A “Noble” Attempt

I went cabin-camping last week with some friends (I note “cabin-camping” because it’s important to distinguish when one is camping with or without walls, as that has a great impact on one’s mindset at the outset), and my dear friend Bryce brought along his guitar. I brought my mandolin. He’s been taking lessons for about a year now and was kind enough to school me — enough to put together this roughed-out version of Edelweiss (edel: noble, weiß : white). If you sing along, you can almost tell what the heck I’m playing, especially when I get my groove on transitioning to the bridge. Here are the lyrics to help:

Edelweiss, Edelweiss
Every morning you greet me
Small and white, clean and bright
You look happy to meet me

Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever

Edelweiss, Edelweiss
Bless my homeland forever

Incidentally, Bryce makes the strings ache when he plays “The Wings” from Brokeback Mountain. It was all the better for the fire in the cast iron stove.

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Unabashed Adoration for: Michael Perry

I was boarding the metro yesterday when a phone call came telling me an appointment had been moved back an hour, leaving me with a block of time that was useful for neither turning back nor pressing on. What to do? Well, thank the heavens I had my Secret-Santa present of Michael Perry’s “Truck: A Love Story.” I hunkered down into a slouchy, dingy yellow metro seat, cracked the binding (because I love the sense of ownership that action brings), and read while I road the Green line from start to finish and half-way back again.

Two things to note:

1) Metro-reading is well-positioned to become my new hobby of 2008. The rhythmic shlunk shlunk shlunk of the train on the tracks, the ever-changing scenery, the people-watching potential…it was fantastic. A mobile lounge. I do miss the coffee, though.

And 2) I have a dorky, rednecky, literati crush on Michael Perry. Anyone who has read “Population:485,” heard him on NPR, or read his essays and interviews will give a knowing nod when I say that his writing is charm, heartbreak and humor laid bare by an exceptional vocabulary and a feed-bag of literature references from which to draw. “Truck” is no exception. The same mix of present-time narrative and 20-20 hindsight, snort-inducing laughter, frankness and longing and, of course, tiny-town nuance.

Here’s a short snippet that somehow combines all elements:

In part to mitigate the barren state of the earth, I have decided to order seeds for my garden. I possess the perfect armchair for the task, a saggy old green thing that came from my grandmother’s basement and now sits on a rug beside my homemade bookshelves. Sinking into the worn cushions, I spend the remainder of the afternoon leafing through seed catalogs and recharging my chamomile tea. It is as if a sunlamp has been turned toward my soul. My winterbound spirit thaws, releasing sense memories–the shink, shink sound of a hoe cleaving sandy soil, the press of a hard seed between the pad of thumb and forefinger, the scratchy hiss of squash leaves moving in a warm breeze. I am this close to writing a poem. See catalogs are responsible for more unfulfilled fantasies than Enron and Playboy combined.

This a writer whose cadence I can only dream of imitating on my best of days.

Go. Enjoy. Happy winter reading!

Mando-Madness

After several months of learning on my $30 eBay special which has served me well as an intro instrument, I took the plunge: I bought myself a shiny new mandolin:

It’s an Ibanez M510. Low on price in the grand scheme of things, but good parts and better for the sum of them.

I would like to say I purchased it after careful research and respected recommendations (of which I had many from a very talented musician-friend). But the truth of the matter is that I walked into a music store that sold a few mandos, picked them all up, played my go-to chords (C, D and G) and chose the one that sounded the prettiest. Not particularly methodical–which caused me no end of distress for the first 24 hours after the purchase. There was much second-guessing and doubt. But then I would pick her up (it’s a “her” though she hasn’t yet told me her name) and she would reassure me in clear tones that sang out: You done good, sweetheart. I spent most of Sunday playing her, finding her particular buzzes and tweaks, adjusting them where I could, but mostly embracing her personality. I think we’re going to get on just fine.

And apropos of nothing, but worth a mention: The soundtrack to The Waitress has an excellent cover of Howard Jones’ “No One Is To Blame” by Emile Millar that I have listened to 23 times since downloading it last week, according to iTunes. The movie is stunning in its simplicity; the song complements.

The Perils of Spellcheck

I never knew having a husband in pursuit of a PhD could be so much fun. No, I’m not referring to the long hours, pathetic pay and servitude to professors. I’m referring to the student papers he brings home to grade. Two words: Hil. Arious.

Now I’ve certainly written some laughably bad lines in my time. And homonyms will always plague me. But it’s the reliance on spellcheck that produces the most brilliant of gaffs, none funnier than the following…and needless to say, every mistake is “[sic]”:

“This also means that the best stage for the performance to be performed on is a perineum arch that way the audience is able to see the action directly straight on for a circle stage would only block the audience from key points of the plays action and make it unable for them to view the performance all together.”

Oh, dear.

Here is what our young, anatomically incorrect writer was going for:

A Proscenium Arch:

And let’s not even discuss how badly she needed to lapse into a comma. 😉

There’s our humor for the day. Beware the perineum arch.

A Above High C

I’m completely wiped. Today was the first performance of the Christmas show I’m singing in, and I believe I warbled one “hallelujah” too many.

I used to sing in high school; show choir, musicals, madrigal-type stuff. But until last spring, I hadn’t sung in a group or in front of anyone other than my shampoo and conditioner in years. Sure, a little kareoke here and there (but I swear, I never inhaled). So to get back into performing with a choir after so long? It feels marvelous. Even if it doesn’t always sound that way. I was a soprano back in the day, and while I still sing the notes, the ease is long gone. I actually give myself headaches hitting A’s now.

However, one of the people I sing with has a voice unlike any I’ve ever heard (in person, I supposed). She has the stunning, rich quality behind her voice. It makes me think of molasses, or something equally thick and dark, in her lower and mid-registers. But then, just at the point when ordinary sops would have to get airy or screechy or bombastic, she flips into this bell-like tone that sends chills along your neck. Utter clarity. That’s something I missed about singing and playing music–hearing singers and musicians that inspire, and getting to learn from them.

Smells Like Burnt Nirvana

There’s this moment when chocolate mousse actually becomes chocolate mousse in baking process that I relish. I’ll call people in from other rooms so they can stand over my shoulder and witness the exact moment when the foamy, crinkling egg whites completely dissipate into the chocolaty, yolky, thinkness of the mixture, all by my simple, patient folding. I consider it, in all honesty, to be a magical baking moment.

Ganache carries with it a similar thrill. The general ratio for a standard chocolate ganache is 1:1 heavy cream and chocolate. The process is simple:

  • Finely chop the chocolate and place in a bowl
  • Heat the cream to just before a simmer
  • Pout hot cream over chocolate
  • Stir gently ’til fully mixed

Just as with mousse, this is where the magic happens with ganache as well. For the first minute, the whole mess looks like just that — a mess. Half-melted lines of chocolate swimming in tan-toned cream; a bowl of sweet-smelling dreck. Then you blink, or turn away to watch the cat do something cute, or answer the phone and SWOOSH! One last stir around the bowl and the mixture knits itself together in a sea of ganachey goodness. Oh sigh…

Of course, it’s not always nirvana. I made a chocolate hazelnut torte on Tuesday wherein the primary ingredient is Nutella. And for the top, a Frangelico-tinged chocolate ganache poured over to set up into a thick layer of loveliness. But I was in a rush; wanted to get to bed; had dreams to dream and snores to snore. So I committed what I would dub a Kitchen Crime: I hurried my ganache. I nagged nirvana.

I tossed the half-heartedly chopped chocolate into a little pot, poured in the cream, measured out a bit of liquor and flipped on the gas flame. And promptly burnt the ever-lovin’ cocoa nibs out of my chocolate.

A few things to remember, folks: Chocolate starts to melt at 80-degrees F, which, if you touched it to your lip, would feel as cold as an ice cube. If chocolate is hot to the touch, you’re in trouble. Chocolate burns at 123-degrees F. And just like when chocolate gets cold, chocolate that gets burned also thickens and hardens as the milk solids change formation. All this is to say… well… I wish I could say I committed this Kitchen Crime in the name of blog-education, but I won’t lie. The pictures tell the story best, anyway:

Bad Ganache
Bad Ganache

Good Ganache made in repentance and poured over torte, side-by-side with bad ganache as a little reminder of my failure:

Good Ganache

The pictures aren’t amazing because they’re taken with the most fickle camera in the world that either takes amazing shots or ruins everything. But I think you get the idea.

Variations:

  • Add liquor when cream is heated (Frangelico, Chamboard, spiced rum all work well)
  • Though when originally combining the cream and chocolate you want to stir gently, after the ganache forms you can vary the consistency from fudgey and pourable (like above) or whipped and spreadable. The more your stir, the more air you work into the ganache and the more whipped and spreadable (like icing) it becomes.
  • Get the best of both worlds: set half of it aside, stir the other half until it’s nice and airy, fill the cake layers with the whipped version and then pour the more fudgy version over top to ice the whole thing.

Deadlines Are For Day Jobs

I’ve come to the conclusion that everything in my working writing-life is about deadlines — be they printers, editors, designers or mail shops. I’ve also come to the conclusion that much of my personal writing-life is also deadline driven — be it for classes, person edification or novel (meant literally) ambition.

The last thing I need is for my blog to stress me out, too. So I’m scrapping the Monday/Thursday/Saturday rotation and moving toward a more fluid outlook. How annoying it was to have something to say about baking on a Friday, but believe that I couldn’t write about it until a week later?

So as I tinker with how I want this blog to look and what I want to accomplish, I’m putting the word out there that I’ll be blogging regularly on-topic, but without fear of an errant music post on a Monday or a suppressed writing post until its assigned day. That kind of dedication and adherence to a schedule, my friends, is for paying gigs.