Saturday, December 29, 2007

Because It's There: An Adventure in Spatchcocking

First, obtain a chicken. Rinse it and pat it dry. Don't forget to remove the giblets.


Cut the backbone out with your kitchen shears. Remove the giblets if you forgot to before. Spread your bird out, as though you were opening a book or performing an autopsy. Lovely.


Flip it over. Cut slits in the skin and tuck the legs in neatly. Season assertively with salt and pepper and herbes de Provence.


Season the inside too.


Select a heavy object and wrap it in foil. Bricks are good. I used a rusty Lodge cast-iron grill pan. For indoor grilling it's ill-conceived and badly designed--it just doesn't work unless you get it so hot the seasoning burns off, hence the rust--but it weighs about ten pounds. Perfect. Spritz the foil with olive oil.


Heat a puddle of oil in a big cast-iron pan. Lay your chicken in it, skin-side down. Smush it down with your heavy foil-wrapped object.


Add additional heavy objects if desired. Cook for 12-15 minutes.


Flip your bird.


Wrap your heavy object in fresh foil to avoid cross-contamination. Smush your bird down again and cook for another 15 minutes.


Let rest for 10 minutes before carving and serving. (I've really got to get a better camera.)


This is admittedly kind of a silly thing to do on the stovetop unless you've got some really dark violent urges to work out. Which is of course perfectly legitimate: who among us hasn't wanted to just rip someone's spine out every now and again? But for grilling a whole chicken I can see that this is the technique. I'll be trying that soon. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Home from the holidays

...Unshaven, unshowered, and travel-frazzled, sitting at a corner table in El Golfo, washing my yucca con chicharron down with an ice-cold Corona and listening to the Spanish-language Christmas music.

Cascabeles, cascabeles
Tra la la la la
Qué alegría
Todo el día y Felicidad
By GOD, it's good to be back.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Nicholas Was…

...Older than sin, and his beard could grow no whiter. He wanted to die.

The dwarfish natives of the Arctic caverns did not speak his language, but conversed in their own, twittering tongue, conducted incomprehensible rituals, when they were not actually working in the factories.

Once very year they forced him, sobbing & protesting, into Endless Night. During the journey he would stand near every child in the world, leave one of the dwarves’ invisible gifts by its bedside. The children slept, frozen into time.

He envied Prometheus and Loki, Sisyphus and Judas. His punishment was harsher.

Ho.

Ho.

Ho.
--Neil Gaiman, Smoke and Mirrors
I'm on my way down to North Carolina tomorrow for Xmax with the fam. There likely won't be much in the way of bloggage till I get back, so happy holidays and safe travels, everybody!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo

Hey, did you know "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo" is a grammatically correct sentence?

It means "Bison in Buffalo, New York--whom other bison in Buffalo, New York, bamboozle--bamboozle other bison in Buffalo, New York, themselves."


Another poster on the internet forum where I found this interesting bit of information noted the existence of the city of Badger, Iowa (pop. 610). Hence "Badger badgers Badger badgers badger badger Badger badgers."

I should be an ESL teacher.

Ye gods, what a slow, slow day.

58 notes per second

My guitarist friends and I used to joke that music was only useful as a means to superior lead guitar technique. Songwriting is for pussies. What the hell are you doing, playing chords? Wimp.

I went through a phase when I actually was like this. It was during my freshman year at the University of Georgia, when I was attempting to major in classical guitar. When I wasn't trying to burn through all the Segovia scales in under two minutes, I was "jamming" with a friend in my dorm, which basically consisted of going weedly weedly weedly wee at each other for hours. Everybody hated us.

If only I hadn't knuckled under to peer pressure, if only I hadn't been seduced by effeminate bourgeois notions like melody and phrasing and expression, I might have ended up like this guy. 58 notes per second. When you express your speed in terms of notes per second instead of saying something like "64th notes at 200 bpm," you know you've truly, once and for all, transcended music. And he's chewing gum at the same time.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

ITMFA, please, please, please.

Hey, if you're into the rule of law and holding our leaders accountable and all that good stuff that America used to be about, then go right now to wexlerwantshearings.com and lend your support to Rep. Robert Wexler's call for hearings to impeach the Vice President. And spread the word. In the last three days the online petition already has gotten close to over 90,000 signatures. Pretty cool since Wexler isn't even a member of the progressive caucus. This is slowly becoming a mainstream issue. At last.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

An Epiphany

"We went to see the Who at the Cavern. It was wall to fucking wall of people. We muscled through to about ten feet from the stage, and Townshend was smashing his twelve-string Rickenbacker.

It was my first experience of total pandemonium. It was like a dog pile of people, just trying to grab pieces of Townshend's guitar, and people were scrambling to dive up onstage and he'd swing the guitar at their heads. The audience weren't cheering; it was more like animal noises, howling. The whole room turned really primitive--like a pack of starving animals that hadn't eaten in a week and somebody throws out a piece of meat. I was afraid. For me it wasn't fun, but it was mesmerizing. It was like, 'The plane's burning, the ship's sinking, so let's crush each other.' Never had I seen people driven so nuts--that music could drive people to such dangerous extremes. That's when I realized, this is definitely what I want to do.
"
--Stooges member Ron Asheton, quoted in Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, a great book that you should read.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Meh.

Well, I went to Buck's Fishing and Camping last night, and maybe I need someone to explain it to me. This is supposed to be one of the best restaurants in the city (per Don Rockwell, no less), and I just don't get it.

When you come right down to it I guess I'm a little dubious of comfort food as a haute restaurant concept. Not that there's anything wrong with shrimp and grits, barbecued duck, fried oysters, and so on, but dammit, if I'm going to pay Buck's prices, I want to be bowled over, stunned by the chef's ability and imagination. I could tell right off that wasn't going to happen. It's very unusual for me to go into a restaurant as hungry as I was last night and not immediately see two or three dishes I want to try. What's worse, there was nothing on the menu--really, nothing--that I couldn't make myself. That's a really bad sign.

Since my very cute and friendly waitress recommended the grilled whole branzino with a "winter salad" of baby greens and hazelnuts, I had that. I also had the deviled eggs, figuring (in my innocence) that for seven bucks they must have some cool interesting twist, because no chef would serve plain old church-supper deviled eggs at her high-profile expensive restaurant, right?

Well, the joke was on me, because that's exactly what they were. Both of them. That's right, seven bucks for two eggs. These people are killing on their food cost ratio.

The fish was beautifully done, crisp and flaky and tender, and if you get one yourself, rub it with olive oil, stuff it with sprigs of rosemary and thyme and a slice of lemon, and grill it for maybe 10 minutes per inch of thickness, you can see what it was like for yourself. The salad was very nice, absolutely the best part of the meal. Nothing spectacular, but very nice.

Which probably is the secret of the appeal of the place. It's upscale ordinary. It's a "fine dining" place where nothing will disturb or challenge you. There are no fancy highfalutin dishes you've never heard of before, no fancy ingredients with odd names (well, except for the branzino, but it's not even called that on the menu, it's a "grilled whole fish"). No wonder the place is so consistently packed.

I can't remember the last time I was so flat-out bored by a restaurant. And I'm still pissed off about those damned eggs.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

You're Still Sleeping Soundly?

On the one hand, there's this, from today's Salon.

"How dire is the climate situation? Consider what Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the United Nations' prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said last month: "If there's no action before 2012, that's too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment." Pachauri has the distinction, or misfortune, of being both an engineer and an economist, two professions not known for overheated rhetoric.

In fact, far from being an alarmist, Pachauri was specifically chosen as IPCC chair in 2002 after the Bush administration waged a successful campaign to have him replace the outspoken Dr. Robert Watson, who was opposed by fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil. So why is a normally low-key scientist getting more desperate in his efforts to spur the planet to action?

Part of the answer is the most recent IPCC assessment report. For the first time in six years, more than 2,000 of the world's top scientists reviewed and synthesized all of the scientific knowledge about global warming. The Fourth Assessment Report makes clear that the accelerating emissions of human-generated heat-trapping gases has brought the planet close to crossing a threshold that will lead to irreversible catastrophe. Yet like Cassandra's warning about the Trojan horse, the IPCC report has fallen on deaf ears, especially those of conservative politicians, even as its findings are the most grave to date."
And on the other, there's this:

"For the past 16 months, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has been investigating allegations of political interference with government climate change science under the Bush Administration. During the course of this investigation, the Committee obtained over 27,000 pages of documents from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Commerce Department, held two investigative hearings, and deposed or interviewed key officials. Much of the information made available to the Committee has never been publicly disclosed.

This report presents the findings of the Committee’s investigation. The evidence before the Committee leads to one inescapable conclusion: the Bush Administration has engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming."
Sorry to be such a downer, but seriously, we are so fucked.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Vaca Estupenda is one year old today!

And I think I've finally found the official VE theme song. Sing along!

Shut up and eat!
Too bad no bon appetit!
Shut up and eat!
You know my love is sweet...


Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Fried Riceness of the Fried Rice

It seems kind of absurd to even think about making your own fried rice. It's kind of like making a Hostess Twinkie. Really, even if you had all the chemicals you needed and owned your very own countertop vegetable-oil-hydrogenating machine and could therefore turn out a horrible little pastry that was in every way identical to a storebought Hostess Twinkie, could such a homemade, handcrafted object really be called the same thing? Of course not! A Twinkie is a product of space-age food technology, of the American subversion of nature, of the manipulation of our tastes via advertising (without which our hunter/gatherer instincts would never let us even consider putting one of the wretched things in our mouths). A Twinkie is imbued with its Twinkieness by the culture of Big Food. If you create one yourself, it's merely a cream puff made gross.

Similarly, I can't help feeling that the basic meaning of fried rice is changed when you make it at home. As it's known in my particular corner of American society, it's a comfort-foody, too tired/overstimulated/distracted/ uninspired/drunk to cook, Sunday-night-after-the-session thing. It's meant to be shoveled into your mouth directly from the waxed-cardboard container that the guy from Tian Jin palace brought it in (along with the soggy dumplings you ordered so you could make the $10 minimum for delivery), preferably while you're drinking beer and watching lame TV. Is it really legitimate to make the stuff yourself? Moreover, is this really the kind of thing a serious eater would take the time for?

Eh. What the hell. If you have the ingredients on hand, fried rice comes together in less time than it takes to have it delivered, so it's still convenience food. Like Mongolian Lamb, it's a dish with deep, deep roots in the History of Rob, however it's made.

So, your meez. Finely chop a couple of garlic cloves and a scallion or two. If you've got one of those little red Thai chili peppers, chop that up too. Beat an egg with some sesame oil. Prep whatever veggies or meats you want: cut leftover roast pork or chicken into appropriate-sized hunks (and pre-stir-fry if you want); ditto leftover steamed broccoli, a carrot, maybe some nice cabbage; run hot water over a handful of frozen peas to thaw them. Have bottles of soy sauce and oyster sauce where you can reach them.

You need about a cup of leftover cooked rice. Fresh rice will make the dish soggy; with cold leftover rice that's been sitting in the fridge for at least a day or so, you can't go wrong. This is the only element of finesse. If you really want to be a dork, sometime when you have a half-hour to spare you can make a bunch of rice, divide it into individual portions, and freeze it.

Glug some peanut oil into your wok (or a big wide saute pan) and turn that sucker on high. When it's good and screaming hot, add the garlic and scallions (off the heat, so they don't burn), and the chili pepper. Add the egg and stir till it's scrambled and browned in places. Add the rice and stir-fry for a couple of minutes. Stir in a few splashes of soy and oyster sauces. Add your meats and veggies. Turn out into a bowl and dig in.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

See, this is why we can't have nice things.



I know it was an act of purest optimism to buy a floor lamp with a paper shade in the first place. Kyosaku and I have waged a battle over it in the two months I've had it. Usually when I'm teaching or practicing, she'll go over to the lamp and start clawing it, and I'll go "NO!" and put her out of the room. Last night, though, she finally had her way with it while I was sleeping.

I wish I could have gotten a picture of her as I found her this morning, curled up peacefully asleep beside the lamp, as though to say at last, my work is done.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Slightly Overcaffeinated Daylight-Starved Scrooge Mix

  • For the last month, in the cafeteria where I work at the Cosmodemonic Institute for Science Policy, there's been a little boom box by the cash registers playing Bing Crosby. Every cell in my body has screams "NO! NO! NO!" whenever I go down there for a cup of coffee. I'm just now coming to terms with the dismally incontrovertible fact of Autumn, and already you want to rub Christmas in my face? I won't have it, I tell you. I won't.

    You know how the angel got on top of the Christmas tree, right? See, it was November 1st at the North Pole, and Santa Claus was taking down the Halloween decorations, and an angel walked up carrying a Christmas tree and said, "Hey, Mr. Claus, where do you want me to put this?"

    Anyway.

  • Via Pandora, I've discovered the truly magnificent Midnight Evils, the greatest band you've never heard of (albeit only because I've already told you about Pylon). This, by god, is the music I want to play. Loud, violent, fast, unignorable. The wheels coming off. The center not holding. The guitars are probably lethal to mice. The singer sounds like he's filed his teeth. I love this shit. How the hell did I end up playing Irish music?

  • Ruhlman's new Elements of Cooking blog is a thoroughly awesome thing.

  • Along the same but somehow completely different lines, here's a nifty instructional video from the Household Hacker on how to cook an actual turkey in your actual home, using nothing more than an ordinary light bulb and a few DVD-Rs. Just make sure they're dual layer DVD-Rs. That's important.



Thursday, November 22, 2007

In case you've been sleeping too soundly

This is a lecture Naomi Wolf gave last month.



Her new book is called The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, and there's an interview with her on AlterNet about it here.

The most horrible thing to me about the past six years has been the trending of the government of our country towards what amounts to a fascist dictatorship. We've seen the early attempts by this administration to shut down our democracy already. We've seen manipulation of elections, harassment and intimidation of dissidents, control of the press, the eviscerating of our system of checks and balances, and the president declaring himself to be above the law. We've seen the whittling away of our constitutional freedoms in the name of keeping us safe from a shadowy, terrifying, largely theoretical Enemy who could be lurking anywhere, hating our freedom and plotting to kill us all. We've seen, incredibly, the legitimization of torture, which to any sane person should be evidence that our moral compass has gone seriously haywire.

Wolf lays it all out. The speech is long, but you should watch it. In short, she describes how every dictator since Mussolini has followed a similar methodology for taking power, every single step of which is happening right now, here in the Home of the Brave:

  • Invoking an enemy to keep the populace afraid of

  • Creating a secret prison system where torture takes place (can you name a single regime in all history that did this without eventually devolving into totalitarianism?)

  • Developing a paramilitary force

  • Setting up a surveillance apparatus aimed at ordinary citizens

  • Arbitrarily detaining and releasing citizens

  • Infiltrating citizen groups

  • Targeting key individuals

  • Restricting the press

  • Equating dissent with treason

  • Suspending the rule of law

None of this stuff is new, but Wolf states it cogently and convincingly. If you think it's nothing but overblown laughable paranoia, I'd love it if you were right. But I don't think you are.

By the way, Naomi Wolf is on the No-Fly List. Interesting, don't you think?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Seconds Before the Weekend Mix

I've been frantically busy lately, so a few choice items have heretofore escaped notice in this space...

  • This past Tuesday, Sonny Perdue, the governor of Georgia, wearing his ceremonial cloak of peacock feathers and attended by his court priest, his grand vizier, and a hundred vestal virgins, ascended the steps of the State Capitol and sacrificed nine white goats and forty white doves to implore the gods to deliver his state from drought. I'm only exaggerating a little. Do I ever think I might move back to Georgia? Well, what do you think?

  • Bob del Grosso visited Hudson Valley Foie Gras and blogged about it. If you're at all concerned about the issue, you should go read the post and have a look at his slide show of the trip. Yeah, ducks are force-fed and eventually slaughtered. But if what a duck goes through in the making of Hudson Valley Foie bothers you, you probably ought to throw in the towel and give up the meat thing altogether. Most animals in the food industry have it a whole hell of a lot worse.

  • I absolutely missed Bourdain's appearance at Lisner last week. Damn it all.

Roasting a Chicken

That's roast chicken, numbnuts! And if you can’t properly roast a damn chicken then you are one helpless, hopeless, sorry-ass bivalve in an apron. Take that apron off, wrap it around your neck, and hang yourself. You do not deserve to wear the proud garment of generations of hardworking, dedicated cooks. Turn in those clogs, too. (Anthony Bourdain, Les Halles Cookbook)
Bourdain's recipe for roasting a chicken is easy and turns out beautifully, and I'm not going to quote it here because you already have the cookbook. It's a vast improvement over Julia Child's (presumably classically French) recipe, which involves basting every 8 to 10 minutes and turning the hot sizzling bird a total of five times throughout the cooking process. And there's a really obsessive recipe in one of James Beard's books that I can't find now; I used it the first time I roasted a chicken, and I remember it called for a stick and half of butter. The chicken wasn't so much roasted as sponge-fried. Of course it was delicious.

But when I'm roasting a chicken nowadays, especially if I've had a long day at work and I'm tired and hungry and cooking just for myself, my go-to recipe is from Marcella Hazan. It's the essence of simplicity, and it's dependably fantastic.

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Rinse a 4-lb. chicken in cold water inside and out. Pat it dry with a paper towel and prop it up so it can drain while the oven is heating.

(By the way, I don't have to tell you to get a decent chicken, do I? One that wasn't debeaked so that when it went insane from being crammed into a tiny cage with five or six other chickens it wouldn't peck them to death? One that was fed good honest grain that wasn't "fortified" with antibiotics and fat from other chickens? One that was able to walk around and scratch and flap its wings and socialize and generally live a happy chickenlike life? I don't have to tell you that, right? Good.)

Generously salt and pepper your chicken inside and out. Take two small lemons and pierce them all over with a skewer or a fork. Stick those inside your chicken. Truss the chicken if you like; I don't bother unless it's a special occasion. Set the bird breast side down in a roasting pan and roast it for half an hour. You don't need to baste, so pour yourself a glass of wine and settle in with a good book till the timer goes off. Turn the chicken over (I've got a huge pair of grill tongs I use for this) and roast for another half an hour. Turn the oven up to 400 degrees and roast for another 20 minutes. Total cooking time should be 20-25 minutes per pound.

Let the bird sit for about 15 minutes before carving. That should give you enough time to make whatever simple side dish you're in the mood for. When you carve the bird, copious juices will flow; that's all the sauce you need. Wonderful.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Recurve



As you would be able to see if the picture weren't so out of focus, I'm done graduating the top. I ended up leaving it kind of thickish -- around .115" inches in the recurve and a little less than .200 in the middle. As it turns out, the frame of my ghetto thickness caliper flexes a little more than it should, which means my measurements are kind of approximate. I didn't want to run the risk of getting the top too thin. I figure final sanding will take care of some of those extra thousandths of an inch.

The top came with the f-holes already cut, which saves me some work but makes for nerve-wracking sanding in that area. In the time since I ordered this kit, International Violins has started offering a version without the precut f-holes, which is what I'll opt for if I decide to build another A-style mando. But I think for my next build I want to do their version of the Gibson F4, which in my correct opinion is the most beautiful mandolin ever.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Olbermann on Waterboarding

Oh, hell. I can't embed it. Just go watch.

Oh, and while we're on the subject of waterboarding, watch this too. A reporter enlisted two professional interrogators to waterboard him and filmed the experience. There's a link there to the uncut video too. It's difficult but required viewing. Remember, if you're an American, this is being done in your name. How do you feel about that?

Which reminds me of what the Dear Leader said about Cuba a couple of weeks ago, with even more than his usual obliviousness to irony.

"... As with all totalitarian systems, [this] regime no doubt has other horrors still unknown to the rest of the world. Once revealed, they will shock the conscience of humanity. And they will shame the regime's defenders and all those democracies that have been silent."
(Thanks, Mike.)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Scrape sand sand scrape scrape scrape sand

Sand sand sand sand sand scrape scrape scrape scrape scrape sand scrape sand sand scrape scrape sand fucking sand sand sand scrape.


The first area I'm working on is the recurve, the thinnest area of the top. When you play a note on a mandolin, it produces ripples throughout the whole top of the instrument. The further the ripples travel, the less energy they have, so the edges of the top need to be thinner to produce the same amount of resonance as the area under the bridge. So I'm basically sculpting a trench around the perimeter of the top, as you can see from the lighter area in the picture. Once I've gotten the bottom of the trench in the neighborhood of .110" thick, I'll start working on the center area. Then I'll smooth the thick part into the thin part. Then I'll do all that again on the back.

I'm using 3M sanding sponges and a gooseneck cabinet scraper. If I had a random orbital sander, I could probably accomplish this in less time. If I could burnish a scraper worth a damn, I could work more smoothly and consistently instead of having to go back and fix the little bits of tearout. If wishes were horses, we'd all be eating steak.

Scrape sand sand scrape scrape sand sand sand scrape.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Step one

About a year and a half ago, the top collapsed on my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, Chinese-made, 90-dollar-Ebay-special mandolin. This wasn't a big deal; I'd been planning to eventually knock a hole in it, fill it with potting soil, and plant herbs in it anyway. I was just hoping it would hold together long enough for me to upgrade to a better mandolin first.

Now, really good-quality carved-top mandolins are insanely expensive. Gibson's entry-level A9 model is around $2,000, and they go way, way up from there. To get a good instrument without selling my car, I figured I'd just have to make one myself.

Enter the International Violin Company Mandolin Kit. What could be better? All the grunt work is done. The sides are fitted to the top, the neck is put together and fretted, the top and back are roughed out. All that's left is the touchy-feely stuff (shaping and graduating the plates, installing and carving the tone bars, shaping the neck to my liking) and gluing it all together. And it ends up as a pretty nice instrument. Reviews of these kits on mandolin newsgroups I read have been pretty positive.

The one snag with the kit is that the back plate I got was about a quarter-inch too narrow to fit the sides. I exchanged a few emails with International Violins, whose attitude was, yeah, a lot of those kits are like that, I'll be glad to sell you another back, or maybe you could put binding on. By that point, my enthusiasm had waned, so I put the project on the back burner.

Last week, though, I was looking at the kit, and through some bizarre miracle of time, my back plate now fits just fine. Something shrank, or something else expanded, I don't know, but the upshot is I can work with what I have and build this thing. And just to keep myself on task, I'll tell you all about it here.

So. Step one. This morning I built the one specialized tool I'm going to need: a thickness caliper. All I had to do was saw some plywood and drive a few screws, but I'm still proud of it.


One of the keys to maximizing the tone of an arch-top stringed instrument (e.g. violins and mandolins and some guitars) is graduating the top and back to certain proportions. It's worth being very fussy about. Hence the caliper. I could have spent a hundred or so bucks at Stewart-MacDonald for a professional-grade one, but mine will do exactly the same thing, and it cost me about $12 in materials. Plus it's impressively crude.

My top plate is currently .235" in the bridge area and .175" at the edges; I'm going to take it down to about .180" and .110" respectively.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

IM IN UR WASTELAND BURYING UR DEAD

It's the LOLCat Waste Land. Go. Read.

shakespeare rag is smartness.
im in teh street, walkens.
im in ur schedule,
measuring out ur life in teh coffee spoonz.

(Thanks again, Jet!)

Progress Report

If I hadn't turned off my cable, I would no doubt be regaling you with my opinions on The Next Iron Chef America, which seems like a tougher, less contrived Top Chef. No less a personage than Michael Ruhlman is a judge. Also unlike TC, several of the contestants are people I've heard of. It looks like a really cool show.

But you know what? I don't care. I don't regret one little bit that I'm missing this heroic contest, even if Bourdain is writing about it on Ruhlman's blog. I'm not tempted at all to get my cable hooked up again.

I'm playing a lot of music and reading more. What TV I do watch consists of making my way through Rome on DVD. I'm feeling no anxiety whatsoever that I'm missing anything, least of all the stellar offerings of the Food Network. Other, more delightful things are expanding to take the place in my life of the hours I might have spent on on my sofa, slackjawed and bathed in electrons. I think I may be cured.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Memory Lane

Man. What a blast it is to find this.


These videos are from the last performance by Pylon, one of the Greatest Bands Of All Time, at the Mad Hatter in Athens, Ga. December 1, 1983. I'm there in the audience somewhere. Tall skinny guy, all in black, hair in Billy Idol spikes.

I'd seen them one time a couple of years before at the Piedmont Arts Festival in Atlanta, and I thought they were the worst thing I'd ever seen. I'm glad my perspective changed in time for me to see them this one last time. This stuff is absolutely brilliant.


They broke up because they didn't want to deal with the business side of being a band. At this point they had been opening for U2 on their first US tour. It was too much like work.

Vanessa worked at the Kinko's I used when I was in grad school. It was always surprising to me to hear her normal, gently southern speaking voice. Totally at odds with the menacing, rasping wild woman she was onstage. I love that she always performed in frilly little dresses and peasant blouses. I don't know if she was intentionally trying to fuck around with people's ideas of femininity. I kind of think not. It just happened that way.


They've regrouped a couple of times since then, even going so far as to put out another album in 1990. I just got a note that they're reissuing their first album, Gyrate, which is the best news I've heard in a while. Guess what we'll be listening to on our way down to Roanoke, Tes?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Extremely garlicky baked eggplant and penne

This is a slightly altered recipe from Deborah Madison's The Savory Way. It's one of the nicest things you can do with eggplant, and satisfies any craving for mac & cheese you may have. Like mac & cheese, it's also a wonderful thing to eat the next day, fried in butter. Which is what I'm having for lunch as I type this.

There's a lot to do, but it's all pretty easy.

0. Cut your eggplant (one big one or two small ones) into 1/4" dice. Do the salt-and-drain treatment if you're afraid your eggplant might be bitter. I never do this. I'll take the risk of bitter eggplant over the certainty of oversalting any day.

1. The sauce. Separate, peel, and chop half a head's worth of garlic cloves. Say six or seven cloves. Seven. No, make it eight. Combine the garlic with a half-teaspoon of salt in a mortar and use the pestle to bash it into a paste. Combine the garlic paste with two cups of milk. Set aside.

2. Make a roux with three tbsp. butter and two tbsp. flour. Cook two or three minutes, then whisk in the milk-and-garlic mixture and a big pinch of grated nutmeg. Add three thyme branches and a handful of chopped fresh basil. (Lacking fresh herbs, I substituted 2 tsp. herbes de Provence. The nutmeg, though, is essential.) Bring this to a simmer, cover, and let it cook on low heat for half an hour (stirring it occasionally) while you cook the pasta and the eggplant. The smell while this stuff is cooking will be indescribably glorious.

3. Bring a big pot of salty water to a boil, cook 8 oz. of penne in it, drain the penne and rinse it in cold water, and set aside. (The original recipe calls for rigatoni, but I like the texture of the penne better; the rigatoni gets too mushy for my taste.)

4. At the same time, brown your eggplant in olive oil. Do it in batches so it browns and doesn't steam. Set aside.

5. Grate a cup of parmigiano-reggiano or pecorino romano.

6. Heat your oven to 375 degrees and butter a 3- or 4-qt baking dish.

7. When the sauce is done, mix half the cheese into it. Mix the eggplant, the pasta, two-thirds of the sauce, and a good dose of black pepper together in the baking dish. Pour the remaining sauce over the top and sprinkle on the rest of the cheese. Bake for 25 minutes. Let sit for 5 or so minutes before digging in.

(And thanks, Lori, for the beautiful eggplant.)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Knife Skills with Hung

I'm doing a lot of hey-check-this-link-out posts lately, which is kind of a lame way of blogging. But what the hell. Check this out. It's an excellent little knife skills demo by my man Hung Huynh, fresh from kicking ass on Top Chef. Unfortunately it's another of those annoying videos that I can't embed.

"Next, I'm going to demo the Chinese cleaver ... This is a knife that almost killed people on the show. BWAAAH-HAHAHAHA!"

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Fish, barrels, and my inner 12-year-old mix

  • By now you may already have seen this recipe, an apparent favorite of Senator Larry "Wide Stance" Craig. Basically you take a potato, an Idaho potato of course, and bore a hole through the middle, end to end. Then (this is the good part) you take a frankfurter and ease it gently, yet with loving firmness, into the hole. Then you bake the whole thing and eat it.

    Really, nothing more needs to be said, does it? You just can't make stuff like this up.

  • The tragic death of Reverend Gary Aldridge, a graduate of Liberty University and a onetime associate of the late Jerry Falwell, is of course nothing to laugh at, no matter what the circumstances. Really, you'd have to be a truly sick, sick person to find the humor in this. Har. Chortle. Snort.

    (That link is marginally NSFW, as if you hadn't guessed.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Virtual Chevron Protest today

Call or fax Chevron between 4 and 6 pm eastern time today to ask them to change their relationship with the military government in Myanmar. This site has all the details. Also read this call for sanctions from the Burmese government in exile.

Monday, October 8, 2007

This is at least as good as the Temperance Fountain

Hey, everybody, head over to this site and cast your vote on where in DC they should build the Great Big Butt Plug Tower of Invincibility! I picked Orren and Childress Streets NE where the Trinidad Playground is now, 627 H Street NW where they just knocked down the China Doll restaurant, and the Tidal Basin (they could build it on pontoons and float it).

According to the website, "The Tower of Invincibility will fulfill the highest ideals of America as expressed by our nation's founders and by other great heroes of our country—freedom, sovereignty and peace ... The Tower of Invincibility honors the mighty power of Natural Law, which now can be harnessed through cutting-edge technologies of consciousness to prevent problems and conflict and to raise our nation to invincibility-—an invincible power that cannot be challenged by anyone."

Isn't it thrilling?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Breakfast

Nothing special here. It just looked so beautiful on the plate that I thought I'd share.


That's the last of my most recent batch of sausage, roasted Yukon Gold potatoes, a sliced Green Zebra tomato (thanks, Lori!), and eggs scrambled with jalapeño, red onion, cilantro, and sharp cheddar. Coffee not pictured. Yeah.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Weaning Myself off the Glass Teat, continued

I hadn't realized how addicted I was.

You know the scene in The Good Thief where Nick Nolte decides to break his heroin addiction so he can pull off the big heist, so he has Nutsa Kukhianidze handcuff him to his bed and feed him ice cream while he toughs out his withdrawal? And while he's in his delirium she's climbing on top of him in her bra and panties, trying to taunt him, but he's too out of it to notice or care? That's what last night was like. Except I wasn't handcuffed to the bed, and I didn't have any ice cream, and Nutsa Kukhianidze was nowhere in sight, and if she had been, I probably would have noticed.

Ok, it wasn't anything like that.

But it was rough! Just knowing that I couldn't plonk down on the sofa and check out of my brain. It's not like there's anything interesting on on Friday nights, anyway. Pathetic.

Today is a little better, but still. My god. No more Seinfeld reruns. No more Law and Order SVU marathons. No more of those damned Monday nights when the SciFi Channel runs endless back-to-back episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise. No more Good Eats, No Reservations, The Shield, or Iron Chef America.

WHAT HAVE I DONE?

I probably will have to reconnect when Battlestar Galactica starts up again next year. I know my limits.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Cutting the cord

Well, I had to wait till Top Chef was over before I did it (go Hung go!), but the important thing is that I did do it. I just now canceled my cable television account. I can't describe to you the enormous rush of freedom this gives me.

For me, nothing but reading, playing music, watching the odd DVD, and interacting with my fellow human beings now. This also means I can move the damned squawkbox out of its central location in my living room (which wasn't my choice! It's where the cable comes out of the floor) and turn that room into a more pleasant space to hang out in.

This changes everything. Wahoo!

Update.
In Hung's honor I've changed my tagline. I got a little choked up watching the finale last night. Which means it's probably a good thing for me to go off TV.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Ruts and Henry

Ok, let's get my little fascist moment off the top of the blog. I went with Lori and Majda to see Henry Rollins at the Birchmere Tuesday night. He was brilliant. He stood onstage and talked for three hours without a break, and people still went "Aw" when he said he was winding down. Along with many other rambling, interweaving, hilarious stories, he told about being invited to perform with the Ruts last July at a benefit concert for their guitarist Paul Fox, who has lung cancer. The Ruts, you understand, were one of the greatest UK punk bands back in the day. Their music holds a special place in the hearts of for those of us who are of a Certain Age. Henry is a great big, drooling, clumsy, falling-all-over-himself fan.

Here's the first song from that show. This is what a happy guy looks like.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Meta Post: Comments

I encourage everybody who visits here to post comments. I like hearing from you, and it's comforting to know I'm not just shooting my rants and recipes out into empty space.

HOWEVER.

Posting comments under someone else's name is a sure-fire way to piss me off. Do NOT do this. It constitutes an abuse of this space, it's disrespectful, and it puts me in an awkward position vis a vis the person whose identity you're stealing. This behavior is NOT COOL. Such comments will be deleted. Chronic offenders will be hunted down and have this policy explained to them in ways they will find very unpleasant.

I hope we're clear on this. Carry on.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

More Musicianship

This is manualist Gerry Phillips playing "The Trooper" by Iron Maiden on his hands. I'm in awe.


His rendition of "The Final Countdown" is also a wondrous thing to behold. This is a song that could well have been written for hands.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Musicianship

So this is a pretty generic cover of "Cat Scratch Fever" by the 80s hair metal band Nitro, with shred guru Michael Angelo Batio playing his double-necked guitar:


But what's cool about it happens during the intro, when the (steroid-enhanced) drummer plays one of his cymbals BY HEAD-BUTTING IT. It's pretty subtle; you have to watch for it.

By god, THAT'S what rock & roll is all about.

Martini therapy

1. Throw a few ice cubes into a cocktail glass. Add water. Let that sit while you:

2. Measure into a cocktail shaker three parts gin (I mean good gin, like Plymouth, Beefeater, Boodles (I love Boodles), or Bombay (not Sapphire)) and one part vermouth. My standby vermouth is Noilly Prat. Cinzano is fine too.

3. Add a handful of ice cubes to your shaker, put the top on, and shake it till it's too cold to hold comfortably.

4. Dump the ice water out of your glass and strain the contents of the shaker into it.

5. Garnish with three fat blue-cheese stuffed olives.

6. Drink, sitting on your porch, surrounded by your adoring cats, on a Friday evening at the end of a great screaming soul-withering bitch of a week. Notice how life suddenly seems strangely beautiful.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Vienna Vegetable Orchestra

Worldwide one of a kind, the Vegetable Orchestra performs on instruments made of fresh vegetables. The utilization of various ever refined vegetable instruments creates a musically and aesthetically unique sound universe.

The Vegetable Orchestra was founded in 1998. It consists of 11 musicians, a sound engineer and a video artist. Based in Vienna, the Vegetable Orchestra plays concerts in Europe and Asia. From time to time workshops are given - on how to manufacture an instrument or on musical topics.

There are no musical boundaries for the Vegetable Orchestra. The most diverse music styles fuse here - contemporary music, beat-oriented House tracks, experimental Electronic, Free Jazz, Noise, Dub, Clicks'n'Cuts - the musical scope of the ensemble expands consistently, and recently developed vegetable instruments and their inherent sounds often determine the direction.

A concert of the Vegetable Orchestra appeals to all the senses. As an encore at the end of the concert and the video performance, the audience is offered fresh vegetable soup.

Jet turned me on to this. It's one of the the coolest things I've seen lately.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Well, that's it, then

Hung has won. When Andre Soltner says he'd hire you to work in his restaurant, you've won. Compared to that, whether or not you're the last contestant standing on a piddling little reality show is of absolutely no consequence. God has spoken. Hung is the man. End of story.

That being said, I'm back to rooting for Casey after this episode. If she wins in the finale, it will be a fitting and well-deserved second place.

And I have to say: this ep had the best Top Chef challenges ever. Simple, product-placement-free, and mercilessly revealing of the contestant's abilities. Here's one of Le Cirque's signature dishes; taste and replicate. Here's a chicken, an onion, and a potato; make something fantastic. You can't get any more cheffish than that. I wish the whole show were like this episode.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Wahoo (mostly)!

Three reasons I'm in a pretty good mood today:

  • Today is my 43rd birthday. While I'm a little miffed at the lack of tickertape parades, fireworks, Air Force flyovers, and greased pig races, it's a good age to be.

  • Even more auspiciously, Sunday was the 10th anniversary of the day I moved to DC, thus instantly improving everything in my life.

  • September in DC. Best. Weather. Anywhere.
One reason I also feel a little self-recriminatory:
  • I forgot today is Car Free DC Day, and I've already blown it by driving to work. No wonder traffic was so light this morning. Hell and blood. I'm a bad, bad liberal.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Very Good Reason to Stay Out of Jail

Prison food.


A lot more is coming from China, yes. Their labor cost is next to nothing, you know ... The average prisoner can be fed for about $2.25 per day for three meals. We're not looking for exactly Grade A type product; yeah, Grade B, which is just fine.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

When Words Fail Us

In this tragic moment, when words seem so inadequate to express the shock people feel, the first thing that comes to mind is this: We are all Americans! We are all New Yorkers, just as surely as John F. Kennedy declared himself to be a Berliner in 1962 when he visited Berlin. Indeed, just as in the gravest moments of our own history, how can we not feel profound solidarity with those people, that country, the United States, to whom we are so close and to whom we owe our freedom, and therefore our solidarity?

(Jean-Marie Colombani, Le Monde, Sept. 12, 2001)

Hard to remember how America used to be a respected member of the world community instead of the crazy uncle in the attic, isn't it?

I revisit the images on this site every year at about this time. They're a hard reminder of what's been squandered and shot to hell by the arrogance and murderous opportunism of this administration.

May we indeed all find such unity and goodwill again soon, in happier times.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Steak and Egg Fajitas



Coffee: first priority, before fridge is opened or knife is touched.

Pico de gallo: two small tomatoes (seeded), half an onion, one of those peppers that aren't jalapeños (also seeded), and a fistful of cilantro. Fine chop. Pinch of salt.

Steak: salt and pepper a hunk of leftover skirt while you melt two tbsp. butter with a splash of olive oil over medium-high heat. When the butter is done foaming, throw your steak into the pan and cook it for about 4 minutes on each side. Internal temperature should be between 120 and 130 degrees F. Let rest while you finish cooking.

Flour tortillas: two of them, on a plate, in a warm oven, warming.

Eggs: Fry them.

Guacamole: wish you had some avocados, because if you did you'd mash one with some of your pico de gallo and a little lime juice. But you don't, and that's ok.

Steak again: before plating, slice across the grain into fajita-appropriate bits.

Take your plate out on the porch and enjoy the cool morning breeze while you eat.

Yeah.

Does anybody know...

...what kind of pepper this is?


I got a bunch of them last week when (W)hole (of) Foods was out of jalapeños. They're roughly the same size and shape, but lighter green, crunchier, and hotter.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Unsuccessful Catfish

My usual method with catfish is to season the filets vehemently with salt and pepper, drizzle them with hot sauce -- Texas Pete or Crystal, something mild enough to coat the filets without making them inedibly hot -- dredge them in corn meal or crushed cornflakes, and pan-fry them. Seriously basic, and one of the Best Things on Earth. With some remoulade, a bit of coleslaw or some garlicky mashed potatoes, and a frosty mug of lager, you've got yourself a feast.

Tonight for some reason I thought I'd get a little fancier and make a beer batter. I whisked half a can of Bud, 3/4 cup of flour, 1/2 tsp. each salt and paprika together in a bowl. I seasoned the filets and dredged them in flour while I heated an inch and a half of oil in my wok to 375 degrees. The flour-coated filets got a dip in the (somewhat disturbingly pink) batter at the last minute, then went into the hot oil. They were puffy and golden-brown in about a minute and a half.

They were beautiful and light and crisp, perfectly done, and you know what? I don't like catfish done this way. The character of the fish is obliterated in the thick layer of batter. If I didn't know I was eating catfish, I'd have no idea what I just had for dinner. Some fried thing, I guess. I'll try making the batter a little thinner next time before rejecting the whole beer-battering thing outright. It's pretty tasty, but as a dominant flavor it doesn't quite cut it.

For the spuds, cut a Yukon Gold potato into 1/4-inch cubes and boil it in salty water with a couple of whole garlic cloves for 15-20 minutes, till tender. Drain and put in a bowl, add a minced scallion or two and a generous glug of fruity olive oil, and mash.

Remoulade: finely mince fresh dill, fresh tarragon, capers, cornichons, and anchovies and combine them with good mayonnaise. The classical recipe calls for parsley, chervil, chives, and tarragon; of those I only had tarragon on hand, and I love dill, so there you go.

Friday, September 7, 2007

SPIT TAKE!

Here's some interesting info about Karl Rove's father, who was apparently an early practitioner of body piercing, and a followup interview with piercing pioneer Jim Ward.

The links are not especially safe for work. You might want to skip them too, Mom.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Thursday Evening Second Beer Mix

  • Ok, so I was obviously dead wrong about Howie. But I was NOT wrong about Casey. She has a keen intelligence for combining flavors, and her plates are always pretty, but if the basic skills aren't there, if she takes ten minutes to chop a freakin' onion, she ain't a Chef, much less a Top one. Sara's looking good. So is Hung. That cereal diorama took major cojones, though he still bitched that the judge didn't understand what he was trying to do.

    (And Padma, babe, you've got to call me soon. You're not getting any younger and I'm not going to wait forever.)

  • Philippe and I are one of eight acts that were selected out of lord-knows-how-many that auditioned for the MoCo MetroPerforms! series, and on the 20th, we're making our grand debut at the Bethesda Metro Station. The Peruvians and the alphornist got picked too, which is right and proper.

  • There's no way I can top the NOAA song for a WhaFUCK? Friday feature, so instead let me show you a true rock & roll moment. This is the Who performing in Cleveland in 1975.


    Pete Townshend is playing through two 120-watt Hiwatt brand amp heads into four 4x12 speaker cabinets (i.e. each one has four 12" speakers). This is an enormous rig. Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine uses one 50-watt head into one 4x12, and he's plenty loud. I know these things because I'm a dork. Anyway. Here's the cool part: three minutes into the video, before his solo, Pete goes bouncing over and casually, almost without looking, dimes the volume on both of those heads. The volume on the stage at that point must have been unimaginable, kind of like standing under the engine of a 747 warming up on the tarmac. In a hurricane. What a guy. I mean, he's got major tinnitus now, but what a guy.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

And while we're on the subject,

Something I've always wondered: how does eating meat square with Judeo-Christian ethics? I mean, you can't get any less ambiguous than "Thou shall not kill." But of the many vegetarians I've known, not one has cited the sixth commandment as a reason for following that path, and I don't think I've ever met a devout Christian vegetarian at all. In fact, mainstream Christianity is full of meat-eating, from Easter lambs to Christmas goose to fried chicken on the grounds after church on Sunday. So what gives? Is that commandment one of those cutely archaic things in the Bible that we were supposed to wink at, like the advice on how to treat your slaves in Exodus 21?

I know it's sometimes rendered as "Thou shall not murder," which is a better translation of לא תרצח. That would make it ok to kill animals for food or sport, or human beings in the course of a war I guess. But come on. Is that really all there is to the Christian regard for the sanctity of life? It can't be that easy.

Not claiming superiority or trying to start a fight here; I'm genuinely curious.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Offal Obsessive

This ethics-of-meat-eating thing is kind of on my mind a lot lately. Via Ruhlman, this is a really cool set of videos of Chef Chris Cosentino talking about offal and preparing a really delicious-looking meal thereof, with insightful comments about PETA, the USDA, and other topics along the way.

When you actually look at where your animal comes from, and you actually participate in a slaughter, it kind of changes your perception of "what is meat." And when you're holding a 45-pound lamb as she cries, and you slaughter that animal, you're going to use every last bit of it, because you'd feel like a complete asshole if you didn't.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Kennedy Center Gig

We kicked ass. We rocked. We ruled. And we looked really good too.

I've been trying to figure how to embed the video, but I don't think I can. So go here and click on "Play This Performance" under August 29, 2007.

Olbermann on Craig

Keith Olbermann's Countdown here presents the sad, sordid, and unfortunately hilarious tale of Senator Larry "Wide Stance" Craig, in a dramatization lifted directly from the police report. Riveting stuff, I'm sure you'll agree.


(Via Alternet.)

Update. Also from Alternet: Why the GOP's Gay Wing Is Forced to Hide in the Bathroom.

I confess to some fascination with this. Mark Foley, Mr. Anti-Child-Sex-Abuse, cruising for congressional pages. Now Larry Craig, well-known right-wing homophobe, hustling for an anonymous quickie in a men's room. Anyone else notice a pattern here?

I love it when stuff like this happens, and not only because it's a beautiful thing to see hypocrisy exposed. I think -- I like to hope -- that as a culture we're slowly learning that people's appetites are more complicated and interesting than we might think. Also that when someone preaches intolerance, the first thing to do is to consider the motives of the preacher.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

White! Whale! Holy! Grail!

The NPR show Fresh Air is doing a series on heavy metal this week. There are interviews with James Hetfield and Rob Halford here, and Robert Plant and Steve Perry here. I also found this All Things Considered piece from last February on current trends in metal, featuring my beloved Mastodon. Very cool stuff!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Meat and Me

In his online chat yesterday, Gene Weingarten asked his carnivorous readers to assist him with a project he's doing by to emailing him and telling him their views on the ethics of eating meat.

What I sent him, roughly, was this:

I'm a Buddhist, so I really should be a vegetarian because we have a precept against killing. I tried it for a couple of years, and I noticed two major things about myself then:

(1) I talked about being a vegetarian all the time. I beat people over the head with my herbivorousness. I became indignant when restaurants didn't offer a range of choices for my particular dietary restrictions. I cheerfully told my dining companions how disgusting, immoral, and unhealthy their meals were. In short, I became an insufferably self-righteous pompous bore.

(2) I craved meat. Deep in my ape-brain, I wanted cheeseburgers, bacon, sausages, and pork chops constantly. And I was hungry all the time because all the tofu and bean sprouts in the world couldn't satisfy my craving for flesh.

So ultimately I decided to get off my high horse and give my body what it wanted. These days I try to mitigate the karmatic burden by sticking to organic and free-range stuff as much as I can and by trying to cultivate an awareness of where what I eat comes from. I've never seen a hog butchered, let alone done it myself, but it's something I'd like to experience.
Shrug. I admire people who have no apparent difficulty being lifelong vegetarians and not being all ego-assertive about it (looking at you, Patrick); it's just not something I feel equipped for. I'd be interested to hear what the rest of you think about this.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Fond Memories of America Mix

  • I just read that the Secret Service has issued warrants for the arrest of AU students who, in cold blood and with malice aforethought, mooned Karl Rove's car. Not the campus police, but the Secret Service. In America, land of the free, where we used to have constitutionally protected rights to assembly and free speech. I guess we should be happy that nobody got shot.

  • Top Chef: I'm hugely disappointed that Tre, the coolest, most professional contestant of the bunch, totally blew it with a truly horrifying dish of beet-cured salmon with pesto and grapefruit. Seriously, look at this recipe and tell me this is something you'd want to put in your mouth. And Casey's knife skills suck. I'm no longer pulling for her. I predict the final round will be Howie vs. Sara in a cage match, and there won't be a winner because they'll strangle each other.

  • I got a new guitar amp this past weekend: a 50-watt Vox Valvetronix modeler. What a fantastic tool it is. It digitally models 11 different amps, has a whole load of onboard effects, and you can program 3 channels and switch between them in-flight. It's the amp of my dreams. When I got my first really good flute after a few years of suffering along with a really awful instrument, I remember feeling absolutely liberated. No more hardware problems: the only thing between me and becoming a really good player was my own willingness to work really hard at it. This amp is kind of like that.

  • The temporary structure where Eastern Market will operate till repairs are finished is now open. I'm looking forward to checking it out this weekend.

  • I'm playing tomorrow night with Maggie Sansone at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage. Come see us (it's free!), or watch us online.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Documents

As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day...

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense.

A few nights ago, for example, we witnessed the death of one American soldier and the critical wounding of two others when a lethal armor-piercing explosive was detonated between an Iraqi Army checkpoint and a police one. Local Iraqis readily testified to American investigators that Iraqi police and Army officers escorted the triggermen and helped plant the bomb. These civilians highlighted their own predicament: had they informed the Americans of the bomb before the incident, the Iraqi Army, the police or the local Shiite militia would have killed their families.

As many grunts will tell you, this is a near-routine event. Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.


-- Spc. Buddhika Jayamala, Sgt. Wesley D. Smith, Sgt. Jeremy Roebuck, Sgt. Omar Mora, Sgt. Edward Sandmeier, Staff Sgt. Yance T. Gray, and Staff Sgt. Jeremy A. Murphy, The War as We Saw It, New York Times, August 19, 2007


The formation of "rally squads" is a common way to prepare for demonstrators by countering their message. This tactic involves utilizing small groups of volunteers to spread favorable messages using large hand-held signs, placards or perhaps a long sheet banner, and placing them in strategic areas around the site.

These squads should be instructed always to look for demonstrators. The rally squads' task is to use their signs and banners as shields between the demonstrators and the main press platform. If the demonstrators are yelling, rally squads can begin and lead supportive chants to drown out protestors (USA!, USA!, USA!). As a last resort, security should remove demonstrators from the event site. The rally squads can include, but are not limited to, college/young Republican organizations, local athletic teams and fraternities/sororities...

Once a group of demonstrators has been identified, the advance person must decide what action to take. If it is determined that the media will not see or hear them and they pose no potential disruption to the event, they can be ignored. On the other hand, if the group is carrying signs, trying to shout down the president, or has potential to cause some greater disruption to the event, action needs to be taken
immediately to minimize the demonstrators' effect.

-- Office of Presidential Advance, Presidential Advance Manual, October, 2002 (via Salon).

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Infinite Kyosaku Project, Part 7





She hasn't been climbing up on my monitor very much lately. I think she may be getting bored with this.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Donegal Bongwater, Dee D. Jackson

I can't think of anything more worthy of a WhaFUCK? Friday post than the deeply peculiar video for Dee D. Jackson's "Automatic Lover," which you may experience in all of its bewildering glory on Tes' blog.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Wednesday morning wage slave coffee mix

  • Dear god. Oh, my. Ruhlman had a magnificent rant on his blog the other day on the Shame of the Chicken Caesar Salad, and yesterday afternoon he revealed his attempt to redeem the dish: the Chicken Fried Pork Belly Confit Caesar. It's an eloquent political and cultural statement, a howl against the horrific ubiquitous mediocrity and feeble imagination rampant in American culture, and it looks so damn good. See, this is why food matters. Guess what I'll be making this weekend.

  • In looking for a definition of "sockdologist," I found this Compendium of Lost Words, which has the potential to be a major time-suck. Since I've got a lot to do today, I've confined myself to A-E, where may be found such treasures as "ascoliasm" (a boys' game of beating each other with gloves or leather while hopping), "brephophagist" (one who eats babies), "dodrantal" (of nine inches in length), and "egrote" (to feign an illness). How have I gone so long without knowing about this?

  • Speaking of brephophagists: if you can stand a minute or so of looking at the jowly face of evil, check out Dick Cheney's thoughts on invading Baghdad, circa 1994:


    I think if I had that much cognitive dissonance going on, my skull would cave in. (Thanks, Tina.)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

What summer tastes like

Do you remember your first taste of pesto? I remember mine. It was in 1985; I was an intellectual anarchist English major, playing Irish music with one band and Velvet-Undergroundish garage thrash with another. I had spiky Billy Idol hair, and every piece of clothing I owned was black. I worshiped Shakespeare and Burroughs and Borges. I was learning to cook. And this mysterious recipe in the Moosewood Cookbook looked mighty interesting.

Forget how you can find the stuff in jars on the shelves of every supermarket in the land now. Forget what a tired cliché of the brunch menu it has become. Imagine doing what I did, viz. buying basil, garlic, olive oil, parmesan cheese, and almonds (because it's 1985 and you’re in Athens, Georgia and the nearest pine nut is three states away), whirling the stuff up in your food processor having no idea what you're doing, boiling pasta, tossing one with the other, and tasting, for the first time, real homemade pesto. I had been cooking a lot of interesting stuff in those days (some of it was actually good, too), but that moment, my discovery of pesto, was a great awakening. I was Prometheus.

A couple of years after that, a friend of a friend moved into a house whose entire front yard had been taken over by basil plants. I had an open invitation to take as much as I wanted whenever I wanted. Talk about an embarrassment of riches. For two blessed summers, anytime I wanted to make pesto, I could go over to Mary's and gather buckets of leaves. My memory of those lush, slow, humid days is suffused with the thick druggy aroma of basil. Sitting naked with my girlfriend on the floor, slurping spaghetti covered with the ambrosial stuff, washing it down with ice-cold Carlo Rossi chardonnay. All the windows open, ceiling fan blowing the warm air around, "Love My Way" by the Psychedelic Furs on the radio. The slow-cycling chorus of cicadas. August.

So last night, as I was leaving Lori and Kenner's house, Lori came out into her garden and snipped a big plastic bagful of basil for me to take home. I processed it into pesto this morning, and this minute I'm hoovering down the last few strands of a bowlful of linguini I tossed with it. This truly is one of the very best things on earth.

After stemming and rinsing and draining, I had about two and a half firmly packed cups of leaves. I discovered last week that I have an absurd little one-cup-capacity food processor stashed away on a high shelf; where it came from I have no idea, but I couldn't have found it at a better time. Working in tiny batches, I gradually processed the leaves, three cloves of garlic, a quarter-cup of pine nuts, and a half-cup of extra-virgin olive oil into a thick green paste. I dumped that into a bowl and mixed in a half-cup of grated parmigiano reggiano and three tablespoons of softened butter. It's better to grate your cheese and work it in by hand separately from the rest of the ingredients. Other than that tiny bit of finesse, there's nothing to it. The magic is in the ingredients, which should be fresh and perfect, especially the basil. Save any extra sauce in a jar in the fridge, covered with a thin layer of olive oil to keep the basil from turning dark.

Friday, August 10, 2007

What I'm listening to now

...Lots of Aphex Twin. Beautiful, disturbing, darkly hilarious music. For me, this stuff shows the value of unapologetic self-indulgence. A valuable lesson for a composer.





Thursday, August 9, 2007

Maggie, animals, tunes, karma

As a Buddhist, I believe that everything that has happened to me in my life has led me to this moment, and likewise what I do in this moment will have an effect, however subtle, on everything that happens to me in the future. This applies to my career as a musician as well. Every success, every pitfall, every single one of the uncountable millions of seconds spent practicing and studying and playing and listening has brought me to today, this steamy hot August day, on which I'm going to play with Maggie Sansone, Danny Noveck, and Chris Noyes at the Queen Anne's County 4-H Fair. We're on between the milking demonstration and the, um, pretty animal contest.

Speaking of Maggie, I've noticed she's got the new cd up on CD Baby, which means you can go there and hear some of what we've been doing. Also what Bobby Read, genius of producers, did with what we did.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Meta Post: Popups

I just had a look at Bob DelGrosso's blog A Hunger Artist, which like my blog is hosted on Blogger, and imagine my consternation when two popup ads came up. They even made it past Firefox's popup blocker. Has anyone experienced this on my blog? Because if that's going to be how it is on Blogger, I'm going to have to find a new venue for this thing.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Ingmar Bergman's Soap Commercials

Tonight I will dream of sweat droplets and bacteria in an apocalyptic battle amid a desolate, slightly hairy landscape, while soap bubbles rain down like meteors.





Thursday, August 2, 2007

Long hot summer mix

Hitting a bunch of topics because I've been a slack, slack blogger lately...

  • Top Chef. I predict it's going to come down to Howie, CJ, Casey, and Tre. Everybody in the running is a good cook, which is a great change from previous seasons of TC, but for the most resolutely cheflike of the lot, Howie is my pick. I was liking Hung for a while--early on he seemed really together and professional and full of good ideas--but either the stress of the competition or prejudicial editing is making his wheels seem to come off.

  • I don't think I've mentioned this here, but 2007 is my guitar year. Time to do some serious woodshedding and try to get back the ability I had when I was 20 or so. I've been practicing and playing a lot. I've got guitars all over my house so I can play whenever I have a minute or two. I'd have one in the bathroom if I had enough guitars. I think it's working a little--yesterday my upstairs neighbor said, "hey, you were playing guitar last night, weren't you? You sound good!" Twenty years ago my come-from was classical guitar on the one hand and punk on the other. These days (as a way of honing my lead chops) I'm deepening my understanding of blues. I've just about nailed Johnny Winter's solo from "Still Alive and Well," albeit about two-thirds of his tempo. I'm thinking I'll take a deep breath and dig into some Stevie Ray Vaughan next. This isn't my usual musical territory at all, but it's the Rosetta Stone of almost any style of rock, and the most guitarish music there is. And like Irish music, it's dead easy to learn the songs; the artistry is in what you bring to the music.

  • Contrariwise, I haven't been cooking anything interesting at all. It's too hot and it's too beautiful outside, and there's no place in my kitchen to play guitar. I've been grilling steaks, throwing together pasta dishes out of whatever I have on hand, making omelettes. Plans for grinding and stuffing a batch of kielbasa are on hold till I get off my ass and order some actual hog casings; the collagen ones I got from the Sausage Source work fine from a mechanical standpoint, but they taste like collagen.

  • Next week is Restaurant Week. My favorite time of the hemiannum. I want to hit Firefly, Corduroy, Dino of course, and Philippe and Mary Duke are talking about Bistro d'Oc.

  • Speaking of Top Chef, it's been a month since Padma Lakshmi and Salman Rushdie filed for divorce, and Padma hasn't returned a single one of my calls. Maybe there's a problem with her voice mail.

  • I just found out that various commitments are going to make it impossible for me to see any of the acts at Virgin Fest this weekend that I want to see, viz. the Beastie Boys, Modest Mouse, Sasha and John Digweed, the Bad Brains, Interpol, and MIA. I'm especially steamed about MIA because she hasn't returned any of my calls either, and we really need to talk.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

No End in Sight

Yeah, I haven't seen Ratatouille yet, or the Simpsons movie, and I admit that Live Free or Die Hard and Transformers are on my list too, but I think I'll have to see this first.


Then I'll go see Ratatouille right after to calm myself down.

(Excellent NOW piece on the movie: part 1, part 2, part 3.

Friday, July 27, 2007

ITOMFA!

"Men who are accustomed over a long series of years to supposing that whatever can somehow be squared with the law is right -- or if not right then allowable -- are not useful members of society; and when they reach positions of power in the state they are noxious. They are people for whom ethics can be summed up by the collected statutes ... they are men who tend to resign their own conscience to another's keeping, or to disregard it entirely." (Patrick O'Brian, The Reverse of the Medal)