Best of 2009... waiting

It takes me a couple months to get settled into a new year. It also takes me a couple years to get settled into a new decade. I didn't figure out it was the 80s until about 1983. I think I was a little more aware of the 90s and was wearing plaid flannel and All-Stars by the rainy summer of 1991. I'm still waiting to grasp the particular zeitgeist of the naughties, but when I do, I'm guessing it'll start in 2002 or so. That's also the year I left the city for Vermont and kinda got my act together as an adult.

So it's 2009. When I came up with my Best Singles of 2008 list, the 3 acts that were obvious from almost the very first listen were Cut Copy, Vampire Weekend and MGMT. Looking back at my handy playlists, I find that I was already in love with Cut Copy by mid-April 2008. I had devoted myself to MGMT and Vampire Weekend by June. So I'm wonderin', who is the Cut Copy of 2009? I guess this is kind of a teaser post because I really don't know yet. This year's music still has to grow on me, but I have hope. I keep an eye on Better Propaganda and My Old Kentucky Blog. I also like gorilla vs. bear and The Yellow Stereo and Largehearted Boy. And a helpful friend reminded me to check out the SXSW lineup. I'm feeling that 2009 is going to gel for me soon, and then I'll be reeling off the recommendations like I always knew whazzup.

Here's the playlist from last week's Beef Jerky Time, 3*25*09:

Butternut Pasta with Sage and BACON



In my endless cold-weather quest to find things to do with butternut squash, I tried a new recipe from the January/February 2009 Cook's Illustrated. It's called "Pasta with Butternut Squash and Sage." My fellow diner thought this title was lacking because it does not mention the ever-important ingredient called BACON. So be forewarned/comforted that this has bacon in it, too. Here's my mise en place:



The main notes in this recipe are butternut squash, nutmeg, sage and bacon. Some lemon juice and toasted almonds also offer subtle dimension to the dish. For the pasta, I chose penne as the recipe suggests--but I made mine whole wheat because I like my whole grains.

For the first part of the recipe, I made the recommended "crispy bits" of bacon lardons with sage leaves thrown in.



I think it would be safe to add twice as much sage to this recipe. I didn't find sage flavor to be a big standout in the finished dish. Perhaps it would help to bruise the sage leaves a bit first, though this is usually the sort of thing Cook's Illustrated makes a point to mention. Heck, I might want to double the bacon, too.

Another unique CI idea was caramelizing the squash in the bacon grease. Perhaps I broke the recipe's rule by using a Dutch oven instead of a 12-inch skillet, but my squash didn't really caramelize or even brown. Maybe temperature was a problem. I have a new gas stove that is always trying to secretly burn things, so I sometimes cook things too low.



In the end, this made a decent meal, though if I make it again I'll use half the pasta because the squash, sage and BACON seemed to get a little lost in all the penne. At the end I was kind of tempted to throw hot pepper flakes on everything, but I restrained myself. This has nice flavors on the subtle side. Since I usually get overpowered by the sweetness of butternut squash, the relative delicacy here was just fine.



I'm submitting this to Bookmarked Recipes, a blog event where anyone from anywhere can blog about a recipe they had bookmarked from a cook book, food magazine, food blog, food website, from TV etc, make it and submit it to a weekly roundup. This edition hosted by Ivy at Kopiaste.org.

National Women's History Month


March is National Women's History Month, as the Web site at www.nwhp.org will tell you. So all tracks for this edition of Beef Jerky Time are by women. It made for a really fresh and amazing show. The new St. Vincent in particular, from her album which drops May 5, is blowing me away this week. SO GOOD. Click right below to stream from her Myspace page!

3*18*09 playlist
  • The Strangers: St. Vincent
  • God Has a Voice, She Speaks Through Me: CocoRosie
  • We Got the Beat: Go-Go's
  • Boyz: M.I.A.
  • Big Guns: Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins
  • Let It Fall: Lykke Li
  • Fantastic Cat: Takako Minekawa
  • My Favorite Town Osaka: Shonen Knife
  • 1000 20th Century Chairs: Kahimi Karie
  • Anticipate: Ani diFranco
  • Mule Skinner Blues: Dolly Parton
  • Unstoppable: Santogold
  • Wuthering Heights: Kate Bush
  • Birds of Prey: Von Iva
  • The Greatest: Cat Power
Just one regret--that I didn't discover Róisín Murphy in time to play her on this show. She is my new icon. Witness her moves in this video right around the 1 minute mark.

Running: The Soundtrack

Have you heard the news? SPRING might possibly be here. Soonish. Here's my evidence. Planted it last fall, never expecting this day to come!! (!!!) !!



I started running again. It seems to take a couple weeks for my body to get used to the new attention. At first I get chest pains, then skeletal pains (back, joints). Then things settle down and I start to get faster and fitter. For the record, I'm in the skeletal pains portion right now.

My new ipod (free from the bank, it's the new steak knife!) is really helping both my running and my commuting. I fill it up with lots of tunes and podcasts. I've arranged a bunch of high-octane songs into a running mix that really keeps me going faster and longer than I can go without music. Sometimes if I hit a really good song I even get a runner's high. It's a fabulous feeling that only happens now and then. And listening to loud fast music is definitely a requirement. (It feels like having 3 perfect espressos hit all at once, my scalp gets all tingly and I can GO! Then it goes away.)

Last week's Beef Jerky Time (3/11/09) was a little review of the more radio-friendly songs from my running playlist:
  • Lazy Lover (Brazilian Girls Free mix): Brazilian Girls
  • L.E.S. Artistes (XXXChange remix): Santogold
  • Make It So (XXXChange remix): Daedalus
  • Far Away: Cut Copy
  • Great DJ: The Ting Tings
  • Banquet: Bloc Party
  • Bubble Pop Electric: Gwen Stefani (f. Johnny Vulture)
  • Around the World: Daft Punk
  • Ray of Light: Madonna
  • Fa-Fa-Fa: Datarock
  • Fergalicious: Fergie

Cut butter, save $$

Maybe this is obvious to you. But when I thought of it I felt like a genius! Here's the issue: butter seems to be getting more expensive these days. EXCEPT if you're willing to buy it in 1-pound chunks. That kind seems to be about a dollar cheaper. Maybe it's because where I shop the 1-pound kind is from a less health-foody company. It's just plain old buttah. But here's my problem: A pound of butter is just too much to have lying around. We like to keep a small butter dish on the counter for spreading on toast or frying eggs or whatnot. It only fits one 1/2 cup stick of butter though. What to do?

Here is my brilliant brainwave. Cut the butter. Let me take you through step by step.

Start with a pound of butter.



Slice out one "stick" worth at a time.



Put the "stick" in your butter dish where it fits so perfectly.



Sit back and let the savings roll in.

Fighting Off a Cold



I'll start by saying that I lost the fight. But every time I start to feel a little sick I try a special drink that I really believe staves off sickness for a little longer. I'm convinced that if I were very diligent about drinking this 2-3 times a day at the first sign of cold (with me, that's a sore throat), I could actually beat it back completely. Here's the recipe. Simple, possibly effective.

Ingredients and assembly

In a mug, combine the following:
  • juice of half a lemon
  • generous spoonful of honey
  • very generous shake of cayenne pepper. Put in what you think you can handle, then add more.
  • hot water to cover.
Stir, sip, stir, sip. Keep stirring to keep the cayenne in suspension, otherwise your last sip will be on FIRE.

Everybody loves chicken nuggets

One of my family members has only been eating "people food" for about the past 18 months, and I worry about her getting enough variety and healthy foods. One of my main concerns is lunch. We pack it for her to take to daycare, and it is well established that hot dogs, peanut butter & jelly and mac & cheese are good bets. But I'm looking for more variety. So, I made my own chicken nuggets. I had help from the website Wholesome Toddler Food, which lists food ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Since it is common knowledge that most little people love chicken nuggets, I decided to try them. The site even claims these can be frozen for future use. I modified the recipe somewhat with reference to Jessica Seinfeld's book Deceptively Delicious, which also has a chicken nugget recipe. Here's what I came up with (and they were a hit!).

Ingredients
3 boneless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
3 slices whole wheat bread
2 T grated parmesan cheese
1/2 t paprika
salt and pepper
2 eggs
1/4 cup cooked butternut squash (optional)

Assembly
Preheat oven to 375˚
Tear up the bread and put it in your food processor with the cheese, paprika, salt and pepper.




Blend until everything is mixed together fine.
Beat the 2 eggs together with the butternut squash. This ensures your family gets a tiny amount of vegetables during the day.
Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray (or just oil it).
Set up an assembly line with the chicken chunks, egg mixture, bread crumbs and cookie sheet.



Assemble nuggets by coating chicken chunks with the egg mixture, rolling in the breadcrumbs and then placing on the cookie sheet.



Continue until all chicken is coated.

Bake for 20 minutes until the nuggets are golden brown. I like to then turn the oven off and leave them in there for another 5 minutes or so to make sure the chicken is cooked through. Below, lower right nugget has been turned to show perfect browning on the bottom.

My radio show: so much to love

A few notes on the following 2 playlists for my weekly radio show, Beef Jerky Time (WVEW). First, I learned a lot from the show I did back on Jan. 28th. I didn't mention it in my post for that show, but I forgot the main CD of new music I was planning to play that day. As a result I was forced to go to the WVEW vinyl stacks and pull out some older stuff. The show turned into a really fun mix and I got a lot of good feedback. It reminded me what Beef Jerky Time is supposed to be--a smorgasbord of musical selections from a range of eras and styles that makes everybody happy at least some of the time. So I'm consciously working on that, cuz it rocks.

Second, I was excited to discover "Well Thought Out Twinkles" by Silversun Pickups. I've gotten so used to electronic sounds that it was a pleasant surprise to hear a band that actually seems to play instruments. They sound so 1992 to me, in a good way. I like feeling 17 years younger.

Also, I got good feedback about the Ting Tings' "That's Not My Name." It is just a very good song, especially if you like "Hey Mickey" by Toni Basil. Click on the link below for a listen at their Myspace page.

I discovered Bat for Lashes through the video for What's a Girl to Do, which seems very British and cool, also quite Donnie Darko. How do they get those giant animal-headed bike guys hidden behind that tiny little lady?

Last, I am still crushed that my tape of Sigue Sigue Sputnik's "Flaunt It" broke years ago, perhaps from overuse. My friend put Big Lizard in My Backyard on one side and Flaunt It on the other. I listened to that tape a LOT during my ironic teenage years. Then one day in the early naughties, it just BROKE. "Memorabilia" was the best I could do using itunes alone. I will continue to keep an eye out for Flaunt It, hair product commercials and all.

2/25/09 playlist
  • Love Get Out of My Way: Milke
  • Gamma Ray: Beck
  • Sean Penn Blues: Lloyd Cole & the Commotions
  • Hyperballad: Bjork
  • Miss You: Thieves Like Us
  • Severina: The Mission UK
  • Beatdown Break Up: Broken Spindles
  • Well Thought Out Twinkles: Silversun Pickups
  • Games Without Frontiers: Peter Gabriel
  • Be Good: Tokyo Police Club
  • That's Not My Name: The Ting Tings
  • Gettin' Up: Q-Tip
  • What's a Girl To Do: Bat for Lashes
  • Stylostumpf: le hammond inferno

3/4/09 playlist
  • Hardest Geometry Problem in the World: Mark Mothersbaugh from the Rushmore s/t
  • Hong Kong Garden: Siouxsie & the Banshees
  • Avec Grand Vitesse: Mondfähre
  • Don't Change Your Plans: Ben Folds Five
  • Lagrimas de Oro: Manu Chao
  • Can I Get Get Get: Junior Senior
  • D.A.N.C.E.: Justice
  • I Love You, You Imbecile: Pelle Carlberg
  • Your Rocky Spine: Great Lake Swimmers
  • Who Loves the Sun: Velvet Underground
  • Hommage: Les Frères Checkolade
  • Follow Me to Carthage: The Mammals
  • Memorabilia: Sigue Sigue Sputnik
  • China Girl: David Bowie
  • Nhimutinu: mbira music by the Shona people of Zimbabwe

Prof. Kitty's Lasagna

Success! I invented this lasagna last weekend because I had a partial box of noodles left over from a try at making slow-cooker lasagna (assessment--noodles get really mushy in a slow cooker, but not bad). My fellow diner liked this so much he asked me to please write down the recipe for future reference. Some of the amounts and ingredients are a little peculiar because that's just what I had in the house at the time. Next time I might use different amounts (a WHOLE onion, for example) and ingredients (would kale or spinach be more bitter or more... better than the beet greens? The beet greens were really good, maybe they're the secret ingredient).


(It kind of exploded in this photo, but I had to move fast
or there would have been nothing to photograph!)


Here's what I did, for the record.

Ingredients
10 lasagna noodles, cooked*
1 jar of Four Cheese tomato pasta sauce (I used Muir Glen)
1/2 jar of Garden Vegetable tomato pasta sauce (Muir Glen again)
1/2 container of ricotta cheese (aka 1 cup)
1 container of cottage cheese (aka 2 cups)
1 egg
ground pepper
3/4 pound lean ground beef
1/2 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
basil
oregano
2 cups (or more) part skim mozzarella, grated
beet greens (I used the greens from 3 golden beets)
olive oil
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup (or more) grated parmesan cheese

Assembly
  • Beat egg. Mix in ricotta & cottage cheese and lots of black pepper. Set aside.
  • Sauté beef and onion and garlic in a little olive oil until beef is cooked through. Add oregano and basil to taste. Set aside.
  • Cut beet greens into thin strips and fry in a little olive oil. When they start to sizzle, add 1/4 cup water and cover for about 5 minutes. When wilted through, remove from heat and chop up. Set aside.
  • Put a little sauce on the bottom of a large baking pan. Then put 3 lasagna noodles side by side. Sprinkle the cooked greens all around, then half the cooked meat mixture. Dot on half the ricotta mixture. Pour half the 4-cheese sauce over all and sprinkle on 1/3 the mozzarella. (I know, a lot of fractions--it'll all work out!)
  • Start a new layer with 3 more noodles. Put the rest of the meat and the rest of the ricotta mixture on top. Then pour the half-jar of garden vegetable sauce over all and sprinkle on 1/3 the mozzarella.
  • Start the top layer with the last 3 noodles. Cover with the other half jar of 4-cheese sauce. Sprinkle on the rest of the mozzarella. Top with generous sprinkle of parmesan.
  • Put in the oven on a cookie sheet at 375˚ for at least half an hour, until it is bubbling vigorously and golden on top. Cool somewhat before serving.

*Recipe calls for 10 noodles, though only 9 are used, because something terrible always happens to one. Discard that one.

Tomita beeps

A few weeks ago I mentioned on my radio show, Beef Jerky Time, that I have been accused of liking rather electronic-y music full of "beeping." I'll just come out and admit that that's true. When I consider it, I find electronic sounds comfortable and homey somehow. I believe this is because of an early exposure to the works of Japanese composer Isao Tomita. Perhaps family members will correct me on this, but my memory is that when my older brother went to college he got really into Tomita and electronic music, and even bought a synthesizer. For Christmas every year we would get a new Tomita album from him, until we got so hooked we started buying them ourselves. Here's a list of the Tomita albums I am proud to own today. Notice the nostalgic timespan--1974-1982 were heady days, man.

Snowflakes are Dancing (Tomita covers Debussy) (1974)
Pictures at an Exhibition (Tomita covers Mussorgsky) (1975)
Firebird (Tomita covers Stravinsky) (1976)
The Planets (Tomita covers Holst) (1976)
Kosmos (various composers) (1978)
The Bermuda Triangle (various composers, plus Tomita originals) (1979)
Daphnis et Chloé (Bolero) (Tomita covers Ravel) (1980)
Grand Canyon (Tomita covers Grofé and others) (1982)

Being brought up on mostly classical music (plus the Beatles, folk and what would now be called "world"), I always found Tomita very accessible because he picks familiar material. But he also gives the music his own crazy twists--the sound of electronic chickens for example, or spaceships taking off, or just mad beeps you couldn't get with regular instruments. (I'm sure there are some technical terms I should be using instead of "mad beeps," but I don't know them.) Reading the backs of some of these albums in preparation for my Tomita show, I learned that working on a synthesizer was really hard back in the day. You had to compose each track separately, then render them and then layer them. If you want more than 16 tracks you have to merge the first 16 into 1 track and start layering again. Anyway, the 2/18/09 edition of Beef Jerky Time was dedicated to electronic sounds and synthesizers, with emphasis on Tomita.
  • Casio Fight Song: David Shouse & the Bloodthirsty Lovers [an intro tune, go Casio!]
  • Sinfonia to Cantata #29 from Switched on Bach: Walter Carlos (name at that time)
  • Taste of Honey: Martin Denny [played on the Moog]
The following are all Tomita, so I'll give the album name instead of the artist.
  • Snowflakes are Dancing, from Snowflakes are Dancing
  • Bydlo, from Pictures at an Exhibition
  • Fairy Garden, Mother Goose Suite, from Daphnis & Chloe
  • Golliwog's Cake Walk, from Snowflakes are Dancing
  • Infernal Dance of King Kastchei, from Firebird
  • A Spaceship Lands Emitting Silvery Light, a Tomita original from The Bermuda Triangle
  • Electromagnetic Waves Descend, based on Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet, from The Bermuda Triangle
  • Jupiter (The Bringer of Jollity), from The Planets
  • On the Trail, from the Grand Canyon
  • Star Wars Main Theme, from Kosmos
  • Arabesque #1, from Snowflakes are Dancing

One last note: The Bermuda Triangle has an awesome psychedelic album cover, and the record inside is PINK.