Sunday, January 31, 2010

Story told by Chris Botti

Okay, so while I have my own views on Chris Botti's choice of style and material, he does seem like a really nice guy.  Between pieces at a recent concert, he told stories to the audience.  Here is one that I really liked:

     Chris and his band were hired to play at a wedding in Italy.  He rearranged his tour in order to be able to do this.  (Nice, right?)  The father-of-the-bride was very grateful and told him, "You are my daughter's second favorite musician!"  Second favorite?  "Yeah, Sting is her favorite, but guess which one we could afford?"  Anyway, Chris had a good sense of humor about this and traveled to a small town in Italy where, ironically enough, Sting owns a villa!  Since Chris is friends with Sting, he and his band were invited to have spaghetti with Sting at his villa before the wedding.  Sting asked, "So, Chris,  why are you all the way out here for only 18 hours?"  Chris related the story to Sting.  Upon hearing this, Sting asked, "well, can I come with you and sing at the wedding?"  Wow!  So, they devised this whole set-up where Chris plays a few tunes, then introduces his "special guest artist".  Sting walks out and sings to the couple.  How awesome is that?!  Anyway, when they do this, the couple thinks that Chris brought a Sting impersonator.  It took some convincing for them to realize that is was, indeed, the real Sting!  (After which, they totally freak out.)

     Now, I don't know if this story is true, but it's a lovely story and it makes me happy so I choose to believe it.  At the end of the concert, Chris said that we were his favorite orchestra and that he had invited us all to go on tour with him.  This wasn't true, he just said it to be nice.  But Chris, if you're reading this, I'd like to take you up on your offer........but only if we get to go to Italy and eat pasta with Sting!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Why I Think Jay Leno is a Thoroughly Decent Human Being

   Yeah, you read that right.  Poor Jay is being made a scapegoat for some pretty shabbily-behaving network execs.  In the whole Tonight Show fiasco, Conan came out looking like the angelic victim and Jay came out looking like the evil bully.  I don't think either one of these portrayals is accurate.

     In our society, it seems that we are conditioned to pull for the underdog.  We love the newcomer, trying to move up and prove himself.  We don't like the old established guy even if he is good at his job.  It's like everyone lately is vicariously living out this drama where we completely identify with the guy being pushed out, without really seeing who is doing the pushing.

Here are some reasons why I think Jay does not deserve our wrath:

1.  He feels responsible for keeping the 80 (correction: 175) people working for him employed.  I think this is honorable.  If he quits, they lose their jobs.

2.  He doesn't even live off of the money he makes from his TV shows.  He puts it all into a foundation and makes donations to charity.  He makes his own money by doing stand-up comedy all over the country.

3.  He went and did 2 free shows for the car workers in Michigan when things were going south for them.  He never publicized this, and when a guest on his show mentioned it he quickly shut them down and moved on.  

4.  He is a hard worker.  In addition to his show (every week night!) he travels all around the country doing stand-up comedy.  This is how he tests the material for his show.  (The jokes he tells on TV must appeal to people all across the nation.)

5.  His only "crime" is that he took a job that another guy wanted.  How many of us have ever turned down a job we were offered simply because someone else wanted it?

6.  He never wanted to leave the Tonight Show in the first place.  After being forced out, he negotiated his own show.  Who can blame him?  Then, he was canceled.  Then, he was offered his old job back (the one he didn't want to leave in the first place!), and he accepted it.  Again, who can blame him?  Do you think they would've kept Conan on if he had refused?  No.  Conan was out anyway.  They would've just gotten someone else.

7.  Conan is going to be okay.  He got a $45 million walk-away deal, and you know he's going to get another show somewhere.  He's not exactly going to be living in a cardboard box anytime soon.

8.  Jay has been totally open and has even agreed to be interviewed on the subject.  Conan has not. 
    
     I know it's cool to be on "Team Conan" these days, but the truth of the matter is that Conan just wasn't good enough.  If the ratings had been good, then he'd still be hosting the Tonight Show.  It's as simple as that.  Also, he could have kept his show, but he refused to go back to the later time.  Who's the diva in this scenario?
     Please don't get me wrong.  I'm not trying to say that what went down was okay.  Conan DID get screwed.  Absolutely.  But the real villain here is NBC.  Let's leave Jay alone.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Knife Fight

     It's not what you're thinking.  By "knife fight", I'm referring to the ongoing battle I've been having with my reed-making knife lately.  As an oboist, I must make my own reeds.  In order to do this, I must have a good, sharp knife.  This is the secret to good reeds. (...and also to good cooking, apparently.) 
     We oboists are known for being obsessive about our reeds.  Our reputation is probably deserved, however no one but another oboist can understand the angst one goes through over this.  It's like having your entire reputation depend on the whims of mother nature.  We can't control what the cane is going to do on any given day.  (It's a natural substance, after all.)  You might be flat, sound like a duck, have some notes crack, not be able to get low notes out, or the reed might shrivel up, giving you a really wimpy sound.  If you have a bad reed day, and you have a really important performance, there's little you can do to prevent certain embarrassment.  For this reason, we are constantly adjusting our reeds and making new ones with the sharpest of sharp knives.  If your knife is not sharp, you will shred the tip of the reed, rendering it useless. 
     Now that you know a bit about the importance of good reeds (and sharp knives), you can imagine my state of mind when I haven't been able to get a good edge on my knife, and therefore have not been able to improve my reed situation.  Every now and then, it is necessary to re-grind the knife.  This is because the metal gets slightly worn away to the thicker part of the knife.  Anyway, I decided to regrind the knife in order to get a new, sharper, edge on it.  This takes hours because you have to wear away a layer of metal.  A diamond stone must be used for this.  By the way, did I mention that I HATE doing this?  It's tedious, hurts your hands, and get metal shavings all over the place.  If you cut yourself, which I did, the metal shavings get in the cut.  I always worry that  this might cause health problems in the long run.  Is it bad to have steel in your blood stream?
     I have been fighting with my knife all week.  After re-grinding it, the knife is less sharp than before!  I feel the burr of the knife with my finger, but when I try to scrape a reed, it's like a butter knife.  I tried to re-grind it 3 times.  I do have a new Landwell knife (expensive but good), but it takes even longer to put an edge on a brand new knife.  Plus, the way things have been going, I feel like I might destroy it and it costs too much to do that.  Recently, a colleague of mine (who makes reeds professionally) said, "Why are you doing this to yourself?  Just get a cheap knife that's been pre-sharpened".  (A Weber Vitry-style, for instance)  This is what she does.  Genius!  If a professional reed-maker can take this shortcut, then so can I!  I ordered one last night and cannot wait for it to come in.  Hopefully, it will allow me to make reeds in the meantime, while I continue to fight with my knife.

Fellow oboists:  Can I hear some love?
Non-oboist friends:  Sorry for geeking out on you here, but it had to be done.

UPDATE:
     I received the Weber knife in the mail three days after I ordered it.  (...and I hadn't even paid for fast shipping!)  It did indeed come with an edge, so all I had to do was "refresh" the burr and it was good to go.  I won't say that I'll forgo my Landwells, but it's nice to have something to fall back on while you grind your knife down.  It cuts out some of the pressure.  (No pun intended!)  I have to say, once you get a good edge on a Landwell, it's hard to beat it.  However, this Weber knife got me back on the right track and allowed me to get some reeds going.  Another oboe buddy of mine says she uses Chudnow knives.  I may try one of those next!     

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Sugar-Free, 30 Minute Meal

       Since my doctor put me on a gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free diet, people have been asking me, "What's left to eat?"  (Also, I'm not supposed to have potatoes or corn.)  I will share with you a meal of comfort food which I like to make on a weeknight because it only takes 30 minutes to make.  If any of you out there have these crazy diet restrictions like me, I hope this helps you out.

"Fauxtatoes"  (Faux mashed potatoes) and Turkey Patties:


      First, cut up a head of cauliflower and boil it in water for about 20 minutes.  While it is boiling, take 1 lb. of ground turkey meat and mix it with a finely diced shallot, a chopped clove of garlic, and one rib of celery.  (The shallot and celery provide moisture and prevent the turkey patty from getting too dry.)  Also, mix in some gluten-free Tamari, about 1 tsp.  (note:  Tamari is a specially-brewed soy sauce.  You can use regular gluten-free soy sauce, but it won't have the same awesome flavor.  The Tamari does two things:  First, it adds salt (and a delicious flavor).  Second, it turns the patties a lovely brown color which makes them look much more appetizing.)  Shape turkey mixture into 4 patties and fry in some olive oil.  Cover the pan and cook for about 20 minutes or so, until cooked through.  I always put a little more Tamari on top as they're cooking. 
       By this time, the cauliflower should be cooked.  Strain the cauliflower pieces, and put them in a food processor (using the puree blade).  Add a dash of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  Puree until smooth.  Add some chopped green onion if you like.  (I do.)  If you want to get fancy, you could add some soy cheese and/or turkey bacon.  I won't lie and say that it tastes exactly like mashed potatoes, but you can fool yourself into feeling like you're eating them.  My husband, who hates cauliflower, loves this recipe!
Serve a scoop of fauxtatoes alongside a turkey patty.  Serves 4.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Football

     The title of this post is probably confusing to those who know me.  There is little in this world I care less about than football.  However, it's on my mind lately because I have heard people talking about it all day.
     Why do we love football so much?  When I was younger, I was struck by how Neanderthalistic it was for men to bash their heads together over a ball.  Gathering in a stadium to watch the event is disturbingly similar to the Roman Gladiator fights.  The area of sports in general seems to be the only place where it is socially acceptable for grown men (and women) to behave like children.  For example, fighting, crying, etc. over a GAME!  Really, in what other context can you yell at an inanimate object (TV) repeatedly and not have people think you're crazy?
     I suppose we humans have a need for this sort of thing.  I once met a sociology major who had a hypothesis that when football teams from the south play football teams from the north, it's an emotional rehashing of the Civil War.  Fascinating if you think about it.  And why do people feel as if they personally have won when the team that they support has won?  As Bill Maher says, "You didn't win anything!  Some guys, who would HATE you if they knew you, won."
      One of my favorite lines from the TV show "Frasier" is when Niles sarcastically says (about sports), "Oh, you know my day is not complete until I know which spherical object went through which apparatus!"  (My thoughts exactly!)  If you say you don't like football in my town, you might as well say you're from Mars for the way people treat you.  I suspect that a lot of people don't really like it as much as they say they do.  I once took a self-improvement course which pointed out that what we want most in life is to look good.  It's not nice to think that this is our main motivation, but it deserves to be considered.  Anyway, I suspect that when a lot of people proudly proclaim their love of the event, that's their way of trying to look good.  By that same token however, I guess my way of looking good is to say I don't like it.  Hmmmm.
     I have to say though, that I did see the value of football recently when I was on an airplane.  There were 6 guys sitting near me who happily talked about football for the entire flight.  These guys had never met each other, but they had an instant connection.  Football provided hours of conversation (and a way of connecting) to people who might otherwise have nothing to say to each other.  Now that's one reason to get into football!  Should I give in, buy a football jersey, host a superbowl party, and shout myself silly at the TV?  On second thought, maybe I'll just go and watch a movie instead.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Terrible Turnover

     So many cooking blogs and shows tell you things to do in order to create amazing dishes.  Well, I'm going to tell you a something NOT to do, which I discovered today when I attempted to make a spinach turnover.  This is a pastry filled with spinach, mushrooms, and ham; which has a beautiful, lattice crust and looks amazing.......when Julia Child does it.
     I am on a gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free diet so I thought that I would substitute rice flour for wheat flour, soy milk for cream, and agave syrup for sugar.  Good plan, right?  I figured Julia would approve because she said once on her cooking program, "Instead of cream, you can use milk if you're on one of those hideous diets!"  Yes, Julia, I am on a hideous diet so I thought it would be okay to use whatever substitutions I needed.
     Actually, the rice flour-soy milk combo worked great for the bechamel sauce.  It was just as creamy and delicious as the real thing.  (I thought.)  As it turns out however, rice flour is TERRIBLE for pastry!  Apparently, the gluten in wheat flour is what gives it it's elasticity and lets you roll it out and shape it.  My rice-flour dough crumbled when I tried to roll it out.  Not to be outdone, I gathered the crumbled dough, added hot water, and squished it together.  This made a sticky mess which wouldn't roll out.  So, I stuck it in the freezer for 10 minutes.  It kinda worked.  I rolled it out onto the cookie sheet, added the filling, and folded it over.  (With the help of wax paper.)  Then,  I took the leftover crumbly bits and fashioned them into a sort of lattice crust.  The result, as you can see, was rather ugly.  Unfortunately, the crust did not taste good either.  It was too crumbly, and stuck the roof of your mouth.  The filling was good though.  Since I had so much filling left over, I made a weird casserole by slicing a potato, then layering the spinach, ham, sauteed mushrooms, and bechamel sauce into a casserole dish.  When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  Or, as in this case, when life gives you ugly, terrible turnovers, make weird casserole!

Kindred Spirit

     I met a kindred spirit at Whole Foods.  Have  you ever met someone and instantly liked them over something as mundane as a baked good?  Well, it happened to me yesterday.
     I was buying groceries (as you do) and decided to get a cannoli.  Bad me!  I am starting my crazy diet again for health reasons, and thought I should commemorate the end of yummy, bad things for a while.  It was necessary.  Anyway, there was an older man in line behind me.  "What?  They have cannolis here?  I haven't had one of those since I left Sicily!"  (I assume he lived there when he was younger.)  "Yeah", I said, "I had to get it.  Although, I'm sure it won't be as good as the ones you remember."  The man shook his head and replied, "Actually, they're probably better.  Anytime Sicilians immigrate to America, they improve whatever traditional food they have!  They add more cream and chocolate and things.  I'm going to get one.  Where are they?"  He asked if I would watch his groceries while he ran off to get a new-and-improved Whole Foods cannoli.  While he was gone, I noticed that his shopping cart was full of different kinds of olives from the olive bar, and some bottles of wine.  I like this guy!   (In a strictly platonic way, of course.)
     Later, I was thinking about his comment about Sicilians making things better after they immigrate.  I suppose this is true of any nationality.  I know it's true with Greek salads.  My half-Greek husband raved about the first gyro salad he had in this country.  "There would never be nearly as much meat and cheese on a salad in Greece!"  Also, my Aunt was disappointed in the pizza when she traveled to Italy, saying that we have better pizza here.  I guess there's some truth to this.  That's what we do.  We take what's there and make it bigger and better, with more cheese and bacon!  (More on this later, because there are SO many tasty delights that are better in the country of origin, and I do not want you to think I am a xenophobe.)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The list, No. 1 = Learning to Cook

     So what did I mean by that whole "over the moon" thing?  Well, I'm not about to do anything rash like quit my job and move somewhere exotic.  I guess I'm looking to do more of a "hop in the moon's general direction".  I used to have a list of things I would do before I was 30.  (ahem)  30 has come and gone so instead of turning it into a list of things to do by the time I'm 40, here's what I'm thinking:  Do as many things as I can this year, the year of the Tiger.
     According to the Chinese Zodiac (as I understand it), the year takes on the characteristics of whatever animal is associated with it.  The Tiger is said to be brave, courageous, and a fiery fighter.  Tigers are also protectors and natural leaders.  It goes up against authority and speaks out about wrongs in society, and willingly puts up objections.  It's time for us to embrace our tigerness this  year.

 So, back to my list....
      There are so many things I've been wanting to do that I've put on the back burner.  It's time to finally get to it!  One thing I've been doing lately, is finally learning how to cook.  For real!  So far, what I've been calling "cooking" is really just assembling ready-made ingredients. I always wanted to take a cooking class, but who has time?  I was absolutely taken with the movie Julie and Julia when I recently saw it on a plane trip.  Who knew that Julia Child's cookbook was really more like a textbook on cooking than just another cookbook?  So, I  bought Mastering the Art of French  Cooking.  My plan is to do one recipe from each category.  For instance, I did the famous Beef Bourguignon which is a stew.  Okay, stew = done.  Next, I roasted my first chicken ever.  (No, I never had roasted a chicken before.  I don't even know how to cook simple things like that!)  My goal is to learn the basics.  I will not be like Julie and do every recipe.  (Especially not the aspics!)  And I absolutely draw the line at organ meats!  Ick!

Over the Moon

This is it. I've decided. I've got to find a way to jump over the moon. In his song from Rent (probably the best musical ever), Jonathan Larsen writes "...only thing to do is jump over the moon..." I think he means that in order to live fully, you must do something outrageous. Out of your comfort zone. Bravely.
Recently, I was made aware of a perfect example of this. I was watching the live NY Metropolitan Opera feed of Carmen at my local cinema. The guy who played Escamillo (Teddy Tahu Rhodes) had an unexpected Met debut that day. He was an understudy from New Zealand who had fully expected to go in and view the opera from the green room that day, as he had been doing. At 10:00 am however, he received a phone call informing him that the guy who had been playing Escamillo was sick and that he was on in 3 hours! What I found most interesting is that until the age of 32, Teddy had been an accountant in New Zealand. Apparently, he decided one day to up and quit his job, move to New York, and become and opera singer! Teddy jumped over the moon.
This is what I feel the need to do lately. Not become an opera singer, but to do something out of my comfort zone. To shake it up a bit and get out of my rut. Surely, I'm not the only one who feels the this way, right?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Child Procurement Issues

Childless Child
Learning to be Grateful

Project Me: Self Improvement

Over the Moon
Get Help from the Fly Lady
Yoga Pete
Learning to be Grateful

Stories from Greece

Crazy Greek Mother in Law
The Good Wife of the Megalo Monastery

Entertainment

Football
Why I Think Jay Leno is a Thoroughly Decent Human Being
Story Told by Chris Botti
Oscar Party

Food and Beverage

Learning to Cook
Daisy's Lentil Soup
Chicken vs. Duck
The Terrible Turnover
Kindred Spirit
Gluten-free Dairy-free 30 Minute Meal
Very Berry Chocolate Mousse 
It's Like Nirvana, but with Tea!
Weekend Breakfast for Weirdos who Don't Eat Anything (like me!)

Crafts and Gifts

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Sugar-Free, Food Free Cake.  Diaper Cake!

Stories that Make Me Happy

A Sweet Valentine's Story

Adventures in Teaching

What was up with those Germans?
Teacher Act 
Do you need a reason to eat cheese?

Social Events

Oscar Party

Crazy Greek Mother-in-Law Stories

Crazy Greek Mother-in-Law
Old (but fun) Stories:  Crazy Daisy Got Busted!
Old (but fun) Stories:  Another Crazy Daisy Installment

Tips for Eating

The "S" Rule