Friday, June 22, 2018

A Window Above: So Lonely

Song: "So Lonely"
Writer: Sting
Original Release: November 2, 1978
Band: The Police
Album: Outlandos d'Amour

"So Lonely" is my favorite Police song.  It's a great song but my affection is owed entirely to nostalgic memories of my own high school garage band and one of the best summers of my life.  Game Designer and I had a band with two other friends, a pair of identical twins, senior year.  I was the lead singer - mostly by default as I didn't actually play an instrument.  Well, I did, but ours wasn't a funk band so the trombone wasn't much use.  We more or less perfected six songs by the time we all left for college and "So Lonely" was one of them.  The vocal line is on the high side, a bit of a stretch at that point in my life.  Both the bass line and the guitar solo are fantastic and remind me of the twins who played them with us.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Squid Cooks: Seared Scallops with Pan Sauce

Across the board, I am a far pickier eater than my wife but there are a few things I like a lot more than she does.  Scallops are high on that list.  As she was out of town for work recently, it seemed like a good time to try this recipe.

Scallops, like shrimp, are pretty easy and you don't even have to worry about peeling them.  My recipe came from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything: The Basics.  Learning how to make a sauce is fun, though I'm not entirely sure I'm doing it right.  The end result was tasty so I suppose I can't be too far off.

Daughter was only moderately impressed - chewy, she said.  She ate all of hers - no seconds, though.

Monday, June 18, 2018

On the Coffee Table: George Orwell

Title: Down and Out in Paris and London
Author: George Orwell
Orwell is, of course, best known for his fiction classics, 1984 and Animal Farm.   This was my first experience with the author beyond those.  Down and Out in Paris and London was his first full-length work.  First published in 1933, the book is a memoir of the author's relatively brief experiences with poverty, first in Paris, then in London.

During his Paris adventure, the narrator eventually finds work in the restaurant industry, first in a large hotel, then in a newly opened establishment.  This material is, as my wife, expert in both reading and cooking, puts it, one of the cornerstones of food writing.  The pirate ship atmosphere of the professional kitchen would be familiar to anyone who has read more recent cook memoirs.  It would seem little has changed over the decades since, though I rather hope stricter enforcement of health regulations have had some impact.  In London, the narrator lives as a tramp for several weeks, moving from one wretched shelter to the next as his means allow and the law requires.  In both cities, his descriptions of the pathetic squalor of life among the poor are vivid and memorable.  The fun is in the colorful characters he encounters along the way.  It's Orwell so, naturally, there is plenty of social commentary on offer, too.

One recent writer who specifically cited the influence of this book on his own work was, of course, Anthony Bourdain.  Kitchen Confidential was my own introduction to food lit and I would still rate it among the best books I've ever read.  My wife and I went to see Bourdain at a book signing in New York in what must have been 2001 and were big fans of his TV travel shows for years.  Bourdain obviously didn't invent the foodie movement of the late '90s and early aughts but he is the guy who made it cool for the alterna-crowd of my generation.  For me, he was an inspiration as a writer, a traveler and a food enthusiast.

May he rest in peace.

Friday, June 15, 2018

A Window Above: Wig in a Box

Song: "Wig in a Box"
Composer: Stephen Trask
Musical: Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Premier: 1998, Off-Broadway

We have never seen the stage show Hedwig and the Angry Inch but we did watch the film adaptation a few years ago.  The book was written by John Cameron Mitchell, drawing on his own experiences as an army brat in both Berlin and Kansas.  Mitchell also directed and played the starring role on both stage and screen.  In a funny connection with a previous post in this series, Mitchell made his own Broadway acting debut as Huck Finn in Big River.

The story is extraordinary: Hedwig has disastrous lovers, a botched sex change and a topsy-turvy performing career while trying to build a quasi-normal and happy life.  Stephen Trask's music is wonderful, drawing inspiration from David Bowie, John Lennon, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. 

"Wig in a Box" is the showstopper.  Apparently, the song occurs at different points in the stage and film versions but at an emotional low in both cases.  There are many videos of stage performances, including Neil Patrick Harris in the show's Broadway revival, but I love the film version:

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

On the Coffee Table: Riad Sattouf

Title: The Arab of the Future 2: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1984-1985
Writer and Artist: Riad Sattouf
This is the second volume of Sattouf's childhood memoir.  My reflection on the first is here.  The Sattouf family spent 1984-1985 living in Syria, though the book does include one trip back to France to visit the grandparents.

The insights into Syrian life are interesting: the differences between urban and rural society in the Arab world, the status of women in a traditional family, schools, etc.  The book is good but not exactly gripping.  I'm curious about Riad's world but there's no strong, broader story to latch onto.  I want more of a reason to care than I'm getting.  There is a third volume out now that covers 1985-87.  I think I'll take a pass, at least for now.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Squid Mixes: Trilby Cocktail

The Trilby cocktail comes in many forms.  It is essentially a Manhattan variant, though what exactly varies is not consistent.  My recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide switches out the rye for bourbon.  Other versions use orange bitters rather than Angostura.  It's tasty.

Friday, June 8, 2018

A Window Above: Promises I've Made

Song: "Promises I've Made"
Writer: Emitt Rhodes
Original Release: 1970
Performer: Emitt Rhodes
Album: Emitt Rhodes

"Promises I've Made" was a Pandora discovery for me.  I loved it so much that I couldn't believe I'd never heard it before!  After all, late '60s and early '70s pop is my wheelhouse (in case you haven't noticed).  One would think a McCartney-derived song by such an obviously gifted artist would have come across my path before.  But no.  I'd never even heard of Emitt Rhodes, though I learned soon afterwards that his song "Lullaby" (same album) had been featured in The Royal Tenenbaums.

The Emitt Rhodes story is a sad one, that of a huge talent chewed up and spit out by a heartless recording industry.  His first album met with considerable critical and modest commercial success, peaking at #29 on the pop charts.  Like his musical hero Sir Paul, Rhodes played and sang all of the parts, then over-dubbed.  However, because of this time-intensive process, he was unable to meet the demands of his contract.  Dunhill, the recording company, sued him and withheld royalties.  Understandably embittered, he moved on to other things, working mostly as an engineer and producer for Elektra Records.  There is an apparently excellent documentary about Rhodes called One Man Beatles, available on various streaming services.  I haven't watched it yet but I'm curious.