The Jammening*

We'd been living in our new little rental place for a few months when spring hit and suddenly, we were drowning in blossoms. So it shouldn't have been a surprise when, a couple of months later, we discovered seven of our trees were bearing fruit. For someone with a child's grasp of botany, however, it was, and I couldn't stop myself from taking roughly 8 million photos.

Our felicity was compounded when we realised that not only did the fruit look great, it tasted delicious. I cannot now remember how many days I came home from work only to stop before I got in the door and gorge on sun warmed plums, straight from the tree to my mouth. And much like this farmer I was loving the fact that it was free. Bliss.

It all got a bit too much, and realising that I and my housemates couldn't possibly eat the nearly seven kilos I picked from one tree in one day in a bout of plum madness (and also realising that my friends had started to look slightly terrified when I kept trying to offload plums), I stored them in the freezer and made plans for jam. Enter jam queen, fellow Morrissey lover, and ridiculously talented illustrator, Alice.

According to Alice Jam (plum)

What You Will Need
(This is the only recipe I've made that requires more apparatus than ingredients.)

  • Knife
  • Large plastic or ceramic bowl
  • Large saucepan
  • Glass jars
  • Ladle
  • Sugar
  • Plums

You will need plums

What You Will Need to Do:

Day One, or, The Four C's of Jamming

  • Check your fruit for gross bits (cut off if needed), and then wash and weigh them. Alice suggested that for every kilo of plums, you need roughly 3 cups of sugar. We ended up with about three kilos, and about seven cups, allowing for the fact that stoning the plums would reduce the weigh somewhat. Chop your plums up, leave the skin on, remove the stones. We hypothesised that it doesn't really matter if a couple of the stones get in – after all, that's where the pectin lives – as long as you get them out again before jarring your jam.
  • Chuck all your plum bits into a non-metallic bowl and mix in with sugar. It should be wet and oozy when combined.

Wet and Oozy

  • Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.

Day Two, or, I Couldn't Figure Out Alliteration For This One, Sorry

  • Remove bowl from fridge, and poke fruity goo with a wooden spoon. Marvel that the nascent jam looks so much like alien slime and realise that even if this jam caper goes horribly wrong, you could probably make a living selling this stuff to SFX companies.
  • Put goo in a large saucepan over a medium heat
  • Put a clean ceramic plate in the fridge. This will come in handy later.
  • Stir, adjust temperature, stir some more. This will likely go on for about an hour: your jam (for this is what it is at this point) will have reduced by about a third. Be careful you don't get scalded at this point. Boiling jam is the hottest substance known to man!

Tastier and Hotter than Lava

  • This is where the cold plate comes in handy (you were wondering, right?). Put a blob of jam on the plate: place the plate in the fridge. After five or so minutes remove from the fridge, and eat. If this is the consistency you would like your jam, you're done. You don't want to cook it to long – you won't be able to get it out of the jar and that would be tragic.

Part Three: Cooking Your Jars.

  • Meanwhile, I hope you've been collecting glass jars. Preheat your oven to around 150 degrees.
  • Soak jars and lids in very, very hot water, and scrub labels off. Clean the lids thoroughly and set aside to dry – they won't be going in the oven.
  • Place jars on a tray and in a preheated oven. Turn oven off. The heat from the oven will sterilize the jars in about ten minutes.
  • Ladle your jam into hot, clean jars. You will probably want gloves, tongs and friends around to help with this bit, it gets a bit awkward.
  • Screw lids on tightly: press the buttons on the lids down. Now, I don't know if this is true, but Dr Dean says it is. There is always a risk that jam will go bad if the jars aren't properly sterilized – set jam aside for a few days, and if your lids don't pop up you're ready to go!
  • Make some scones and eat a whole jar of jam with a friend of yours. You will feel a little bit sick, but it will be delicious.

Fruit Goes In, Jam Comes Out

Listen to some happy jam making songs. I recommend:

Jogging Gorgeous Summer by Islands
A Sweet Summer's Night on Hammer Hill by Jens Lekman
The New Cobweb Summer by Lambchop

*Alice not only helped with the jam, but provided the title to this blog.

Lovely Laneways - St Jerome’s 2009

Last weekend I spent a hot, humid Sunday at Melbourne’s St Jerome’s Laneway Festival. Perhaps the only reason I don’t pick up and move to Greenland during summer is that I harbour a great love for festival season, so armed with a big ol’ bottle of sunscreen (damn my British complexion) and an itch to hear some good tunes, I ventured outside for a day of toe tapping fun.

I’ve heard that St Jerome’s was a mixed experience for many, but miraculously I managed to avoid the queuing, sunburn, and inevitable arseholes that mar most festival experiences, and instead spent a lovely day outdoors in good company, and with great music aplenty. One of the highlights of my day was a truly off-the-planet set from the self described ‘cosmic gods of synth’ Pivot, and I was completely won over by the seafaring charm and hairy good-looks of Port O’Brien. I thoroughly enjoyed a great set from who are, to my mind, Australia’s best musical offering - Augie March - who played a handsome set list featuring most of their heavier material. Something about the humidity and the crowds made the mournful lyric ‘It's hot in the town with its back to the sea, O darling don't put your veil over me’ feel strangely appropriate as the sun set over Lonsdale Street, and I have been listening to this particular track on repeat since Sunday:

Brundisium - Live at PBS Studios 2003 (Augie March, Strange Bird)

Glenn Richards belts out a tune

Of course it’s not a good Festival without an amped up rock act, and with a rollicking, raucous set my favourite Brooklyn based rockers -The Hold Steady - truly delivered. The drug-fucked tragedy of their 2008 single Stay Positive evoked such pathos when belted out live, and Craig Finn, the band's surprisingly nerdy looking lead singer, leapt around the stage with such enthusiasm it was hard not to enjoy every moment of his performance. His final proclamation of ‘We’re All Holding Steady’ was surprisingly moving, elevating their performance above a simple rock ‘n’ roller to something that felt, to me at least, much more profound.

Craig Finn - The Hold Steady

Since Sunday I’ve heard a lot of complaints voiced about the running of St Jerome’s 09. I must admit that claustrophobia and a desire to sit in the shade got the better of me about half way through my day, and I fled the crowds mid-afternoon, just missing an apparently excellent set from Cut Off Your Hands. I was a little upset to have missed seeing one of the festival’s biggest drawcards, but being the ingenious young ladies that we are, my friends and I didn’t let our necessary break from the music get us down, and instead caught a tram down to Flinders Street and held a sneaky picnic on a particularly shady patch of grass. Snacks included fresh baby tomatoes, feta, cornchips and dip, not to mention a rejuvenating (believe it or not) few glasses of cheap (very cheap) wine, drunk from teeny tiny plastic cups that were kindly donated to us by the nice man at Vintage Cellars. It seems that impromptu picnics are becoming a feature of my 09’ festival exploits, (although the feta we ate last Sunday was decidedly more solid than Tara and I’s accidental Adelaide fondue.)

2009 is shaping up to be a delightfully musical year. I admit my gastronomic exploits thus far seem less than appealing, but melted cheese and terrible wine notwithstanding I highly recommend you pack a picnic when you next venture out into the sun.

Listen To: How A Resurrection Really Feels (The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday)

Lions by the Roadside: Leonard Cohen at a Day on the Green

Last weekend I found myself explaining – or attempting to explain – to a few different taxi drivers just who Leonard Cohen was, and why I was going all the way to Adelaide for Australia Day to see him play. My flippant answer would normally be, “Oh, he’s like the Canadian Bob Dylan.” With the constant caveat, “But better. So much better.” That answer will never feel even close to adequate now.

I must mention that this blog post will be much more about whistles than milkshakes – although one very excellent and actual milkshake will feature later on. Flying to Adelaide early in the morning on a day when everything is shut didn’t exactly lend itself to culinary genius, and our attempt at a classy impromptu picnic was rudely dashed when the camembert we bought turned into fondue in the 35 degree heat. The music, however, made up for all of that, as I hope it will here.

A Civilised Crowd

This particular Day on the Green brought together an acoustic Augie March (patron saints of this blog), Paul Kelly (playing with his nephew, Dan) and of course, Leonard Cohen. All 73 years of him. Ellen and I traveled from Adelaide by bus to Leconsfield Wine in McLaren Vale, accompanied by, well, a busload of old ladies and gentlemen, keen for a civilised day on the green.

Hey, take a photo of that farmer! I don’t think it’s a farmer, Ellen. I think he’s just leaning against something. No, he’s farming wine! Photo!

Augie March opened the evening with a mix of new tracks and old, accompanied by gadabout guitarist Dan Kelly. Some songs were asking for such a gentle touch – Farmer’s Son sounded much better stripped back than it does full bodied on the latest album. The Slant, it seems, is meant to be performed this way. Cold Acre and Pennywhistle were lovely as always. Crowd favourites One Crowded Hour and There is No Such Place shone acoustically, giving space to Glenn’s voice and words, and depth to the melodies.

(L-R) Keirnan, Ed, and Dave of Augie March. Tara and Ellen of Way Too Excited Right Now.

The highlight was, without a doubt, Train. Normally a rollicking and furious number, it was slowed down and smoothed out, sliding along in a tumble of steel string guitar and harmonica. The vocal melody became something else – a different key, heavy on the minor. What was once an angry and fervent cry because plaintive and mournful: “Thoughtless godless men find god in them at the age of 25, but in a year death gains favour and they think themselves the more alive.” I’m struggling not to throw in some hyperbolic statements about voices soaring and hearts breaking, but I think if I did it’d be close to the mark. A top performance!

We sadly missed most of Paul Kelly’s set, as we were eating an ice cream, drinking a milkshake, and meeting 3/5ths of Augie March. We got back in time to hear From Little Things as he played it with Dan Kelly, however, which was lovely.

Your bloggers with some iced confections

And then there was Leonard. There are some bands I need to time travel to really see. David Bowie. The Triffids. I am quietly convinced middle age never really happened to The Smiths, and that Morrissey and Marr are eternally 25. Leonard Cohen though – he was meant to be 73. I feel as though I could have happily waited 40 years for that concert – as many people in attendance had.

The couple in front of us. Later, they were making out like it was 1969 again.

The first track was Dance Me to the End of Love. I recall Leonard walking out in his little suit, complete with waistcoat and hat. I remember watching him on his knees as he sang to his guitarist, and thinking, “It’s really him.” The couple in front of us spent the whole song with the foreheads pressed together; staring at each other, gripping each other’s hands. The guy next to us sat crossed legged, on his own, blissed out as Leonard sang, “Dance me through the panic, til I’m gathered safely in.”

The sound was wonderful, the band and back up singers superb. I could describe each track in detail – I could give you a shopping list of instruments, lighting styles, back up singers, collaborators and friends. But I couldn't possibly describe how it felt, when after each song the crowd rose to their feet in a wave to thank him, before receding quietly for the next song. What struck me, struck deep at me, was his humility. His thankfulness. His quiet happiness. The look on his face as he watched two of his back up singers perform a song on their own. That split second look when the cameras were on him but the lights weren’t – gratefulness. Awe. Joy.

The sun sets on Leonard Cohen

“I studied the deep philosophies,” he said at one point between songs. “And the religions. But cheerfulness kept breaking through.”

Suzanne. Who By Fire. The Partisan. Chelsea Hotel. Tower of Song. Everybody Knows. Famous Blue Raincoat. Hallelujah. Never have I felt so deeply anyone’s conviction as when Leonard Cohen sang that night, “and even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the lord of song, with nothing on my tongue but hallelujah,” to a crowd that was crying as much as singing along.

He played for nearly three hours, and left the stage on I Tried to Leave You. As we wandered, shaken, over the grass towards cars and buses a woman caught my eye. She looked seventy if she looked a day. She stared at me. I looked back. We neither said a word until I said, “I know,” and she said, “That was extraordinary.” She reached out, gripped my hand with hers. “I’m so glad. You’re so young, I’m so glad.”

Setlist: Leonard Cohen, A Day on the Green,

Leconsfield Wine 26/1/09
Dance Me to the End of Love
The Future
Ain't No Cure for Love
Bird on a Wire
Everybody Knows
In My Secret Life
Who By Fire
Chelsea Hotel
Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye
Tower of Song
The Gypsy's Wife
The Partisan
Boogie Street
I'm Your Man
A Thousand Kisses Deep
Take This Waltz

So Long Marianne
First We Take Manhattan
Famous Blue Raincoat
If It Be Your Will (with the Webb Sisters)
I Tried to Leave You


To Augie March:
The Devil in Me – live for Triple J

To Paul Kelly:
Meet Me in the Middle of the Air – Foggy Highway

To Leonard Cohen:
Chelsea Hotel No 2
If it Be Your Will