TND – Embrace the Kitsch

May 31, 2012

There are certain things that I firmly believe you have to either have grown up with, or been introduced to at a tender and impressionable age to truly appreciate. Among these I include Ambrosia Salad, Marmite (or Vegemite) and the Eurovision Song Contest. I grew up with Ambrosia Salad at church picnics and was introduced to Eurovision in early middle school and love both unironically. Marmite/Vegemite I was also introduced to in early middle school, but think is one of the most revolting things you can do to an innocent piece of toast. So possibly you can grow to appreciate Eurovision, but Vegemite has to be introduced to you prenatally.

This is a segue to the now annual post of “I watched Eurovision” so you don’t have to (this was such a sacrifice on my part – seriously, why does BBC America not air this?). I never think the right country wins (well, with the exception of 2006 when Lordi won for Finland), but that’s mostly because I think the country who fields the most crazy-cakes entry should win. None of the songs performed at Eurovision could even remotely be called good, so clearly other criteria need to be used to judge the winning entry. In Europe the criteria tend to intra-European politics – which is why my completely unpolitically correct commentary below is absolutely in keeping with the spirit of the competition.

Anyway, this year Sweden won with a song called “Euphoria” by Loreen. Personally I thought either Russia should have won for having the sheer chutzpah to put a bunch of babushkas on stage singing a song that appeared to be about baking bread (?), or Turkey who earned their crazy cred with costumes that made me squint at the screen and ask ‘are they supposed to be bats? vampires?’

Anyway, embrace the kitsch, and lobby hard for someone in the US to pick up airing rights to this so that I can have a Eurovision Song Contest party some year.

Holy crap how badly is Denmark‘s economy doing?  Judging by their entry we should be worried about imminent collapse.

I was worried Maceodonia (Former Yugoslav Republic of) was taking itself way too seriously for a country with five words in its name, but then I got to the 1:30 mark.

I have absolutely no idea what’s going on in Moldova‘s performance – clown gestures with vaguely 60s mod dresses while a guy in leather parachute pants sings?  It’s reassuringly ‘the other side of Europe’ – this is why I watch Eurovision.

Every year there’s someone who brings the Gumby – this year apparently it’s the Ukrainians with electronic dancing Gumbys + break dancers in vaguely ethnic costumes as an added bonus.

Why do all the former Yugoslav republics seem to think they can take themselves seriously now?  Serbia is not that serious a country.

Ireland is redeeming my faith in Eurovision.  There are twins in silver pleather suits of armor.  I mean the song’s terrible, but who cares?  There are platinum pompadours.

Malta made the finals?  Malta never makes the finals.  As a side note, I don’t think the new rules that let people sing in English are doing anyone any favors, at least before you could only hypothesize about how bad the lyrics were.

Emo hipster Germans.

For the record I think Turkey should have won.  They brought the bat-shit crazy in spades.  Any performance where I stare at the background dancers and ponder whether they’re supposed to be bats or vampires is a winning performance.  And somewhere around 2:30 they turn into a boat?  What?

Spain‘s performance is so earnestly staid I’m falling asleep just watching it.

This is Sweden’s winning entry. Could be worse, it could have been Spain.  At least this has wind machines and inexplicable breast grabbing.

Greece is apparently trying to distract Europe from its collapsing economy with panty shots and grinding.  At least they seem to understand their place in the cultural-financial map of Europe.

Why does Romania have bagpipes?

Azerbaijan‘s entry is called “When the Music Dies” which seems like a disturbingly honest song title for Eurovision.  Boring performance though – mind you, they are the hosts so I suppose they get a pass on taking themselves too seriously this year.

I’m pretty sure everyone in Norway is too white to get away with what they’re fielding on stage.

Seriously Estonia, a guy in a t-shirt and vest? That’s even more earnest than Germany’s entry.

Given that standard Italian TV is frequently reminiscent of Eurovision they are unsurprisingly good at this.  Plus, she has kind of awesome hair.

France is apparently previewing their Olympic hopefuls?

I kept hoping Albania‘s costume would open up into something with crazy wings, or maybe snakes would emerge from her hair, but mostly she just wailed.

Wait, which half of Cyprus gets to send a contestant to Eurovision?

Iceland‘s song is unfortunately titled “Never Forget” which given that I’m kind of forgetting it as I watch it is very Alanis Morissette ironic.  Her dress is kind of fabulous though.

I also think Russia should have been a serious contender for the win – a bunch of babuskas on stage baking bread while they sing is a gutsy performance choice if nothing else.

The sparkly blindfold does not sufficiently distract from how boring Lithuania‘s song is.

Seriously the former Yugoslav republics are all taking themselves way too seriously.  No love to Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Hungary is straddling that awkward line between Western European decorum (read, boring performance) and Eastern European insanity (read, Gumby costumes).  So there’s pleather, but no sparkly back up dancers.  Personally I think more sparkle is always a good thing, but that’s me.

England wins at life just because they got Engelbert Humperdinck to perform this year’s entry. On the other hand, it is crazy boring – and given that they placed 25th out of 26 apparently I’m not alone in thinking this.

Date-Tamarind Sauce
Coconut-Mint Chutney
Roasted Pear Chutney

Chicken Vindaloo
Roasted Cauliflower
Kerala Spiced Green Beans & Asparagus
Saffron Rice

Big Pink Rhubarb Cake

I delegated this to my local Indian restaurant – by which I mean, my roommate picked up a couple of orders on her way home because while I suppose I could have made them myself, it seemed much easier to let someone else do the rolling and frying.

Date-Tamarind Sauce
(makes about 2 cups)

7 dates, pitted & chopped
1+ Tbsp tamarind concentrate
1 ½ cups water
(scant) ¼ cup brown sugar

Combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until dates are soft and liquid has reduced somewhat. Puree in a blender, adding water and tamarind concentrate to achieve desired consistency and tanginess.

Coconut-Mint Chutney
(makes about 2 cups)

15-20 pistachios (or 10 blanched almonds)
1 jalapeno, seeded & roughly chopped
½” piece ginger, peeled & roughly chopped
1/3 cup water
juice of a lemon or lime
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup mint
1 cup shredded coconut

In a blender pulse the jalapeno and ginger until they are finely minced. Add the pistachios (or almonds) and pulse until they are finely ground. Add the water, lemon juice, maple syrup, salt and mint and pulse until well combined. Add the coconut and blend until the chutney is creamy – you may need to add more water. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt/pepper/lemon juice.

If you make this in advance the chutney will tighten up as it sits and the shredded coconut absorbs the water so you might want to make it a little looser to begin with to compensate.

Also, I used lemon juice because that’s what I had on and, but I think it’d be better with lime juice.

Roasted Pear Chutney

Recipe previously given: Color Me Unimpressed

Chicken Vindaloo

Recipe previously given: One Week Ago . . . Or Virtue Is Its Own Reward

Kerala Spiced Green Beans & Asparagus
(serves 8-10)

2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp mustard seeds
¾ tsp ground coriander
¾ tsp ground cardamom
1 serrano chili, seeded & minced (more if you like it really spicy)
1 onion, sliced
6 handfuls of green beans
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed & cut in half (so pieces are about the size of the green beans)
3 Tbsp fresh ginger
6 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper to taste
juice from one lemon

Blanche (or cook just before you plan to serve) your green beans and asparagus. Drain and reserve.

In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil until it shimmers. When it is hot add the cumin and mustard seeds and stir until they start to pop (stand back – mustard seeds will pop a long way). Add the onion, ginger, garlic, chili, coriander and cardamom to the pan and cook until onions soften and start to turn golden. Add the green beans, asparagus and lemon juice and stir fry until heated through and coated in oil & spices.

Saffron Rice

Recipe previously given: In Which I Abuse the Oxford Comma

Big Pink Rhubarb Cake
In the spirit of kitsch this is an unapologetically retro dessert made with jello, mini marshmallows, fresh Spring rhubarb and a rich vanilla cake.

In the final analysis this is more fun and silly than ‘seriously the best cake I’ve ever made’. That said, if you ever need a dessert for a Pretty Pink Princess Party, this should absolutely be your go-to recipe.

Random side note, raw rhubarb dipped in sugar is unexpectedly delicious.

Vanilla Cake
1 cup sugar
½ (1 stick) cup butter
Yolks of 4 large eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt

Grease and flour a 9″ x 13″ pan. Preheat oven to 350°F.

Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, cream the sugar and butter. Add egg yolks, milk and vanilla until fully mixed. Finally add flour, baking powder and salt to the mixing bowl and mix until fully combined. Set aside.

Rhubarb Layer
3 cups rhubarb, sliced on the diagonal into ½”pieces
½ cup sugar
1 (3 oz) package strawberry Jello
3 cups miniature marshmallows

Evenly distribute the rhubarb on the bottom of the greased & floured baking pan. Sprinkle the ½ cup sugar and contents of one strawberry jello mix onto the rhubarb. Layer the marshmallows on top of the rhubarb as evenly as possible.

Pour the cake batter over the entire surface of the rhubarb/marshmallow and spread evenly. It’ll be a fairly thin layer.

Bake for about 35 to 45 minutes until the cake is set.

Allow to cool and sift the powdered sugar through a strainer to dust the top of the cake. Serve with fresh strawberries and ice cream.


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