Emerging talent - Kristina Helene - Bengal Lounge 2014 · 24.11.14 by colin newell
I have been going to the Bengal Lounge for the quality atmosphere, entertainment, cocktail culture and great people watching since the early 80’s when I started attending to my post secondary education.
At the time many of the entertainers would have been middle aged men (aged 40 and up) tinkling away at an old piano and singing passable versions of the great American songbook. And yours truly, in his very early 20’s would have sat at the bar in a Harris Tweed coat, white cotton shirt, Hugo Boss tie and suitably matching pants… sipping on a skillfully mixed gin and tonic, hoping with all measure to look grown up.
Flash forward over 30 years and now, it seems, that the Bengal has an entirely new graduating class of star performers vying for our attention. Only difference is, the vocalists and accompanists of the 21st Century have some staying power… and talent.
A case in point: One Kristina Helene. A very-very early twenty something singer with vocal chops light years ahead of her chronological curve on planet Earth.
She dazzled a comfortably populated room at the Empress Hotel with a set of classics that would have been more at home in a much, much bigger club and audience in New York city or Chicago.
Accompanied by the very capable Thomas Kinzel on upright grande piano, Ms. Helene takes us on a sentimental journey of some of the greatest songs ever written – as originally performed by Sinatra, Andy Williams, Leonard Cohen, Bing Crosby and equally influential company. Her ability to finesse a song to greatness verges on the preternatural. Kristina has a sense of rhythm, timing and breath control usually reserved for artists twice her age – and yes, she started very young.
She performed three very tidy sets at the Bengal Lounge – and being the consummate professional gave her piano player a lot of room to showcase his ample grasp of the 88 keys. Kristina’s style defies exact definition in that she does not sound like anyone you have heard in the last 40 years or so. Names like Garland, Peggy Lee, Billie Holliday, Lena Horne and Nina Simone kind of popped into my head – but I could also hear a bit of Adele, Christina Aguilera and Amy Winehouse on a molecular level. It is quite unique. It is immensely exciting and demands your attention.
I had the pleasure of hearing Diana Krall play a small venue on Vancouver Island in the 80’s before she was discovered – this event with Ms. Helene felt exactly like that. So check it out!
Kristina Helene and Thomas continue at the Bengal Sundays from 7 PM until 10PM through December. Do yourself a treat and come down and check out what the future of jazz sounds like. Ms. Helene is a rising star that you should not miss if you have the opportunity. Check out her website over here – Kristina Helene has a stunning YouTube channel over here
Thai coconut Turkey soup - it's spicy · 27.10.14 by colin newell
It is a cool October evening and what better way of heating it up a notch than with some Thai turkey soup.
Granted this is a variation on the old classic Chicken soup… but it prepares well and is mighty spicy.
Strap yourself in.
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
4 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (3-inch) stalk lemongrass, halved lengthwise
2 teaspoons sambal oelek (ground fresh chile paste)
3 cups Turkey stock
1 1/4 cups coconut milk
4 teaspoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups shredded cooked Turkey breast (about 8-12 ounces)
1/2 cup green onion strips
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1. Heat a stock pot over medium heat. Add oil to pan.
2. Add mushrooms, red bell pepper, peeled ginger, garlic and lemon grass – stir constantly for 3 minutes or so.
3. Add chile paste; stir for another minute.
4. Add Turkey Stock, coconut milk, fish sauce, and sugar;
5. Ease to a simmer.
6. Reduce heat to low; simmer for 10 minutes. Add turkey to pan
7.) Simmer for a few minutes. Discard lemongrass. Top with onions, cilantro, and lime juice.
Serve with bread.
French toast in the comfort of your country kitchen · 26.10.14 by colin newell
I have this thing… about French toast… and I am not even French.
I have searched nation wide and out into the Pacific for the perfect serving of French toast – and I have found it in places like Hawaii, on the Big Island… like the Holualoa Cafe .
But here in Victoria? Not so much. There are promises of a great French toast. Hints of a French toast. I have been promised French toast, but the truth is, it is rarely delivered. I feel that on some menus here in the city, that they should have a French toast offered at one price… as is… and $5 more for French toast prepared lovingly or with a little passion. Because that is what it takes. It’s not rocket science but you need to pay attention to get this item right.
Normally what I get around town is French toast prepared by people clearly angry with the French people for some inexplicable reason. I don’t get it.
All I want is French toast prepared well and tasting like it should; fluffy like a cumulus cloud or a souffle and not drier and chewier than the soles of an army boot.
So here is Andrea’s and my home country kitchen French toast recipe.
Buy one loaf of braided egg bread or a loaf of Challah bread from your local bakery.
It should be bread on the white side – fluffy and fresh to begin with with enough density to absorb the egg batter thoroughly.
Anyway – here goes…
Mix together your egg mixture which consists of:
2/3 Cup milk (which would be a blend of 1/4 cup half-half and the rest skim)
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla
Put a frying pan onto medium-high heat.
Pour your egg mixture into a shallow pan (like a lasagna pan…)
Take 6 thickly sliced pieces of the bread and place them in the egg mixture – for 10 minutes soaking on each side… that is 20 minutes of soaking!
Put a large dollop of butter into the hot frying – about a tablespoon (heaping)
Put three of the soaked slices of bread into the pan.
Cover loosely with a lid that is slightly ajar – and cook for around 2 minutes each side… until each side is golden brown.
Note: Using a pan cover helps keep the toast from being undercooked or soggy in the middle.
Served with butter, maple syrup, Hawaiian coconut syrup, fresh fruit or sauteed apples in simple syrup – only limited by your imagination!
Oh yes. This toast goes great with a darn fine cup of hot black coffee!
8 years ago I wrote this blog about dairy free waffles. It turned out to be the most popular blog entry here. You can find that recipe over here – enjoy.
Kick starting a new cup of coffee - on the net · 24.10.14 by colin newell
Have you ever noticed the dramatic difference between the delicious coffee you get at a fine coffeehouse and the mediocre coffee you often drink at home when you don’t pay attention to all the critical details?
Click on the photo for the big view!
Amazing coffee is the result when fresh roasted beans are brewed to perfection, with keen attention paid to every step – water quality, grinding, measuring, blooming, heating and steeping… and if you have any energy left over, you get to enjoy the fruits of your effort.
Me, I do it all by hand. I measure the water and the beans and I grind the coffee precisely to fit the method that I am using. But what if there was a coffee machine that would force me to think less about the details and let me concentrate on the great taste of my java jolt?
Inspired by the timeless tradition of handcrafted coffee and modeled after the skills of a well-trained barista, Bruvelo was built to be simple, smart, and to do one thing – extremely well.
Whether you want to easily brew an amazing cup of coffee with a push of a button or want complete control over every detail, Bruvelo will allow you to enjoy fine, handcrafted, pour-over coffee in the comfort of your own home.
But wait! There is more! The Bruvelo is WiFi enabled and you can access it from your smart phone – saving and setting all your favorite preferences – so that great cup of mud is ready to greet you at your door.
So says this exciting new kickstarter project that you can check out over here.
Colin Newell is a long time Victoria resident and coffee expert – when he is not out looking for a better coffee experience, he is looking for better coffee for you!
Vinyl Tap Stories - Randy Bachman - A book review · 5.10.14 by colin newell
If you were as lucky as I was, young and impressionable, growing up in the mid-sixties – you were about to face down a musical and cultural revolution like no other in Canadian history. And if you were fortunate enough to be of that delicate age and being raised in Canada, you were most definitely in the front row seats for dramatic change, evolution, and revolution where everything the establishment held dear… would be turned on its ear…
At least for a while.
That was the mid-sixties. Growing up in the relatively idyllic confines of the West Coast on the Southern tip of Vancouver Island, a kid like me was surrounded by change – coming at me from all directions. And like any other kid growing up in Canada, our soundtrack was AM radio and Black and White television. And at the time, the AM radio generally got in way more of our attention than the TV.
TV for us, was restricted to the handful of channels we could pick up from a roof top mounted antenna system. And as I recall, we could pick from the following: Channel 2 (CBC Vancouver), Channel 4 (ABC Seattle), Channel 5 (NBC Seattle), Channel 6 (CHEK Victoria) – Channels 7,8,9 would come in depending on the weather conditions – and channels 11 and 12 (CBS Bellingham) would pretty reliable as well. In the 999 channel Universe in which we live, that would seem pretty limiting, but in fact, it was everything.
The TV may have provided the news (often grim reports from Vietnam, global strife in the Middle East, and rioting in the streets of America…) but it was the AM radio that provided the background music, the driving rhythm of our lives. It touched me. It touched every kid of every stripe anywhere in Canada. The CBC and independent AM radio would guarantee that. It was on a portable AM radio that I would tote with my everywhere where I would first hear the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Doors… and soon, very soon, Canadian popular music!
AM radio in the mid-sixties was generally all American and British all of the time. From time to time one would hear a Canadian artist on the radio but they were generally not identified as such – because it was not cool to be Canadian. It would be the likes of Gordon Lightfoot, The Guess Who, Joni Mitchell, David Clayton-Thomas, Ian and Sylvia, Niel Young, and many others in turn who would change the very ways we perceived ourselves as Canadians and how we forged a place for ourselves in the global music experience.
In Randy Bachman’s uncompromisingly complete “Vinyl Tap Stories”, he outlines, with impeccable and unrelenting detail, his journey, key role, partnership and often incidental participation in so much of the 60’s (and 70’s) mosaic. It was, after all, Randy and his musical partner Burton Cummings, who would musically score the theme music to every Canadian kid’s life between the age of 4 and 24 in the late sixties. Their songs, along with hit after hit by Gordon Lightfoot became part of our fabric, woven into our very nature, defining us as creative and sentient individuals… Canadians all!
Randy’s style, it should be noted, it not particularly dry or clinical – His easy going repartee is that of a story telling uncle… everything in no particular order… but his historical accounting is generally dictionary perfect with lots of “Hey, even I didn’t know that!” twists and turns at the end of many of his accounts.
Randy establishes, early on, that with a lot of hard work, sobriety, faith, dedication and unflinching focus (and a little actual creative talent thrown in…) that even a kid from Winnipeg (and some friends) can put it all on the line and make something big for themselves, and ultimately their fellow Canadians.
And they did. And the Guess Who would put Canada on the map of global cultural history and the history of rock for all time. In later incarnations of Randy Bachman’s musical vision (with the likes of the bands Brave Belt and Bachman Turner Overdrive), he would create music that was shoe-horn fit-perfect for the next generation of kids being raised on radio rock and roll.
Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap Stories is not just a book about the work of The Guess Who – it is a wonderful read on the important history of Canada’s place in the counter cultural mind-set of the time. Furthermore, Randy reveals the many influences that every other successful English and American artist had on him and his Winnipeg based musical collaborators. There are even passages about how Antonín Leopold Dvořák (a late 19th century Czech composer) influenced one of his songs!
Randy Bachman is one of very few, if any, important artists in our time that reveals the inner secrets of so many of these great songs – how they came into being – the moments of their conception and so on. If you are a music lover or practicing musician (as I am…) you will love the sweetness of each and every reveal.
Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap Stories is a welcome addition to my “Canadian heavy” musical library and a perfect companion piece to his tireless radio program “Vinyl Tap” on CBC Radio. Enjoy!
The Lonely End of the Rink - Grant Lawrence - book review · 1.10.14 by colin newell
Regardless of the decade you grew up, in the last 50 years of the Canadian mosaic – one common theme provided the paving stones for your journey: rock and roll music and outdoor winter sports… most likely hockey.
And chances are, your fabric of choice in this environment would have been denim, leather or blue corduroy – your allowed uniform determined by membership, in cliques often limited to the rockers, the greasers and the rest of us; the young, naive, anxiety ridden innocents lacking a defined identity.
As the twentieth century drifted to its conclusion, several elements of fashion would appear along with more choices in group membership, arguably better music but some (if not all) of the common rites of passage would remain constant; the ever present fear and loathing of growing up in an environment rich with bullying, perceived violence and the emotional roller coaster of adolescence.
In this Grant Lawrence follow up to Adventure in Solitude, he captures the timeless essence of the Canadian male coming of age story – in a rugged and relentless environment of doubt and seemingly endless bullying from his peers.
Here in the 21st Century, bullying has finally been brought into acute focus – for its actual emotional and physical body count. In its engaging first half, Grant pulls us along for a gripping and visceral snapshot of his formative years as he takes us on a dizzying ride down painfully familiar territory.
What separates our now graying and rough sewn memories of youth from Grant’s testimonial is the colorfully crude reminiscence of the accompanying sound track – a veritable letter perfect chronology of regional punk and independent rock – something Grant recalls with impeccable detail worthy of a Ken Burns documentary, all the while illustrating his transformation from a geeky and awkward jock-hating nerd to a place of redemption, contrition and maturity.
The Lonely end of the Rink is actually three books in one (maybe four) – the first half outlines the 12 year adventure of Grants passage from child to teenager in the public school system. In its second half and denouement, Grant discovers the raw power of facing his childhood demons with the blade, the blocker and braving the bully on a level and albeit frozen playing surface.
Sutured into the fabric of this dialogue is a 30 year retrospective of Canadian hockey and a quirky matrix of Canadian musical genuflections – bowing towards hockey, its history, its tragedies, successes and absurdities and how utterly and irrevocably intertwined all these elements are in the Canadian experience.
Grants Lonely Rink is a brisk and bracing icy breeze in your face, a rock and pop cultural timeline and an immensely respectful first person tribute to Canada’s great frozen obsession – impossible to put down until the final period. Gritty, accurate and equally painful, it is a welcome addition to the Grant Lawrence collection of great stories.