February 27, 2007

Photos and recipes

I still need to properly post about the Amsterdam Decemberists show, but I cannot be bothered at the moment. So, some other stuff...

I've put some photos online that I took during our short trip to Berlin. They start here. The city didn't leave much of an impression in my mind, partly because we only had a day and a bit to look around. But also I'm realizing that whenever we go somewhere more northern and it's not the summer, I come away not impressed by the city. You can't control the weather, but it does make such a difference in being able to enjoy things. So we'll go back someday, and be sure to do it when there's a better chance of good weather.

Some friends came over for dinner a couple of weekends ago and I wanted to make something new, and in the end I decided upon enchiladas since I was feeling like having something Mexican. Also neither of the people coming over were American, so I figured it would be something new for them. I ended up making the enchilada sauce and some Spanish rice from recipes I found online. The dinner was a definite success, so I thought I'd post the recipes here.

Spanish Rice (from http://www.elise.com/recipes/)

olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups (about 300 grams) of medium or long-grain white rice
3 cups (about 750 ml)* chicken broth (or vegetable stock if vegetarian)
1 can cooked tomatoes, strained
Pinch of oregano
1 teaspoon salt

*Check the instructions on the rice package for the proportions of liquid to rice. They can range from 1:1 to 2:1. If your rice calls for 2 cups of water for every cup of rice, then for this recipe, use 4 cups of stock for 2 cups of rice.

In a large skillet, brown the rice in olive oil, medium/high heat. Start with 2-3 tablespoons of oil, but add more if it starts to stick. Add the onion and garlic. Cook the onion-rice mixture, stirring frequently, about 4 minutes, or until onions are softened. The rice may smell or even look a bit burnt, but this is fine.

In a separate saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer. Add the drained tomatoes, oregano, and salt. Add the rice to the broth. Bring to a simmer. Cover. Lower heat and cook 15-25 minutes, depending on the type of rice and the instructions on the rice package. Turn off heat and let sit for 5 minutes.

Serves 4 to 6 (one large pan of rice).

Chicken enchiladas

8 flour tortillas
4 chicken filets
taco seasoning
Enchilada Sauce (recipe below)
100 grams cheddar cheese, shredded

Cut the chicken into small pieces. Cook the chicken and near the end, add 1-2 tablespoons of taco seasoning. Cook for another 5 minutes or so until chicken is fully cooked and seasoning has cooked into the chicken. Set aside (no need to keep warm).

Prepare the enchilada sauce:

Mexican Enchilada Sauce
3 tablespoons chili powder
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups water
1 cup tomato sauce (the tomato frito I found in my supermarket works well)

Combine all dry ingredients in a small bowl. Stirring constantly, slowly add enough of the water to make a thin paste. Pour the paste into pan and add rest of water. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. If it doesn’t thicken, add a bit more flour. If it’s too thick, add a bit more water. Stir in tomato sauce. Take off heat.

Assemble enchiladas:

Use a large, rectangular glass baking dish. Pour a little bit of the enchilada sauce on the bottom of the dish and spread to cover the bottom.

Take one tortilla and dip into the enchilada sauce until it is fully coated. Lay tortilla flat and place some of the chicken in a line down the middle. Roll up tortilla around chicken and place in baking dish, seam-side down. Continue with rest of the tortillas. Pour remaining sauce over the tortillas in the dish. Sprinkle cheese over the top. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 mins. Serve with rice and sour cream.

February 18, 2007

The Decemberists - Postbahnhof, 14 February

It may seem excessive that we travelled to Berlin to see The Decemberists, especially since they are playing in Amsterdam, but it makes perfect sense to me. I was determined to see two of their European shows, one besides Amsterdam, and we chose Berlin since we'd never been there before. Paris probably would have been preferable in terms of distance, but that show is the night after Amsterdam so it would have been difficult to get there and see the show the very next day.

But I have no regrets about going to Berlin, despite sitting for over 6 hours, one way, in a not-very-comfortable train. The show was brilliant and worth every penny we spent to travel there.

When we entered the venue, they actually had two guys checking your bag, which they just don't do in the Netherlands. So my bottle of water got confiscated, which is just stupid, but my camera was allowed, I guess since it's rather small. O's camera, however, was of course taken, and he told the guy that he knew the tour manager and they would let him have it. This wasn't 100% true, but when his camera was taken from him in Cologne, he asked the merchandise guy for help and was able to get his camera back. So once again we talked to the guy at the merchandise table, a guy named Ian who I'd heard was really nice. And yeah, as soon as O explained the situation, Ian was really surprised that they were taking people's cameras at the door and said he'd have a word with the door guy. It was awesome and O soon had his camera again.

In the meantime we met this American girl hanging around next to the merch table who was in Germany as an exchange student. She called herself the oldest 16-year-old in the world, though I was surprised when she said she was only 16. But then she didn't believe O when he said he wasn't American. She was chatting to just about anyone, especially if she heard them speaking English, and she ended up standing next to us for most of the show. I think she talked to about half the crowd by the time the night was over.

So, the setlist:

The Island
July, July
Engine Driver
Billy Liar
Shankill Butchers
O Valencia
16 Military Wives
Crane Wife 1, 2, and 3!
Sons and Daughters

Red Right Ankle
Chimbley Sweep

Cautionary Song

I hope I can enjoy The Island more in Amsterdam because I had this big, sweaty guy next to me taking a ton of photos and shoving his lens next to my face and then shoving himself in front of me. I assume he was a professional, but that doesn't mean you need to be so pushy to the people there to see the band. Fortunately he pissed off after The Island, but I had a hard time enjoying the song.

During Sons and Daughters, the band pulled a bunch of people onto the stage to help with singing the final refrain, and O was one chosen to go up. He got this great photo while he was up there, and then a hug from Colin at the end of the song. I was taking videos with my camera but my card was full just after O went on stage, so I wasn't able to record him up there.

Chimbley Sweep was similar to when they performed it in Amsterdam last May. Chris handed his guitar off to a guy volunteered by his friends (one of the English guys standing very near to us) and Colin gave his guitar to a girl who was just in front of us. They tried jamming a bit on stage. Then there was John singing a song I didn't know and Jenny singing a song about Loch Lomond... Eventually they decided that John and their sound guy should be crowd-surfed to the back of the room, so John went on his way over the crowd, soon followed by the sound guy going face down. But when John got about halfway back, he was close enough to a low rafter to grab on to it and just hang off of it for awhile. O has this photo of him being monkey-like.

We would not go away after the first encore until the band came back for one more song, which was Cautionary Song with a reenactment of the story of St Valentine. They finished the encore, after the near-endless Chimbley Sweep, and the lights sort of came up and guys came out to turn instruments off, but we cheered and cheered and no one made a move for the doors and people started chanting "Encore!" in German so the roadies came back out and turned the instruments back on and eventually after more and more cheering the band came back on stage and played Cautionary Song. I was screaming my fool head off, I'm surprised I didn't lose my voice, especially since I had a cold and my throat was already a bit fucked. And then Cautionary Song went on forever, what with the reenactment in the middle.

The reenactment involved John and a couple of audience people as Philistines (though no one would join him at first, leading him to wonder if it was because no one knew what a Philistine was), and Chris and a couple of audience members as Sarazens, and Lisa as St Valentine. The Philistines sold Chris' group "trivets and things like... small toaster ovens" as Colin narrated, but then St Valentine started doing the same and the Philistines got angry and they attacked (here the groups collided into a heap), but then afterwards there was love and everyone was happy with each other. Or something. That was the general gist of it. Then John, Chris and Lisa climbed back on stage and the band carried on with the final verse of the song.

Some other bits I remember... Colin forgot where he was in O Valencia and he jumped to the end of the song when there was the last verse to go still. The rest of the band was playing the right part of the song and it sounded weird for a sec and then Colin gave this big, end-of-song strum on his guitar, but the band played on and he realized his mistake. Doh...

Colin was babbling after one song that they were going to play a bunch of songs, that's how it works, in case someone in the crowd had never been to a show before. Then he kept expanding it, saying maybe there were people there who had never been out of the house before, or maybe people who'd never seen other people before and they were now realizing they are not the only person on the earth and awing at the wide spectrum of humanity, and their music was the soundtrack to this.

This was my 3rd Decemberists show and probably the one I've had the most fun at. I did feel that by the end the audience had bonded a bit and gone through this great experience. The show in Amsterdam is going to have to do a lot to live up to this one, but I'll have a bunch of friends in tow and for a few of them it'll be their first Decemberists show. I can almost guarantee they'll be impressed.

February 17, 2007

Decemberists videos

I'll need to post a proper summary of the Berlin show soon, but in the meantime here are 4 little videos I took at the Decemberists concert.

Colin leading the crowd through some mid-show exercises, to a tune he said Jenny wrote for the tour.

More exercise, including the squatting pogo.

Getting the audience singing the chorus of 16 Military Wives.

Colin dividing the crowd by a river of lava and poisonous spiders.

February 11, 2007

The last few days

O and I have had a busy week, we were out every evening from Wednesday through Saturday. But we had some good times and met some new people:

Wednesday: A meeting of our book club group, started by L. A couple non-usual attendees were there, so that was good. More people hadn't read the book (Jpod by Douglas Coupland) than had read it, but the book discussion doesn't usually last long anyway.

Thursday: We went to see Cold War Kids and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah at Paradiso. A colleague of mine joined us because I knew she was a Clap Your Hands fan. It was her first time to Paradiso (she's only lived in Amsterdam a few months) and I think she was appropriately impressed with the venue. And she liked the bands. About halfway through Cold War Kids' set, I happened to turn to my left and saw that someone I know had been standing next to me the whole time. It made me happy to run into someone at a show.

Friday: We went out to In De Wildeman, the great beer place that O goes to often, to meet with an American guy, Tim, who I only knew through email. He had found my site and asked for recommendations on what to see while on a short visit to Amsterdam. We wrote a bit and he offered to buy me a beer when he visited. So O and I met up with him and his friend Matt. We had a great time chatting with them and I think they enjoyed the bar. And I ran into someone who used to work at my company. Amsterdam can feel so small sometimes...

Saturday: An American friend had a party featuring American booze and food and Twister. There was Sam Adams beer, a few American whiskies, Hershey's chocolate, mini peanut butter cups, pumpkin pie, and homemade guacamole. It wasn't all American though. A Brazilian girl made her great caipirinhas by the pitcher, a Dutch group brough a crate of Grolsch, and there were spicy Turkish pizzas later on, so it was actually rather international. And there was the Twister, which I joined in once and did ok in til I fell over backwards.

So now we have a couple of days break until we leave on Tuesday for Berlin. I'm very much looking forward to the Decemberists show, and then getting to see them again a week later in Amsterdam. In other exciting news for the week, the shops on the Bos en Lommerplein are meant to finally open again on the 15th. It's been just over 7 months since the plein was abruptly shut down because structural problems were found. I am so looking forward to being able to go to our larger grocery stores again and having more selection of food. I'm curious though to see which shops remain shut, meaning they had to fold after being closed for so long.

February 3, 2007

Things that have been giving me a shot of endorphins to the head and a twinge of pain to my heart

[Excuses in advance for the teenagerness of this post. You have been forewarned.]

- The first video from The Crane Wife for the song O Valencia (kind of a crappy site, but MTV's site won't allow viewing outside of the US; find it elsewhere if you can). It's directed by the same guy who did the also-brilliant video for 16 Military Wives and again includes the whole band playing various characters, but it centers on Colin Meloy (his steely blues unhindered by glasses) trying to run away with his girlfriend, but she's the boss's daughter and the boss ain't happy. I downloaded the video and now I have an icon on my desktop of a screenshot of Colin eavesdropping through a wall and... *sigh*

- The publicity photos with the story that Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) is appearing nude in a play in London. Harry Potter has grown up indeed.

- Prison Break is back with new episodes. More steely blues, as well as lovely hands, from Michael, especially in the scene when he is on the phone with Sarah. Yeah...

I promise not to post such fluff next time, but I had to get it out...