (no lumps whatsoever) I have ever tasted with luscious red-eye gravy to match; Melt in your mouth, tenderly cooked fried chicken, delicate but with just enough special Loveless spices making it a bit ‘too’ moorish; sautéed green beans and then last but most certainly not least, the biscuits – ceremoniously piled high in a large bowl that kept getting refilled again and again. With accompanying preservative-free made on the premises peach, blackberry and strawberry preserves, these biscuits are what the Loveless Cafe, besides being a go-to restaurant by both struggling and famous country musicians in search of relief-from-the-road comfort food for decades,  is most famous for. Yes, it’s all about the biscuits here.

Loveless Cafe Famous Biscuits

Loveless Cafe Famous Biscuits

Whilst boot-scooting around Oprymills earlier in the afternoon, the same shop assistant who sent me into the unknown, after informing her we were performing at the Loveless just about fell over herself with excitement and flapped on about these biscuits and that I MUST try them, along with the preserves as they are the best. They look like scones, and pretty much taste like scones and are decidedly yummy especially with the creamy butter swirls and fruity preserves loaded on top. We are a happy band and ready to take to the stage at this point, and we do just this to a resounding, standing ovation – The Broken lagerphone representing testimonial of the triumph.

Loveless CafeIt occurs to me a nice gesture would be to try to recreate this magnificent Loveless Cafe meal upon returning to Sydney as a sort of ‘Nashville Reunion’ and synopsis of the trip with the band members who have all shared this unique experience.  I buy the Loveless Cafe Cook Book which am told includes all the famous recipes for everything we were served tonight. Listed in the index are recipes for the fried chicken, the red-eye gravy, mashed potatoes and even the blackberry and strawberry preserves. Nothing under ‘B’ for biscuits. Nothing at all. Further research uncovers that this recipe is under wraps and was sold by the original cafe owners to the current owners along with the cafe and never to be revealed!

Guess will just have to cook up a batch of Margaret Fulton Scones instead 🙂

* The web-cast recording of the entire Music City Roots concert can be viewed here