Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I'm Quite Excited About This To Be Honest

The Pentangle: I Loved A Lass (BBC Session, 1969)

Now, I've written, probably too much, about The Pentangle here before, but, the point is this. I'm interviewing them next Monday somewhere near the Barbican and it will be the original line-ups first interview together (barring Danny, who'll only be interviewed on the phone) since 1972. When I was 3.

They have reformed in order to appear at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and if you can't hear me shouting drunkenly all the way through the broadcast then it's safe to assume Jacqui McShee has had me killed.

Anyway, this track is taken from the band's new 4CD retrospective, The Time Has Come and those are the honeyed tones of the very marvellous Brian Matthew giving them such a fantastically modish introduction.



I know and I am ashamed.

It's acceptable to read Grazia and even Heat. It should be enough. But I can't stop myself looking at this rubbish. I especially like the video section - why is it so funny watching people fall over? Okay, I've had my fix now, back to making fish pie for supper and raising that child (alone in the garden, no coat, head-to-toe covering of damp sand).

London: Literally, "Quite Nice To Look At"

Isn't it amazing how much better you feel when your commute to work is back-lit by that little beauty? Can you see a tiny St Paul's there on the left? For the perfect soundtrack accompaniment, I recommend Our Velocity or Boxes From Books from the new Maximo Park album.

Although, if you prefer something a little more local and a little more vintage, may I recommend the still mystifyingly brilliant New Rose by The Damned. There is a 30th Anniversary edition of their debut LP out in April and we're listening to it twice a day every day at the moment. You know when you say something that reveals a little too much of yourself and wonder whether maybe you should have just kept your mouth shut? I just had that feeling.

Anyway, lunch in the park, anyone?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Wikipedia: The Outer Limits

The far-flung reaches of Wikipedia taps into a deep well of the least useful information ever collated in one place. You really, really don't need to know any of this stuff, but it will amuse you.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Records That Make Me Feel Good: 15

Dudley Moore: Hello Sailor (Decca, 1969)

Now, for a start, the very idea of naming a track Hello Sailor is so inviting it's actually genius. Who wouldn't want to hear a piece called Hello Sailor played in the new lounge-jazz style by that nice man off the television with all the funny voices?

Rarely, if ever, have I heard a record which sounded so much like a Dick Emery sketch pasted onto thick black vinyl. You are immediately transported to the plushest lift in the department store of your dreams with this tinkling lightly in the background, clicky bass, random percussive bursts and a light sprinkling of Tijuana horns all present and correct.

Clearly whatever world shaped this record, it was a world where things like driving a car or flying away on holiday or simply eating a poorly grilled steak were still tremendously excting prospects.


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Friends from the Earth

After a late night celebrating our friend Bert's birthday we were looking forward to having our lunch cooked by Pad and Mel today. And we weren't disappointed. There was a lovely organic roast chicken, great wine and bowls of snacks, but they really, really put the effort in with the veg. There were roast potatoes and roast sweet potatoes plus three vegetable dishes from the fine new book Cook With Jamie: Slow-cooked Leek Soldiers with Bacon, Cheesy Peas and The Best Onion Gratin.

It was so delicious, we had to collapse on the sofa and all watch Wallace & Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit until it was time to go home.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Bacon and leek quiche

Serves 4 - 6
500g shortcrust pastry
plain flour, for dusting
250g dry cure streaky bacon, cut widthways into 2cm pieces
2 trimmed leeks, thinly sliced
150ml double cream
300ml milk
2 large eggs plus 2 yolks
150g mature Cheddar such as Keen's, coarsely grated

1 Preheat the oven to 200C, gas mark 6. Roll the pastry out on a floured surface and use to line a 22cm loose-bottomed tart tin. Prick the base, fill with crumpled foil and bake for 10 minutes then remove the foil. Lower the oven to 180C, gas mark 4.

2 Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a non-stick frying pan for 5 minutes until golden. Drain on kitchen paper. Add the leeks to the same pan and cook for 5 minutes until beginning to soften.

3 Beat together the cream, milk, whole eggs and egg yolks until well blended. Stir in the bacon, leeks and most of the cheese then pour into the tart case. Scatter over the remaining cheese and a good grinding of black pepper then bake for 25 minutes until golden and just set – don’t worry if it still wobbles a little in the centre it will set further as it cools.

4 Carefully remove the tart from the tin then slide onto a wire rack to cool. Leave to cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Hello New Music: 2

These five tracks from the new Maximo Park album are fantastic. I won't insult your intelligence trying to explain what they sound like, after all, who needs that kind of pressure, but if you've ever liked them at all you'll now like them very much and if you haven't, well, this is a good time to begin.

And I'm not just saying all this because NME once ran a fake letter from me pointing out how much The Scrap looked like MP shouter Paul Smith. Oh no.

Anyway, here are the tracks I have...

I'll not be able to keep this pace up, eh!

Hello New Music...

Brett Anderson's new album is from the top drawer. Look, that's sort of the sleeve. I suppose it might change, but that's what I was sent. There is almost no warbling and not one mention of trash or cigarettes. One track sounds like BBC2 test card music from 1974, but I can't remember which one. I think it might have been The Intimate Kiss. Now, prepare yourself for the tracklisting...

This is real seat-of-the-pants stuff, isn't it!

Seville orange marmalade

My mother-in-law Helen makes really lovely marmalade. There are loads of good marmalades you can buy but they don't come close to home-made.

Sevilles, the bitter and flavoursome cooking oranges are now in season but are only around for a couple of weeks so if you want to make marmalade, do it in the next few days. Helen has made hers to this recipe for 40 years and it is based on one by Mrs Beeton. This is how she does it and I've just tried it and it works brilliantly. I've got a few spare jars if anyone wants one?

Makes 10lbs (about 10 - 12 jars)
3lbs Seville oranges
4 pints of water
juice of 2 lemons
6lbs granulated sugar

Place the oranges and water in a very large pan and bring to the boil. Cover and cook on the lowest setting for 2 hours.

Leave until cool enough to handle. Halve the oranges and scoop out the pulp, pips and pith and add to the pan. Finely shred the rind – I warn you, this takes ages.

Bring the pan to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Pass through a fine sieve and back into the pan.

Add the shredded rind, lemon juice and sugar, gently bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves then boil vigorously for 20 – 25 minutes. Test by putting a little onto a cold saucer and returning to the fridge for a few minutes – push the marmalade with your finger and if it wrinkles, it is ready to set. If not, keep boiling and testing.

Carefully ladle the hot marmalade into warm sterilised jars (wash then put in a cold oven, turn to low heat and leave for 20 minutes), then top with a wax disc and circle of sellophane. Leave to cool and set then it’s ready to eat.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Hooray! Boo!

It's not often you get snow in London is it. Especially not the proper thick blanket snow that covered our spookily-quiet street this morning. I bet it'll be gone by tea time and we'll have to wait until next year to touch it again.

Now that we have touched it, Scrap and I had better get back into bed with our hot water bottles and Ice Age dvd and try not to perish while we wait for Adrian the plumber to come and fix the boiler. Thank you for that Jesus.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Records That Make Silvana (And Me) Feel Good: 2

Led Zeppelin Immigrant Song (Atlantic, 1970)
Led Zeppelin vs Beastie Boys: Immigrant Song Check (unknown)

As you can see, we're still on a bit of a Life On Mars thing at the moment. It is the best programme that's appeared on British TV in years and this Led Zeppelin track is its theme music. Interestingly, both me AND Silvana have really nail-biting John Simm related anecdotes (because we live such exciting lives. Ahem).

Anecdote 1: Silvana was at the Nibbies last year. The awards took so long, and she had drunk so much wine while waiting for her meal, that she got a bit "confused" and mistook a guy in a black suit for a waiter. "I don't work here," the chap replied, "but I'll try and find out where your pudding is." That chap was Simm and the pudding came in seconds.

Anecdote 2: I was commissioned by Neil to review John's band Magic Alex for Melody Maker in about 1999. Drink was taken. The gig was at a godawful pub in Stockwell more used to hosting tribute bands and there were about three people there - but they were very good. I spilt Guinness all over the nice chap from The Face. Sorry Alex.

Bonus 'Dote: A few years later I interviewed John for Word and a 10 minute phoner turned into a 40 minute chat about films, wives, children, life and music. John, being a friendly sort of cove, suggested that we should be mates as we had so many things in common. But he probably says that to all the hacks...

Anyway, I've never really liked Led Zeppelin. They were always older brother music to me, but Silvana really, really likes this track. And, in turn, that makes me like it too as I am of the belief that if your wife likes something then there must be something to it.

Unless it's The Zutons. .


Global Warming: Shock New Evidence

Me and The Scrap went to Dulwich park last Saturday where we were more than a little surprised to see this little bugger moving about on the floor like it was spring and not January 20.

Worrying, no?

Life On Mars: Teaser Alert!

Life On Mars begins again very, very soon (let's say, beginning of Feb). Until then, you might want to have a look at this. Yes, it is a bit good, isn't it.

Records That Make Me Feel Good: 14

Lorraine: She Lives In Gardens (Columbia, 2006 unreleased)

A text book example of how to screw up a band's potential, Lorraine signed to Sony/BMG in early 2006 after tremendously glowing reviews in NME and Time Out (by, um, me and Peter).

The rest of the media got on board, a huge pile of "This band are great!" articles duly appeared about how this was a fine-looking band making exemplary pop records that drew on classic Depeche Mode, New Order, Aha and Pet Shop Boys themes. And then the singles came out in these non-descript sleeves and proceeded to die on their arse.

This is an unreleased track from what may, or may not, appear on their debut album. If it ever appears. Or they might just move back to Bergen and get real jobs.

Which would be a shame, wouldn't it.

BTW: there are more old people and crackly vinyl from the basement coming - don't panic...

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Sunday lunch

I’ve got Rob’s family over for Sunday lunch today and I’ve decided to keep it traditional and do roast beef with Yorkshires, roasties, green beans and cauliflower cheese. A little spaghetti starter and a pate to nibble on with a glass of dry sherry while we wait for everyone to arrive.

Chicken liver pate

Easy! Heat a knob of butter in a large sauté pan and cook 500g trimmed chicken livers, a chopped garlic clove and a rosemary sprig for 5 - 8 minutes, stirring occasionally until the livers are cooked but slightly pink in the centre. Leave to cool for 5 minutes then remove and discard the rosemary sprig. Place the warm livers in a food processor and whizz until smooth. With the motor running, pour in 120ml double cream, followed by three tablespoons of Madiera or Marsala or Port until well blended and completely smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste then spoon into a serving dish or individual ramekins. Top with some melted butter and a few rosemary leaves and leave to set. Serve with thin slices of ciabatta toast and a fruity chutney and / or some cornichons.

Yorkshire puddings

I’m no expert when it comes to Yorkshire puddings – they’re not something I really grew up with but I have messed around with the recipe every time I've made them and am finally happy - my Yorkshires are now light and crisp. My method is not authentic, I use self raising flour where purists use plain and I use only water and no milk. In a large bowl, beat together 2 large eggs, 1 tbsp sunflower oil, 100g self raising flour, a pinch of table salt and 300ml of water. Chill for 30 - 60 mins. Put a splash of sunflower oil in a 12-hole muffin or deep tart tin and put it in the oven set to 220C until the oil begins to smoke. Ladle the batter between the hot moulds and bake for 20 minutes until risen and golden brown.

Raspberry and white chocolate trifle

I love trifle but I hate it when the sponge dissolves into the jelly so following my mum’s method, I set the jelly separately the night before. Make up a 135g block of Hartley’s Raspberry Jelly to 570ml and leave to set. Cut a small block of Madeira cake, about 200g, into slices and place in the bottom of trifle bowl. Drizzle with Marsala or Madiera or medium sherry. Mash up the jelly with a fork and spoon over the sponge with some fresh raspberries. Whisk together half a 250g tub mascarpone and 500g carton yellow Ambrosia custard. Spoon over the jelly. Top with softly whipped double cream. Scatter over a handful of raspberries, maybe a few mini chocolate buttons and drizzle with melted, cooled white chocolate. Chill for a couple of hours.

Friday, January 19, 2007

This Just In

It is, apparently, UH-MAZING, "freak-folk". Well, that's probably true, but I'm wondering if they might want to have another little run-up at their backing band's name...

Quick! The Sun's Shining!

This is the view from my office window. It is, literally, making me feel glad to be alive.

Anyone for a nice cup of tea?

The Trial of Tony Blair (A Competition)

I started watching this last night but unfortunately nodded off after about 8 minutes. But anyway, I did think that lovely Derby boy Robert Lindsay was very very good. I have tried to think of 10 famous people from Derby but it's been a struggle. There's a couple I am not 100% sure about and one I absolutely made up. Can you guess who is definitely not from Derby? There will be a special prize for the winner and anyone who can come up with any good names for my list.

Famous Derbeians
Alan Bates
Florence Nightingale
Robert Lindsay
Joseph Wright
Michael Parkinson
Geoff Hoon
Kelli from Liberty X
Candy Flip
Simon Groom from Blue Peter
Tim Brooke-Taylor

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Records That Make Me Feel Good: 13

Keane: She Sells Sanctuary (Polydor, 2007)

Oh my god - it's a miracle! A record I like that isn't some tedious old tosspot whinging on and on and on 35 facking years ago! Of course, it is still an old song, but the idea of Keane - those perennial bed-wetting, chubby-cheeked losers (they're actually top-drawer - and lovely chaps to "boot", but there you go), covering Rock Pigs The Cult's most infamous moment is - well - great.

This is the b-side to the new single, so I'll probably get put inside for posting this.

But don't let that put you off.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Let's Hear it For The (Water)boys

Is that the worst "headline" I've ever used? Probably.

Anyway, we've had a fair amount of traffic generated by people Googling stuff to do with the new Waterboys album, Book Of Lightning. Well, hello strangers! I'm listening to it now and it's bloody great! Interestingly, Mike Scott is now my Showbiz Pal (he isn't really, nutjob stalkers) and emailed me this very morning. I told him my current favourite was She Tried To Hold Me, but now I think about it, it's probably You In The Sky, although I'm very, very fond of Strange Arrangement too.

Be still my beating heart - here's the CD in question! Keep checking back with Landcroft House for more indispensible Waterboys news...

Laughing Len

We've got a piece about Lenny Henry is the next issue. It made me think of this. Which is, about a thousand years later, still absolutely hilarious.

Funnier than this, for sure.

Curry up!

We’ve got Bert and Heidi coming over for dinner tonight. They've gone to the expense of a babysitter so I can't palm them off with my usual mid-week pasta bake or shepherds pie. I have instead, decided on a classic Indian menu. Nothing clever but everyone loves a good curry and I get to just about hang on to my new healthy eating regime if I don't eat any pudding.

Poppodoms (only 40 kcals each!) with lime pickle
Tandoori chicken with mint raita
Lamb rogan josh and spinach dhal with brown basmati rice.

I’ve bought the pudding. But of course I won't be eating any.

Tandoori chicken
150g carton low fat natural yogurt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chilli powder
pinch of ground turmeric
4 small chicken breasts, cubed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
bunch of fresh mint
1 small garlic clove
5cm piece cucumber, peeled and cubed
150g carton low fat natural yogurt
squeeze of fresh lemon juice

In a large shallow dish stir together the yogurt, garlic, cumin, chilli, turmeric and some salt and pepper. Add the chicken pieces and marinade for 30 – 60 minutes.

Grill as indvidual pieces or on small bamboo skewers for 8 – 12 minutes until cooked through and nicely browned.

Whiz together the mint, garlic and cucumber in mini chopper or food processor and until finely blended. Add the yogurt and whiz again then season with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Serve chilled.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Chicken and barley stew

Lovely, yummy, warm your tummy, one-pot, cold-weather dinner
Serves 4
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp plain flour
8 chicken thigh fillets, about 650 – 700g, quartered
3 rashers streaky bacon, cut into 1cm strips
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
2 tbsp roughly chopped fresh sage
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
500ml hot chicken stock
300ml red wine
2 leeks, thickly sliced
100g pearl barley
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
large pinch crushed chilli flakes

1 Heat the oil in a large pan. Dust the chicken in the flour and cook in the hot oil along with the bacon for 3 – 4 minutes – you’ll probably need to cook the chicken in two batches, depending on the size of your pan. Add the squash, sage and garlic and cook for a further couple of minutes.

2 Pour in the hot stock and wine and add the leeks, barley, vinegar and chilli flakes. Bring to boil, cover and cook for a good hour or so until the barley is tender. Cook if for longer of you like adding more stock to make it soupy if you like it that way. Taste for salt and pepper.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Dying For A Wii

We all want consumer tat - that's part of the fun of being alive - but I'm not sure I want anything this much.

TV Is Dead: Part 2

You're not telling me you still actually watch telly? Even when there are all these other brilliant options?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Little Revel cakes – very easy!

We’re going to Scrap’s cousins, Mae and Lia’s joint birthday party today and have offered to take some cup cakes. I’m not a naturally gifted baker, so I don’t take too many risks. Make sure the eggs and butter are at room temperature before you start. Crack four eggs into a bowl and weigh them. Add the same amount of caster sugar, self raising flour and diced butter. Add a splash of good vanilla extract (I love the Madagascan Bourbon Vanilla Extract from Nielsen Massey).

Whisk with electric beaters until smooth and pale then divide between 24 greaseproof paper cases. Bake at 180C for 15 minutes until just firm. Meanwhile, gently melt some chocolate, a little milk and a tiny knob of butter together. Spoon on top of the cakes and top each with a Revel or Malteser. Leave to set.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Home made Play Dough

Following the recent rise in interest rates and all the news about over-spending and predictions that 2007 is to be the Year of Thrift, here at Landcroft House, we are definitely tightening our belts. One of the key areas of our unnecessary spending is toys that get played with for 5 minutes. There is a ban on all toy buying, even stickers, until Scrap's birthday in April. We start our new plan with home-made play dough with which we mostly made snakes, cabbages and fried eggs.

200g flour
100g table salt
200ml warm water
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tbsp vegetable oil
few drops of scented oil
few drops of food colouring

Place all the ingredients in a pan and heat gently, beating with a wooden spoon until it forms a ball. Tip out and knead until it cools. It should last for ages - the salt ensures that it doesn't go off but it will eventually dry out. Keep in an air-tight box or wrap in film and store in the fridge.

Friday, January 12, 2007

La Fromagerie

I had the best dinner out I've had in a long, long time last night. I cannot recommend La Fromagerie highly enough, especially if, as we were last night, you're having a small, celebratory gathering. The place itself is magical, the seating area is at the back of the shop so you're surrounded by pretty packages and ribboned jars and of course, the scent of cheese.

The team there were truly charming and seconds after stepping through the door, my coat was off, I was drinking Prosecco and eating a cheesey choux bun. It was just great. Candles were lit, the food was fantastic, the wine was wonderful. I cannot wait to go there again - hopefully for tea and cake one afternoon soon. Anyway, Happy Birthday James!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Records That Make Me Feel Good: 12

Neil Young: What Did You Do To My Life? (Reprise, 1969)
I used to manage a record shop for Beggars Banquet. That's probably one of the reasons I'm sat here writing this now rather than doing something more sensible like binge drinking or bear baiting. Anyway, some parts of working in a record shop are great and some are bloody awful. One of the best bits was when someone brought their old record collection in to sell. And when that person was Ivo Watts Russell of the Beggars affiliated 4AD label wanting to clear the decks before he moved to LA, then it was happy flaming days indeed.

So, one day me, Justin and Billy were sat there pissing around when Ivo walks in. He has a load of boxes of records in his car. Do we want them. Do we want them? Um, yes. We do. Like we want air and food and lager and girls and cigarettes and all that stuff.

So he brings them in. Loads of original, mint condition English folk, Harvest prog, Eno, Big Star on Ardent (Justin nicked that and nearly ran down the street with it), shit loads of great, great records. And this. Which I just loved immediately, despite reading (some years later) that Neil Young dislikes it. Well, tough shit cowboy.

And what a package. Thick cardboard sleeve. Gatefold. The lyrics printed in indecipherable script. No date, no barcode, no warnings, barely a legible copyright notice.

Which makes me feel a bit better.

Basement Crates: Discovery 14

Caveman: Caught Up (Profile, 1991)
There's a lot of crap talked about old hip hop (some of it here, to be honest), but there are certain tracks that just shine years and years and years later. And this is one of them. Perhaps the only man other than Perry "The Destroyer" Como to ever wear a comfortable knit sweater on the cover of his LP, Caveman was, without doubt, one of the brightest and most sadly missed stars ever to come from the UK hip hop scene (let's talk about Hijack - The Terrorist Group - soon tho').

Full of the most gloriously positive lyrics imaginable and riding a brilliantly sharp set of JBs and 70s jazz samples, Caught Up is a reminder of a time when hip hop had other things on its mind than how much wedge you could make flogging chisel. Having said that, I came home tonight listening to the new Clipse album which is almost entirely devoted to celebrating how much wedge you can make flogging chisel, so don't pay too much attention to my high minded nonsense.

By the way, I know the Wikipedia entry and the Heroes Of UK Hip Hop entry both say the album came out in 1990. Well, my copy clearly says it came out in 1991. So there.

Anyway, enjoy.

This Just In (my stomach)

I can indeed confirm that the rice noodle, carrot, beetroot, cucumber, sesame seed and hot smoked salmon salad was delicious. And I don't fancy a pack of Quavers.

Oh no.

Lunch Box

I love having lunch out. I can easily make a quick dinner at night but lunch is a different matter. Maybe it’s because we’re more likely to be out during the day so automatically you find yourself in a cafĂ© or little restaurant. Anyway, Dis has told me I eat out too much and he does have a point – it probably is my greatest ‘joy’ expense, way more so than clothes, lip gloss or gorgeous Cherry Chau glittery clips. I'm going out for dinner tonight so to compensate, I have made us healthy packed lunches to take to our desks. I want to eat mine now but it's only half eleven.

Rice noodle and hot-smoked salmon salad
Serves 2
100g rice noodles
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp caster sugar
1 small red onion
5cm piece cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
1 carrot, diced
2 small cooked beetroot, diced
1 red birds eye chilli, finely chopped, seeds and all
4 slices hot-smoked salmon
1 lime, cut into quarters
good shake of Food Doctors Omega Seed Shaker

1 Place the noodles in a large heatproof bowl, cover with boiling water and
set aside for 5 minutes or so.

2 In a separate, large bowl, mix together the vinegar, salt and sugar.
Thinly slice the red onion and add to the bowl.

3 Drain the noodles and cool under running water. Add to the bowl with the cucumber, carrot, beetroot and chilli and toss well together.

4 Divide into two lunch boxes and top with the salmon. Sprinkle on some Omega seeds and chill until ready to eat.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Horniman Museum

Fabio and I went to the Horniman today with our friends Lucy and John. We're very lucky because it's only just up the road and it's a fantastic place to visit all year round but especially when it's windy and drizzly as it was this morning. First of all there's the lovely gardens, then in the museum itself there's the new aquarium, the hands-on music gallery and changing exhibitions. And best of all, there's the original, Victorian natural history galleries lined with glass cases of scary stuffed animals - including the fox family, the baboons and the gigantic walrus sitting on his rock.
The cafe's good for spaghetti, chips and beans and an ice lolly. And as well as all that there's the real life goats, rabbits and chickens. Even if you don't live nearby, it's worth taking a trip for.