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Monthly Archives: September 2011

>> VICE VERSES (acoustic)

Another terrific song from Switchfoot’s excellent new album Vice Verses, made even better by this sensitive acoustic version recorded for a radio session. I love this:

 
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Posted by on 29/09/2011 in God, Music

 

>> BRIE AND CARAMELISED RED ONION TART

A few days ago a friend of mine had a birthday party which involved music from the magnificent Praxis Bold, beer and, as you’d expect, cheese-tasting. It was a beautiful thing – profoundly bizarre, but in its own special way, also rather wonderful.

Evidently he didn’t manage to use all his cheese up, though, because yesterday evening I got a call while I was trying to come up with something to cook the vegetarian guest I had joining me for dinner and he offered me an entire wheel of Cornish Brie, as you do, as well as a “washed rind cheese”, whatever that means, called Oxford Isis.

Anyway, I’d been planning on cooking a Parmesan and Red Onion Tart, but have you ever seen a wheel of cheese? I figured that I was going to be eating Brie for the next six weeks and so should at least take a stab at using some of it up. So the tart metamorphosed into this instead, and it was beautiful. Honestly, it was way better than I expected it to be – it was light but simultaneously filling, mellow but hearty – I would cook it again tonight.

Actually, maybe I should. I’ve still got a whole lot of Brie.

This was a Nigel Slater recipe, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that it was good – he’s never let me down yet. To do it you need 6 small to medium red onions, some butter, about 125g of cheese, pre-rolled puff pastry (yes, I cheated), salt, pepper and thyme. It served five comfortably last night, with bread, salad and some mushrooms.

Peel your onions and then chop them up into large segments. Cook them in a decent amount of butter and a little bit of oil on a low to moderate heat in a shallow pan with some salt, sugar and thyme. You’ll need to cook them for at least 30 minutes, not letting them burn, until they’re sticky and translucent. You can’t rush it, but because they’re a key part of the dish, make sure you get it right.

While they’re cooking, put your pastry into a baking tray and then heat the oven up to 220 degrees. Dot it with chunks of cheese fairly liberally – Slater puts onions in and then arranges cheese around them, but I put cheese on the bottom, poured onions over and then dotted a little more cheese on top, and it worked for me.

Then put it in the oven for about 20 minutes, take out and serve with a reasonably bitter salad – something like rocket.

Like I say, this was great, and also incredibly easy, so I recommend it. It’s good for this season as well, because we’ve not gotten properly autumnal yet, and so sometimes you want something for dinner that’s not too hearty.

 
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Posted by on 27/09/2011 in Food

 

>> GHOSTS UPON THE EARTH (review)

On the week that Worship Central’s album hit the itunes top 10 after what is probably the most sustained Christian Twitter spam campaign ever – and that’s saying something – another worship album, one that’s arguably more accessible to the general public, slipped out under the radar. Of course, those of us who listened to Beautiful Things, the last album from worship collective Gungor, had been eagerly awaiting it for a while, or at least ever since they released a promo video a month or so back, but all the same, Ghosts Upon the Earth appeared rather quietly.

The album itself is similar, slipping quietly into the listener’s consciousness almost unnoticed. Beginning with what sounds like acoustic riff on previous track Dry Bones – a metaphor for creation, perhaps? – the song imagines the creation of the world, with a gorgeous choral vocal slipping in for the first chorus. It’s a wonderful opener, but it’s also rather downbeat. Bouncy second track Brother Moon tries something more cheerful, with echoes of fellow worship musicians REND Collective Experiment and the previous album in the glockenspiel accompaniment throughout the verses, but then it’s back down to more reflective stylings for Crags and Clay again.

After the immediately accessible songs of Beautiful Things, it can all take you aback slightly. The arrangements are lush and sometimes the vocals get lost among them; there are fewer immediately memorable choruses and more meditations on finding God in the midst of the world. The album’s title, “Ghosts Upon the Earth”, was intended as a reflection on how humanity always assumes that they are the centre of creation, but in reality sometimes it feels like we are wanderers, walking a landscape that we can no longer fully understand or see clearly. That’s why the quasi-liturgical choruses soar upwards with cries like “all praises to the One | Who made it all | Who made it all | And finds it beautiful” – because that is our response in those situations. But that also means that it’s an album that doesn’t intend to provide its listener with answers, but to articulate the situation in which we find ourselves and to put words to our response.

That makes it an honest album, and a haunting one too, but it’s also one that’s shot through with melancholy. It’s not all downbeat – in the jaunty You Are The Beauty, an epic fiddle and banjo solo and glorious four-part harmonies combine with the lyrics “breath and sex and sight | All things made for good in love divine” in a way that would never happen in a Hillsong song. But they’re set alongside reflections like This is Not the End, an utterly stunning meditation on death which stands as my highpoint on the album, and Vous Etes Mon Coeur, which dramatises the loss of the beloved in the Song of Songs. So come prepared – it’s not all a happy experience.

Musically, When Death Dies and Wake Up Sleeper both borrow elements from Muse and lesser-known Christian band The Myriad, which sounds jarring, at least initially. The latter is an utterly bizarre song, setting the list of accusations that Jesus pours out against the Pharisees against a howling chorus of “Wake up, wake up | O sleeper from the dead” before descending into a synth-rock conclusion. You have to hear it, really – listen here – but it’s certainly the most bizarre Christian song I’ve heard in some time. It’s also totally fantastic, and it’s great to see this kind of experimentation in a band who aren’t David Crowder Band.

But the question is, is it as good an album as Beautiful Things? And it’s a hard question, that. It’s the sound of a band maturing, but it’s also an album that will take some work to love – the first few listens are alternately beautiful, alienating and baffling. In some ways that makes it exciting – because these guys are fine musicians, and they’re only going to improve. And as with all the best albums, it will seep slowly into your mind and linger with you, allowing you to discover nuances that you’ve never seen before. It will challenge you, it will cause you to reflect, and the best moments will take your breath away.

All the same, though, if you like your worship music straightforward, you might be better off looking elsewhere.

 
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Posted by on 24/09/2011 in God, Music

 

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>> VEGI BURGERS

Recently I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s shocking polemic Eating Animals, which ranks up there as one of the most traumatic books that I’ve ever read. It details battery-farming practices, tells stories of the good and the bad in abbatoirs (as well as Foer’s own relationship with food) and muses on the philosophy of eating meat.

It’s very easy to get to the end of the book and decide that you don’t want to eat meat ever again. Not an unreasonable argument, as Foer, a skilled writer, makes a fine case – both factual and emotional.

However, it’s markedly more difficult to simply decide to cook vegetarian food, especially if you are (a.) in the habit of eating meat, (b.) like the taste of meat and (c.) don’t have a clue how to make vegetables interesting.

So I’m currently trying to do two things, which are to eat better meat less frequently and also to learn to cook interesting vegetarian food. Listen, I’m not a hippy, but I understand why you might look at me like I am now. If you do, though, I’ll likely recommend the above book to you, and I don’t know I want to do that, as meat is tasty, and you’ll probably miss it.

This was an attempt at cooking veggie burgers that didn’t really work, as the insides were still kind of mushy. The taste was good, but I feel like it could have used some more substance. Any tips on where I went wrong?

First up, fry onions in oil on a low heat with garlic, a little ginger, black pepper, wild thyme, a little bit of curry powder and some cumin seed and maybe some smoked paprika if you fancy it. Cook them until they go translucent and then set them aside to cool – while you’re doing this, heat up your chickpeas. Chuck the lot in a blender, add kidney beans to the paste and shape into patties, add a little mayonnaise to bind them and then leave for an hour before frying in oil.

As I say – great taste, but mushy texture. Any tips on how I could improve this?

 
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Posted by on 20/09/2011 in Food

 

>> VICE VERSES – stream

The new album by Switchfoot, entitled Vice Verses and out a week Monday (26th September) is currently streaming over at ESPN (for some reason). Have a listen to it here.

I’ve heard bits of it over the past few months, and Restless in particular stands out as a terrific song. All in all it sounds like one of their best in quite a while, although unlike some I had a lot of love for Hello Hurricane.

If you can’t be bothered to follow that link, here’s Restless in video form:

 
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Posted by on 18/09/2011 in Music, News

 

>> DANCE ME TO THE END OF LOVE

I only know the song Dance Me to the End of Love in the first place because of The Civil Wars’ cover of it, which is wonderful – and which you can hear below:

However, if anything, Leonard Cohen’s original, complete with accordion and woozy French violins, is even better. This live version is seductive, mournful and altogether pretty heart-breaking.

And therefore highly recommended:

 
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Posted by on 15/09/2011 in Music

 

>> LIFE ON THE OUTSIDE

I read this quotation from Jacques Ellul this morning in Graham Tomlin’s marvellous book The Provocative Church and it got me thinking. He’s talking about the role of Christians in the world:

Of course he can always immerse himself in good works, and pour out his energy in religious or social activities, but all this will have no meaning unless he is fulfilling the only mission with which he has been charged by Jesus Christ, which is first of all to be a sign…

There’s a lengthy extended quote that builds upon it which follows, but I won’t reprint that here, because that alone certainly got me wondering about two things – firstly, whether he’s right, and secondly, if so, what sort of sign Christians are to the world.

So, then. Those two questions: is Ellul right, and if so, what sort of world do Christians demonstrate the Kingdom of God to be? What are your thoughts?

 
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Posted by on 13/09/2011 in God, Other