Friday, September 30, 2005

wild animal kingdom

The green Earth is filled with many furry animals. Some are cute. Some are friendly. Some will eat you the first chance they get. Welcome to the inaugural chapter of our continuing series of photos and stories on the fascinating critters of our animal kingdom - the wild animal kingdom! (Cue National Geographic theme music here).

Undated file photo taken from an undisclosed location deep in the wilds of Saskatchewan, Canada. From left to right: Pygmy kangaroo and joey, koala, and Brown bear. The kangaroo is believed to be an undercover Australian intelligence agent. However, when I asked her to confirm the details of her occupation, she kicked me. It hurt. The koala, presumably doped out on eucalyptus leaves at the time, declined comment when asked for an interview. The bear has a noted affinity for Sugar Crisp cereal and Charmin toilet tissue. Although there have been several fatal bear attacks in Canada over the past few months, this particular bear is reputed to be very friendly.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

for beth-heads everywhere

Pass In Time
Beth Orton

The other night, I picked up a copy of Beth Orton's Pass In Time. This was one of those purchases where I found myself second-guessing my decision as soon as I walked out of the store ... I mean, it's a little suspicious when an artist puts out a retrospective record despite having previously released only four full-length LP's. But I had no need to worry - as usual, Beth didn't disappoint.

The first thing you notice about Pass In Time is that it doesn't cheat you on length - there's two hours of music here spanning 24 tracks and two CD's. Yet, there's a pleasantly surprising lack of filler material, a bit of new stuff plus a bit of old obscure stuff, and nothing seems out of place. Musicians take note: this is how you make a retrospective album.

Born in Norwich, England, in 1970, Beth Orton has a distinct, soulful voice; is almost six feet tall; suffers from Crohn's disease; and has a nice smile. Describing Beth's brand of urban-folkie-occasionalelectronica(?) music to anyone who hasn't heard her before is difficult. Quite frankly, she doesn't sound like anybody else though I've heard people try to compare her to everyone from Gwen Stefani to Jewel to Sarah Slean. I won't do Beth the unjustice of trying to make my own comparisons so I'll simply say that Beth Orton sounds like Beth Orton, and you need to listen to this album.

dingobear track selections:

Disc 1
2. Someone's Daughter. Beth's comment on this song from the CD inset: "A song born from being in love and blissed out." My comment: it's happy, it's easy on the ears, it's from Trailer Park, released in 1996.

6. I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine. Cover of the Ronettes' bittersweet ballad.

8. The Same Day. New, previously unreleased track.

9. Stolen Car. In my opinion, the track that best defines Beth Orton. That is, to the extent she's actually definable. From 1999's superb Central Reservation. Ben Harper guest stars on the slide guitar.

14. Thinking About Tomorrow. Maybe my favourite Beth Orton song to date. From the underrated Daybreaker album, released in 2003.

Disc 2
1. Central Reservation (Spiritual Life - Ibadan Remix). This mix sounds like it fell out of a Lemon Jelly record.

2. Where Do I Begin. Collaboration with the Chemical Brothers, with whom Beth's guest vocals earned her acclaim earlier in her career. Outstanding track. "Sunday morning, I'm waking up / Can't even focus on a coffee cup / Don't even know whose bed I'm in / Where do I start ... where do I begin?"

3. Stars All Seem to Weep. Maybe best known from its part on Everything But The Girl's Back to Mine compilation album. Vintage Beth Orton vocals plus flawless Ben Watt production. "I think about you on a moonlit night / And stars all seem to weep."

4. Safety. A recording of the first time Beth sang solo.

7. It's Not The Spotlight. Cover of a throwback Rod Stewart (yes! Rod the Mod!) tune, circa 1975.

9. Where Do You Go. "Where do you go when the wind doesn't blow? / Are you still like the trees ... only bend in the breeze?" Hauntingly brilliant, raw but pure, foreshadows greater things to come. From the 1993 album Superpinkymandy, which was released only in Japan. If anyone knows where I can find this record (without having to make a trip to Tokyo), please drop me a comment.

I think Beth Orton has a cute smile.

Monday, September 05, 2005

eat autumn

I've been deservedly chided by one of my regulars for taking such a long time to write an update, but what can I say? August turned out to be a busy, eventful month. One day, maybe I'll scrawl about the crazy, up-and-down, rollercoaster goings-on of the last month. But tonight, I prefer to avoid all of that and talk about the one topic we all know and love - food.

In a cruel twist of fate, autumn has beset itself on western Canada extra early this year and, alas, the leaves are turning colors and starting to fall from the trees. But rather than recoiling in horror at the prospect of the near-term arrival of what I'm sure will about 8 months of freezing, bone-numbing winter, I consciously choose to embrace autumn. Yes, goddamnit, embrace. And by "embrace," I mean I'm going to eat it. Well, that's a bit of a lie, I can't actually eat an entire season but I can do the next best thing and eat my butternut squash agnolotti with sage, avocado and toasted hazelnuts - the consummate autumn dish.

Wow, lucky you, in about 10 seconds you're going to be inundated with another one of my crack recipes. (Note: the following recipe contains no crack. Second note: I use the phrase "my crack recipe" loosely here, as this is a recipe I originally stole from Giada De Laurentiis and then made slight modifications to. Ok, my lawyers are now happy. Let's move on).

Butternut Squash Agnolotti with Sage, Avocado and Toasted Hazelnuts
250 grams of butternut squash agnolotti (pumpkin ravioli or tortellini also works)
5-6 fresh sage leaves (use dried if fresh leaves aren't accessible)
1 small avocado, cut into slices
1 handful of hazelnuts
1 amaretti cookie
3-4 pinches of ground nutmeg
1 pinch of salt
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter
freshly grated parmigiano reggiano (yes, this is expensive but it's worth it)

Preheat oven to 350F. Place your hazelnuts on a cookie sheet and toast them in the oven until they smell nice. This takes about 8 minutes in my retro (not by choice) General Electric oven. Remove the hazelnuts from the oven and coarsely chop them. Discard the dark brown hazelnuts skins if you prefer; I tend to keep mine around. Set the hazelnuts aside and allow them to cool.

Meanwhile, for your agnolotti, bring a pot of water to a light boil. Remember to salt your pasta water. Add the butternut squash agnolotti to the water and cook for about 7 minutes or until done. Remove and plate. Cover the plate with aluminum foil to keep the pasta warm.

In a small saucepan, warm the olive oil and butter at medium heat. After about 2 minutes, toss in your avocado slices and stir fry them a little for a couple of minutes. Next, add the sage leaves and fry for maybe 30 seconds - by then, they should start to crisp ever so slightly. Remove your sauce from the heat and stir in the nutmeg.

Pour your olive oil, butter, avocado, sage, and nutmeg sauce over the agnolotti. Sprinkle on the toasted hazelnuts and the parmesan cheese. Grate your amaretti cookie over the agnolotti and serve. There should be enough for two - one plate for you and one for your honey. Enjoy!

Himeji-Jo (Himeji Castle), Himeji, Japan. (2002). All right, fine, so this picture really has very little to do with the above recipe other than the fact that it's autumn in the photo, too. I took the shot with my Kodak F300 point-and-shoot during a short holiday to Japan in the Fall of 2002. Note the goregous Japanese maple trees in the foreground, whose delicate leaves are no bigger than a silver dollar. A sight to behold, for sure.