Last weekend I accidentally got really drunk. It was the night of the Den Haag gig, which I would otherwise generally call a success: engaging music; pleasant, friendly people; etc...
Of paramount importance on these evenings is maintaining an Ever-Watchful Eye wrt one's alcohol/cannabis intake. Lots of time sitting around + pre-gig nerves + post-gig revelry = occasionally results in a Perfect Storm situation for people like the VDuck.
Nonetheless, by the time we piled into the car to head back to Amsterdam, the overall mood of my blood/brain chemistry was hovering somewhere in the "Lucid Yet Peaceful" range. If only I'd somehow managed to be transported safely from the car into my warm and waiting apartment without having to pass through the especially festive scene in the bar downstairs...
As you may know, we live above a bar and music venue. Many evenings I come and go via the back courtyard so that I can avoid being sucked into a potentially damaging Social Vortex downstairs, but this night I had my tremendously heavy suitcase of guitar shit with me and navigating it through the backyard would have seemed like some kind of unpleasant army boot camp exercise. Oh, right, it was snowing, too.
The biggest problem with coming home late and entering through the front door is that the people with whom I'm mostly likely to Socially Engage are the sound crew. And by and large, they don't start drinking until after the show is over, which is around 12 or 1. And in my experience most sound technicians prefer oude jenever.
So if you, as a musician, have been doing a show somewhere else for the last 7 hours, all the while carefully balancing your alcohol intake so as to achieve maximum suppleness, and you return home to find a multi-band rock show in your basement, in the midst of which a friendly sound technician stops you for "just one drink", beware: they will be thirstier than you are, and may not be sensitive to the, well, liquidity of your condition, and they may keep buying you drinks until you are In Trouble.
I told that story to explain why I'm making lamb enchiladas today. The Morning After my visit to the social vortex, I felt, um...like complete shit. I mean bad. Like not wanting to look at yourself in the mirror bad, no way can I have a cup of coffee bad, why the fuck don't I have a bathtub and a portable radio to accidentally drop into it bad.
In times of strife, we turn to those things that soothe us. I decided that day that I would try to therapeutically make a therapeutically spicy lamb stew to repair or at least therapeutically numb my injured body. I somehow made it out the door and picked up some lamb shoulder and some red wine (possible foreshadowing here), came home, and set about trying to make a stew.
I'm not really sure what happened, but if we fast forward to a few hours later, we find me being nauseated beyond belief by the smell of this stew. I can't recall this ever happening to me before, or at least not in many years. I can't bear to be in the apartment with this smell, and it is everywhere. So, to distract myself from this unpleasantness, I of course had some red wine.
Before darkness descended both literally and figuratively over the whole operation, I managed to freeze the stew, thinking that I'd magically transform it into something good after my own Powers of Good had returned. And then I went out and DJed for a while at a nice new gallery in the Oost using only my trusty MP3 player and my spunky American ingenuity (FYI, they'd invited me...I didn't just show up and start playing).
The lamb was haunting me though. Every time I thought about it this week, I couldn't get that smell out of my head. I'm still shuddering just thinking about it now.
And in the end, of course: the lamb was fine. Good, even. The smell I remembered was nowhere to be found, Thank the Lord Above. I was really apprehensive about even taking the lid off the container. And it is therapeutically spicy, thanks to a heartier-than-usual dose of chipotles. So I drained off the liquid and used it as the base of a molé rojo with some lamb-ier touches: peanuts instead of almonds, a little extra marjoram and oregano, etc. The result of all this will be some smoky lamb enchiladas with a little goat cheese inside and some mint and scallions on top.
This morning's bonus was an egg inside a corn tortilla with a healthy splash of molé rojo (see above and below).
Lots to catch up on: a room-clearing brawl during my gig Thursday and the rare opportunity to outperform a Personal Rock God in Scrabble topping the list (for once, that is not a huge pile of cocaine next to him. I'm kidding. I mean, it's not cocaine).
The worst thing about the fight is that I have it on "tape" because we were recording the show. And now I don't really want to listen to it, because we're playing quietly enough to where you can hear the fight coming, and it was uncomfortable enough the first time. Ironically, the set had been dedicated at the outset to victims of violence in Mumbai and everywhere else (the subject matter for the evening was heavily Indian-influenced).
As for Thanksgiving, it was a pretty good hang. Foodwise, the best thing I ate? Turkey. Mara's vegetarian stuffing and gravy were great, but we somehow fucked up the peach crumble...too much crumble, not enough peach. Yesterday, I ate all of the peaches out of the leftovers, and there's like a cinder block's worth of rock-hard crumble left behind. Certainly it would be useful as something else, because it's just butter, sugar, flour, and cinnamon. But maybe it's time to move on.
I know I said I wouldn't write about music anymore here, but where else am I going to write this?
I'm continuing to stress about an event that may or may not be happening, that's not too too smart of me, is it. But my contribution to this event would be quite a bit more conceptual in nature than what I've been up to lately, and via some routine pre-flight equipment checks I've discovered that my conceptual engine has been left unattended for too long: creatively, I'm feeling woefully underpowered. The fact that some of the other contributors are prodigiously creative is not helping.
Plus this thing includes a collaboration with an as-yet-unknown choreographer, which I've also never done before. And know nothing about. You can see that there are many free hangers dangling in my closet of possible obsessions here, can you not? And, the subject under discussion is all over the news here at the moment because it was his birthday this weekend (well, you know..."birthday"), a new statue of him has just been unveiled, etc. So I can't escape.
Nor should I, b/c I've got to get cracking. So this is an open call for ideas. You'll get credit, I promise. All you have to do is figure out a way to base both a sound and dance piece on 17th century Rationalist philosopher Baruch Spinoza. That's what these comments sections are for, right?
The photo above is a detail of Spinoza's lens-grinding studio in Rijnsburg (taken from Theun de Vries’ book on Spinoza ). I got it from here, which is a good place to go when I want to feel Extra Stupid.
Mmm, not totally excited about it at the mo, but Thanksgiving is coming up, as you may be able to tell because 90% of the blogs in my sidebar are writing about it. I myself am now writing about it in fact.
We're going to our regular 20+ person Thanksgiving across town, and I've been trying to say something diplomatically appropriate about it here for the last few minutes and failing quite steadily. Let's try this: I will just say that you never know who's going to be there, which can be great; and you can never really be sure that what you're cooking will not be cooked by at least one other person, which isn't as great. So it's best to treat your culinary contributions as casually as possible, as in "This old thing? I just threw this together."
Mara and I are making the bourbon peach crumble from earlier and some vegetarian stuffing and gravy. Simple and inexpensive. And that's all I have to say. You'll never know how much was censored from this post.
Anyone who's read more than a few posts out here is probably familiar with our fondness for catfish, and you've probably also heard us complain about the need for a reliable, repeatable, "go-to" catfish preparation.
The search is over, and yes, it was right before my eyes. It's not much to look at, but it's tasty as heck. This is based on a recipe from Epicurious. The original recipe called for 2 cups of julienned ginger, which I didn't have. I did have a jar of preserved ginger, which I used for some of the specified fresh, and I just eliminated the sugar from the recipe.
The turmeric is my addition because we had some in the freezer and my body needed repair. If you don't want to use turmeric, replace it with an equal amount of fresh ginger. Under no circumstances should you substitute dried turmeric for the fresh turmeric in this recipe.
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup peeled, julienned ginger
1/2 cup peeled, finely chopped fresh turmeric (do not substitute dried)
1/2 cup finely chopped preserved ginger (baking ginger)
700 grams catfish fillets, sliced into 1cm-wide strips
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 large onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1/2 bunch scallions, cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
salt to taste
Heat the oil in a wok over medium-high heat. Add the fresh ginger and turmeric and cook, stirring, until brown and crisp, about 7 minutes. Add the preserved ginger and fish and cook for about 3 minutes. Add the soy sauce and fish sauce and stir well. Stir in the onion and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes. Add the red pepper and scallions and cook for another 2 minutes, then serve. It's possible that you could need a little salt...mine did, just the tiniest bit.
Preparing for my first solo* gig in forever this weekend, in Den Haag (The Hague to you and me). The hardest part about preparing for this is getting used to the fact that it's dark at 5pm now, and your mind thinks "Ah, evening! Time to stop working and relax with a fine hearty bock beer and a fine hearty slab of dinner, followed by a fine hearty after-dinner cordial of some sort and then some low-key yet fine and hearty entertainment until the bedtime hour arrives, etc."
* I just found out it's not solo, which is a relief, frankly, My AudioWeevil doesn't arrive until tomorrow, and I've been really uninspired while waiting for it.
Unfortunately, as good as that sounds, there are 4 or 5 good hours of productivity being frittered away in that scenario. And our apartment is lit in the style of say, the second half of Poe's Cask of Amontillado, so what I'm saying is that there are challenges.
I don't think I've ever mentioned my great love for cold milk after midnight. If you catch me in front of the refrigerator after the witching hour, there's a roughly 70% chance that my activities there will be involving cold milk. Assuming we have some in the house, which does not happen all that often. Less than half the time, I'd say. So...70% of less than half the time, I'm involved with milk after midnight.
As we approach our 40th birthday, it's understandable (or at least expected) that we might take a moment to reflect on the current state of affairs re Our Life and its various details. One area receiving some reflection time this morning was that of "current profession", unusually enough.
Occupational wanderlust, let's call it, is something that seems to happen to the Duck every 8 years or so. That sounds like we've been alive for centuries.
OK, well, in his 16 years of post-college professional life it's happened twice, 8 years ago and now. The first time resulted in the ditching of an extremely well-paying job/career and a relocation across the globe in a gesture of uprooting not at all limited to the physical.
Um...can we not do that again? While we can't imagine not having "done this", in that it was truly, profoundly enlightening and wholly integral to our evolution as Real People...yeah, it was pretty hilariously far away from what we were expecting. Oh, invulnerability, overconfidence, devil-may-careitude...where hast thou gone?
Into the soul vaccuum of 2004, that's my guess. Ehhhh....what were we talking about? Occupational wanderlust. Yis. So since my current job could be described as being the opposite of "extremely well-paying", it seems that I've tested the outer possible bounds of this particular parameter and determined that a more moderate value may make some sense.
Once we accept that this probably means "working for someone", then there's the question of...."what to do"? For a while now nothing has materialized when I've rubbed the ol' crystal ball(s) and tried to see something I might like doing, other than the whole music thing, but I can see already how Money Changes Everything WRT that. But then, yesterday I had a bit of a revelation, or at least a verification that there is in fact a non-music subject that I find pretty fascinating in most ways.
You probably know this, but paneer is Indian cheese, made by: adding lemon juice to boiling milk, waiting for curds to form, taking it off the heat, draining off the whey, and wrapping the curds in cheesecloth or similar to continue draining. Amazingly enough, in an hour or two you have a very firm cheese that smells and tastes exactly like what you get at an Indian restaurant, ready to be lightly fried in some ghee and become part of a saag paneer....recipe to follow.
Funny that we talked about fasting this week, we're both cooking like gangbusters. We've got to fill the freezer! In order to hit our weekly Cruciferous Quota, I made Marcella's Red Cabbage and White Bean Soup:
Which is really really good. Kind of a pork-y broth with rosemary, thyme, pancetta, and garlic, and lots of red cabbage. A keeper.
And Mara has been talking about making paneer for about a year now, and it finally happened today. Photos to come.
I have the English teacher’s disease: I couldn’t listen to Obama’s speech without thinking of literary elements. I brought the transcript into my high school classes the next day to reinforce previous lessons about parallelism, repetition, alliteration, and allusion.
I imagined the teacher in class writing pieces of the speech on the board, and the class actually being attentive, caring about a speech because they were excited about the person who spoke it.
This is new, right? An English-speaking person running the country.
That One and I had talked about fasting together this week, but when it came right down to it, today's todo list seemed too daunting without proper sustenance.
Our seriously alcoholic next-door neighbor (you know, "serious" as compared to us dabbling part-timers...I'm guessing there's not much left in his bottle, metaphorically speaking) required a hygiene intervention and, while it's definitely something that you might not want to do after just having eaten, your cleaning fuel's got to come from somewhere, right?
So no fast today. Instead? Mussels again. Mara asked for the same thing as last time, but as you know I don't like to repeat myself. What we have instead is a combination of two recipes: the technique of Bitchin Camero's Mussels with Chorizo and Polenta with the seasoning from Mark Miller's Quail with Chorizo and Blue Corn Stuffing (which he says is also great with clams)....basically switching out the orange from last time with apple, and replacing the smokiness of chipotle with the smokiness of chorizo.
UPDATE: This attempt at synthesis was technically successful, in that the flavors were pretty spot on, but we all agreed that we preferred the chipotle-orange version from a few weeks ago. Could it have anything to do with the stick of butter called for by the previous recipe, we ask ourselves. Maybe. The Butter Queen also missed the tartness of the orange. I think it really came down to the fact that a thinner broth is more dunkable, and also this time around the mussels themselves were less tasty and a bit hard to remove from their shells...but 4.99 euro for 2kg of mussels (roughly 1 euro per pound) is tough to beat.
mussels with chorizo and polenta.
2 tbsp olive oil 1 small yellow onion, chopped 100gr chorizo, chopped (this was not really enough, someone ate some of my chorizo...I'd double it) 2 cups chicken broth 1 cup Pinot Grigio 1 cup unfiltered, unsweetened apple juice 1 cup water 1 tsp dried rosemary, crushed 1 tbsp fresh thyme 1 can tomatoes, crushed 1 small pinch of cinnamon 1 bay leaf 3 cloves garlic, minced a few saffron threads
to finish 1/2 cup coarse polenta meal 2 tbsp butter 1 tsp smoked paprika
When I woke up about an hour ago at 4am, I had a moment of really being happy to see winter. Not that it's terribly cold or anything, but the short days and increasing windiness are starting to assert themselves as unignorable signs that summer is truly not coming back until next year. And this morning's view of dark winter nights came via the pendulum-like swinging of the halogen streetlight suspended just outside our "bedroom" window, rhythmically casting shadows on the ceiling above the bed, and making me glad that I was inside and warm, even though like I said it's not really that cold here yet.
There's a new addition to the family that I've been meaning to tell you about. It's our first extravagant houseware purchase since I don't know, our couch maybe?
In case the 4:45am lighting isn't revealing enough: it's a freezer. A standalone freezer that in one fell swoop multiplies our existing freezer space by a factor of 10 or so.
Having a useful freezer is such a novel concept to us that upon her arrival we started sounding like a bad Caveman Gets Sent to The Future movie: "Mm. So, if I understands this correctly, this device allows you to cook when you feel like it, freeze the results, and then just 'unfreeze' something when you're not in the mood to chop and dice," I said, thoughtfully scratching my chin, really feeling like I'd actually had some sort of observant insight. "Yes, yes...I think I'll call this concept 'leftovers.', etc. etc. etc."
We're still not quite used to her, in that we keep forgetting to make "enough to freeze" of things. I made a very comforting Jewish chicken soup this weekend (my first ever using a whole chicken) but really only ended up with like two bowls' worth of leftovers. From tonight's chili there were no leftovers, which is just stupid.
So tonight's dinner was black bean and duck chili with all the trimmings (actually all 3 trimmings: goat cheese, scallions, and raw sweet onions). It was superb, as it usually is, but there's a problem: I never use a recipe for it. I always try to write down what I did, but I never look at what I've previously written down. Here's today's version.
duck and black bean chili.
1 leg duck confit
250gr dried black beans
1 dried red new mexican chile
1 dried chipotle chile
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp epazote
Scattershot free rag NL20 continues its efforts to occasionally do something useful by selecting the Broodje Pom for this month's taste test. You can imagine my excitement.
But....sadly, like most of the NL20 taste tests, this one can't really be considered truly indicative of anything. The judges aren't both using the same criteria, and they inexplicably seem to factor customer service into their ratings (um, what?), so that our historic favorite Tokoman takes a serious hit due to some perceived mistreatment of the tasters by the owner.
Nonetheless, in the interest of benefit of the doubt giving and all that, here are the top three Broodje Poms as tested:
Another good title for this post can be found in the tags for this post: Spanish Breakfast Nostalgia. Yet another good title would be Can You Believe We Have a Black President, Yo?
A bonus of not having any readership to speak of is that I may freely vent about "sensitive" topics without having to moderate 194 irate comments from people with whom I would never converse in real life (see Ruhlman's pro-Obama post). Nor do I have to listen to people threaten to "delete my bookmark" or stop buying my books, etc. I can just issue a grand, pre-emptive "fuck off" to trolls and delete any comments I don't like. It's awesome!
Thus, a bit about my election experience: I think it's a strikingly "expat" experience to not have daily contact with one single person who wanted McCain to win this election. None, no one. I mean even in Democratic enclaves like Burlington, Vermont or Portland, Oregon, or hell, even south Texas (where Obama won up to 80% of the vote in some counties) you've still got 20% or so of the voting public behind McCain. You're bound to run into them somewhere.
Here? I mean, sure, these guys are probably doing something inappropriately conservative somewhere in our fine city, but judging by the freshness of their website I don't guess there are too many of them for me to run into.
Anyway, commence obligatory uninformed blogger post-election perspective: unbelievable that there will be a black man in the White House, Afros on the White House lawn someday soon, some kind of non-Fleetwood Mac music playing in the Oval Office (don't get me wrong, I loves me some Lindsey and Stevie), etc cliche etc cliche. It's also refreshing to have voted for a candidate that didn't lose.
But for realz: this changes if not everything, then a lot of things. Grammar be darned. Actually that's one of the things it changes: we now have a President who can comfortably and persuasively speak the English language. I thought this was an insightful post comparing Obama's language to Kennedy's.
I'm not quite elated (but then I haven't yet listened to his acceptance speech), but I'm at least relieved, serene-ish, and a teeny tiny little bit proud of America, for the first time in many years. There, I said it.
As for me? Thanks for asking...I'm OK, I give my mood a B minus. Had a terrrrrrible gig last night, my first terrible gig in a long time, maybe one of the worst ever. Scratch that: definitely one of the worst ever. Last night, due to some last minute changes during sound check (after which we did not re-check our sound, amazingly) I couldn't hear a single thing I was playing. And 50 minutes is a very, very long time to be onstage without making any confident contributions. But, as I said to several people last night: it can't always be magic, can it?
Today I am nursing two hungover mooperbirds, myself and That One who is sleeping upstairs at the moment while I make her some torrijas. This is a Spanish version of French toast that we made a few times back when we first started living together, out of a Food and Wine cookbook that is one of the first cookbooks I owned.
The torrijas came out OK, and in fact probably just about as good as any pancake/French toast kind of thing you could possibly make without having any maple syrup in the house. The maple syrup replacement is really the most interesting part of this dish, and its uses extend into other tasty areas as well: we'd bought some really dry dried figs, kind of like rawhide dog chews, that we'd dismissed as inedible. But lo: after poaching them for an hour in torrijas syrup they rocked pretty hard and were an excellent thing to put on H-D vanilla ice cream as we watched Six Feet Under (back on TV here) last night.
figs poached in torrijas syrup.
8-10 large dried figs, either left whole or chopped
1 1/2 cups ruby port
1 1/2 cups orange juice
the zest of one orange, cut in thin strips
1/2 cup black currants
3 tbsp raw sugar
Put everything in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer on low heat for 45 minutes.
Oi. Enjoying a sustained period of really inconsistent cooking, I don't know what's up with me. Concentration and inspiration are proving elusive. I made two recipes from Eric Ripert's new blog last night, and...yeah, I'm pretty sure they tasted alright, but conceptually they were not my usual turf and visually man were they ugly.