Best concerts ever, Pt. 3

8 Apr

I find that my most favourite concerts ever generally have a side story to them. Usually this side story is exciting and involves a stroke of luck. For example, I mentioned before that I happened to be in LA for one night only and on that night The Decemberists were playing. This is why context can really make a moment amazing.

Calexico, 18/04/09 @ Coachella, L.A

I envy Americans. Their country has one of the most thriving and incredible arts scenes in the world. Great Australian films and musicians are never as plentiful as they are in the States. Americans have regular opportunities to see great musicians live and regularly. When American musicians tour the US, their concerts are frequent, cheap and intimate. When they tour Australia, their concerts are sporadic, huge and expensive. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to go to a few concerts in the States, including the Decemberists, but also I happened to be in New Orleans during one of the jazz festivals (I really do have amazing luck when it comes to concerts). However, this post is in relation to neither concerts mentioned above.

I was in Los Angeles (prior to the latest trip) during my epic 6 month Americas backpacking trip. I was there for about 4 days from what I can remember. I was reading a local music newspaper when I realised that Coachella was on! I read through the line-up for my last day in L.A., the 18th of April 2009, and a few bands caught my eye: Amy Winehouse (although I was promptly informed by hostel staff that she’d cancelled), Atmosphere, Mastodon, Henry Rollins, and whaaa?! My favourite band Calexico?! I couldn’t believe it. More luck for me! I promptly went downstairs to the hostel computer and booked my ticket for the following day.

I woke up early to catch a bus to the festival in Indio. From Indio I had no idea how to get to the festival, so me and a Dutch guy I just met paid a guy to take us there. It was an amazing place. Gloriously toasty hot, studded with palm trees, mountainous vistas and thriving with colourful concert-goers. It was an incredible scene. I entered and went for a wander. I looked around to see if I could find some Calexico merchandise to document my visit, but failed. I tried to get an over-21 wristband – apparently my passport was not a sufficient form of ID as it did not mention my height and eye colour. I told the nice man that my licence was stolen and even if it wasn’t, Australian licences don’t include this information, but he insisted that I was wrong and that he’d seen many Australian licences that included these details! In fact it was rather the argument, but after visiting several other wristband-givers, I won in the end. After all that effort I ended up having one beer in the shade as I forgot my sunscreen. I did buy a hat though.

I watched a bit of the set for Joss Stone, and then did a lot more walking around, trying to decide who I wanted to see for the day. I walked past a signing tent and got a glimpse of Slug from Atmosphere. Wasn’t able to see them perform though as they were playing too late.

Eventually I made my way to the main attraction, Calexico, and found myself rather close to the stage. It was the perfect location to see Calexico live – in the hot California desert, surrounded by palm trees. It really epitomised the essence of their music style, which is very inspired by spaghetti westerns, alt-country and latin culture. They played mostly new songs as their set was rather short, however it really built up the excitement and expectation for their older classics. I still can’t believe the beautiful blue sky in these photos – it was 6.30pm when they were taken.

I had to leave the festival soon after to get the last bus back to L.A. I had such a great day, and given the chance, I’d love to go to another Coachella as I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the festival. An incredible day overall, only made better by the fact that on my sleepy bus ride home I got to call my future husband and wish him a happy birthday.

Nutmeg slice

31 Mar

There was a time where I just couldn’t be bothered going to the supermarket to make something fancy. We were having guests over, and the night before I decided I wasn’t going to make any sweet to accompany our barbecued lunch with friends.

I woke up on the Saturday morning of the party terribly disappointed in myself. Baking is something I love doing (and enjoying once it’s all over), and I wasn’t going to let a boring visit to the supermarket get in the way of my happiness. At the last minute I found this recipe in which all items were already in my pantry. I didn’t want to miss out on an excuse for baking sweets. This nutmeg slice was surprisingly yummy!

Nutmeg slice

Makes 12

Ingredients

  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 cups self-raising flour
  • 100g unsalted butter, softened (3.5oz)
  • ½ cup pecans, chopped
  • 1 tsp bicarb (baking) soda
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • Icing sugar, to dust

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C (360°F). Grease and line a 30cm x 20cm (12in x 8in) rectangular cake pan.
  2. Add the sugar, flour and butter to a food processor and process until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Alternatively, use your hands to blend the mixture. Press half the mixture into the base of the pan and sprinkle with the pecans.
  3. Place the bicarb soda and milk in a bowl and stir until the bicarb soda dissolves. Add the egg and nutmeg and stir until combined.
  4. Stir in the second half of the crumb mixture and pour over the base. Bake for 30 minutes, then set aside to cool. Cut into squares and serve dusted with icing sugar.

Adapted from Taste.com

Red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing

27 Feb

I received a lovely gift from my husband for our 3-year anniversary – a gift voucher for a cupcake decorating course! I booked the next class and spent the following Sunday assisting a professional in baking red velvet and vanilla cupcakes. We learnt how to use fondant, as well as some piping skills. The fondant that I was familiar with while growing up tasted awful, but these days it is much more edible. However, I am more interested in icing. I don’t like to spend too much time decorating something unless it’s for a special occasion.

My finished cupcakes looked pretty amazing, and tasted phenomenal.

The following weekend I decided to replicate the red velvet cupcakes that we’d made in class. I followed the recipe exactly as I remembered, but I think I over-mixed, over-cooked, and the finished products were nowhere near as delicious and beautiful as the ones I’d helped make in class. In fact, they were rather average. It is hard to know if they’re cooked because of their red colour so of course, the bottom was a very dried-out orange colour.

For Christmas, I was lucky enough to receive a stand-mixer (with free ice-cream maker attachment, but more about that another time). I decided I would keep trying to perfect the majestic cupcake that is the red velvet.

I decided to find a new recipe just in case I had written the recipe from class down incorrectly. My latest red velvet cupcakes, with a delicious cream cheese icing, were much more of a decadent success. My piping skills are getting better too. I just need to remember next time to cook them for the stated amount of time. Even if you leave them in the oven for a few minutes more, the bottoms will dry out and they won’t be so red and velvety any more.

Red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing

Adapted from Taste.com

Makes about 18

Ingredients

  • 350g (2 1/3 cups) plain flour
  • 2 tbsp cocoa
  • 1 tsp bicarb soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 315g (1 1/2 cups) caster sugar
  • 250ml (1 cup) buttermilk
  • 185ml (3/4 cup) vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tsp red food dye
  • 2 tsp vinegar

Icing

  • 250g (8.8oz) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 100g (3.5oz) butter, at room temperature
  • 195g (1 1/4 cups) pure icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C (355°F). Line 18 muffin pans with paper cases.
  2. Sift flour, cocoa, bicarb soda and baking powder in a bowl. Stir in sugar.
  3. Whisk buttermilk, eggs, oil, food dye and vinegar in a jug until combined.
  4. Make well in dry mixture and add the liquid mixture slowly and stir until just combined.
  5. Pour mixture into muffin pans until about halfway to three-quarters full. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Leave cupcakes on a rack to cool completely.
  6. Icing: Beat the cream cheese, butter, icing sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth.
  7. Pipe the icing onto cooled cupcakes and decorate if desired.

Being underrated

3 Feb

When I was a teenager I always thought it was best for my favourite bands to remain obscure and unknown… that meant that I would always get a front row spot at their concerts, right? And that the band would always play at small, intimate venues? And that it was more likely for the band to be more easygoing if I ever met them? Well, from this little list, it almost appears that I were right. After all, I did manage to get front row for the Muse concert in Melbourne before they were really super ridiculously famous (side note: that was a pretty amazing night.)

However, there is also a downside to being underrated, which is a purely selfish but valid reason nonetheless.

Take for example, one of mine and Alex’s favourite bands, Mini Mansions. We discovered Mini Mansions after a song was played on the radio and Alex Shazamed it. The host mentioned something about Queens of the Stone Age (my old favourite band, remember?) and my ears became even more attentive. This is because a member of Mini Mansions plays and tours with QOTSA. Nevertheless, their sound is completely different. They have been compared to The Beatles, and I do hear the resemblance, althoughI think MM have more of a psychedelic sound.

For some unknown reason, Mini Mansions are not really that popular here. (They actually have played in Australia before, but they were the support band, and I wasn’t living here then anyway.) Therein lies the issue – why would a band come all the way from the States to Australia and spend all that money if they do not have a decent following here? Therefore, this post is here to spread the word – Mini Mansions are awesome! Tell your Australian friends!

Another route

30 Jan

I was having a discussion with some friends a few days ago about career paths. It got me thinking about the path that I chose to get me to where I am today. It also made me wonder, what could I have been?

In primary school I was desperate to be an actor, or a lawyer. In early high school I was a musician. In my later years I was strangely good at difficult mathematics (to a point) as well as chemistry. I was pretty woeful at English. I was more interested in visual arts and legal studies, and received decent grades for both. So why did I choose a career as primary school teacher? At my school we didn’t have any career fairs, but we did have a personality-based careers test. Apparently I’d have made a great farmer.

When it came down to choosing my degree, I couldn’t decide between studying education or criminology (much to my career counsellor’s disappointment: “Choose one!”). I said I’d take whatever offer I received first. Education it was.

Four years at university earned me my Bachelor of Education. I was a good student, and was interested in the psychology of children. Placement never went too well, and I always had a lot of trouble with behaviour management, as well as expressing myself clearly. I did not enjoy the stress of trying to create engaging lessons, particularly in regards to maths teaching. I struggled in the profession for a few years (mostly doing relief teaching) until I decided it just wasn’t a career for me. I swallowed my pride (which was actually rather easy to do) and eventually made the transition from teacher to student advisor. I haven’t looked back and am so grateful for the new opportunity and path that had opened up to me.

Now I wonder, what would have happened if I chose a different degree to study? I was really interested in maths and science but completely ignored the idea of studying these at a university level, as I thought I just wasn’t smart enough. Now I think of it, I believe a career in science would have been perfect for me, as I am often introverted in the workplace and really enjoy working alone. I also think a career in design would have suited me well. These paths never even occurred to me when I was 17. I have no idea why I chose to study education. However, I am glad I did choose it, because it enabled me to teach in Costa Rica, to finally realise the profession wasn’t for me, and to have the career path I am now following. I didn’t even know the job I have now was even a possibility for me, and now I’ve developed a great interest in tertiary education as well as international studies. I think I even want to be an ambassador. We’ll see.

If I did chose to study science, or design, I wonder where I’d be now? I wonder if I’ll ever go to university or dramatically change careers again. Are you now doing what you thought you’d be doing when you were 18?

Best concerts ever, Pt. 2

16 Jan

We are currently in the midst of the longest heatwave since 1908 (apparently). From Tuesday to Friday the temperature has soared beyond the 40°C mark (that’s over 104°F). Tuesday was pretty brutal. My ride home from work was excruciating. I arrived home with a strangely purplish face. The wind was hot during my ride and was blowing into my already dehydrated eyes, even behind my sunglasses. The streets were deserted. It was strange, rather like what the world might be like after surviving the apocalypse. Today is meant to be the hottest day at 44°C, but we’ll see. I do like my extreme Melbourne heat, but usually only in moderation.

Meanwhile, the new year has commenced, and I’m looking forward to 2014. 2013 was okay, but I am not a fan of the number 13 so I’m happy it’s over. My birthday came and went in late December. I had planned an amazing day of winery visiting, but something most unfortunate happened to my foot and I couldn’t walk for a few days. This year we will be travelling to Europe which we are ridiculously excited about. I’m pretty sure that will definitely be the highlight of the year. I am also currently reading The Count of Monte Cristo and am very much looking forward to seeing Paris again.

I haven’t forgotten that I commenced my Best Concerts Ever series some time ago (very slack blogger here), so I thought I’d continue today. Note that we are seeing Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age  in March as they are playing together in one show. The former is one of Alex’s favourite bands and the latter was my favourite band some time ago, which is rather coincidental as both bands have a pretty different sound yet are playing together. I don’t know much about NIN but I do enjoy the new QOTSA album. I wonder if this concert will make my Best Concerts Ever list.

Grizzly Bear, 12/11/12 @ Billboards, Melbourne

Yet another band my lovely husband introduced me to. If it weren’t for him, I’d still be listening to The Mars Volta’s second album on repeat (not that I’d be complaining). I’m not very good at life sometimes.

I first heard of Grizzly Bear from an online clip Alex showed me of the group singing Knife a cappella on the streets of Paris. One of the guys was making pretty impressive sounds with his mouth. Another was wrapping his jumper around his head. I was intrigued.

I soon decided to listen to some albums and I was very impressed. Then came the absolutely incredible album Shields in 2012 and its subsequent tour and our tickets were purchased rather promptly. This is a band whose latest album is always somehow better than their amazing previous album. So Shields is pretty epic and this was definitely a concert we were looking forward to.

Strangely, the band were to play at Billboards, a rather small Melbourne venue. It was a cosy show, and due to the size of the venue we were guaranteed a pretty good view of the stage.

What a show. I love that Grizzly Bear has two lead vocalists, each of whom have an ethereal type of voice that leaves the crowd staring breathless and in awe of what they are witnessing. Seeing Grizzly Bear live is soothing and exciting. You want to move but you also want to close your eyes and imagine the world has stopped around you.

It was a dreamy show, and definitely one to remember. Every time I listen to the band now and close my eyes it takes me back to the time I saw them live and I can feel myself there once again.

Hobart, Tasmania

29 Nov

Our final day in Mr Van Diemen’s land was spent driving back to Hobart. Yes, we booked a return flight to Hobart but it would have been much more convenient to fly into Hobart and depart from Launceston. Nonetheless, Cradle Mountain was not originally in our itinerary when we booked the flight so instead we endured more exciting driving.

Back through Sheffield, then Railton. No new topiaries to report. We skipped the coastal route by driving inland and made it back to Hobart after four hours of lonely road tripping. Our first stop was at the ever-so-famous Museum of New and Old Art (MONA). Well, our first stop was actually the pub across the road from the MONA because we hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Pub meals are always meaty so I bought a cheap chicken parma and poor Alex had my hot chips for lunch. We watched horse racing while we ate. Good times.

We drove across to the MONA and found the last car space. Actually, I think it was more of a throughway but we made it a space. It was a Sunday so it was very busy indeed. We wandered around the large estate the museum sits on, which is home to vineyards, picnic areas, sculpture gardens, a magnificent view of Hobart city, cafes and lots of other elaborate goodies. The museum itself seemed a tiny room. Confused, we entered and then realised the whole museum had been built underground. We noticed there was an entry fee for “foreigners” (i.e. non-Tasmanians) and Alex was reluctant to pay as we’d already spent so much money on entering national parks. I guess Tasmania relies heavily on tourism for national income. I told Alex that we came all the way from Cradle Mountain for this museum and we were paying the entry fee. Plus, there was nothing else open in Hobart on a Sunday, and we’d heard so much about the greatness of the museum. After parting with our money, we were each handed pre-programmed iPhones which served as a personal tour guide. The artworks didn’t have information plaques as all the information was on the iPhone. This was actually really infuriating, as to see the name of an artwork you had to scroll through the iPhone for a while to find it rather than it just being there right in front of you. I felt like I was phubbing the museum.

So the museum was indeed a museum of old and new art. Some pieces were interesting, many, not-so-much. The juxtaposition of Egyptian sarchophagi with pretentious experimental art didn’t really work for me. My favourite piece was a video of Sohn Kee-Chung winning the marathon at the 1956 Berlin Olympics. It was incredible to see this race against the backdrop of Europe just before the war, as well as to further understand the conflict between Korea and Japan at the time. I was also very intrigued by a piece regarding albinism in Tanzania, where albinos are often sought to be killed, as their body parts are used by witch doctors. This particular artwork (or, news article) mentioned that there were extreme security measures in place in order to protect these people.

My not-so-favourite piece was obviously the “poop-machine”, which is, exactly what you think. It’s a machine that makes poop very similar in appearance and smell to real human poop. I’m not a fan of this type of experimental art.

We were done. We relaxed our tired tootsies with a coffee. We then left the museum and spent time exploring the impressive museum grounds. The biting wind encouraged us to hasten with our photo taking and head back towards the car, but not before rolling our eyes at the car spaces of the museum’s humble owner and his gal… sigh.

We had many hours to spare until our flight later that night, so we headed to Hobart city for a look. Being a Sunday night, everything was closed. We wandered around for a bit, looking at tourist attractions that we would have liked to have gone to. The city is small so after an hour we were done, and we thought we would head back to the airport two hours early. Then our plane was delayed one hour. Two hours. We returned to Melbourne at 1am and proceeded to collapse, but not before setting our alarms for work the next morning.

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