April 19, 2013Posted by on
My deepest musical influences are Bach, Beethoven, and The Ramones. But, along with other weird stuff in my head, is a fascination with Vangelis. Although almost everyone knows his music from Chariots of Fire, I first heard his electronic brand of awesome in the music of the Carl Sagan series Cosmos. I started collecting his work for the next decade or so.
One of my favorites was Opera Sauvage, which I think was actually written for some kind of animal documentary… but whenever I see cool natural events, this tune would play in my head: Hymne. Of course, Vangelis was all about synthesizers and whatnot, but I think my little arrangement for ukulele and melodica gives it a woodsy cabin sort of feel.
One of our fun pastimes out at our little homestead is to rewrite the lyrics for songs. We turn them into our own little version, generally poking fun at something we’ve done, or something one of the animals has done. I was watching some old video clips of The Muppet Show, and saw this awesome one where Rowlf and Fozzie sing the classic Country Gardens tune. It’s hilarious, and a piece of brilliant puppeteering! “Can you play hatless?” “I don’t know, who wrote it?”
So I looked up the actual folk song, and found out it was a way to teach British children about flowers and insects and stuff. I thought, “well, we’ve got stuff around the homestead… we should write a song about them, too!” Everyone pitched in on figuring out the words, and it’s been a frequently played song around the house. We have four verses: one for the lack of flowers (my superpower is killing all useful plants, apparently), one for our three dogs, one for our three ponies, and a final one for the chickens. It’s a fun tune.
Both of these tunes are also available on the Ukulele Page, and although one started as a piece of synthesizer music, and the other as an English folk song, they both have connections to animals, and in my version Hymne sounds sort of like a country folk song… Well, who cares if the connection is tenuous at best… they’re simple, fun tunes! Cheers!
April 6, 2013Posted by on
I have a new Saturday morning tradition: baking scones.
Okay, so maybe doing something just two weeks in a row doesn’t quite qualify as “tradition.” But, you’ve got to start somewhere, and two weeks in a row is actually pretty good for me.
Let me add that I’m no baker. I love to cook, and I’ll cook the hell out of a steak or a casserole… but I’ve always burned the cookies and ruined the pie, so to speak. Thus, it was with great hesitation that I tried my hand at scones.
Fortunately, the inter-webs are a wonderful place. And although I very rarely use recipes in my cooking, I figured I should have a reference point from which to diverge in my scone adventures. I went web searching, and found three promising sources: Alton Brown, Allrecipes, and America’s Test Kitchen. I stole their scone recipes and merged them into something I though would work for me.
I also chatted up my pals at my favorite bakery to get some tips. Behold, the recipe I came up with:
I had also recently purchased some pretty sweet stainless steel mixing bowls, and learned to make a simple sugar glaze. If all this information and equipment can’t help me make a decent fracking scone, then nothing would!
Dry Ingredients – Getting a Crumb
I added all the dry ingredients to the bowl, and whisked them together. Then, I removed the butter from the freezer (yes, you should freeze the butter!) and grated it into the mixture. I just used a regular, large tooth cheese grater. Then, a few chops with the pastry blender later, and the mixture should have a nice “crumb” to it… meaning, it looks a little like oatmeal, has tiny and small chunks of butter, but is otherwise dry.
Wet Ingredients – Getting the Dough
Make a hollow in the dry ingredients. Then, whisk the sour cream and egg together. Add it into the hollow.
At this point, I found the best way to combine everything was to begin stirring from the center, and slowly work outward. In math-speak, I let the radius of my circular stirring motion increase slowly with time. This keeps up a continual “feeding dry into wet” system that seems to work well.
Now, you sort of have to use some observational power. The dough was not holding together after a good mix, so I added one Tablespoon of milk. Stirred that up. Still not quite there. Added one more Tablespoon of milk. Stirred. Ah, there it went! The dough should NOT be anywhere near wet. When you reach in, you can grab a handful, squeeze, and it should come together, but not really stick to you.
Folding the Dough
Lay the dough out onto a floured surface, and using nothing but your fingers (I use the backs of my fingers, just because I like to), flatten it out into a rough rectangle. Flip it over and complete. Dust with flour as you need to. If anything sticks to the table, just toss on a little flour, rub it into a clump, and add it back to the dough.
Once you’ve gotten a nice shape to it (as above), you get to do “the trick” to light, flaky scones… Remember when we used to communicate with each other by writing letters? You’d have to fold your letter so that it fit in this thing called an envelope, and place something called a stamp onto it. You’d then leave the letter at the end of your driveway and some stranger would come along, pick it up, and take it to your friend for you! It was pretty slick.
Anyway, the point is that you want to fold up your dough like a letter, using a tri-fold, then flatten it again with your fingers into another rectangle. Do this three times.
Now we can add the fruit. In this case, I used some frozen blueberries. I had nothing fresh on hand (it is early April in Maine… the only fresh ingredient available to me is mud). Press out the dough a little larger than your earlier rectangle, being careful not to make it stick to the surface. Flip it at least once and dust with flour. Then, just press the berries into the dough.
Finally, tri-fold what you have, and press it with your fingers out into a nice, flat, log shape. Cut into four even pieces, and diagonally cut each of those pieces in half to form little triangles. Why triangles? Because people like to eat pointy foods! We’re then ready to put the scones on a buttered baking sheet and pop them into a 400F oven for 15 minutes.
Just whisk it all around with a fork or very small whisk. You want it to be the consistency of paste. If it’s too runny, add more sugar. If it’s too dry, add more milk (in very, very small amounts). You could use any kind of flavoring… I love this raspberry syrup, though! Other options would be regular maple syrup, vanilla, some orange or lemon zest… whatever you think will pair well with the fruit.
One Last Thing
I love coffee. I love all kinds of coffee. Even camp coffee that tastes like burnt grounds and smoke. And although I love me some Starbucks Grande Vanilla Latte, I really still enjoy basic drip coffee from my favorite little machine. (To the side of the coffee maker is my Plan B: PG Tips tea!)
After 15 minutes, the scones are ready. I remove them onto a cooling rack, and glaze them right away. This recipe makes 8 scones, but I tell my daughter it only makes 6… so that by the time she’s awake to start her Saturday, we can split those “6″ scones “evenly” and have three each during the rest of our morning routines. (Please don’t tell her!)
March 9, 2013Posted by on
I first heard the tune A Wayfaring Stranger sung by Charlie Haden and his Quartet West on their album, The Art of the Song. Haunting. Excellent. I would never, ever, compare myself to this fantastic musician. But, when you enjoy a tune, you sing that tune! So, although you should seek out and listen to Mr. Haden’s version to see how it’s really done, that version did inspire an ukulele version which I recorded.
It’s available on the Ukulele page, or you can listen here.
February 3, 2013Posted by on
Well, my wife and daughter were away visiting friends. It’s the weekend of my wife’s monthly visiting spree, and my daughter had recently gotten her driver’s license… so she was out spreading her wings.
This situation left me all by myself last Saturday evening, and I thought to myself, “Self, what in the world am I going to do with this Bottom Round I have?” Options swirled before my eyes… pot roast… beef stew… But I had done those. Then I realized that there was something I had never tried (for whatever insane reason). I had never cut bottom round steaks!
Well, situation solved. I cut a nice little 1/2 pound Bottom Round Steak out of that puppy, and got to planning the culinary event of the weekend.
Bottom Round is pretty lean, but it’s very tough. It’s part of the hip muscle, the big pink section in the image I stole from culinaryarts. Any “hard working” muscle (like the brisket, among others) can’t just be cooked up like a regular steak (e.g., rib eye, tenderloin, sirloin, etc.), it’s got to go low and slow.
This is the point I’d normally start referring to the Big Green Egg, but alas I do not have one at home (just at the office). So, I had to go with Plan B, and in this case the “B” stands for “Braising”!
Braising is super simple: sear the meat in oil quickly, then simmer the meat in liquid slowly. It’s the basic idea behind pot roast and stew, where you might use the crock pot as the “in liquid slowly” part of the equation. I just had a single, 1/2 pound steak, so I didn’t need all that. All I needed was some beer…
1/2 pound bottom round steak
1 T olive oil
3 cloves garlic, whole but smashed under hand
8 oz beer or ale, I like Sam Adams Noble Pils
2 thick slices of bread, I used garlic-asiago from my favorite bakery, The Bankery.
1 T butter
Salt & pepper
Spicy dry rub, I used Trilby’s Spicy Dry Rub that I had received as a Christmas present from my Seattle sister-in-law
1/4 ripe avocado, sliced
Let the beer come to room temperature. Get a nice big frying pan with a cover, get it hot, add the oil, and let that get hot. Then, season the steak (salt, pepper, rub) and sear until well browned on each side, adding garlic after you turn the steak over.
Add the beer all at once to the seared steak. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, and cover. Let this simmer for 1 hour. After an hour, remove the steak. The garlic will be super soft. Go ahead and eat one of the cloves! Save the other two.
Add the two slices of bread to the juices in the pan, bring back to medium-high heat. Let the bread sit in the juices and fry. It will seem a little soggy at first, but don’t worry, it will recover as the liquid evaporates. Do this just on one side of the bread. The “fried side” will be the part we face to the inside of the sandwich, and the non-fried part will face out. That way, our hands don’t get too nasty and greasy. Not that it matters, but I just like the touch of fresh bread.
Remove the bread, then add butter for the eggs. Fry the eggs anyway you like, I prefer over-easy with a little more salt & pepper. Just keep the yolks runny. On one slice of bread (on the fried side), spread a little mayo. On the other slice (also fried side), spread the soft garlic you saved. If you couldn’t help yourself and ate all the garlic already, just use more mayo.
Finally, slice the steak and layer it on a slice of bread, followed by the eggs, a little more dry rub, and the avocado slices. Cut sandwich into two pieces… consume along with another beer.
Why cut it into two pieces? Because anticipation is important in food… As you finish the first half of the sandwich, you’ll be all “O Dear Lord That Was Good!” but then you’ll realize that YOU’VE STILL GOT ANOTHER ONE! Then you’ll eat that second half all slow and deliberate, with a purpose and a plan, and the enjoyment will be enhanced. You might say, “Dude, I taste what I taste… what’s the difference in timing?” Don’t succumb to the lazy ways of eating!! Savor it. Maybe even wait a few minutes before eating that second half… let that anticipation build.
You won’t be disappointed.
January 7, 2013Posted by on
So, I had this sequence of chords I was messing around with on the ukulele… 2 bars of C, a bar of G7, and then two bars of A minor and F. It was just a little fun, and those basic chords are really nothing spectacular; they’re the basis of just about every tune ever.
But then I messed around some more, and started whistling a little melody. Before you know it, I had worked out an actual tune. I wanted some lyrics, so I turned to my wife and asked, “Okay, what should this song be about?” She listened to the tune and whistled melody… and said, “Something happy. Either goats running around on rocks, or you taking a motorcycle ride.”
Well, not all my goat memories are fond, so I went with the motorcycle idea. I have a KLR 650, named Frank (for Frankenstein, since he’s had so many new parts added to him over the years!). Frank is an Enduro, meaning I can ride trails or roads. I mostly use Frank to commute to work, but I argue that even the worst motorcycle ride is better than any ride in a car.
I’ve ridden bikes since I was a kid on a JC Penny 5hp mini-bike. I love them. They are freeing. I’m also a Sci-Fi geek, so I figured I’d combine those two passions in this fun little tune. It’s on the Ukulele page, or you can listen to it here.
The chart (chords, lyrics, strumming patterns) is also available.
January 4, 2013Posted by on
Well, no, yesterday wasn’t actually Boxing Day… it was last week. But I thought that was a fun title for the newest two entries on the Ukulele page… Yesterday (Paul McCartney) and The Boxer (Simon & Garfunkel).
Back when I was a teenager, we had these things called cassettes… and cassette decks. I had an old office cassette deck, about the size of a big paperback. It was grey and black, and had a bright red “record” button so that you knew if you were supposed to speak cautiously. I loved it. I listened to my tapes on that stupid cassette deck’s tinny, single speaker for hours and hours and hours.
Mostly, my tape collection consisted of the Beatles, Billy Joel, and Simon & Garfunkel. Oh, and Supertramp, but I don’t discuss that in … um … well, in public. Damn. Anyway, it would be a couple of years before I discovered that classical music and Broadway tunes also came on tape, so I was stuck with what I had.
In homage, I’ve always wanted to record these two songs. Getting a melodica for Christmas seemed like the perfect excuse to lay down some tracks and give two of my most favoritest tunes a shot with the ukulele. You can listen to them here:
January 1, 2013Posted by on
For this New Year’s Eve, we decided (by “we” I mean my wife, daughter, and me) to hors d’oeuvre our way to midnight, rather than prepare a normal dinner. I went out and got us each a specific cheese (wife = garden Jack, daughter = Bergenost, me = Espresso BellaVitano) to accompany various other bits on some crackers.
The other bits included some sliced Jazz apples, some hard salami, and some Supreme Guacamole! Oh, and the wine… although not fancy, the Beringer White Zinfandel is something of an “in” joke between my wife and me, so it got the nod for the evening.
To be fair, I’m the only one who eats guac at our house. Probably, this is because I make it with a nice kick. However, since it was New Year’s Eve, my wife decided to try a bite. After I recovered from the punch she gave me, we resolved that she wouldn’t have to eat this guac anymore… but that I would eat it weekly! Take that, woman!
Is this guac that blazing hot? No, not really… I only use one jalapeno and a little crushed red pepper. Although I’ve made it with “hotter” ingredients and amounts, I find that too much more kills the other flavors. On the other hand, my wife will tell you that I’ve already killed all the flavors! So, please adjust as necessary… but try it this way, at least once!
The other thing about this particular recipe is that it lacks cilantro. I’m normally a fan of cilantro in guacamole, but not always. This is one of those cases of “not always.” I find it competes too much with the garlic. With all the flavor happening here, I don’t miss it at all with this recipe. But if you must have it, toss in a small hand full… reduce the garlic by half, and maybe toss in a Roma tomato, too.
3 ripe avocados, just the creamy bits
4 cloves garlic
1/2 medium red onion
1 jalapeno, innards removed
2 t crushed red pepper
1 T plain yogurt (or sour cream)
Juice of 1 lime
Cut everything up in rough chunks, and get the food processor out.
Couldn’t be simpler… run everything in the food processor until you’ve got a mostly creamy combination. I like to leave a few random chunks in there, just for texture. Serve on the crackers, cheese, and salami, or use (more often, for me) as a spread on burgers, or a topping for tacos.
December 28, 2012Posted by on
A couple of “colorful” songs are the recent additions on the Ukulele page: “It’s Not Easy Being Green” (Joe Raposo) and “Edelweiss” (Rodgers & Hammerstein).
Like a lot of people, I never realized that at the end of Being Green, Kermit has actually come to terms with his green-ness, and is no longer sad about being the color of the leaves. Well, I say “a lot of people” because I really hope I’m not alone in this… But it’s such a beautiful song, and my first attempt at Jazz chords with the uke. Minor 6ths and Major 7ths, ho!
Edelweiss is one of my all-time favorite musical songs. The poor Captain, coerced into playing for the children, chooses a simple, but powerful, patriotic ballad. The song is a symbol of his resolve to resist his government’s cooperation with Nazi Germany, as much as the flower is a symbol of the peaceful Austrian countryside he wishes to protect.
Oh, colors. Right, well Being Green is obvious. And Edelweiss is a white (weiss) flower.
Listen to them here:
It’s Not Easy Being Green:
December 27, 2012Posted by on
Well, one of the few TV shows, musical styles, etc., that my daughter and I have in common is Glee. Yes, I’m a Gleek. They do really interesting arrangements of songs that I probably would never have listened to otherwise, as well as great standards.
So, through Glee I got to hear this crazy fun arrangement of Over the Rainbow, which, I later learned (while inter-tubing to find the chords and lyrics so I could learn to play it) was originally done this way by a fellow named Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (aka, Brudda Iz), an amazing ukulele player and singer whom I had never, ever heard before.
Apparently, you can find about a trillion versions of this song out there… but I wanted to record it anyway! So, it’s on the ukulele page, or you can listen here.
December 27, 2012Posted by on
Beethoven. On the ukulele. Don’t hate, now… I remember hearing the 9th Symphony for the first time and thinking to myself, “Holy crap, what just happened?” In a good way, in a good way! I was blown away, all the intricate vocal lines going in and out of the finale… the Ode to Joy. Whatever troubles Beethoven created for his loved ones, by being so cantankerous, perhaps they forgave him after they heard the 9th!
So, I put the basic theme of the Ode to Joy to the ukulele, and some whistling (with harmony!), and the “well known” lyrical verse, all on the ukulele page. Or, give it a listen here.