Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Squid Eats: Juniper

Juniper Bar and Restaurant is part of the Hotel Vermont in downtown Burlington.  We went this past weekend for a pre-concert dinner before a Vermont Symphony performance.  This was, I believe, my second time at Juniper and my first for dinner.  As a local hangout, I think of it more as a bar than a restaurant.  Not surprisingly, it's a little noisy for a family meal.

The food was good and the service attentive.  I had the buttermilk fried Maple Wind Farm chicken - scrumptious.  I ate the leg before I remembered to take a picture.  I have high standards for fried chicken and they were met: tasty batter, not too salty; dark meat juicy; white meat not too dry.  The breasts were boneless, too, which was nice.  Pyramid cake for dessert, also lovely.  The meal was pricey - not too surprising for a hotel restaurant but still worth noting.

As noted in my most recent State of the Blog post, I am on a quest for the best Manhattan in northwest Vermont.  No real standouts yet but no disappointments either.  Juniper's was perfectly enjoyable, enough so that I had two.  My most interesting discovery in my quest so far is that most people assume I want bourbon whereas I've always made the drink with rye.  "Yeah, bourbon's in," my wife says.  I'm sure she's right but who decides these things?  For the record, Robert Simonson offers the choice in 3-Ingredient Cocktails.  That might well be worth a taste test at some point when I have the time and no need to drive anywhere. 

The concert was nice, too, and it featured a guest conductor: Vinay Parameswaran.  His full-time gig is assistant conductor for the Cleveland Orchestra.  The opening palette cleanser was Rossini's Overture to L'Italiana in Algeri.  The post-intermission warhorse was Beethoven's 6th - not his most famous symphony but probably the most important historically as the beginning of program music.  Lots of wonderful woodwind material which pleased our clarinetist daughter.

The middle piece was the novel treat: Vijay Iyer's Violin Concerto, "Trouble."  The composer himself was on hand (though we didn't know that until it was over) and the soloist Jennifer Koh was the very violinist for whom he had written the piece.  The relationship between violin and orchestra is more symbiotic than in most concertos and Koh's transitions from showcase to ensemble player and back were seamless and artful.  Percussion is featured prominently.

A lovely evening.

Friday, October 26, 2018

A Window Above: Suzy

Title: "Suzy"
Writer: Andrew Ratshin
Original Release: 1984
Band: Uncle Bonsai
Album: Lonely Grain of Corn

Game Designer introduced me to Uncle Bonsai sometime in the early '90s.  I can't say I know much about them: a Seattle-based trio with a snarky, folkish style, one man, two women.  Their songs are often raunchy, irreverent and extremely funny, though this one is rather tame.  Other titles include "Penis Envy" and "Boys Want Sex in the Morning."

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, October 23, 2018

Squid Mixes: Japanese Cocktail

The Japanese Cocktail was invented by Jerry Thomas, AKA The Professor, a famous nineteenth-century American bartender.  Interestingly and coincidentally, I am reading a book about him right now, though I got the recipe from a different book: Robert Simonson's 3-Ingredient Cocktails.  Simonson employs cognac, orgeat (almond) syrup, Angostura bitters and a lemon twist.  We didn't have much cognac left so I topped off with brandy.  When I've made them before, I used The New York Bartender's Guide's recipe which adds lime juice.  The single greatest flavor discovery I have made in mixing drinks is the dazzling combination of almond and lime - definitely a whole-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts situation.  Alas, we had none on hand.  Next time.

There is nothing Japanese about the drink whatsoever, always leaving the name a bit of a mystery.  David Wondrich - author of Imbibe, the aforementioned book about Jerry Thomas - suggests that it was perhaps a marketing gimmick for a Japanese delegation that came to New York in 1860.  There is no proof of this theory.

The drink is yummy.  Brandy is dangerous stuff - essentially liquid candy.  Orgeat is pretty amazing, too - the aroma alone is heavenly.  It is a lot of sugar and the lime juice, when available, certainly cuts into it.  Even without, it's a lovely treat.

Monday, October 22, 2018

On the Coffee Table: Russ Kick

Title: The Graphic Canon, Vol. 1: From The Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons
Editor: Russ Kick

The Graphic Canon is a wonderful concept beautifully executed.  Russ Kick collected and solicited graphic novel renditions of dozens of world literature classics, ranging from antiquity to the late 20th century.  Volume 1 is the first of three in the original compilation.  Two other editions have been released since the first three: one devoted to children's literature, one to mysteries.  The work of industry legends like Will Eisner and Robert Crumb stands alongside that of younger creators.  Shakespeare, Dante and Cervantes are all in Volume 1, as are several relics of oral traditions from around the world.  Religious works - Jewish, Christian, Taoist, Confucianist - enjoy treatment.  Biographical and philosophical, too.  Particularly meaningful for this blogger is the inclusion of several Asian literature classics: Mahabharata, The Tale of Genji, The Arabian Nights, etc.  Kick wrote thoughtful and informative blurbs to introduce each chapter.

The Most Beautiful Rendering award goes to Michael Green for his interpretation of the Sufi poetry of Rumi.  The Does the Most to Inspire My Curiosity in the Original Work award goes to Choderlos de Lacios for Dangerous Liaisons, with an assist to Kick for the blurb.  A lot of high school lit staples are represented but overall the material is decidedly NC-17.  There's no denying it, the classics are frequently dirty, either explicitly or implicitly.  Makes sense.  Sex has been around for a long time.

Friday, October 19, 2018

A Window Above: Father and Son

Title: "Father and Son"
Writer: Cat Stevens
Original Release: September 1970
B-side to "Moonshadow"

Twice now, Marvel movies have made me tear up.  The "Father and Son" scene in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was the first.  The second was the "kid from Oakland" line in Black Panther - helps to know this movie to understand why.

I discovered Cat Stevens in high school.  "Father and Son" was one of the songs we covered in our garage band senior year.  For some in the group, it spoke to the very real tensions we were experiencing in our own families at that point in our lives.  In the original, Cat Stevens sings both parts (apart from the backing vocals) but we did it as a duet.  I played the drum machine on this one.

Stevens wrote it originally as part of a musical project with Nigel Hawthorne about the Russian Revolution.  The song was to be sung between a young revolutionary and his conservative farmer father.  The project was abandoned when Stevens contracted tuberculosis in 1969 but the song survived.  Naturally, Stevens has been asked in the years since if the song reflects his own autobiography but he says his own father was always supportive of him.

I found this wonderful reflection from Stevens in a Rolling Stones interview by Paul Gambaccini:

"Some people think that I was taking the son's side," its composer explained. "But how could I have sung the father's side if I couldn't have understood it, too? I was listening to that song recently and I heard one line and realized that that was my father's father's father's father's father's father's father's father speaking."

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, October 16, 2018

Squid Mixes: Martini

Story time.  The first olive I ever ate was out of my grandmother's martini.  I have no idea how old I was.  9, maybe?  As a kid, I adored fruit of all kinds and her olive looked like a grape so I asked to try.  She agreed to let me, with an impish grin.  Blech!  Ruined me for both olives and gin for years!  Fortunately, I have since come around on both.

When taking on cocktails as a hobby, the martini is, of course, inevitable.  However, neither of us is an especially big fan of the king of cocktails.  I've had it on my list of possibilities for a while and on Sunday, my wife finally said "we might as well get this over with."  The classic recipe is gin and dry vermouth, 6 parts to 1, olive garnish.  You'd better really like gin in order to enjoy it!  I made mine from Robert Simonson's variation in 3-Ingredient Cocktails: 3:1 with a dash of orange bitters and a lemon twist.

The result was, I must say, quite nice.  With the orange bitters (seemingly a favorite of Simonson's), you don't really taste much of the gin.  The lemon's a good choice, too.  The following is a video of me, encouraging the lemon peel to express itself:

Friday, October 12, 2018

A Window Above: Eastside High School Alma Mater

Song: "Eastside High School Alma Mater"
Writer: Catherine Peragallo Miller
Original Release: March 3, 1989
Film: Lean on Me
Original Performers: Michael Best, Kenneth Kelly, Dwayne Jones, Anthony Fuller and Steven Capers, Jr., all credited in the film as "Songbirds", along with Jermaine Hopkins who played the part of Thomas Sams

As magical musical moments in film go, this one ranks high.  Context for anyone who hasn't seen the movie: Lean on Me is based on the true story of Joe Louis Clark, a hard-nosed principal who cleaned up an inner city high school in Paterson, New Jersey.  Among his many commandments, he ordered that every student be taught the school song.  Please watch the scene all the way to the end.  Those of you who know what I do for a living will understand why.

Chorus teacher life win!  Gets me every time.

For Hopkins, the movie was his acting debut.  His mother brought him to the open audition.  The rest of the Songbirds, brought together by the film, formed the vocal group Riff afterwards.  Three of them eventually left to join Men of Vizion.

A couple bonus clips below, the first because it includes a part of the song I'd never heard before and the other because it includes all of the original cast members, 25 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?

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Squid Mixes: Spanish Town Cocktail

A Spanish Town Cocktail combines light rum and triple sec.  My recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide has the two in 6:1 ratio.  I joked to my wife that I wasn't sure which Spanish town it's named for and she replied "an awfully clear one."  It seems likely, though, that it is named for Spanish Town, Jamaica given the rum.

It's a flavorful drink.  With the orangey triple sec, a little bit goes a long way and in this case, there's not quite enough to overpower the rum itself. 

Friday, October 5, 2018

A Window Above: Birdhouse in Your Soul

Song: "Birdhouse in Your Soul"
Writers: John Flansburgh and John Linnell
Original Release: 1989
Band: They Might Be Giants
Album: Flood

They Might Be Giants is the dorkiest rock band of all time and I love them for it.  What can I say?  It takes one to know one.  By the time I discovered them at college in the early '90s, they'd already built a significant underground following.  Flood, their third studio album, was certified platinum which undercuts any act's claim to "alternative" status.  So do the two Grammys they've won.  In the years since, they've found new audiences through television theme songs and outstanding children's music, the rare sort that condescends to no one and is equally enjoyable for both tots and their Yanni-suffering parents.  Through it all, they have remained delightfully true to themselves.

"Birdhouse in Your Soul" is still their best-selling single.  The lyrics are written from the perspective of a nightlight, portraying itself as a guardian angel - admittedly one with limits.  The song is sweet and unapologetically quirky, which really describes most of the band's music fairly well.

Filibuster vigilantly, my friends.

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, October 2, 2018

Squid Mixes: Kangaroo

A kangaroo is another, older name for a vodka martini, which combines vodka and vermouth, dry in this case.  Robert Simonson adds orange bitters for his recipe in 3-Ingredient Cocktails.  In his blurb for the drink, he advocates using the kangaroo name so as not to annoy the martini snobs who would argue it's not the real thing unless it's made with gin.

My wife likes the marsupial name but concedes that James Bond ordering a "kangaroo, shaken, not stirred" would sound kind of dumb.  The famous line first appears in Ian Fleming's fourth Bond novel, Diamonds Are Forever, though 007 is not the one who says it.

The kangaroo is really quite pleasant.  I like Simonson's book but it's quirky.  His measurements are frequently strange.  2.25 ounces of vodka?  It's like he's being deliberately difficult.  Fortunately, I have just the right measuring cups.  There are advantages to working in my wife's kitchen.  The right tool is nearly always on hand.  He also advocates "expressing" the lemon twist before adding it to the drink.  I know that just means to twist it but I can't help adding encouraging words as I do so:

"Express yourself, little lemon peel.  Don't let the other peels tell you who you should be."

And so forth.