Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Squid Mixes: Chai Toddy

My sister has suggested that we pick a cocktail for our family gathering this Christmas.  After a too long summer, it's finally cold enough in New England to start thinking about warm drinks.  My initial thought was something along the lines of Irish Coffee but my wife suggested this chai toddy as a nice way to offer an appealing non-alcoholic alternative for the kids.

My recipe - combining chai with brandy, dark rum, heavy cream and sugar - came from Making, a knitting magazine.  The drink is certainly pleasant and it made me quite sleepy.  We might also try out a hot chocolate possibility.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: December 2017 Blog List

Greetings to all!  I hope you'll join us for the next installment of the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, an online gathering of bloggers who love books.  The next meeting is set for Friday, December 29th.  If you're interested, please sign on to the link list at the end of this post.

The idea is simple: on the last Friday of each month, post about the best book you've finished over the past month while visiting other bloggers doing the same.  In this way, we'll all have the opportunity to share our thoughts with other enthusiastic readers.  Please join us:

Friday, November 24, 2017

Cephalopod Coffeehouse: November 2017

Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the works they enjoyed most over the previous month.  Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.  If you wish to add your own review to the conversation, please sign on to the link list at the end of my post.

Title: The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984
Author and Artist: Riad Sattouf
via Amazon
This is the first of two volumes of Riad Sattouf's graphic novel childhood memoir.  Sattouf spent parts of his childhood in France (his mother's homeland), Syria (his father's) and Libya.  As such, he provides a vivid contrast between the first and third worlds of the late '70s/early '80s.  France seems like a paradise compared to the frequent power outtages, poor water and sanitation and sketchy governments of the Arab world. 

While the cross-cultural experiences are certainly interesting, the more interesting story is the drama within Riad's own home.  His father is quite a colorful character: ambitious and a bit rough around the edges.  At times he comes across as almost progressive but he is not shy in expressing his bigotry towards Jews and he has a surprisingly sympathetic view towards Arab dictators.  Riad's mother's story is darker.  He hasn't said as much yet but she appears to be heading towards a severe depression.

The artwork is minimalist, yet engaging.  Sattouf likes potty humor, which I do not but it's infrequent.  I'm definitely interested in the second book which covers 1984-85.  A third book is scheduled to be released soon as well.

Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month.  This month's link list is below.  I'll keep it open until the end of the day.  I'll post December's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is December 29th.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Squid Mixes: Mary Pickford

The Mary Pickford is a Prohibition Era cocktail combining light rum, Maraschino liqueur, pineapple juice and grenadine.  It's pleasant, quite fruity.  The pineapple is the dominant flavor, despite being in equal parts with the rum.  I got my recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide
via Wikipedia
The drink is named after the famous Canadian-American film actress.  She was one of the biggest stars of the silent era, one of the founders of United Artists and winner of the second ever Academy Award for Best Actress.  The drink was created for her at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba in Havana.

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Window Above: Reformation Symphony

Piece: Symphony No. 5 in D major/D minor, Op. 107 (Reformation)
Composer: Felix Mendelssohn
Premier: 1832

For the first 30 years of my life, I experienced music as a performer, a listener, a student, a conductor, a teacher, a consumer.  I never imagined that experiencing music as a parent would be so different from everything else.  Mind you, I've been eager to know what part music might play in my daughter's life from the beginning.  At the ultrasound when we first learned we were having a girl, I instantly realized that it was the least of what I wanted to know about her.  What's her favorite color?  What's her favorite ice cream flavor?  And, of course, what instrument will she want to play?

As it turned out, the answer was quite a lot of them.  Over the years, she's played around with the violin, the saxophone, the harmonica, the recorder and on and on.  At this point, she's pretty settled on three: piano, clarinet and bass clarinet.  But, I know she'd play more if there were just more time in the week.

Now 14, she's getting to be pretty good.  I don't say this to brag.  I get annoyed when people brag about their kids, even with myself.  I don't feel her story is truly mine to tell anymore.  My wife and I are certainly stakeholders.  We supplied DNA.  We pay for instruments and lessons.  We drive her all over northwest Vermont, it seems.  We make her practice and cheer her on.  But she's the one doing the work and if she were ever doing music just to please us, it stopped being about that a long time ago.  Her love is genuine and her own talent, work ethic and passion are plenty enough to carry her far.  I was always a kitchen-timer practicer with music.  As soon as the time was up, I stopped.  Not her.  She'll keep playing.  Because she loves it.  I figured out a long time ago: that's really the only good reason to do it at all.

As we watch her progress with each difficult piece mastered, each audition passed, each hurdle cleared, there is certainly pride.  But increasingly, my feeling is one of awe and, I can't deny it, envy.  She has found her musical path a lot sooner in life than I did, not to mention the drive to follow it.  Who knows where it will take her or how long she'll stick with it?  But for now, it makes her happy, gives her a sense of pride and belonging.  Not everyone has that at her age, or any age.  She's not even old enough to appreciate how lucky she is.

This past summer, she got into a local youth orchestra.  She now has the opportunity to play with similarly motivated musicians once a week.  Together, they get to play more sophisticated music than she's likely to see in her school band program for a long time.  In their first concert, they performed the exquisite fourth movement of Felix Mendelssohn's "Reformation" Symphony, his fifth.  The following was performed by the New Philharmonica Orchestra, conducted by Riccardo Muti:

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Squid Mixes: Horse's Neck

This one is seemingly all about the garnish, a long strip of peel from a single lemon, the end draped over the rim.  The drink itself is basically a highball: blended whiskey, ginger ale, Angostura bitters. Quite tasty, though the garnish is too much work.  In pictures I've seen, the strip is longer and thinner.  With practice, I'm sure I could learn but it doesn't seem worth it.  My recipe was from The New York Bartender's Guide.

The drink dates back to at least 1890.  Originally, it was a non-alcoholic beverage.  Brandy or bourbon was added by the 1910s. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

A Window Above: Piano Concerto in A minor

Piece: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16
Composer: Edvard Grieg
Premier: April 3, 1869, Copenhagen

The day I took the train to Rochester, New York for my grad school audition at Eastman, the city had a 48-inch snow storm.  Even after 15 Vermont winters, that's still the most I've ever seen in a single day.  What was already a surreal weekend among the musically gifted was made even more so by the crazy weather.  Of course, it's western New York.  There are no snow days.  Life goes on.  Get your boots on and get your sorry ass out there.

Eastman was an extraordinary experience for many reasons.  In truth, I was way out of my league.  The Eastman School of Music, part of the University of Rochester, is one of the best conservatories in the world.  I'll spoil the ending: I didn't get in.  But my weekend trip was most enjoyable.  I even made a small group of friends among the other auditioners.  I kept up with one of them, a piano accompanist, for a little while afterwards.  I don't remember his name.  Otherwise, I'd track him down on Facebook.

The most memorable part of the trip was not the weather or in fact anything to do with my audition.  The highlight was a concert.  That particular weekend, the Eastman Orchestra was featuring the winners of its annual concerto competition.  Naturally, we all went.

The soloists included two violinists and a pianist.  The first two, both master's candidates, were thin, wispy, East Asian women in sexy, elegant, slinky dresses.  They dressed for success and played to match.  Perfectly satisfying.

Then the third came out, the pianist.  She was a doctoral student from Hong Kong and, frankly, she looked silly: geeky glasses and a red dress with little yellow pompoms all over it.  She bounced around, grinning wide and waving at the audience like a five year old.  As one of my companions said, you really didn't want to take her seriously.  But then she sat down to play.

Oh... my... lord!

From the instant her hands hit the keyboard, every jaw in the audience was on the floor.  Mind you, Grieg's Piano Concerto is one of the world's true kick-ass pieces.  She owned every note.  We were putty in her hands.  I have never seen an audience jump to its feet as quickly as we did and never was a standing ovation more richly deserved.  The evening was hers.

My daughter knows this story and knows how important the piece is to me as a result.  Our first Vermont Symphony concert included the Grieg Piano Concerto on the program.  This past spring, she learned a reduction of the piece herself.  The first time I heard her play it at her lesson was one of those moments when I knew I have lived my life well.  Sometimes, I second-guess decisions I have made but every choice that led to her playing the Grieg was undoubtedly the right one.  

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Squid Mixes: John Collins

John Collins or Tom Collins?  The same drink or not?  It's hard to tell.  The New York Bartender's Guide makes a clear distinction.  John incorporates blended whiskey, Tom gin.  The official IBA recipe for John, though, calls for gin.  Both drink names date to the 1860s and have been popular enough to inspire their own glassware: the Collins glass.

I mixed the whiskey version.  It tasted a lot like last week's sour, though less sour.  The whiskey-to-lemon juice ratio is the same, 2:1.  No doubt, the addition of sparkling water dilutes the sourness a bit.

Friday, November 3, 2017

A Window Above: Make You Feel My Love

Song: "Make You Feel My Love"
Writer: Bob Dylan
Original Performer: Billy Joel (as "To Make You Feel My Love")
Release Date: August 19, 1997
Album: Greatest Hits Volume III

I would not say I'm an Adele fan, though I do find her easier to take than many of her contemporaries.  I don't always care for the songs but there's no denying the woman can sing.  This song isn't even close to her biggest hit.  But it is her best.  At 19, she took a song written by music royalty, recorded by industry giants and made it all her own.

As heart-wrenchingly beautiful as the melody is, I mostly love this song for its lyrics.  While it's easy enough to envision the song being sung to a lover, I perceive greater depths.  Listen to the song again, this time imagining it sung parent to child.  Listen once more, this time as a message from a god to a reluctant believer.  It works pretty well for all three.  One could probably find other possibilities.  The mixing of religious devotion and earthly love - even lust - within the same text is a trick as old as the troubadours, probably older.  Doctor Robert is an old soul and I wouldn't put it past him, though I haven't found anything to confirm any intentional hidden meanings.  That they work anyway speaks to his remarkable genius.

I have included three clips below: the song's two most famous pre-Adele performers and the composer himself.  Yes yes, we all know Dylan's music is best sung by other people.  That doesn't change the fact that he is, at worst, Top 3 among living songwriters.