Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Guest Post - Tales of a Festival Virgin (part 1 of 3 - Kindred Spirits Festival)

When I was talking to Neil, my brother-in-law last year he was telling me about a couple of music festivals he had been to recently.  He was so excited and passionate that I asked him to write them down and share his experiences here.  So whether you are a festival virgin or experienced festival attender you will love his accounts.

Neil writes ...................................
As Big Ben’s “bongs” rang out at midnight on January 1st 2016 I raised a glass of scotch and toasted in the New Year with a pledge to make it the year I pursued my love of live music and entertainment and dip my toe into the water of the Summer Festival.
Despite being born and raised on the doorstep of Glastonbury – I had found myself a 43 year old Festival virgin. I didn’t want to dive into one of the big events like Reading & Leeds or V-Festival. I wanted to break myself in gently and experience some of the smaller, more intimate festivals that have emerged in their shadow. But where should I start? Which ones should I go to? I needed a guide. Luckily my good friend Frankie is a local festival regular and so was glad to help me on my odyssey – plus he has camper van with room for a guest! Result!
So, over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend I found myself at the inaugural Kindred Spirits Festival
Being my first taste of a festival I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was their first time too so we were both in uncharted waters.
Unusually for a Bank Holiday weekend, the weather was fantastic. With the exception of a freak, brief thunderstorm on the Saturday afternoon it was wall-to-wall sunshine and I managed to spend most of my time perched on a large log (one of several conveniently dotted around the site) just outside the main stage tent where I could sup a few pints of cider from Fanny Squelches well stocked and run bar and soak up the atmosphere, the music and some rays!
You got a lot of music for your money. However the scheduling of some of the bands meant that at times unfortunately some hard choices needed to be made between the different tents (The Main Stage, The Second Stage / Bar and the Dance Tent). All through the weekend there was a steady stream of great acts including the brilliant Dusk at Dawns, 
Ten Bob Notes and Antimatador on the Saturday and Kernow Vibrations 
and Duncan Disorderly & the Scallywags on the Sunday. However, the highlight from the Main Stage for me was Echo Town who put on a fantastic set on the Saturday afternoon. 
The quality and volume of sound from the two local brothers was absolutely amazing!
But when the sun had gone down you couldn’t help be drawn by the pulsating lights, lasers and beats emanating from the Dance Tent. A roster of talented DJs had been playing all through the day as a counterpoint to the bands on the other two stages but as they were winding down for the night the Dance Tent really took on a life of its own. The Saturday the evening was rounded off in style with a storming set by DJs Kraken and Kortez who had followed a real crowd pleasing session by young DJ and Producer ‘DNMO’. 
This 15 year old is ridiculously talented and is quite rightly already attracting attention of some big names in the industry.
The number of people filing through the gate was quite slow to start on the Saturday morning but steadily increased as the day wore on – perhaps families had returned from days out and wanted to do something to make the most of the late afternoon sunshine, or news was slowly percolating through the area that the event was well worth a visit. Either way by early evening the tents were nicely filled and there was a real buzz about the place. From snippets of conversations I overheard as I wandered back and forth to the bar many people seemed to have bought day tickets – preferring to check out the first day and then come back on the second if they liked what they saw / heard (which they did, in good numbers), so the camping area was underutilised but I certainly expect that to change for 2017.
I have met up with the organiser, Andy Leeds, a couple times since and talked to him about his ambitions for the festival. He tells me that there are already a number of changes in mind for 2017 (early bird tickets are now on sale HERE); the timings of the bands will be tweaked so that there isn’t too much overlap at some points and too much dead time at others, the bar will move into / next to the main tent and the second stage will be separated out into its own larger marquee. Andy has a very clear vision of how he sees the festival developing to make it a must attend event on the summer calendar. However, amongst all those long term aims Andy is determined that the festival will not lose any of its soul and ethos. It will still be a festival created with love.
They say you always remember your ‘first time’ and I will look back on that early summer music experience with much fondness as I am sure Andy and his dedicated and hardworking crew will too. However, if a small start-up festival like Kindred Spirits could deliver such fun, enjoyment and great music experience in its first year – I couldn’t wait until my next festival, the well established Leopallooza!

Thanks Neil, look forward to the next installment!  
All photos published with permission of DaveBurnsPhotography.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Chinese New Year - Kung Hei Fat Choi

Kung Hei Fat Choi! Once again it is time for the Chinese New Year and this year is the Year of The Rooster!
I wanted to show how easy it is to make some really good Chinese food at home.  You don't need loads of special equipment (although a wok style frying pan does help) or really specialist ingredients.

We often have a stir fry during the week.  By using a lot of ingredients but just a small amount of each you will have a huge feast to feed the family.
The secret is in the prep.  I like to get everything chopped and sliced in advance so that when the time comes to stir fry it all together nothing overcooks because I am taking too long to prepare the next ingredient.
I use onion, celery, mushrooms, red peppers, ginger and garlic as standard and then like to add mange tout (the thin little peas that you cook the whole thing), sugar snap peas, baby sweetcorn and a leafy green vegetable like Chinese Bok Choi (available in most supermarkets) or a baby spinach.  I also like to add some 'straight to wok' noodles again there is a selection in most supermarkets.

Over the years I have gathered a collection of Chinese style platters, plates and bowls however these are not essential so don't let not having them put you off a good stir fry!

Every good stir fry has some sort of rice as an accompaniment.  For speed I usually use the microwave basmati or long grain rice and whilst it is in the microwave I will mix up 3-4 eggs and have some frozen peas and chopped spring onion ready.

Add some vegetable oil to the hot pan, add the rice and mix around to avoid it sticking
When it is hot add the beaten egg and continue to mix to avoid sticking. Add the frozen peas until warmed through.
Serve on a platter drizzled with a thin drizzle of sesame oil and top with the chopped spring onions and you are good to go!
For the main dishes I will stir fry the onion, peppers, celery, garlic and ginger then add sliced chicken breast however you could add thinly sliced strips of beef or prawns.
When the chicken (meat/fish) has cooked I add the other vegetable and the straight to wok noodles. 
You can buy really good and authentic oyster sauce or black bean sauces which go into the wok and mix through until all of the ingredients have been coated and the sauce has warmed through.  Serve immediately with the Egg Fried Rice.
Alternatively, after a recent trip to Chinatown in London's SoHo area I went into one of the Chinese supermarkets and bought a bag of little bok choi
which I stir fried with onion and sliced garlic and served with a drizzle of Oyster Sauce.  Quick and easy and really delicious.
For oils you can use any vegetable or rapeseed oil to stir fry and a sesame oil for drizzling over the top to bring out the flavour.  Sesame oil is too strong to use as a stir fry oil on it own but you can add some to the rapeseed oil.
I like to serve my stir-fries and egg fried rice on the table and let everyone help themselves.

Do you ever cook a Chinese inspired meal at home.  Please leave a comment below to say which is your favourite food to cook. 

Perhaps you prefer to eat out and get someone else to cook it for you so you can relax and enjoy a lovely meal.  Which type of restaurant is your favourite?

Here are a couple of other Chinese New Year posts written by blogger friends - hope you enjoy them.

All opinions and photos are my own. No photos may be reproduced in any form without my written permission.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Mexico City: Wrestling Night!

When I was in Mexico City recently with a group we had a slight change to our itinerary leaving us with an evening to fill.  The guys in the party really wanted to visit the wrestling but to be fair I wasn't initially charged up with the idea.  However I didn't want to stay behind at the hotel and also didn't want to be seen as a 'party pooper' just because I wasn't initially interested in something.

Well, you never know until you experience something and also if you don't go you can't talk from a point of experience about a topic.

We turned up in a rather dark side street and when we were outside the place, the Coliseo, there was suddenly a lot of people hanging around outside, buying souvenir wrestling masks just like the players would be wearing and other icons of the sport.
While we were waiting in our group a couple of the well known (to the locals) wrestlers turned up, wearing their masks so that no one could identify them.  They were happy to talk to their fans and have their photos taken, especially with the children.
They even stopped for a photo or two with our group members wearing masks they had just bought from a street trader for the occasion.  It was funny seeing these grown up transform back into little boys with wrestling masks on giggling and pretending to be big strong wrestlers!
Once inside the stadium I was surprised how small it was and how close the wrestling ring was! As the start got nearer it started to fill up, what we found unusual was how many families were there with babies and young children, each young boy dreaming of their chance to be in the ring!
Plenty of refreshments on sale and without too long a wait the show was ready to commence.  I kept saying how choreographed each round was, calling it 'Strictly Come Wrestling' but the two guys I was sitting with kept on saying it was not scripted or planned.  I must admit though that when they fell to the floor with a really loud bump it must have hurt!

I was expecting huge crowds and unruly behaviour - the reality was a really intimate arena.  We were sitting about 7 rows from the front easily seeing all of the action as it unfolded.
Round 5 was the big one with the big names competing.  To annoy the boys I kept calling it Act 5!
We had a really good evening for less than £10.00 each with plenty of beer, tension and excitement.  If you find yourself in Mexico City with an evening to spare see if you can get a ticket for Luce Libre!

I was a guest of Mexico City Tourism Board however I was not required to write a positive review.  All photos and opinions are my own.  No photos may be reproduced in any way without my written permission.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Mexico City - 5 Great Places to Eat

Mexico City is a vibrant, cosmopolitan and multi-cultural city.  It is the capital city of The United States of Mexico and is steeped in history dating back to civilisations pre-dating Mayan and Aztec pre-hispanic people.  The cuisine of Mexico City has it's roots in the indiginous foods such as corn (maize), beans, avocados, tomatoes and much more.

I have been to Mexico City twice now and have eaten in some of the best restaurants and had fantastic street food.  I want to tell you about five great restaurants to try when you visit the city. This list stretches from quick food at El Califa to the sedate and precise Zafiro.

1.  Tenampa
Garibaldi Square is full of local Mariachi bands each looking for a celebration or group of families to play their iconic music for.
On the left side of the square is a restaurant called Tenampa where they say it all began! It is reputed to be the home of the Mariachi bands, bands who play sad songs of loss (usually the loss of a woman).  There are songs written on the walls to sing along to if you wish.

It costs Mexican peso $120 (approx £5.00) to have the band come to your table and play for you and your family and friends.

The menu is local and authentic.  I had a flank steak which was really tender, garnished with a piece of cactus leaf, guacamole and green chili peppers.  I had one bit of the peppers and thought my head was going to explode, tears running down my face and my nose blocked with a cold immediately cleared!  I was not brave enough to have another bite!!
The Margaritas are huge, frozen and very, very delicious!  You don't need many of these to get into the Mariachi mood!!
2. Zafiro
Zefiro Restaurante Escuela - Universidad del Claustro de Sir Juana (University Restaurant) is Mexico's finest school of gastronomy, each day serving members of the public meals that were cooked by student chefs and served by students learning everything about the hospitality trade.  The teaching is supervised using the high standards based on Distinctive H and Tesoros de Mexico, both recognitions given by the Secretary of Tourism.
The menu was simple and offered to us in English as well as Spanish. The service was impeccable making each of us feel we were the only diner in the restaurant!

The soup (Shelfish Pozole) made with guarjillo chilli,white hominy, squid, scallop, Amberjack fish and shrimps was without a doubt the best soup I have ever tasted!!
My main course a Pork Meatloaf, juicy pork with salad and lime vinaigrette, sweet potato puree drops, apply, chilacayote slices with arlic oil, radish slices and a tasty dressing made with guajillo chili and cinnamon was absolutely delicious but far too much to finish after that wonderful soup.
For dessert we were served the most beautiful and sublime I have ever been served or tasted.  Blanca Plata - a delicious macadamia mousse,pistacio dacquoise, caramalised apple gelee and toasted coconut rings with a dash of edible silver. It was a white cloud of lightness that arrived at the table under glass to a chorus of ooohhs and aaahhs from all around the table.
3.  Taqueria El Califa
El Califa with it's open and transparent kitchen area is a fun place to eat full of young Mexicans out for an evening of quick, simple but tasty taco restaurant situated on the busy and main Paseo de la Reforma 382 in the Juarez district.

The main draw to this restaurant is their kebab like meat on a large skewer cooked rather like our traditional kebabs however tasting completely different.
You order how many tacos you want and they are served quickly with plenty of lime slices (I do love the abundance of limes served in most restaurants in the city.
Sauces are put in front of you and when you run out they will bring more.
The guacamole was without a doubt the best I have ever had, chunky and creamy and truly delicious!
El Califa is fun and vibrant and a must-try if you want up to the minute and contemporary food.

4. La Casa de Tono
Another fun place to pop in for a quick meal that is freshly cooked, up to the minute and makes a great place to meet friends for some tacos before going on together to a nearby club or favourite venue.  There are over twenty venues across the city.

The menu is under glass on the table as part of the tablecloth and the waiters(waitresses) are there to serve you more or less immediately.  All around me was buzzing and full of atmosphere - we were quite late in the evening and there was no sign of a slow down.

I chose the Pozole - a filling and very delicious soup I have fallen in love with! You can pick which meat you want or have a vegetarian version.
On the menu are also the everyday Mexican food choices like Tostadas, quesadillas, soups and tacos - all able to be customised to your favourites.
The kitchen is open and transparent as well as being a hub of activity.
5. Restaurante Terraza y Jardin Nopalito 1949
It was time to head to the Mexico City airport however we stopped for one last meal.  Nopalito1949 is a lovely restaurant perfect for family a get together and Sunday lunch.  As the traffic was a bit heavy we arrived a bit late for our reservation, having to wait about 15 minutes which gave us a chance to have a good look around.

The inside of the restaurant was bright, welcoming and very busy. There was a Mariachi band playing from table to table to add to the atmosphere. In our honour they came to our table and played 'Guantanamera' for us.
The inside of the restaurant is open, bright and airy with trees and fountains.
I love how as soon as we sit down in any restaurant in Mexico City lovely little bowls of colour appear on the table, usually accompanied by tortilla or taco chips. Each bowl contains an explosion of tastes, some quite spicy and other less so but all equally outstanding.
My starter was a mini casserole of breaded shrimp in a bittersweet sauce.
My main course, Mestizo Pasta & Shrimps - Big shrimps and pasta bathed in a tamarind and mini shrimp sauce was pasta with a difference, the tamarind and mini shrimp sauce giving a latino edge to the meal.
Although I chose shrimp for both of my courses the menu was varied and contemporary. I just love shrimp and as I was about to take a flight I didn't want to eat anything particularly heavy however there was plenty on the menu to tempt me another time.

One for the road or should I say one for the sky as we made our way to the airport ready for our long flight home!
As we flew out into the night with the lights of Mexico City beneath us I started thinking about the next time I could visit this fantastic city

I was a guest of Mexico City Tourism Board. I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions and photos are my own. No photos may be reproduced in any form without my written permission.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Global Gourmet Indian Curry Station Review and Giveaway

I hate it when we get an Indian take-away, put half of it on the plates and when we go back for the rest of it, it is cold.  The Global Gourmet Indian Curry Station is just perfect for this situation.
There are four little pots with lids that sit on top of the warming plate keeping your food warm until you are ready for it.
Although it is called a curry station it is really useful for other foods such as serving stews or soups when you are entertaining.  Four pots of soup with a bowl of bread sitting on the table looks really professional!

BBQ night you can have pots of macaroni cheese ready for when the burgers or sausages are ready!

I found this little frying pan recently and not really knowing what I would use it for I bought it because it was so cute.  I was really please to see it fits on the warming plate perfectly and would keep your onion bhagi warm!
The little pots and lids are dishwasher proof. There is a temperature dial with variable temperature control.  A selection https://gleam.io/5T7gH/win-a-gourmet-indian-curry-server-3 recipes are included.

I really like this little set of pots and warming plate and really think it will be useful.  If you would like to have a chance of getting one of your own follow the GLEAM instructions below.
I was given a set of Global Gourmet Indian Curry Station for review and to offer one for a giveaway. I was not required to write a positive review.  All photos are my own and must not be reproduced without my written permission .

Win a Gourmet Indian Curry Server #3