Friday, March 26, 2010
Please understand that, while I appreciate the wonders of alternating currents and free music, there are some songs that I just.cannot.stand.anymore.
My coworkers have little radios at their desk, and while I don't mind a little background music, they don't choose the same station - so two days a week, I have opposing sounds coming from my left and right. And so here are the songs that I would really, truly appreciate, Radio, if you could convince your other Listeners to dial down the requests.
Hey Soul Sister - Train
Replay - Sean Kingston
Fireflies - Owl City
Rude Boy - Rihanna
Today Was A Fairytale - Taylor Swift
Empire State of Mind - Alicia Keys & Jay-Z
"Empire State of Mind" and "Rude Boy" are particularly annoying, because they are very repetitive and the range is such that, over the desk partition, I can't hear what I'm sure are carefully crafted countermelodies and lyrical verses, and so all I hear is this:
"C'mon boy, boy boy... take IT take IT take IT take IT"
"New Yo-ooooork... New YORK New Yoooooork!"
I can barely understand Sean Kingston (Iyaz? really?) until halfway through when he stops playing with the synth and actually SINGS a verse. Fireflies is totally overplayed.
And Taylor, I love you - but do all your hits have to be about princes and fairytales?
Friday, March 19, 2010
But this has been a good week in the kitchen. Sunday I baked cookies AND brownies, and although I burnt my finger it is healing well (darn those metal bowls sitting too close to the gas element). Earlier this week we had stir fry & cous cous. Last night was the simple but tasty salad, bakery rolls and barbecued sausage. Lunch was mock greek salad. And tonight? Oh yes. Tonight was the fabulously rustic and soon-to-be-repeated Chicken Thighs in Riesling.
One of my new favourite food blogs is Everybody Likes Sandwiches, which has recently migrated from a blog site to its own domain (the Vancouver-based foodie is also a graphic designer). There's much more to love there than sandwiches, and while poking around the site's newly created category search, I discovered what seemed to be the perfect culinary end to my week. So last night I scurried to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients, none of which are obscure - you might even have them in your fridge or cupboard right now.
Chicken Thighs in Riesling
Adapted from Gourmet
and Everybody Likes Sandwiches
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
2 tsp garlic paste or 2 cloves, chopped
1 t oregano
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 t ground cumin
4-6 skinless chicken thighs
(even easier if they're boneless)
salt & pepper
1 T olive oil
1 T butter
4 large shallots, roughly chopped
4 medium carrots, cut into 1 inch long rounds
1/2 – 3/4 c riesling
4 potatoes, cut into large chunks
1/4 - 1/3 c heavy cream
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1. Rinse and pat dry chicken thighs, using paper towel. Prepare a dish with the garlic, bell pepper, oregano, cumin and lemon juice. The lemon is key for moisture and zing! Stir to coat and allow 30 minutes to marinade.
2. Heat olive oil over med-high heat in a wide saucepan or pot, then add chicken and marinade. Brown chicken on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside.
3. Heat butter and saute shallots and carrots for about 10 minutes, then add the chicken. Pour riesling overtop and cover. Cook over med-low heat until chicken is cooked through and carrots are tender, about 30 minutes. Get the potatoes ready while you're waiting.
4. In a separate pot, cook potatoes in boiling water until just tender. Drain and add to the main dish once chicken is cooked. Add heavy cream and squeeze in lemon juice, then stir gently to combine.
If you have boneless skinless thighs this recipe is even easier, and I got six fresh ones from my deli for just over $5. No photos this time because chicken, potatoes & carrots are not particularly photogenic. This meal doesn't look like much, but it is delicious.
After dinner, Jody complimented me on a successful meal, and then commented on the lighting. "You're funny, turning out the lights because the halogens are too bright."
"I didn't do it to be funny, I did it to be romantical!"
"Oh, that's right - you have nice candles on the table."
That's a good week right there, folks. Enjoy your weekend.
Monday, March 15, 2010
After tonight’s broadcast and after looting our hotel mini-bars, we’re going to try to brave the blizzard and fly east to home and hearth, and to do laundry well into next week. Before we leave this thoroughly polite country, the polite thing to do is leave behind a thank-you note.
Thank you, Canada:
For being such good hosts.
For your unfailing courtesy.
For your (mostly) beautiful weather.
For scheduling no more than 60 percent of your float plane departures at the exact moment when I was trying to say something on television.
For not seeming to mind the occasional (or constant) good-natured mimicry of your accents.
For your unique TV commercials — for companies like Tim Hortons — which made us laugh and cry.
For securing this massive event without choking security, and without publicly displaying a single automatic weapon.
For having the best garment design and logo-wear of the games — you’ve made wearing your name a cool thing to do.
For the sportsmanship we saw most of your athletes display.
For not honking your horns. I didn’t hear one car horn in 15 days — which also means none of my fellow New Yorkers rented cars while visiting.
For making us aware of how many of you have been watching NBC all these years.
For having the good taste to have an anchorman named Brian Williams on your CTV network, who turns out to be such a nice guy.
For the body scans at the airport which make pat-downs and cavity searches unnecessary.
For designing those really cool LED Olympic rings in the harbor, which turned to gold when your athletes won one.
For always saying nice things about the United States…when you know we’re listening.
For sharing Joannie Rochette with us.
For reminding some of us we used to be a more civil society.
Mostly, for welcoming the world with such ease and making lasting friends with all of us.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Why does an alarm go off? Shouldn't it go on? When the alarm goes off in the midst of baking, we then turn it off again. Is that off-off? Or does that mean it's on, much like a double negative creates a positive?
Why are English phrases so unreliable and baffling!?
It’s been years since I held a horn to my lips. I miss the tang of brass and oil in my nostrils, the cool metal mouthpiece unyielding as I begin to warm up. I miss counting rest bars and holding whole notes, interpreting a wall of sound from black symbols on a white page. I miss playing with a group, layering my part into a fluid, cascading arrangement.
Once, I was a member of the Salvation Army youth band. I was third chair cornet, but as there were only four cornet players, this merely served my purpose of not being first chair – a spot reserved for the soloist and the best musician in the section. My part was the harmony – the often unnoticed, often offbeat counter to the melody – and I liked it that way.
The cornet was a popular choice for brass bands in the UK, where the Salvation Army was founded, while military and marching bands favour the sleeker, more commanding trumpet. They are essentially the same to play, with three valves, a conical, tubular construction that curls around and ends in a bell, and the same pitch of B-flat. In defence of the cornet, it has a humbler, sweeter sound, and is not so brash as its long-stemmed cousin. The trumpet might have a greater volume, but when played skilfully, a cornet has no trouble reaching the depths and heights of the scale, and its mellow tone does not restrict a player from pelting out sharp, crisp staccato marches.
I miss the confident weight of an instrument in my hands. Not so heavy as to drag my arms down, my slightly battered cornet – which belonged to the church – gave me a reason not to slouch in my chair. Its care became my responsibility, and knowing that I had cleaned and polished it gave my twelve year old self a certain pride.
Cleaning a brass instrument, now, that is a funny business. First of all, you hope that the band leader has not given you a horn that has languished in a cupboard for a decade or more. Second, you must find an old towel to lay in a warm bath to prevent scratches – both on the tub and on the instrument. Third, you must note which valve is taken from each of the three slots as you unscrew them and lay them gently in the water.
Once the cornet emerged from the towel-padded tub, the drying, oiling and reassembly could begin. Oiling the valves was always my favourite part of maintaining my cornet. Mine had shiny mother of pearl discs where my fingertips rested on the piston valves, unlike many of the newer, mass-made cornets. The oil that lubricates the piston valves has a scent not unlike olive oil, but it is much less viscous.
Even with a minor dent in its bell, I was proud to play my cornet, harmonizing with the other parts. My lips would buzz and strain against the cup of the mouthpiece, warming it and coaxing it to become an extension of my lungs and my lips and my tongue. The valves, when depressed, changed the way the air flows through the cornet, altering the pitch as I played. I grew to be a more confident player, mastering hand-eye coordination and posture as my ability to read sheet music grew.
Right foot lightly tapping against the heavy black music stand. Breath even and controlled, with a bit reserved for that sustained note at the end of the phrase. Reading the music and watching the conductor out of the corner of my eye. Adjusting my volume to blend in. During the rest bars, discreetly opening my spit valve – the owner’s manual would call this the water key – and blowing to dislodge any spit that had gathered. More than once a bandmate’s eagerness resulted in spit on my shoe, but water in the tubes could block an otherwise even note. I loved to soak up these gems of experience from my grandfather, who played the baritone in the senior band.
My family’s move abroad halted my progress in the band for a time, but in first year university I began to play again – this time, with a baritone. Baritones look somewhat like a small tuba and the bell points upward instead of toward its audience. But it had three valves, and the band was sorely short of baritone parts to round out the group that was traveling to Hong Kong. I picked it up and six months later, I was on a plane.
I took piano lessons for two years, but aside from the impossibility of finding a piano-friendly apartment, tinkling the keys didn’t appeal to me as much as playing the cornet. Brass music captured me from a young age, and the crush of sound that builds with a crescendo still thrills me.
Since my trip to Hong Kong in 2001, I’ve had little motivation to buy a cornet of my own. It needs the richness of other parts to be in its element. Apartment dwellers might tolerate the romantic tone of a well-played violin or flute, but a horn is not the sort of instrument your neighbours rejoice in listening to.
* Written at midnight the day before my weekly writing class, and mostly from memory. Any instrument-related errors are my own.