Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Squid Mixes: Gin Sling

A gin sling could hardly be simpler: gin, sugar, water and ice.  Mix it all in the serving glass.  If you like gin, it's nice and the sugar is just enough to take the edge off.  Perhaps due to the simplicity, slings were extremely popular in the late 19th century.

The Scamp was late for the photo shoot, then wouldn't stick around once she finally showed up.  Cats...

Friday, March 15, 2019

A Window Above: Pastime Paradise

Song: "Pastime Paradise"
Writer and Performer: Stevie Wonder
Original Release: September 28, 1976
Album: Songs in the Key of Life

If I have written this before, it's always worth repeating: if you wish to understand modern music, you must know Stevie Wonder's work from the early- and mid-1970s.  His legacy extends to pop, rock, R&B, hip-hop and beyond, both in terms of musical elements and technological innovation.  "Pastime Paradise" was one of the first songs to use a synthesizer to sound like a full string section.  The recording features both a gospel choir and Hare Krishna musicians as chanters and bell ringers.

"Pastime Paradise" has been sampled and covered by numerous musicians, most famously by Coolio in "Gangsta's Paradise":

"Weird" Al Yankovic, "Amish Paradise":

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Squid Mixes: Joe Rickey

"Colonel" Joe Rickey was a Democratic lobbyist from Fulton, Missouri.  During the 1880s, he invented this simple drink combining whiskey with lime juice and soda then had bartenders make it for him.  Later, people started making the drink with gin, which ultimately became more popular.  But Joe was always faithful to whiskey.

I used bourbon for our drink, as recommended by David Wondrich in Imbibe!, from which I also got the above history.  We've had gin rickeys before and my wife says she prefers it that way.  I like the bourbon.  Gin doesn't stand up as well to mixers as whiskey does.  I like the fact that with whiskey, you always know it's there.  Even if the flavor fades, that warmth in the back of the throat remains.  I can see how the mellow bourbon is the right choice.  A sharper rye, for instance, might clash more with the lime.

Friday, March 8, 2019

A Window Above: Caravan

Song: "Caravan"
Writers: Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington
Premier: 1936
Original Performer: Duke Ellington

"Caravan" is one of numerous jazz standards written or co-written by Duke Ellington, the king of all bandleaders and arguably the most important musician in American history.  The exotic sounds were unusual for the era and have certainly contributed to the piece's enduring appeal.  Irving Mills wrote lyrics, though they are rarely performed.

The song has been covered by, essentially, every important jazz musician since.  That's why they're called standards.  There are dozens of recordings by Ellington alone.  It would be absurd to attempt an exhaustive list so I offer only a few of the more unusual renditions.

Ella Fitzgerald with the Ellington Band:

The Mills Brothers, a cappella - not exactly an enlightened piece of flim by 2019 standards but musically, wow:

Gordon Jenkins - Mad Men fans may recognize this one:

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Squid Mixes: Gin Sour

This is the same recipe employed two weeks ago for the brandy sour.  Both came from Imbibe! by David Wondrich.  I will admit to being a little skeptical of the gin, lemon combo but it was fine.  The lemon is dominant enough that there's no clash.  My wife described the result as "almost summery," though that did not discourage her from drinking it in winter.

Friday, March 1, 2019

A Window Above: The Gambler

Song: "The Gambler"
Writer: Don Schlitz
Original Release: 1978
Original Performer: Bobby Bare
Album: Bare

While on the Paris subway last summer, I made a joke to my wife and daughter that I would ask a group of buskers if they could sing "The Gambler."  This prompted a Google search for the French lyrics.  After all, the internet was invented for just such a quest.  It became a running joke of our trip.

No, I never did get up the nerve to ask them.

Now, "The Gambler" is one of the iconic songs of 1970s country music but it took a while for the song to catch on.  It took two years of shopping around for Schlitz to find a musician to record it.  Bobby Bare took it on at the urging of children's author Shel Silverstein, of all people but never released it as a single.  Johnny Cash gave it a shot, including it on his 1978 Gone Girl album - again, no single.

Finally, Kenny Rogers got a hold of it.  Whereas Cash's star had faded by the late '70s, Rogers was an industry titan.  "The Gambler" was the second of five consecutive singles to hit the top of the country charts for Rogers.  The record even enjoyed what was, at the time, rare crossover success, reaching #16 on the pop charts.  It is most assuredly the song most closely associated with Rogers now and the one most likely to carry his legacy into the future.

As one who's played a lot of poker over the past few years (see here), the advice in the song is good.

How could I not include the Muppets?

Bobby Bare's original:

Johnny Cash:

No, I never was able to find French lyrics.  But if you're interested, here's a link to a line-by-line translation.

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Squid Mixes: Tweety Bird

A tweety bird combines orange juice, grapefruit juice, pineapple juice, lemon-lime soda and bitter lemon soda with a pineapple garnish.  I got my recipe from Zero-Proof Cocktails by Liz Scott.  The author recommends the drink as a margarita substitute with Mexican or other Latin American fare.  I would go further and say the flavor is superior to most margaritas.

Zero-Proof is fun, more realistic than other mocktail books.  While Scott stresses that fresh juices are best she concedes that store-bought will do in a pinch.  She also makes suggestions for alcoholic additions for several recipes, though not this one. 

Friday, February 22, 2019

A Window Above: Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Song: "Where Everybody Knows Your Name"
Writers: Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo
Premier: September 30, 1982
Peformer: Gary Portnoy
Television Show: Cheers

We've been watching Cheers a lot at our house recently.  I watched the sitcom religiously during the the initial run and it's tremendous fun exploring it with our daughter now.  37 years (!) after the original pilot, it's all too easy to forget how good Cheers truly was.  While I am willing to concede that Seinfeld maintained a more consistent level of quality, the best Cheers episodes are better than the best Seinfeld offerings.  The acting is top-notch.  In this most recent rewatch, I've been especially impressed by Rhea Perlman, the unforgettable Carla Tortelli.  It's the writing that sparkles brightest.  The Sam/Diane banter is frequently Grant/Hepburn-worthy.  What I admire most about Cheers: some of the best episodes are filmed entirely in one room.

The theme song is the best ever - no arguments worth considering.  Not only is the song itself objectively better than all others but no song better matches its show.  "Where Everybody Knows Your Name" was the fourth song submitted by Portnoy and Hart Angelo after three rejections.  The group sound in the chorus is actually Portnoy's own voice, overdubbed six times.  The simple instrumentation was maintained to enhance the intimate feel.

While the show's intro is worth celebrating exactly as is, it would be a shame to leave the full version of the song out of my post:

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

On the Coffee Table: Alejandro Danois

Title: The Boys of Dunbar: A Story of Love, Hope, and Basketball
Author: Alejandro Danois
Image result for boys of dunbar
via Amazon
I am rarely one for impulse buys in general and I am particularly methodical (some would say compulsive) in my book purchases.  But when I learned of The Boys of Dunbar, I knew I had to have it.  It is, among other things, the story of two of my favorite athletes of any sport or era: Reggie Williams and Muggsy Bogues.

Williams was an All-American superstar in both high school and college.  He was the captain of the 1986-87 Georgetown Hoyas, dubbed "Reggie and the Miracles" by their coach John Thompson, the team that made me fall in love with college basketball (more on that here).  He never made it big in the pros, partly due to injuries but more because he was undersized for his natural position, a more common problem than most NBA fans probably realize.  Still, a 10-year career in the league with a double-digit scoring average is nothing to sneeze at.

Williams's best friend growing up in Baltimore was Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues.  It's far more likely  you've heard of him: at 5'3", the shortest player in NBA history.  He outdid his buddy, playing in the pros for 14 years.  He is, by any reasonable measure, one of the most extraordinary athletes who has ever lived.  See video highlights here.

Williams and Bogues were the two best players on what is widely considered to be the greatest high school basketball team of all-time: the Dunbar Poets, 1981-82.  Two other players from that team went on to the NBA.  David Wingate's defensive genius kept him in the league for 15 years.  Reggie Lewis played for the Celtics for six seasons before his life was cut short by a congenital heart defect.  Lewis wasn't even a starter at Dunbar, yet he was the only one of the four to be named an NBA all-star.  The Boys of Dunbar tells the story of this team, its coach Bob Wade and the community from which it spawned.

As a sports fan, I usually pull for the underdog and truth be told, Dunbar wasn't much of one.  The Poets began the season ranked #5 in the country and won all of their games, average margin of victory 30 points.  That's not to say there weren't hardships to overcome.  All of the players came from poverty, East Baltimore suffering from the same drug-fueled violence as many other urban centers in that time period.  Included in the book are the stories of other Dunbar greats whose aspirations were destroyed by addiction.  Long-term success was not taken for granted.

Bogues is the star of the tale.  In the pre-YouTube world, opposing teams often took him as a joke when Dunbar showed up for an away game.  His competitive spirit fueled by the doubts of others, he only needed a few seconds of game time to set the record straight.  Muggsy wasn't merely good enough.  He dominated every game he played at the high school level.  He developed an unconventional approach, knowing that if he played the same way everybody else did, his height would be a liability.  Incorporating not only basketball skill but also the instincts of the champion wrestler he'd been in middle school, he could steal the ball seemingly anytime he wanted it.  He ran the fast break expertly and in the half-court, made sharp passes even his teammates didn't always see coming.  By game's end, the same hostile crowds who jeered him on the way in often gave him standing ovations.  With Muggsy at point guard, Dunbar was literally unbeatable.  In his two years at the school, the Poets had a combined record of 60-0. 

The story connects strongly to both of the college teams I grew up with.  Both Wingate and Williams played on Georgetown's 1984 national championship team, Williams named Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four as a freshman.  Coach Wade went from Dunbar to the University of Maryland, assigned to clean up the program after the death of Len Bias.  Unfortunately, scandal ran too deep for even Wade to handle and he never coached again after leaving the job in disgrace three years later.  Add the triumph of Bogues and the tragedy of Lewis and the '81-'82 Dunbar team remains one of the most remarkable stories in basketball history.

I loved the book, though I was always going to.  If my affection is colored by my affection for the subject, so be it.  While I will concede that Danois could probably have done with a better editor, I would gladly read more books like The Boys of Dunbar.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Squid Mixes: Brandy Sour

The sour began its rise to prominence in the 1860s.  Whiskey was the most common base liquor but brandy, rum and gin sours were also popular.  I got my recipe from David Wondrich's Imbibe: brandy, water, sugar and the juice of half a lemon.  As with many older drinks, it's mixed directly in the glass, though more recent recipes call for shaking.  I prefer whiskey but brandy's nice for a change of pace.

Monday, February 18, 2019

On the Coffee Table: The Fade Out

Title: The Fade Out, Act One
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Author: Sean Phillips
Image result for the fade out act one
via Wikipedia
Comic book noir.

Charlie, a struggling screenwriter, wakes up in an unfamiliar bath tub after a little-remembered evening of drunken carousing.  On the living room floor, he finds a beautiful starlet strangled to death.  As he works to piece things together, the dark, manipulative, misogynist world of late '40s Hollywood unfolds.  Every man's a womanizer.  The studio boss has a casting couch (maybe?) and secret passages.  The more we learn, the more twisted the tale becomes.

The Fade Out is just the sort of story my wife loves so it's no surprise she discovered it first.  Act One collects the first four of the twelve-issue run, originally published from 2014-2016.  So far, the protagonist narrator is one of the least interesting characters though that changes as we gradually learn more about him, including the fact he worked with Clark Gable on his war documentaries.  The artwork is dark and pulpy, a good fit for the genre.  Definitely an R rating: nudity, violence and language.

I'm certainly in for this one through to the end.  Gotta know what happened!

Friday, February 15, 2019

A Window Above: I'm Going to Go Back There Someday

Song: "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday"
Writer: Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher
Original Release: 1979
Performer: Gonzo (voiced by Dave Goelz)
Album: The Muppet Movie: Original Soundtrack Recording

"There's not a word yet
For old friends who've just met."

This song comes up at a low point in The Muppet Movie.  Our felted friends are stranded in the desert, their trip to Hollywood seemingly put on permanent hold.  In a wistful moment, Gonzo sings this song.  It's sad.  It's sweet.  It's beautiful.  It's every bit as enigmatic as Gonzo himself, the tune capturing the mood perfectly but the lyrics not quite connected to the rest of the story.  The scene and song would eventually be used as a premise for Muppets in Space, a film released 20 years later.

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

On the Coffee Table: The Magicians of Caprona

Title: The Magicians of Caprona
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Image result for magicians of caprona
via Amazon
The Magicians of Caprona is the fourth book of Diana Wynne Jones's The Chronicles of Chrestomanci series, according to the author's recommended order.  More on that in a bit.  My previous reflections on the series can be found here and here.

Synopsis: two households, both alike in dignity...  Half-joking but the Romeo and Juliet allusions are undoubtedly intentional.  Caprona is a fictional Tuscan dukedom where two magician families feud.  Furthermore, someone is playing the Montanas and the Petrocchis against each other in an effort to distract both from looming external threats.  Just as with R&J, the story is told from the perspective of the children, drawn together by narrative if not always romantic forces.  Perspective jumps around but if the story has a main character, it is Tonino Montana who is abducted along with his Petrocchi counterpart, Angelica.  As we learn over time, Tonino is a more powerful magician than he or anyone else realizes - a frequent theme in Jones's stories.

Our daughter still claims this series as her favorite and this book as her preference among the bunch.  As a result, the real-world Tuscany was high on her wish list for our family trip to Europe last summer.  While that didn't pan out, her interest hasn't waned.  I enjoyed the story but don't think I would choose it as my favorite.  Jones has a wonderful gift for drawing likeable heroes and detestable villains.  I also appreciate the prominence of cats this time.  She usually favors dogs.  However, there are way too many characters to keep track of - so many uncles and aunts!  Plus, there's a Punch and Judy motif.  That story always creeps me out.

I accidentally read this book out of series order.  I realize that might not seem a big deal to most people but it's the sort of thing that drives me crazy!  In terms of narrative, the order matters little.  Each book is a stand-alone story.  The author, though, did have a recommended order.  Unfortunately, not every publisher has respected her wishes.  The author suggested The Magicians of Caprona as #4, whereas in the edition my daughter owns, it is #3.  In my own compulsive brain, reading a series out of order is a far greater sin than leaving it unfinished.  I'll need to rectify the situation at some point.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Squid Mixes: Pink Lemonade

You're right.  It's not pink.  It smells pink and it tastes pink.  But it doesn't look pink.  Seems a crucial detail.

One benefit of the mocktail hobby is that you can add alcohol to the surplus supply for the adults in the house.  My pink lemonade recipe came from The New York Bartender's Guide: vodka, maraschino liqueur and fresh lemonade.  The liqueur is the key to the pinkness.  It's quite tasty and one could certainly add a splash or two of grenadine if anyone is likely to get hung up on appearances.

"Real" pink lemonade is a contrivance anyway.  Even pink lemons - an actual thing - juice clear.  In contemporary commerce, the color is achieved through artificial chemical magic.  If you're interested in the drink's origins, this article from Smithsonian Magazine offers some unsavory theories.

Friday, February 8, 2019

A Window Above: Wagon Wheel

Song: "Wagon Wheel"
Writers: Bob Dylan and Ketch Secor
Original Release: February 24, 2004
Band: Old Crow Medicine Show
Album: O.C.M.S.

"Wagon Wheel" has an amazing story.  Bob Dylan wrote the melody and the chorus - but no verses, at least not coherent ones - back in 1973.  He never finished the song and therefore never released it but it made it on to a bootleg recording:

The tape came into the hands of a young Ketch Secor some 20 years later when he was a teenager at Philip Exeter Academy.  He wrote the verses and when he and his friends formed the band Old Crow Medicine Show in 1998, the song became part of their standard set.

The song became bigger than the band.  It never got significant radio air play but took on a life of its own, making its way around country/bluegrass/folk circles by word of mouth and was eventually certified platinum.  Seemingly everyone learned to play it, enough that it became a popular song request at all concerts, not just Old Crow Medicine Show's - effectively the acoustic world's "Free Bird."  In fact, it became so cliche that many venues have banned the song.  In 2013, Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish fame released a cover that went triple platinum. 

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Squid Mixes: Lemonade

Fresh lemonade is a beautiful thing.  I remember having it for the first time at a Ben & Jerry's, of all places, in DC's Adams Morgan neighborhood.  The recipe in Kester Thompson's Mocktails is straightforward: fresh lemon juice, sugar syrup and water.  While it is simple enough to buy sugar syrup, Thompson and most others recommend making your own so I did - a little more time-consuming but easy enough. We all like our lemonade tart so a half-cup of the syrup, against a cup of lemon juice, was enough.

For the curious: 1 cup of juice required 3.5 lemons.

Friday, February 1, 2019

A Window Above: Chico Gospel

Song: "Chico Gospel"
Writer: Karisha Longaker
Original Release: February 26, 2009
Band: MaMuse
Album: All the Way

MaMuse is a neo-folk, acoustic duo from Chico, California: Karisha Longaker and Sarah Nutting, both music therapists as well as performers.   "Chico Gospel" was a Pandora discovery for me.

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

On the Coffee Table: William Shakespeare

Title: The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
Author: William Shakespeare
It's Hamlet, arguably the most important literary work in the English language.  It's been in print and in performance for four centuries plus.  Do we really need a plot synopsis?  Surely, you read it in high school or you've watched one of the numerous film adaptations or even been lucky enough to see it on stage, right?  No?  Well, alright...

A ghost appears at Castle Elsinor.  Denmark's most recently deceased king has returned as specter to tell his son, college boy Hamlet, the true tale of his passing.  He was murdered by his own brother!  The brother, Claudius, then married Hamlet's mother, Gertrude, and claimed the throne.  Hamlet was already put off by Mom's too-quick wedding - less so by his own political usurping, interestingly - so this new info only fuels his angst.  He considers murder.  He considers suicide.  He decides on feigning madness in order to mess with everyone (typical teenager...), then schemes with a theatre troupe to trick Claudius into confessing.  Gertrude tries to talk some sense into him but, still enraged, Hamlet "mistakenly" kills Polonius, Claudius's top advisor.  The killing wasn't the mistake.  The target was.  In an effort to cover his own crimes, Claudius ships his nephew off to England with instructions to behead him.  It doesn't work out.  Hamlet returns and now also has to confront Polonius's understandably angry son, Laertes.  Everyone is also upset because Ophelia, Hamlet's "girlfriend" and Laertes's sister, has killed herself.  Hamlet and Laertes duel and everyone in the room dies - only a slight exaggeration.  Rufus Sewell... er, Fortinbras, King of Norway... arrives upon the final, gory scene and restores order.

Oh, so you do know the story.

I don't really mean to be so irreverent.  In my opinion, plot isn't The Bard's strength.  Romeo and Juliet?  Two stupid teenagers fall in love and are dead by their own hands two weeks later.  Macbeth?  Just kidding.  I adore that one.  Hamlet?  The character has been portrayed as both wimp and goon over the centuries but seriously, in the final analysis, the guy is such an asshole!  Poor Ophelia.  If her suicide is over heartbreak, what a waste.

I guess I do mean to be irreverent.

But yes, obviously, the play is amazing, entirely deserving of its stature in world culture.  What is The Bard's genius?  Ask a thespian and s/he will speak of the rich, dynamic characters and the performance instruction subtly embedded throughout.  Ask a literature professor and s/he will speak of the life-altering language.  One can hardly read Hamlet without noting the lines that will live on in reference forever: "Good night, sweet prince," "What dreams may come," "to thine own self be true," etc.  The correct answer is both, of course, and undoubtedly more. 

I hadn't read Hamlet since high school, myself.  Since then, I've seen both the Mel Gibson and Kenneth Branagh films.  I've seen The Lion King as well as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, the latter on both stage and screen.  Hamlet is everywhere if you're looking and, again, deservedly so.  However, I've never seen the play performed live on stage.  I would like to, naturally.  Reading Shakespeare silently on the couch doesn't quite get to the heart of the matter.  At the very least, his work should be read aloud.  We're not that family - yet.

One final note, only a slight tangent, in case you have any doubt of my deep love for Shakespeare.  We recently watched Shakespeare in Love for family movie night, our daughter's choice and her first time seeing it.  For my wife and I, though, it holds a special place in our history.  We went to see it on our first date 20 years ago.  In the years since, much has been made of the controversy over that film winning the the Best Picture Oscar over Saving Private Ryan.  Apparently, Harvey Weinstein worked his sleazy magic in staging that coup. 

Overall, I would mostly agree with those who say Ryan should have won.  It is an unforgettable and undeniably powerful movie.  Its champions rightly point to the hyper-realistic opening 20-minute rendering of the D-Day invasion as one of the greatest film segments in cinematic history.  However, I assert that Shakespeare in Love contains a segment of comparable, if qualitatively different, magnitude.  Hugh Fennyman (played by Tom Wilkinson), Shakespeare's financial backer, is witness to the very first rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet's famous balcony scene.  The look of astonishment and wonder on Fennyman's face is every bit as potent as the hellfire on the beach of Normandy.  The horror of the one doesn't exceed the magic of the other.  The overwhelming death in the one is not inherently more relevant than the celebration of life in the other.  War is not greater than art.  Ryan may still be the better movie - and I think it is - but the D-Day scene is not the reason why.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Squid Cooks: Sausage and Peppers

Another recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything: The Basics and an easy one.  The rolls my wife bought were enormous, a good 10.5 inches long - cut in half, still easily long enough for two sausages.  The only real "work" was chopping and waiting for everything to cook. 

Monday, January 28, 2019

On the Coffee Table: Julia Child

Title: My Life in France
Author: Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme

Julia Child is a hero at our house and frankly, she should be at yours, too.

My wife has been the primary cook in her family since she was 14 and food is her lifelong art and passion.  Using the word "foodie" to describe her always feels trite.  Her love runs much deeper than a hobbyist's enthusiasm.  The only reason I know anything substantive about food and drink myself is that I have lived with her for the past 20 years.  When we went to the Julia Child exhibit at the Smithsonian some years ago, there were honest tears.  No one in our culture did more to bring Old Country reverence for food into the American home than Julia Child.  It's not close.  One of a kind.

Julia Child's memoir My Life in France was half of the basis for the 2009 film Julie and Julia so anyone who has seen it is already familiar with the basics.  Julia and her husband Paul Child moved to France in 1948.  Paul served as exhibits officer at the US Embassy in Paris.  In need of her own interests to pursue, Julia went to cooking school.  Studying led to teaching which led to an ambitious and unprecedented cookbook project: translating French traditional cooking to the needs and capacities of the American home kitchen.  The book led to the public television show which made her a national household name.

The Childs loved France.  Their adventures took them to other, less exciting (for them) spots - DC, Boston, Bonn, Oslo - but love always brought them back to France.  After Paris, Paul had a posting in Marseilles, then later they built a house in Provence.  The story of their marriage is an inspiring one of mutual support and admiration and their time in France always seemed to bring out the best in them.

As one might expect, the atmosphere of the book is light, fresh and humorous.  It's easy to understand why people enjoyed being around Julia so much. However, Julia is not shy about sharing the lonelier side of diplomatic life - relevant to my own family history.  Interestingly, Paul Child worked for the same agency my father did, though earlier and in a different part of the world.  My dad's postings were in Asia.  The rich and fulfilling expat life Julia Child describes in Paris is not unlike what my parents share about their time in Tokyo.  But the times of loneliness are also part of both stories.  Not every post is glamorous.  I have often asked my parents why they left the foreign service and the emotional stress on the entire family of moving all the time is always part of the discussion.

While Julia Child's television appeal is largely due to an exuberant, larger-than-life personality, her overall success was about commitment.  The woman worked her ass off.  She had help from collaborators along the way - her co-authors, her husband, a good editor - but none of it would have happened without her own boundless energy.  Julia Child is often touted as a late-middle-age success story. The first book was published when she was 49.  But the lesson is clear: be ready to work hard!

Friday, January 25, 2019

A Window Above: Help!

Song: "Help!"
Writers: John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Original Release: July 19, 1965
Band: The Beatles

The Beatles story is one of a meteoric rise to unprecedented teen idol fame followed by a gradual transformation into something far more meaningful and enduring.  It's astonishing to ponder the fact that "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "Tomorrow Never Knows" were spawned by the same four young men, just three years apart.  1965 was their cusp year when they shifted from straight up rock 'n' roll to world-changing art rock.  Interestingly, many of the best songs from their entire opus emerged during this time: "Yesterday," "In My Life," "Norwegian Wood," "We Can Work It Out," etc.  The first signs of teeter-totter over that edge could be seen in the lead single from their second feature film.

It's hard to call "Help!" under-appreciated.  Rolling Stone ranked it as the 29th greatest rock song ever in 2011.  Only six Beatles songs ranked above it, plus John Lennon's "Imagine."  (That's right: eight of the 30 best ever were penned by Beatles.  Not exactly surprising but certainly impressive.)  But it's still not usually a song that comes up when people discuss the band's masterpieces.  To me, there are few if any more perfect pop songs in existence: a beautiful melange of the frenetic energy of the early '60s with the Dylan-esque mellow of the decade's latter half.  Have you ever heard the Beatles' Love album, a wonderful collection of remixes created for Cirque de Soleil?  Did you notice that "Help!" is the one song that's virtually untouched?  They may have messed with some of the levels but there's little doctoring compared to the other tracks.  Why?  They got that one right the first time.

Lennon described "Help!" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" as his two most honest Beatles songs.  His one regret with the former was the tempo.  He envisioned it as a slower song.  The studio executives wanted it faster.  Far be it from me to question the master but I think the marketing types were right in this case.

As with nearly all Beatles songs, there have been numerous covers by top acts.  Many seem to think Lennon was right as they have generally employed slower tempos.

Roy Orbison - If you only have time for one of these, don't miss this. It's lovely:

Deep Purple:

Tina Turner:

Back up to tempo... Bananarama:

Vitamin String Quartet:

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Squid Cooks: Roasted Chicken Cutlets

Not much to this one, another recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything: The Basics.  I guess the new skill developed here is the breaded crust.  Easy enough.  One suggested variation I might try sometime: using miso instead of egg as the glue for the bread crumbs.  More seasoning might be nice.  Bittman suggests the typical herbs: tarragon, oregano, rosemary, cilantro or mint in place of the parsley in the basic recipe.  I'm thinking something with a bit of heat would be nice: paprika or old bay, perhaps.

Friday, January 18, 2019

A Window Above: T-Shirts

Song: "T-Shirts"
Writer and Performer: James Smith
Original Release: July 20, 2018

James Smith, now all of 19 years old, made his breakthrough on Britain's Got Talent four series (seasons) ago.  "T-Shirts" was another Spotify find for me.  The far superior acoustic version above was released in August.  The kid can play.  I love the "Blackbird" guitar riffs heard throughout.  Clever.

Below is the original, also quite good:

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Squid Mixes: Cinderella

As noted in my State of the Blog 2018 post, mixing mocktails is one of my major goals in the drinks hobby.  During our Europe last summer, our daughter found many delicious beverages, especially in Paris.  It seemed only logical to learn to make them myself.  Christmas brought with it not one, not two but three recipe books to explore.

My Cinderella recipe came from Mocktails: The Complete Bartender's Guide by Kester Thompson: orange juice, pineapple juice, lemon juice, grenadine and soda water or ginger ale with orange and pineapple garnish.  It's our house so obviously, we picked ginger ale.  All three of the books emphasize the importance of fresh juice.  In truth, so do most books for alcoholic cocktails.  Of course, therein lies most of work.

The resulting beverage was, frankly, fantastic.  There's enough sour from the lemon to keep the sweet from overpowering.  Is it worth the work, though?  We have a wonderful lemon squeezer so that's easy.  There's a lot of knife work with the pineapple but then the blender does the hard part.  The labor is in the oranges.  They're too big for the squeezer so I've got to do those by hand.  I needed six in total.  In answer to the question, it is a lot of work for one drink but not bad for three.  A pitcher for a party would be manageable.  Maybe I just need to sort out the orange issue.

A note for the curious: one pineapple yielded about 14 ounces of juice.

I will concede the fresh juice in itself is worth the effort.  Could one make the drink with store bought juices from concentrate?  In a pinch, sure.  But it's the difference between a drink that is good and one that is potentially amazing.  Amazing is worth the work.

Friday, January 11, 2019

A Window Above: Louise

Song: "Louise"
Writer: Joseph Terrell
Original Release: October 26, 2013
Band: Mipso
Album: Dark Holler Pop

Mipso hails from Chapel Hill, North Carolina where they got to know each other as college students.  I fell in love with "Louise" on one of my rabbit hole explorations on Spotify.  It's a masterful piece of song writing: surprising chord changes, a sneaky little bridge and a life metaphor just as deliciously clunky as the old farm car upon which it's built.  Marvelous.

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Squid Mixes: Whiskey Fix

In Imbibe!, David Wondrich describes a fix as a "short punch," simply a smaller version of the full glass.  I drew from two separate books for my mixture, the generalities from Imbibe! and a few specifics from The New York Bartender's Guide (NYBG).  Wondrich's recipe, originally from Jerry Thomas (1862), indicates sugar, lemon, water and spirits with in-season fruit to garnish.  The "spirits" can be brandy, gin, Santa Cruz rum or whiskey.  Wondrich recommends "plain old domestic whiskey," still not particularly helpful in a country of considerable variety in this product.  NYBG specifies blended whiskey.  The only bottle in our cabinet was Crown Royal - not exactly domestic, though Canada is considerably closer to me than Kentucky or Tennessee.  Okay, admittedly CR is distilled in Manitoba - not close at all.  Still, it's in the cabinet.  It will do.

NYBG is also more specific with the garnish.  Orange twist.  Thank you.

Nice drink.

Monday, January 7, 2019

On the Coffee Table: Alan Furst

Title: The Polish Officer
Author: Alan Furst

Furst's Night Soldiers series continues with this third installment.   My reflections on the first two books are here and here.  Our hero this time is Alexander de Milja, a captain in the Polish army.  We meet him in September 1939, just as Warsaw is falling to the Germans.  He is recruited for intelligence work by the ZWZ, the Polish underground resistance.  His story takes him first on a gold-smuggling train to the Romanian border then back to Warsaw before following the government-in-exile to Paris.  Most of the rest of the book has de Milja in France, based in the capital with jaunts to Brittany.  He returns to eastern Europe for the final act, a stint with partisan guerillas in the forests of Ukraine.

Each of Furst's protagonist so far has played a different role in The Game.  Kristho, in the first book, was an operative working in the shadows, a man of action valued for his brawn and cold decisiveness.  Szara, in the second, was an apparent outsider, a journalist managing the passage of information through a clandestine network.  De Milja, as the title suggests, is a professional soldier offered a choice: go to the front or work the back alleys.  The latter offered the best chance to survive so he took it.  He is smarter than Kristho, more cocksure than Szara and too handsome to fade into the crowd like le Carre's George Smiley.  His work represents more of the craft the romantic associates with the spy narrative.

I enjoyed de Milja's story the most when he was in Poland, though apparently all of the novels in the series must eventually run through Paris.  In fact, all visit the Brasserie Heininger, based on the real-life Bistro Bofinger.  The France chapters pose an interesting historical question: what is it to work for a government which, at least for the time being, doesn't exist?  In fact, we know 70+ years on that particular Polish government won't even return to power once the war's over.  Of course, de Milja couldn't know that.  He is a soldier loyal to his country.  That's all that matters.

Of the three books so far, I would say I enjoyed this one the most.  I am certainly up for continuing the series, though my wife was less impressed by the next book, The World at Night.

Friday, January 4, 2019

A Window Above: Variations on an Original Theme

Piece: Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36
Composer: Edward Elgar
Premier: June 19, 1899, London

Elgar wrote his masterpiece, better-known to the masses as Enigma Variations, just as he was on the verge of giving up as a composer.  As noted in the title, he wrote the theme himself, then set the variations as dedications to his friends and loved ones, including both his wife and a friend's dog.  The star of the show is "Nimrod," dedicated to his friend Augustus J. Jaeger, a music editor.  Elgar valued Jaeger for his willingness to offer severe criticism when necessary.  Jäger is German for hunter and Nimrod was a mighty hunter in the Old Testament.

The piece is knock-your-socks-off stunning and we've had the great pleasure of hearing it live twice in the past year, once by the VSO and once by a youth orchestra.  At the youth orchestra concert, there was an older gentlemen sitting behind me who couldn't see the stage well and also clearly didn't have much experience at classical music concerts.  His daughter (I assume) was offering explanations and descriptions between pieces.  But he understood "Nimrod" just fine.  After it was over, I heard him whisper simply, "Wow!"

Side story: have you ever wondered how the name of a mighty hunter came to be an insult?  It's all Daffy Duck's fault (thanks, Mock!):

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Thursday, January 3, 2019

On the Coffee Table: Andrew Tobias

Title: The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need
Author: Andrew Tobias

As I have written before, I don't understand high finance at all.  It's not the numbers.  I adore math.  It's simply that I've never had any money to invest so I've never needed to learn much.  However, through the work of Michael Lewis, I have come to enjoy reading about the financial world.  After all, I'm not exactly likely to become a professional baseball player, dragon treasure burglar or galactic hitchhiker either.  I can still enjoy the books about such characters.  So, when my mother gave me this Andrew Tobias treatise in an effort to clear out her own bookshelves, I figured why not?

Fortunately, much like Lewis, Tobias is an engaging and humorous writer.  Even better, for someone like me, he has plenty of sensible advice for saving money in the first place.  The title is tongue-in-cheek.  Tobias offers no magic formula for getting rich and readily admits to his own spectacular failures.  Instead, he offers simple, practical advice - mostly, how not to get hosed.  He asserts there are way too many authoritative-seeming books on the market while most people just need to remember a few basic principles and follow their own common sense.  Or be Warren Buffett.  If you can manage to simply be Warren Buffett, you're all set.

There's advice for those of means, too.  I didn't understand most of it but I am assuming it's equally sage.  As a cover-to-cover read, it wasn't half bad.  I laughed out loud several times and made it through quickly.  I'll keep the book around for reference.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

On the Coffee Table: Émile Zola

Title: The Belly of Paris
Author: Émile Zola

The Belly of Paris was the third in a 20-volume series for Zola, the 19th-century French novelist.  Florent, a mistakenly exiled revolutionary, returns to Paris to begin a new life.  Zola has built for him a rich and textured world in Les Halles, the city's enormous central market.  Florent's brother and sister-in-law run a charcuterie and bring him into the fold, with mixed degrees of enthusiasm.  The neighborhood runs on gossip and intrigue and Florent is quickly in over his head - though he doesn't usually realize it.

The world building is excellent and the description of each food stand is richly detailed.  The story, however, lacks in nuance.  In the end, it all seems a twisted allegory for the plight of the revolutionary spirit during the oppressive Second Empire.  The tale ends much as it began with little change for most involved, though perhaps worse off in a few cases.  It is a morality play without temptation.  Florent bumbles along with little idea of the machinations of scheming women around him.  When his reckoning comes, it's not shocking.  It's inevitable.  No Huck-like moral crisis along the way.  He is principled and careless.  Oh well.

The tour of Paris is fun, though I doubt I'll visit Zola's work again.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Squid Mixes: Bishop

Happy New Year!

Another case of a slight change in recipe resulting in a new name for the drink, the only significant difference between this drink and last week's is the lack of rum.  My wife's question was whether it's truly a punch without the rum - perhaps more of a wine cooler.  Not that that's a bad thing.  It's definitely juicier this way.

I got my recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide