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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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 🙂

photoI was given a great tip-off for a gig tonight in Nashville. There was to be a house concert staged at The Violin Shop where none other than fiddler extraordinaire Aubrey Haynie would be appearing accompanied by a band of Bluegrass elite starring Sam Bush, Dennis Crouch, Alan O’Bryant and Brian Sutton. This gig was unadvertised and not promoted so felt very privileged to have been in the know thanks to Nashville based English no-slouch himself fiddler Eamon McLoughlin who let us in on the secret.

We were told only that the venue was on 8th Ave Nashville, no street number and Google Maps couldn’t find it either so made a special trip in the afternoon along the twenty kilometre long street eyes peeled when our driver and Musician friend Tom spotted it so knew where to return in the evening. In the car-park there was a BBQ oven in the shape of a steam-engine smoking away, in which was housed a side of pork being prepared for the evening’s festivities.

The Magnificent Violin Shop
The Magnificent Violin Shop

Later after satellite navigation confusion and a slight logistical drama trying to again locate the venue, we arrive back luckily just in time for the concert to commence. Champagne, Lobster and Caviar would most certainly be on the menu if I was hosting a House Concert back in Sydney with musicians of this calibre however we are in the deep south of America, so the steam-engine cooked pulled-pork rolls presented on sweet, doughy rolls are suitable for this occasion. Complimentary Chardonnay and Shiraz flowed civilly along with the omnipresent basket full of Hershey Chocolate bars.  I am listening to one of my most favourite  fiddle players of all time so the food here is of little importance as it is the music that really matters tonight. And it is, impeccable of course and I even got to Meet Aubrey afterwards, he is a most agreeable chap indeed.

Prince's Hot Chicken Shack
Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack

Our first night in Nashville is far from being over yet and Tom decides for us where our next destination will be. I have mentioned that I like to write about food and music adventures so he ponders this for a moment then has an idea for our next food experience. We jump in the car and drive around the spaghetti-western freeways to the other,  not so well-cowboy-heeled side of town and arrive at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. As the name suggests, this is exactly what they serve – Chicken and in varying degrees of heat starting from Mild through to Extra Hot and is a local specialty of Nashville. Portions of breast, thighs and wings are drenched in buttermilk, breadcrumbed then marinated in a heavily guarded secret blend of spices of which Cayenne Pepper is most abundant. They are then deep-fried and served up on slices of thick white bread which soaks up all of the oil, no salad leaf in sight. Presented in a grease-proof papered basket with ubiquitous potato chips adjacent, Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack is a cholesterol-lovers paradise and the restaurant is full at 11.30pm.

Being a chilli addict and not afraid I place an order through the small window in the fluorescent-lit shop for a quarter chicken ‘Hot’. With a quizzical stare the girl promptly retorts with, ‘Oh no you won’t, it’s too hot for you. You need mild or medium.’ How can she know what I need, I ask? She continues, ‘Not even my mother (who cooks in the Shack kitchen) eats the ‘Hot’ because the last time she did while pregnant twenty-four years ago, it sent her into early labour and I was born. So you want the Medium, and if it’s not hot enough bring it back and we’ll make sure it is but I don’t expect you’ll be back with this request.’ When I enquire about what’s in the spices she says ‘If I tell you, they will kill me.’

Musical Horses
Musical Horses

While waiting for the order, I take a few pictures of the Chicken and Jesus art displayed on the walls. The security guard approaches, who judging by his size and physique looks like he consumes nothing BUT Prince’s Hot Chicken everyday.  He tells me the pictures are FOR SALE, not for taking pictures of. He’s got a .45 Caliber Handgun strapped to his wide girth so I quickly delete them all.

The chicken arrives, the girl wasn’t wrong about the heat-factor and I do have to admit tasted great. Fat drenched white-bread and all, I will just drink green tea for the next four days to combat the digestion havoc that will undoubtedly result from this culinary experience.

Finger Pickin’ Good indeed 🙂

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. 🙂

 

 

 

Zucchini Linguine

Judging by warmer temperatures and Christmas decorations now appearing in department stores, Winter is officially over in Sydney. As a cold weather lover always happy to embrace the commencement of Winter I actually look forward to the oncoming months of slow cooked roasts and stews brewed up all day to be consumed in my kitchen next to the glowing  Jøtul cast iron wood stove. If I could afford the luxury of regularly travelling to any destination in the world I’d be pursuing the Winter climates over basting in sunny-hot, humid and balmy conditions any day. There’s just something about rugging-up, slipping on Ugg Boots and sipping a nice glass of spicy-sweet mulled wine that is much more appealing than enduring a sun-burnt sweat-fest.

Suffering a mild case of denial and not yet ready to put away the Ugg Boots or my cast-iron Chasseur pot, inevitably it’s time to start thinking about culinary choices that will suit the warmer weather approaching. And unlike Eggplant, there are countless songs written about Summer and all things Sunshine to get a bit of kitchen inspiration. Mostly positive, happy and upbeat songs like Heat Wave, Summer in the City, The Boys Of Summer, California Dreamin’, Surfin Safari, Under the Boardwalk, Summer of ’69 and that’s just the tip of the equatorial iceberg. Conversely Cruel Summer by Bananarama paints Summer in a darker light as does Summertime originally sung by Ella Fitzgerald.

Zucchini Flowers
Zucchini Flowers

The most quintessential summer song I can think of has to be the Brian Hyland recording of Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka dot Bikini. Mostly because I had to sing this song for the Bushwackers Beach Party in Tamworth a few years ago so is the song used as inspiration for Zucchini Linguine. How can this song inspire a recipe you say? Easily. Apart from the obvious rhyme of Zuchini and Bikini, think yellow with polka dots and the possibilities are endless. My thoughts straightaway leaned towards yellow capsicum, capers, preserved lemon and black sesame seeds. And Zucchini sliced thinly into lengthways strips I have recently discovered, surprisingly is an excellent and far healthier alternative to pasta. If you want your Bolognese sauce to stand out next time both visually and textually, try serving on a bed of Zucchini Linguine.

Slashed of high carbohydrate content and also gluten-free, who knows you might just be able to squeeze into that teeny weeny bikini this summer, or at least not be afraid to come out of the water wearing one 🙂

Yellow Polka-Dot Zucchini Linguine with Crunchy Parmesan:

Ingredients:

4 Zucchini, topped and tailed, sliced into thin strips lengthways, then again into linguine style strips like this:

Zucchini Shredded

1 Yellow Capsicum, sliced thinly in strips

1 Tbs Coconut Oil

2 Tbs Olive Oil

2 Cloves Garlic, minced

1 Birds-eye Chilli, de-seeded and chopped finely

1/4 Piece of Preserved lemon, chopped finely

1 Tbs Baby Capers, rinsed

1 Tbs toasted Black Sesame Seeds

Coriander Leaves chopped roughly

Method:

1) Melt coconut oil in a frying pan over medium heat

2) Add Zucchini and Capsicum and sauté for a few minutes until just tender

3) In a new saucepan, add Olive Oil, Garlic, Chilli and Preserved Lemon and gently simmer over medium heat till fragrant, one minute tops

4) Pour Olive Oil mixture over Zucchini Linguine and stir till well combined

5) Scatter with toasted Sesame Seeds and Coriander

Crunchy Parmesan:

Ingredients:

Handful of Raw Almonds, ground up in a processor

3 Tbs finely grated Parmesan Cheese

4 Zucchini Flowers with baby zucchini attached

Splash of Olive Oil

Sea Salt

Method:

1) Preheat Oven to 180 C

2) Mix Almonds and Parmesan together in a bowl

3) Place Zucchini Flowers in roasting pan, splash with Olive Oil and Sea Salt

4) Bake for 15 Minutes, remove and let rest

5) Detach flowers from baby Zucchini, crush up with fingers and add to the Parmesan mixture

6) Either eat the roasted baby Zucchini now, or throw into main dish

6) Sprinkle on-top of Zucchini Linguine

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In the world today it’s doubtful any more than one song exists where the subject and title is Eggplant. A quick Google search reveals that yes there is indeed more than one song with Eggplant in the title like ‘The Eggplant That Ate Chicago’. The band Train also has a song called Eggplant and there are a band-names like ‘My Eggplant Died Yesterday’ and ‘Kenny Young and the Eggplants’.  The search also indicates resoundingly by far and above the most well-known Eggplant song of all is ‘Eggplant’ by Michael Franks from the album Art Of Tea.

I heard this song in remix form recently after not hearing it for years, then quite annoyingly remained in my head for a few days afterwards. Anyone familiar with the lyrics  would know the chorus suggesting his girlfriend cooks it up ‘about nine-teen different ways and he sometimes has it raw with Mayonnaise’? More Googling reveals indeed this is a way some people consume it, raw with mayonnaise on a sandwich. (Perhaps they got the idea from the song?) Eggplant, whether it be roasted, fried or Baba Ganoushed is a vegetable unsurpassed with its sweet, cooked flavours and melt-in-your-mouth texture. Raw is just not an option.

Imam Bayildi
Imam Bayildi

I recently performed in Yamba with the Bushwackers, where we were fortunate enough to experience the cooking of Sevtap Yüce. Turkish born, she now owns her own restaurant in Yamba where the menu is a creative mix and modern slant on traditional Turkish recipes. Being so impressed with the food I buy her cookbook full of treasures ‘Turkish Flavours’ and there she was in the open kitchen to sign it for me too with a smile to match as big as her flavoursome, generous cooking.

Blanched Tomatoes Chopped
Blanched Tomatoes Chopped

I consult Sevtaps’ cookbook for Eggplant dishes and discover Imam Bayildi – which translates to ‘The Priest Fainted’. Some say he fainted because the dish tasted so good and others because of the amount of expensive olive oil used. I’ve never fainted because a dish tasted so good, quite the opposite. And with no shortage of Olive Oil thanks to Adina Vineyard decide to attempt this dish.

There appears to be more than one way of approach with many variables of ingredients right down to the initial preparation of the Eggplant. Being a bit trepidatious as to peeling Eggplant correctly I consult YouTube to find out how to, someone must know. And there I find ‘The Imam’ with his recipe and how-to. It’s in Turkish with no sub-titles, but make a note of it all just the same, hoping that I haven’t added salt instead of sugar. There is a green vegetable added, and I can’t recognise it so go with Septavs addition of green capsicum at this point.

Here is the Imam at work himself and the secondary inspiration for this recipe combined with Sevtaps, and a few of my own additions.

Imam Bayildi – Stuffed Roasted Eggplants

1 Large Eggplant (or 3 smaller aubergines) trimmed, peeled, scored, halved and salted in a colander

1 Cup Olive Oil

2 Cloves Garlic, sliced thinly

Sea Salt

1 Brown Onion, chopped

1 Green Capsicum, diced

2 Ripe Tomatoes, scored, blanched, peeled and chopped

1/2 Litre Water

Bunch of Flat Leaf Parsley, chopped

Juice of 1/2 Lemon

1 Clove Garlic, minced

2 Large Green Chillis split lengthways, de-seeded and de-membraned

Method:

1) Pre-heat Oven to 170 Degrees C. Fry onions in half the oil over medium heat for a few minutes

2) Add Capsicum and Tomato. Sprinkle liberally with Salt, let sizzle a bit then add water

3) Let boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for twenty minutes

4) Push slivers of garlic inside scored eggplant

5) Fry eggplant in rest of oil till golden on all sides, remove and drain on paper towels till cool then place in a roasting tin

6) Add parsley, minced garlic and lemon juice to tomato mixture, turn off heat

7) Drain veg mix through a colander, reserving liquid.

8) Dig a well in each cooled eggplant, making sure the skin below is left intact and evenly scoop in veg mixture

9) Top with half a large green chilli (pictured) secured with a toothpick and a sprinkle of slithered almonds

10) Pour reserved liquid around (not over) eggplants, cover and bake 40 minutes.

Garlic Yoghurt

1 Clove Garlic

Sea Salt

1 Cup Greek Yoghurt

Method:

Ground Garlic and Sea Salt in a Mortar and Pestle to paste consistency

Fold into the Greek Yoghurt

I served this on top of prepared red quinoa, Garlic yoghurt (also by Sevtap) a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds and a squeeze of lemon juice. It tasted so good I nearly fainted 🙂

Tangled Drumkit

The life of a full-time travelling musician is rarely dull. Not only are we lucky enough to have the privilege of performing alongside greatness on stage, we also on occasion get to travel to some tasty destinations for work and today is no exception.  Just the mention of the name Darwin conjures up exotic images of sun-drenched harbour walks, vibrant markets, dangerously seductive crocodile-infested waters, vivid coloured skies blanketing bright red Northern Territory dirt and general tropical thoughts of all kinds. It’s been seven years since I last visited Darwin so am thrilled at the opportunity to be a part of the Bob Dylan Tribute ‘Tangled Up In Bob’ at the Darwin Railway Club.

Any air travel needed to be undertaken within Australia with more than one hours’ duration, and I know Dobe Newton from the Bushwackers will whole-heartedly agree can only be on Qantas. Tiger Airlines has been putting in a valiant effort as of late, as has Virgin (who have relaxed their rules of baggage allowance for musicians through APRA). And ever since they provided ‘all-responsibility and no-care’ with my accordion on one ill-fated trip, Jetstar remains an all-round disappointing experience. There is a certain amount of tactility and romanticism associated with Qantas like the intoxicating aroma of a soft, well-worn leather jacket. Complimentary SMH at the gate, your own personal iPad with movies, a free hot-meal are just some of the features that Qantas won me over with when it was time to book the flight to Darwin.

Railway Club Beer-Garden
Railway Club Beer-Garden

In 30 Degree temperatures, a fairly mild but ever so gentle ferocious humidity blasts me on arrival. Feels like a storm is on its way to this troposphere town but turns out is a tease only and more a sign of whats to come over the next six months. As soon as I check into the hotel, am out of my tight black Sydney Winter jeans and boots and into the Havianas and shorts quicker than you can say ‘Story of the Hurricane’.

Slightly peckish and with a few hours to kill before sound-check at the Club I get pointed in the direction of the Parap Village which is directly across from the hotel where I discover a fabulous supermarket, Parap Fine Foods. This establishment has been run by an Italian family for years and they have an extensive stock of top-shelf gourmet selections of all kinds. It takes me by surprise and spend the next hour perusing labels of local and imported jams, sauces and spice mixes. The fruit and veg section is all local and mostly organic. Then I spot the Deli with an incredible display of chocolate sweet delights and macarons, salamis and a cheese component equating the quality and quantity of anything found in a French Fromagerie.

Parap Fine Foods Deli
Parap Fine Foods Deli

I can’t decide on a cheese and this must be obvious to the woman behind the counter as have stared glazed-eyed for some time. She offers assistance and decides for me, giving me a sample of a German Sheepskin Milk Picasso which is divine. Being the end of the role due to the popularity of this cheese, she wraps it up and hands over 200 gms worth with a discount at $14 adding she likes her cheeses to go to a good home and I reassure her this will be the case. This woman knows her cheeses. I also purchase local vine-ripened tomatoes, Kalamata Olives drenched in lime and garlic and a 2010 Mount Benson Merlot from South Australia. Forty-five dollars later, and all I wanted was a snack 🙂

Wheelbarrow Basil at the Railway Club
Wheelbarrow Basil at the Railway Club

The Darwin Railway Club is a fascinating place. This is the first time I have performed at a Club that raises their own chickens and uses the eggs for spinach pies, grow their own herbs and also harvest ducks for consumption. They recently held a feast night where these ducks were (sorry vegetarians) after being raised lovingly, then put to sleep, prepared and served up for the members. Welcome to Darwin! Before the gig, I order a glass of Shiraz and forgetting am in the NT for a moment, shudder at the fact that the bottle comes out of the fridge. After mentioning this to the bar-girl she responds in her NZ accent to just give it two minutes when it will arrive at room temperature. Of course it will.

Beergarden Buddha

The Green-Room where we are hanging before the gig with the local Darwin Musicians in the Tangled Band tonight is the hottest room in the building. I learn later this room is also a completely cyclone-proof bunker made of solid concrete. Unlike performing at the Gympie Muster last weekend in arctic temperatures where the lights on the stage being LED based no longer generate any kind of heat, we are exposed to the old faithful R & R full-on-heat emitting old-school globe variety. The Band also cooks, renditions of Maggies Farm and Subterranean Blues are well executed by these local talented Darwinite Musicians.

Parap Market Flowers with Ginger
Parap Market Flowers with Ginger

Thanks to the Qantas In-Flight Magazine, I have already read about the Parap Markets held every Saturday being touted as a must-do on the Darwin tourist agenda. How serendipitous that I am here on a fleeting twenty-four hour visit, staying directly opposite where these markets occur. The produce is primarily of South East Asian flavours – mountains of chillis, coriander, paw-paws, mangoes, garlic, ginger and accompanying spices. Lebanese flavours are also represented along with reams of tye-dyed clothes and locally crafted silver jewellery. But it is the food that is impressing me here and I circle around in a holding-pattern deciding on what just to go for. Instinct tells me that anything will be good so I go for a Thai spicy chicken larb style salad, a watermelon, lime and ginger juice plus a Lebanese custard desert drenched in rose-syrup. Heaven. I also purchase a Chilli Sauce, made with only birds-eye chillis, garlic and lime. NO SUGAR or preservatives of any kind and is very hot according to the grocer who has made it himself.

Oddly, there appears to be some media action rustling up with TV cameras all assembling in the vicinity of where I am. A quiet buzz turns into frenzy as none other that Kevin Rudd appears out of no-where. All of a sudden I am engulfed by a sea of zoom-lenses and a tsunami of paparazzi, surreal indeed. Now there’s a traffic jam and general mayhem surrounding the previous serenity of the Parap Markets and people are asking Kevin to move-on. Something tells me he’s not here for the Laksa 🙂

The Rudd Circus at Parap
The Rudd Circus at Parap

Muster Main Stage
Muster Main Stage

Driza-bones, Cowboy Hats, Bundaberg Rum, Pluto Pups, XXXX, Boots, Dust and Country Music. These are just some of the elements in no shortage at the Gympie Muster where I have spent the last four days performing.  Set in the beautiful location of the Amamoor Forest Reserve in Queensland Australia, this festival is not for the faint-hearted. This Festival is tailored for die-hard country music fans who are well-seasoned Musterites happy to spend a few days temporarily removed from reality, donning the appropriate Muster gear, yelling choruses of songs about utes, beer, cows and pink guitars while drowning in a sea of Bundy.

For a Musician who has several performances at this festival, the Muster experience usually involves being prepared and match-fit when it comes to the food options. There are long walks involved, carrying gear from venue to venue (there is on-site Artist Transport, but this is ‘unintentionally’ on occasions not so reliable due to the hectic scheduling of hundreds of musicians and gear needed carting around the many different venues) on-top of the actual performance energy required, so it is essential that nourishing food be sourced and this is not such an easy or in most cases cheap task. Being a performer, I have been sent my Muster Pack by email prior to the Festival with a list of handy hints and Artist Services that will be available. A piece of information included in the Pack mentions there will be refreshments and light snacks available for all performers at a place called Artist World and this is encouraging news.  The first gig of the Muster for me is with The Bushwackers on the Main Stage and we will be required to hang around there so there’ll be no time to get acquainted with various food stalls around the site which is fine as will have a fair amount of hurry-up-and-waiting time over the next few days to do just this.

Artist Refreshments
Artist Refreshments

There is fruit, luckily. Then there is a bowl of assorted chocolates and lollies, a huge bottom-less pit bowl of smarties then another with a selection of snack-pack school lunch size chip packets.  Some instant coffee satchels plus several mini-bar fridges chockablock full of festival sponsor Red Bull. With the exception of the fruit, once again my handbag almonds have come to the rescue as we’ve no time to source anything more substantial before jumping on stage to set-up then perform for thousands of Muster revellers on the hill.

Our accommodation is off-site at the Conference Centre back in Gympie which is welcoming as it is away from the mayhem and general racket of the festival. Unlike some other musicians, I much prefer this to the on-site complimentary artist tent accommodation where I would have been an un-happy camper exposed to evening temperatures dipping as low as minus six degrees Celsius, braveness indeed. Also, the conference centre provides breakfast and I am ravenous the next morning having passed on the lollies and chips for dinner the night before. It consists of poached eggs, grilled tomatoes, fruit, a selection of cereals juices and an adequate coffee machine with an espresso option. A good start to the day so far, I am happy and nourished for the long day ahead.

My first gig today is with The Bushwackers at the Crowbar. Playing accordion for seventy-five minutes in this high-energy band burns energy and calories in aerobic proportion so again the handbag almonds are useful, but I’m still ravenous after this show and now have some time to search for some decent food. Something am hoping is as healthy as possible amongst the plethora of hot-chips and pluto-pup outlets. Word has it from some veteran Muster musicians there is such a place, Govindas. All vegetarian and all good so I set out to find it. It’s a bit of a treck from the Crowbar where we have just performed, trundling along past the main stage hill and swimming through a sea of Driza-Bones but after a bit of searching (it’s a little hard to locate not being as flashy or lit-up as some of the other food outlets) I see it.

Govindas
Govindas

Govindas, as the sign above the hut says is Pure Vegetarian and ‘The Taste of Transcendence’. Judging by the genuinely friendly smile on the face of the young guy serving behind the counter, I just know already that I WILL taste the love in this food. He offers two plate sizes $5 for a small or $11 for a bit of everything. So far it’s looking like good value, I’m also hungry so go for the larger plate. The food is of Satvik nature which is traditional Hare Krishna recipes the body best harmonises with – Harmonious Food, how ingenious and apt for musicians. Piled high on an eco-friendly bio-degradable plate made of sugar-cane plus accompanying fork made of corn starch, I receive a creamy curry loaded with vegetables on a bed of jasmine rice, a generous serve of Kofta balls with a spicy tomato sauce and a Halava dessert (semolina and cardamom). I am most definitely transcended far away from pluto-pup land after eating this meal and will certainly be making a return visit before the end of the festival. Well nourished and happy, I’m ready for my next gig. The Torn and Frayed Show – a country rock tribute featuring some of my most favourite musicians. Thank you Govindas 🙂

Big Biodiesel Ute - and THOSE boots
Big Biodiesel Ute – and THOSE boots

Rhubarb

When it comes to fruit and vegetable selection, I like to follow their seasonal habits so they are at their absolute best. This way you are getting them in their full glory, they taste better and are also cheaper. For instance, I wouldn’t attempt a Jamie Oliver Thai Mango Salad in the middle of winter, firstly because you won’t find a mango then (unless you’ve been diligent enough to freeze some pulp from the previous Summers’ abundant supply, who does that anyhow?) And secondly, it’s not really a Winter dish, it’s more appropriate to be slicing up mango and cucumber into slithers while wearing Havaianas in the kitchen rather than Ugg Boots – that just doesn’t seem right.

There are a few perennial vegetables and lucky for us, one of them is Rhubarb. While having a chat with my neighbour the other day about food, she mentioned Rhubarb and the fact that she had always thought it to be a fruit but had recently discovered it is actually a vegetable. This got me thinking about Rhubarb and the fact that I had never really considered making a dish with it. I’ve certainly sampled some lovely baked apple and rhubarb crumble with cream from country cafes during my travels but never thought to do something with it in my kitchen. That same day, I spotted a huge bunch of it in my local IGA and promptly purchased it. It was meant to be.

Now, what to make with it. After trimming the leaves and roots off as these contain poisonous oxalic acid and leaving only the edible stalks, I try a piece, raw.  This is a mistake as Raw Rhubarb is definitely an acquired taste, not something I could get used to or have any desire to either. It won’t hurt you to eat it like this and is certainly loaded with many vitamins and minerals this way, but the good news is that apparently these are retained in cooked form, a much wiser choice 🙂

Quinoa, Rhubarb and Apple
Quinoa, Rhubarb and Apple

Stewing Rhubarb seems to be the tried and tested way of preparing this vegetable, so I cook it up with some apple, coconut sugar, a few spices and serve it on a bed of white Quinoa (the new black) with Greek Yoghurt, strawberries, toasted sesame seeds and a splash of Maple Syrup. Turns out to be a wonderful dessert, as well as a great alternative to rolled oats for breakfast if you are trying to take it easy on the grains. If you are also trying to take it easy on the sugar, leave it out along with the Maple syrup and use a bit more cinnamon instead, but it won’t be anywhere near as delectable 🙂

Quinoa with Stewed Apple and Rhubarb:

4 Rhubarb Stalks, washed, trimmed and cut into 2cm diagonal slices

1 Large Red Apple, peeled, cored and sliced (get yourself one of those super-duper apple-peeler corer machines – gets this job done in seconds)

1 Tbs Coconut Oil

1/4 Cup Coconut Sugar

1/4 Cup Water

1 Tsp of Cinnamon

1 Star Anise

Pinch of Nutmeg

Prepared Quinoa

Toasted Sesame Seeds

Method:

1) In a fry-pan over medium heat, melt coconut oil

2) Add rhubarb, apple, sugar, water and all spices.

3) Fry gently, stirring often till rhubarb breaks down and apples are softened. About 20 mins.

4) Top Quinoa with stewed rhubarb mixture, Greek Yoghurt, sliced strawberries, sesame seeds then drizzle the Maple Syrup over.

Oh yes, thank you Rhubarb.