Friday, November 19, 2010

Marina & The Diamonds: HMV Forum, Kentish Town

When Marina Diamandis took to the stage in front of a giant screen flashing diamonds, fire and Bond girl silhouettes, and took position behind the mike (and in front of a wind machine that would make Diana Ross weep) there was no doubt that we were in for a night of utterly theatrical and meticulously staged entertainment. It’s easy to lump the 25-year-old chanteuse in with all those other cute, shiny-haired radio-friendly pop tarts (let’s not name names here) but from the opening song – the title track of her debut album, Family Jewels – she proved she’s got the musical chops to back up the flamboyant persona and poptastic stylings.

The half-Welsh, half-Greek singer-songwriter looked totally in control of Kentish Town’s HMV Forum from the get go – pulling fierce, photo-worthy poses behind the mike; indulging the fashion-forward audience with four costume changes; and leading the sharp-suited quartet of musos hovering in the background with an assuredness more fitting of an industry veteran. She might wear her musical influences on her sleeve – Kate Bush, Madonna and Tori Amos spring to mind – but when performing tracks like Are You Satisfied and Mowgli’s Road, it’s clear to see she has a truly unique musical and songwriting style: think dark melodies, swooping vocals, and ubiquitous pop hooks. Watching her play accompanying keys for her spiky ballad Obsessions, you certainly wouldn’t guess she only taught herself piano relatively recently.

Sure, she’s winning mainstream success with the backing of a major label, but her heavy touring schedule and ascension from opening slots in Camden’s dive bars is admirable, to say the least. By the time she performed single Shampain and had an animated and fluent exchange with some Greek fans in the audience it was impossible not to be won over by her charm. She also roadtested a new track, Jealousy, which is sure to have her record execs rubbing their hands together – the soaring vocals over a driving dance beats has ‘hit single’ written all over it. Chances are, the crowd would have been satisfied even without the overblown finale featuring a giant hamburger lowered onto stage and Marina in full U S of A cheerleading regalia. But all in all, a victory of style *and* substance, and the gig showed there’s a lot more to Marina and the Diamonds than cat suits and cartoony props.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Vegan pancakes with hot berry sauce

This was my second attempt at vegan pancakes – without an egg, baking powder becomes the rising agent for fluffiness. The first recipe I followed called for THREE teaspoons of baking powder and even less flour – sure, they were light and airy, but also tasted overwhelmingly gassy, like that aftertaste from kalamata olives or semi-sundried tomatoes that have been sitting in the fridge for too long. Most vegan recipes use vegetable oil to replace butter, but I added a generous glug of soy cream (17% fat) which did the job. Perhaps you could replace the cream with 2 tbsp oil if you want. You could also use normal white sugar but muscovado sugar is a bit more interesting, innit.

(Explanation for terrible photo: I reeeeally couldn't be bothered getting off the sinky couch and fetching the camera once I'd started eating. Photo is merely proof, not a serving suggestion...)

2 cups plain flour
2 tbsp brown sugar (‘light muscovado’)
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup soy milk
1/3 cup soy pouring cream
½ tub Tofutti soy cream cheese
1 tbsn icing sugar
tiny bit of vanilla essence
1 cup frozen mixed berries
Squirt of honey

1. Sift the flour, baking powder and sugar into a bowl. The sugar will be a pain to sift through, but persevere! Make a well and gently mix in the soy milk (metal spoon works best!), and cream.
2. Blueberries are the best for pancakes, so if you’re using a frozen berry mix pick out all the nice round little ones and add 1/3 cup into the batter. This will leave 2/3 cup of mostly blackberries and raspberries for the sauce.
3. When I added the batter to a hot, oiled frying pan I was impressed to see they cooked exactly like standard pancakes – when the tops started bubbling open like the top of a crumpet, it was time to flip them over. Don’t burn them because then you’ll have to be a good host and eat them yourself while your guests have the nice golden brown ones.
4. In a bowl, add half the icing sugar, and vanilla essence to Tofutti (this was an afterthought, because the Tofutti was a tiny bit salty). This is meant to be a vegan version of that whipped butter stuff you get on McDonalds hot cakes – something to add some substance to the pancakes, you know?
5. Squirt some honey (a teaspoon, max) onto the remaining berries in a cup, and microwave for 20 seconds, or until steaming hot.
6. To assemble, smear a generous dollop of cream cheese mix onto pancakes and pour berry sauce over the top. Sift the remaining icing sugar over the top – it DOES make a difference, I’m not just being an OCD wannabe food stylist, promise.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Elevating corned beef to sandwich nirvana

The one and only time I’ve made my mum cry I was about eight, and I announced at the dinner table that the corned beef she’d made was “disgusting”. In hindsight, she was probably having a bad day because La Madre is the least emo woman in the history of motherhood. (For the record, she left the kitchen in tears, my dad gave me a belting, and when I went to apologise to her I told her the corned beef wasn’t really disgusting… It was really the accompanying boiled celery, carrot and unidentified root vegetables I found totally repugnant… *I wisely kept this last bit to myself*)

Fast forward 20 years and what I wouldn’t give for a slab of cold corned beef in between bread for lunch, especially after yesterday’s Word of Mouth post about salt beef sandwich bars in the capital. I made the mistake of ordering a corned beef sandwich from the staff cafĂ© at work a few months back, and it was presented as a lump of gelatinous reconstituted matter, like a cross section of a can of dog food. What the HELL! I still haven’t come to terms with this god-forsaken country’s obsession with ‘reconstituting’ everything that’s good and nutritional (ham, orange juice, the list goes on…). At a massive stretch, it looked like tongue sandwich.

image courtesy of

The purists always mention the signature sangas at Katz's Deli in New York and Schwarz’s in Montreal but honestly, my lasting impression of these places was that I could have made three with the amount of meat they dished up on my plate. (My other impression was that young, hungover ladies dining solo were a rare commodity and attracted extra pickles at no extra cost… score!)

If you’re talking traditional, New York deli sandwich styles, I’d take warm, freshly-sliced, pinky-purple corned beef over pastrami any day. My opinion of condiments is that they're not worth including unless they put hair on your chest, so mix some horseradish and hot English mustard into a Dijon base and slather on both pieces of buttered bread. Stick as much sliced polish dill pickle in as meat, and don’t even think about adding cheese (Marks and Spencer’s New York deli sandwich is pretty damn good, but emmantal cheese gets a thumbs down from this correspondent). Sure, rye bread’s great if you can find an unsliced loaf containing carroway seeds, but dense multigrain works a treat as well. I recommend a bread slice thickness that’s greater than the individual thickness of the pickles or meat, but thinner than the fillings combined.

Now, I ask you: when you can reach sandwich nirvana like this, why would you dish up a poor man’s roast of corned beef wet from the pot, with soggy boiled celery, carrots and white sauce? Sorry mum...