Friday, May 30, 2008

Gourmet Dishes

For a while now we've been making home-made pizza that I consider much better than delivered pizza. (Well, Corey makes it, I help clean up.) We'd started with the traditional full-of-stuff pizza before Corey decided she wanted her half to be Pizza Margherita, the classic tomato, basil, and cheese combination. I stuck with the meat-lover's pepperoni and Canadian bacon half. I thought I'd never try a meatless pizza but last night we tried something new and it was fantastic! I stumbled across a picture of Pizza Rustica with Wild Nettles in the June 2008 issue of Coastal Living (p.144; the picture's in the table of contents, but the one to the right is what ours looked like). We substituted kale for the wild nettles since Core got a bushel of it with her Clemson veggie load (I keep forgetting the name of this program she signed up for). Unlike our normal pizza crust, the pizza dough was a bit thinner but just as tasty, if not tastier. It had a touch of honey in it, maybe that's the secret. Along with the kale, the toppings consisted of roasted garlic, red pepper flakes, pepper, and four types of cheeses: pecorino romano, fresh mozzarella, provolone, and fontina. Excellent!

Corey said the pizza was gourmet; something reminiscent of what you'd get a decent restaurant. It reminded us a bit of what we had on The Rock Boat where they had 24 hr pizza and the one that was similar was with fetta and spinach (if I remember correctly). Subbing in spinach for the kale is something I'd like to try next. The pizza was the second really good gourmet dish we have tried, to my tastes, in about as many weeks. The one just prior was Penne with Calamari and Malvasia, courtesy of Mario Batali and available on the Food Network (we saw him prepare this on his Molto Mario TV show). I love squid, but I can't stand when restaurants bread and deep fry the stuff—what a waste! I much prefer this style of preparation, as the squid is just slightly pan-fried until it's opqaue. No need to cover it up in greasy breadcrumbs.

Along with these two dishes, my other favorite dish is Pasta Shells with Black-Eyed Peas and Artichokes that we discovered some time back.1 So right now I have three preferred items in the food rotation, with the occasional Bistecca Fiorentina thrown in.

1 Vegetarian Times, Wiley Publishing, Inc., Hoboken, NJ, 2005, p.248.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Puppy bone

I set up the drum kit at home since the Hounds don't have any gigs coming up for a while. The main reason was to figure out how to mount the new cymbals I got on ebay. To round out my cymbal upgrade, I got a 14" fast crash (hasn't arrived yet) and two 8" and 10" splash cymbals. I wanted to mount this pair of two small cymbals right over the toms. I had imagined some kind of T-cymbal bar. While I couldn't find something exactly like this, Guitar Center had a "puppy bone", which is dual boom clamp that clamps on to the end of one cymbal boom and then allows a second boom to be inserted through its other end. Instead of a T-configuration, the puppy bone ends up forming a kind of V-clamp. It's just barely visible at the bottom of the pic. It seems to work well enough. For the last cymbal, I still have one more cymbal clamp that's perched high up above the two splashes. I'm not sure this will work better than if the cymbal were on its own cymbal stand, but I'll give it a shot when it gets here.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Return to Florence (sort of)

Saturday I felt like BBQ so Corey suggested finding something in Mario Batali's Italian Grill.1 When in Florence, we never had time to sample a meat dish that that city is famous for: the bistecca fiorentina, or Florentine steak. It's generally a (very large, served for two) T-bone steak prepared in a specific way. To do it authentically, one would have to follow the rules of the Articles of Association of the Florentine T-bone Steak Academy, founded in 1991 by representatives of the Florentine Butchers' Association. The classic recipe calls for a T-bone cut from a chianina calf and hung for 5-6 days. There are stringent rules for the precise location of the cut, its thickness (.75–1.25 in) and weight (1.3125–1.75 lb), and of course its preparation and cooking method.2 Doing it to these specifications would be pretty difficult, but I thought I could adapt Batali's recipe to two individual, smaller T-bones, as I didn't think I could find the 3 lb, 3 in thick cut that he advocates. However, the quasi-authenticity comes from the herbs used to encrust the steak. The herb mixture is composed of fresh rosemary, sage, thyme, and salt and fresh ground pepper. The mixture is rubbed in after drizzling the meat with extra-virgin olive oil. The steak then sits in this kind of Italian marinade (if that's an appropriate description) under plastic wrap for at least half an hour. For wine, I chose a Chianti Superiore, in this case vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), which I think is Italy's higher quality wine (a step above DOC label).

Batali's recipe includes sauteed spinach as a side dish, but since Corey doesn't like cooked spinach we went with more US-traditional green beans and mashed 'taters. I overcooked the steaks just slightly (according to Batali medium rare should be 125 F, our steak centers registered just a bit higher at about 130 F so almost medium), but otherwise they were very good. Maybe a bit too salty (even though I cut the amount of salt in half) but then again the Tuscans are known to be aggressive salters. For dessert we tried to replicate what we had in Florence: biscotti dipped in vin santo, a very sweet Italian dessert wine. I didn't think I could find this type of wine around here but I got lucky at our local "ABC package" store (what they call the liquor store around here). Very nice!

For the evening's entertainment we watched Into the Wild, a true account of Christopher McCandless, who, at the age of 24, decides to drop out of society, donate his savings of $24,000 to OXFAM, and, after abandoning his car and burning the rest of the money in his wallet, venture out into the Alaskan wilderness. For the most part, totally unprepared with ten pounds of rice, a .22 caliber rifle and rounds, a camera, some camping gear, and a few books with a field guide to the region's edible plants. The movie states at one point that Chris was "highly intelligent", yet his actions don't seem to support this characterization. He died of starvation in an abandoned bus that he had made his home for about 112 days. The movie suggests Chris had mistakenly consumed an inedible plant that, among other consequences, inhibits digestion. But there appears to be some debate on this point. The whole story is quite tragic. The movie is well made and compelling perhaps due to its tragic ending. Or maybe it just goes to show that truth can be stranger (and more interesting) than fiction: of the last four movies we've seen (The Golden Compass, Untraceable, The Hoax, and Into the Wild), the latter two, both based on true events, were much better than the former fictional tales.

1Italian Grill, Mario Batali (with Judith Sutton), Harper Collins, 2008.

2The Silver Spoon, Editorale Domus, Phaidon Press, 2005.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Spot Gig

Last night the Hounds played at The Spot in Seneca. This was the second gig where I got to use my new drum throne from SoundSeat and my new Zildjian A Custom cymbals. I think the cymbals sound much better than my old cheapo B8s. I guess casting really makes for better sound than stamping. I would still like to replace my splach cymbal and add in one more fast crash and I think that would do it for a while. The SoundSeat is pretty comfy and the gas shock makes for much easier adjustment than having to rotate my old seat. The backrest provides additional support that helps out my lower back. We played four sets last night and I think I managed to maintain much better posture than on the old round throne.

Playing at The Spot was certainly different from playing at 356. Club 356, composed mainly of a college crowd is somewhat detached. The crowd's there, they seem to like the music, they dance, but one gets the impression they really couldn't care less what band was up on stage. At The Spot the audience was much smaller—I'm not sure why; I've been there before on Fridays when it was packed—and older. And it felt like they were more critical. You got the impression that if we stunk they'd be sure to let us know. A scene reminiscent of the country and western bar in The Blues Brothers movie...if we played something they didn't like I'd half expect them to start throwing stuff at us. As it happened the few people that were there liked the blues. A couple of people reallly got into it. I thought we were being heckled but I think the guy was just getting into it. And yup, they got up and danced here, too.

Our first set wasn't that great, as usual we had some sound problems. I had no lead guitar in my monitor. I think it took me a set and a half to warm up and get over the jitters. By the end of the night I think we sounded ok. Below is a bit of our rendition of My Little Machine (click on the image to get the movie clip). It's a pretty long clip of about a minute and a half, weighing in at 8 M, so be patient.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Of cats and washing machines

We moved up our Friday movie night to Wednesday this week since this Friday the Hounds play The Spot. My first time there as a Hoodoo Hound and first time back to The Spot in several years. We used to play on the 8-ball billiard league a few years back, but the team fell apart around the end of 2005. Since we coincidentally happened to quit smoking January 2006 we just never bothered to sign on to another team although they did ask. It was fun, but I don't miss it all that much. My pool playing has gone downhill of course as one would expect and that's a pity. I was, I think, a 4 on the 1-7 scale, which isn't linear, IMO (meaning that a 7 is way better than just twice as good as a 4). Meanwhile, the movie, Untraceable, was a macabre exploration of animal (cat, as it happens) and human torture, streamed onto the internet, no less. Terrible. Our cat, Harley, chose wisely, and slept through the whole thing.

Meanwhile today (Friday), I'm stuck working from home waiting for the washing machine repair tech. I just found out he'll be here closer to 5pm than 8am. Which throws a slight wrench into my plans for setting up at The Spot tonight, which is supposed to happen at 4:30pm. Maybe I should just fix the thing myself. The parts arrived just in time, as shown. Note how things have changed: an older washing machine would probably have thrown a belt or blew out a motor. Our new-fangled (well, 10-year old now) machine had a resistor blow out. So no belts, motors, but two control boards instead.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Bootleg: Hounds in the press

The Hounds got some exposure in the local press. The Bootleg Mag has listings of local goings on with spotlights on local artists. A couple of weeks ago one of the writers came out to our weekly practice to interview us. She wanted to know about our musical influences, music writing process, etc. I think a lot of what was said got left on the cutting room floor, but I think the gist is there: Chicago-style blues with some influence from Louisiana. Some of the comments about music writing got left out but that might be because the Hounds don't really have a process per se. Rather, it just comes to our two main writers, the guitar players. Anyway, read the "Black magic blues" article to get the gist if it's difficult to make out in the image I composed from the web page. (In retrospect I guess we should have provided some gig pics rather than letting her use the one from our practice area: a living room :)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Public calendar

I've been wanting to create a public google calendar for a while now. Partially for students and others to see when I'm available for office visits, or when I'm busy or out of town and where. I've kept (and now depend on) a personal google calendar as well, but I didn't really want to broadcast that publicly. And I didn't want to bother with having to think about which events are private which public, etc. A solution presented itself with Clemson adopting google tools. Two google accounts means two calendars, one public and one private. Problem solved! What a fascinating modern age we live in :)