vambot5: (CBX)
I could tell you how awesome this recipe is, but I will instead let you read it, maybe listen to that episode of The Splendid Table, and ideally try it for yourself. As the recipe says right at the beginning, it is a simplified version of musakhan, which I have tried to make several times in the past with limited success. This recipe basically cheats by taking the best parts of musakhan and cooking all of them together. The hardest part of cooking musakhan for me was always cooking the chicken on top of the bread. The bread ends up burnt before the chicken is done. This recipe just says screw it, cook the chicken, and serve on a warm pita. So I did. And it was an absolute crowd-pleaser. I don't like to compliment my own cooking, but after a few bites, I was like, daaaaamn, this is good. Unusually for me, I just followed this recipe straight (though I did have to add a bit more liquid in the marinade to cover the chicken). So when I was praising the dish, I was really praising the recipe's creators. I would love to have their cookbook. You know, just in case the universe wants to drop one off a truck or something.

We are going to see the new Star Wars tomorrow, finally. Mariah borrowed the box set from her uncle and has been watching them all weekend. I have sort of come and gone. I have a very limited familiarity with the series. I didn't grow up watching it. I think I watched the first one in middle school, in band class on a rest day after contest (straight 1s, bitches). I don't know that I ever saw the others in full, though parts certainly seemed familiar. I did see the prequel trilogy, I think all three in the theater. Certainly, for Episode 1 I did the whole leaving school early to buy tickets for literally everyone I knew, then waiting in line for many hours bit. And then the movie was awful, at least, I remember it being awful. By the time Mariah started on that one, I left her on her own. When I walked by, it looked more like a poor attempt at a Pixar movie than a live-action film. Mariah wanted to watch all of the films before tomorrow's curtain time, but that does not seem likely at this point.

I have not heard much about the new movie, intentionally. I feel like I have a very weird relationship with the star wars franchise at this point. For starters, JJ Abrams. I go back with the guy. I was aware of Felicity, though I didn't watch it. Alias was great. Lost was occasionally great, kind of a mess, but to be fair, JJ Abrams wasn't showrunner. Fringe, though, that was my jam. I love that show and have watched it multiple times. During Fringe, Abrams went off to work on his Star Trek reboot movie. At this point, he became an action movie superdirector, and the sequel cemented that place in hollywood. The Star Trek movies got a lot of backlash from Trekkies, because they were heavy on the action and light on the intellectualism that was omnipresent in post-TNG Star Trek. This is a fair criticism. But when Abrams finally agreed to do Star Wars, his sensibility made much more sense. He has shown plenty of skill in directing epic space opera action movies.

My biggest beef with the new Star Wars franchise is that director Rian Johnson has apparently signed on to direct the final two episodes. While I think he is an interesting choice for a Star Wars director, I am bummed that he will be tied up for years making those movies. Rian Johnson's early movie Brick is one of my favorite films, and all of his movies to date are great. I feel like, however good his Star Wars movies may be, the world would be better off if he made two or three of his own movies instead during that time. I also fear that, after Star Wars, Johnson will not be making any more of the type of movies that made me like him in the first place. 
vambot5: (CBX)
Autumn has long been my favorite season. Here in Oklahoma, it is often a brief affair. Summers here are reluctant to relinquish their grip, and winter is quick to lash its icy tongue on the late-blooming crops and on our surprised bodies. But for those weeks we get of true autumn, I rejoice and walk the streets enamoured with the feeling of change in the air. My musical tastes change, and I find myself craving music of a certain feeling.

Autumn has never been depressing to me. Rather, I find it intriguing, stimulating. I feel energized and excited by the sensation of briskness on the horizon, just beginning to lick the landscape. More than in the spring, I find myself interested in love and relationships. Most of my relationships, historically, started this time of year, when I woke from summer laziness and decided to pursue them. A friend in high school used to joke "You know how I know you're a goth? You get spring fever in the fall." Regardless of his conclusion, his premise was correct--every fall, I was energized, flirty, charming, and interested in romantic entanglement far more than the rest of the year. Whatever the reason, autumn was always my season, and to this day I am excited when it comes.

Autumn is the time for duende. Duende is an inherently enigmatic term, originating from southern Spanish flamenco culture. It is "the spirit of evocation," the darkness that the guitarist has to pull from to pull the full vibrance out of a dancer. Expressing genuine love and hope requires recognition that you are going out on a limb, that there is risk involved. Expressing love without risk is cheesecake, it is novelty. To express the heart of love, the emotional thrill of it, requires duende.

In autumn, I want music with duende. I find myself, seemingly accidentally, looking up Leonard Cohen chord charts. I find myself listening to Orbital's more emotional tracks. I find myself more interested in Marc Maron's comedy than Mitch Hedberg albums. I find myself craving duende.

Nick Cave gave a famous lecture on the subject.

In his brilliant lecture entitled "The Theory and Function of Duende" Frederico Garcia Lorca attempts to shed some light on the eerie and inexplicable sadness that lives in the heart of certain works of art. "All that has dark sound has duende", he says, "that mysterious power that everyone feels but no philosopher can explain." In contemporary rock music, the area in which I operate, music seems less inclined to have its soul, restless and quivering, the sadness that Lorca talks about. Excitement, often; anger, sometimes: but true sadness, rarely, Bob Dylan has always had it. Leonard Cohen deals specifically in it. It pursues Van Morrison like a black dog and though he tries to he cannot escape it. Tom Waits and Neil Young can summon it. It haunts Polly Harvey. Melancholy hates haste and floats in silence. It must be handled with care.
...
All love songs must contain duende. For the love song is never truly happy. It must first embrace the potential for pain. Those songs that speak of love without having within in their lines an ache or a sigh are not love songs at all but rather Hate Songs disguised as love songs, and are not to be trusted.

This quote basically hits on the head the emotion that I find permeates autumn. The threat of winter around the corner has long been part of the excitement that autumn brings. It adds depth to hope, and reminds me of the risk necessary in pursuing love. Come autumn, I find myself, often "accidentally," listening to Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Ani Difranco, Emmylou Harris, Townes Van Zandt, Robyn (whom I have written about before), Lyle Lovett, They Might Be Giants. Old Phil Spector songs; Be My Baby is one of the best examples in American pop music history. People who routinely court the duende, the darkness courting love's tail.

On the topic of the love song, I think Nick Cave omitted, possibly intentionally, the American master, Brian Wilson. The Beach Boys' best songs all had duende at the core. Good Vibrations has it, Don't Worry Baby exudes it. Wilson's iconic love song is powerful because it channels duende to the core. God Only Knows bases its effect precisely because it is rooted in the risk of love, and all around the fringes of the song you feel the danger of going out on a limb. It is possibly the most autumnal song ever written. Every instrument on the recording tries to channel warmth, but winter licks around the edges. Basing the melody on a chord change on the harpsichord--a fundamentally cold instrument; being plucked rather than hammered, it lacks a piano's soft, expressive touch--it endeavors to express warmth out of iciness. Lyrically, the song iliterally expresses love by referencing the duende surrounding it. Don't Worry Baby was reportedly an attempt to rewrite Spector's Be My Baby, but with God Only Knows, I think he trumps it all-around.

We don't get many weeks of autumn, here. I recognize that winter is coming, and the wind gets a bit icier with each night's walk. But summer's oppression still feels like it was only yesterday. Literally today, I had to take my suit jacket off during a deposition because it was too hot in the conference room. Tomorrow, perhaps, I will be wearing a topcoat and scarf. I want to get as much autumn in as possible before winter takes hold. I went on a motorcycle ride yesterday, maybe an hour, before I came home because I was sweaty. This evening, I rode the bike on some short errands, and was nearly shivering on the last jaunt home. This is the time. Summer is still gripping, but winter is coming in. The struggle is obvious from stuffy afternoon to chilly evening. Duende has never sounded better.

Brief soundtrack of duende autumn 2015:
--Leonard Cohen - Chelsea Hotel #2
--The Beach Boys - God Only Knows
--They Might Be Giants - Basically all of Lincoln, let's isolate Santa's Beard
--Lyle Lovett - Nobody Knows Me
--The Beach Boys - Don't Worry Baby
--Nick Cave - Into My Arms
--The Ronettes - Be My Baby
--Tom Waits - Blind Love
--Townes Van Zandt - I'll Be Here In The Morning
--Guy Clark - That Old Time Feelin'
--Tom Waits - Downtown Train

Honestly, the playlist got totally derailed by Townes. He embraced the duende in his love songs, but as soon as he embraced it, he blew it up, because he had no filter. He couldn't put any emotional distance between himself and his songs, really. He would start with duende and just let it in until it exploded, going from vaguely darkness-tinged love songs to full-on tragedies in a hurry. Once you get to Townes's song Nothin', you realize that the deep blues have chased the usual duende out of town. Nothin' is a full-on winter blues song, no autumn duende about it. He would court duende on all of his albums, but at some point, he always gives into the wintery darkness and leaves pure duende behind.
vambot5: (CBX)
I went to a show tonight, Eagle Claw and The Sword.

The show was in Bricktown. I usually avoid going to shows in Bricktown because of parking. It's like, $25 seems like a reasonable ticket price, but then if you want to park anywhere close to the venue you have to pay another $20. I googled the venue, and it said it was on the canal, in the same building as Chelino's. There is a parking lot right there, and I was resigned to paying, but the lot was full. So I went west, out of Bricktown into downtown proper, near my office. I eventually found a parallel spot one block north and four or five blocks west of the venue, maybe half a mile away. I got there, and the bouncer looked askew at my flaming skull tee-shirt and flannel, and asked me what I was looking for. I said the sword show, and he was like, no, that's not at ACM, it's at the ACM performance hall on Sheridan. Not particularly helpful. A group of other dudes asked me if I was looking for the sword show, and I told them what the bouncer had said. I walked from the canal back to Sheridan and started walking. It turned out that ACM bought what used to be the green door, which is all the way at the eastern edge of Bricktown, almost another half mile down.

When I walked in, no one took my ticket, which was odd. I just walked into the venue. There was a line just inside the venue, so I stood in it, thinking they would scan my ticket and give me a wristband. Instead, it was just the beer line, so I ordered a beer and went up towards the front. The local opening band, which was not advertised, turned out to be Rainbows are Free! I wasn't surprised by this, but I was disappointed that I had missed half their set. As people left to go get beer and/or go to the bathroom, I moved closer to the stage, and ended up right next to it, with just one woman in front of me. At this venue, the audience is right up against the stage with no bouncer-fence, so I was definitely within arm's reach.

After the RAF set, the woman in front of me turned around and started talking to me. She was shockingly social for someone at a metal show, totally psyched to be there, full of energy. Her name was Alden, and she was there with her boyfriend, whose name was also Chris. She was so excited and energetic that the band totally responded, and I felt privileged to be next to her because our area of the stage got a lot of attention. The singer/guitarist of Eagle Claw was particularly responsive, and was obviously charged up by the energy. He kept leaning over us while soloing and feeding off the fervor below.

When The Sword came on, there was no one immediately in front of us, because the bassist was more towards stage left and the singer/guitarist slightly to the center of us. The Sword is more of a passive band, generally, not interacting with the crowd as much. The only member of the band that I have seen really interacting with the crowd is their lead guitarist, who was on the opposite side of the stage (still only maybe 6 or 8 feet from us, it's a small stage, but not close enough to interact because he'd have to go through the singer to get there).

The Sword put on a solid show. The last time I saw them, opening for Clutch at the Diamond Ballroom, they were pretty disappointing. They sounded OK, but they lacked enthusiasm onstage, just phoning it in. This time, they were quite a bit more energized. Here is the setlist, which I was close enough to photograph over the monitor:



Five of these were new songs, the ones marked Buzzard, Mist, Temples, Diamonds, and Country. They used different instruments for the new songs. The singer/guitarist used a wood-tone les paul instead of the sunburst he used for the older ones, and the bassist used a rickenbacher instead of his fender P-bass. The lead guitarist changed, too, but I could not see what his new guitar was. The sound of the new songs was different, less metally and more hard-rock vibe.

After the second batch of new songs, they played Freya, probably their most well-known song, and the crowd was pumped. They thanked us for coming out and started the intro to their closer, Dying Earth, with the bassist doing some Geddy Lee shit with some bass-synth pedals, but just as they started someone came up on stage and whispered something to the lead guitarist. He said they weren't going to be able to play the song, that there was a fire. He talked to the singer/guitarist, who took the mic and said yeah, this is no joke, we'll need you guys to make your way to the front doors in an orderly fashion. He thanked us for coming out and apologized that they wouldn't be able to finish their set.

I was disappointed that they did not get to finish strong, but Freya was a good closer anyway, and honestly by that point I was getting tired and dehydrated. I had thought during the set that I might duck back and get some water, but I didn't want to give up my good spot, and then I heard someone come back from the bar saying that they were totally out of water AND beer.

I hiked the mile back to my car and hit the road. Traffic was light back to Norman, so I made good time. When I got home, I picked up the bunnies from their outside bunny run and put them back in their cage in the garage for the night. The weather was mild and traffic was light, so I decided to go for a brief ride. I'm trying to ride everyday to work on my skills and get more comfortable. In particular, Mariah's dad told us that we should practice starting with the right foot on the rear brake pedal instead of starting with both feet on the ground. He pointed out that at some point you'll be on a hill and need to use the rear brake to keep from rolling backwards while you start. I had never thought about this, though it makes sense. When I've been on a hill, I've just kept the front brake engaged to keep from rolling while giving some gas with my thumb, then I would just quickly let off the front brake while letting the clutch out. This is an inferior solution for a few reasons. One, if you don't let off the brake fast enough, you can end up with the front wheel locked and the rear wheel spinning, which causes you to swerve without much control. Two, if you let the clutch out too fast, you can lurch forward abruptly and/or burnout the rear wheel. Three, on a hill, most of your weight is going to be shifted to the rear wheel, so it is better to have that brake engaged to keep you from rolling backwards.

So that all makes sense, but it is uncomfortable for someone who is used to starting with both feet on the ground and the bike centered. When you have one foot on the rear brake (the right pedal, on all modern bikes, though british bikes and early harley sportsters traditionally had the rear brake on the left side and the shifter on the right), your tendency is to lean the bike a bit to the other side to avoid toppling it over. It's not like it is overly difficult to keep the bike level or close to level with only one foot on the ground, and even if the bike is just a little bit leaned, it's not hard to right it when you start moving. That's what the bike wants to do when the wheels are spinning. Though a bike at a standstill will fall over if you let go, a bike in motion's natural state is to keep going forward in an upright position. If you jump off of a bike moving forward, it's going to keep going straight until it loses speed or hits a bump that knocks the front wheel off center. So I just need to practice starting from a stop with my right foot on the brake pedal, in various situations, until it becomes natural. I've been practicing doing it going forward, going into a right-hand turn, and going into a left-hand turn. The right-hand turn is most difficult, because it is your instinct to put your right foot down to steady the bike with your right foot while turning right.

Anyway, I rode for a few minutes around the neighborhood then pulled back to the house. I opened the garage and backed the bike in, closed it, and came inside. I've just been hanging out on the computer, drinking some argentinian malbec and listening to 90s electronic music from The Saint soundtrack. Someone posted a clip of The Sneaker Pimps online and it made me want to go back and listen to that entire soundtrack. That was an interesting heyday for electronic music in popular culture, in a way. The Saint and Pi both had extremely popular soundtracks with all electronic music, Trainspotting had an Underworld song featured prominently, Hackers put Orbital's Halcyon+on+on in everyone's consciousness.

An interesting thing about electronic music from that era is that it was not really dance-focused. For a lot of the songs, the artist could go to a club or rave and remix it with a heavy four-on-the-floor beat for dancing. But some of the artists, particularly Aphex Twin and Orbital, couldn't always do that because the songs were in eccentric time signatures. A friend of mine once tried to figure out how to dance to Orbital's 7/8 Mock Tudor. His Mock Tudor Dance never caught on in clubs, sadly, and the song was not a big dance hit.

Orbital had a reputation for always remixing their songs live, and they became famous for wearing eyeglass-lights to see the mixing boards during sets. Halcyon+on+on, in the original recording, is a very chill piece, which is appropriate as it is a reference to a tranquilizer drug for treating insomnia. Apparently their mom (the band is two brothers) used to take it to sleep, and they would see her go from her awake state to almost asleep before she got up and went to bed. The original song referenced that experience. But when they would remix the song live, they wanted to keep the energy up. They started to remix it with two samples--Bon Jovi's You Give Love a Bad Name and Belinda Carlisle's Heaven is a Place on Earth. They would overlay the two samples, then they would flip the Heaven is a Place on Earth sample so it was just the melody played backwards. A live version was included as a B-side on the US release of their seminal album In Sides. The video linked above is from the band's 2011 reunion at Glastonbury, because it's a good video with good sound quality. You can see the eyeglass-lights as well. I expect that until I lose my memory, I will be able to immediately recall the melody to Heaven is a Place on Earth--reversed.

So this started out as a post about a concert I went to and ended up with a ramble about a particular piece of music significant to me. In vino veritas? In wine, vambot5 starts rambling about songs. My loved ones would agree without reservation.
vambot5: (CBX)
It is a strange day when Megadeth is the subject of a post on ONTD.

Strangeness of this happenstance aside, it is really bad news for Megadeth fans. Though I am a long fan of the band, it's hardly a secret that Dave Mustaine is an epic asshole. Broderick and Drover seemed like a good fit--fantastic players, able to add ferocity to Mustaine's songs, and apparently able to let his bullshit roll off themselves without sticking. Technically, the band with them was probably the best lineup Megadeth has ever had. Megadeth's "return to form" with Endgame and United Abominations was largely due to their playing. I am sure that there are other players who could step in and maintain that level of musicianship, but how many have the skill, and the willingness to work with Dave?
vambot5: (CBX)
Mariah found Ivan the Terrible/Mrs. Doubtfire today. He was in the back corner of the yard, missing a head, with a big hole in one side. To me, his condition is basically conclusive of what happened: the storms came, he freaked out and flew over the fence, and got mauled by a dog. The owner later threw his body over the fence. Mariah thinks that his resting position makes that unlikely, but she admits that we had previously checked the spot where she found him. Regardless, we now know what we already knew: out accidental rooster is dead, only days after Snowflake. We are now down to the two least interesting chickens of the flock.
vambot5: (CBX)
This is my jam tonight. The end of a day of heavy rain, a day of LL Bean boots and soggy jeans, a day of wind-blown umbrellas, a day of motorcycle jackets zipped all the way up with the collar popped to protect the neck from spitting precipitation. Running errands, trying to get ingredients for tomorrow's hastily rescheduled potluck since last weekend was canceled due to ice. Trying to get supplies for the bunnies that Mariah randomly showed up with yesterday. Going to the taco truck for dinner, with its enclosed dining area protected from the rain.

I love Kendrick Lamar's verse on this song. I struggled to get into his huge album, good kid, mAAD city. I thought his flow and lyricism were great, but some aspects of the overall tone and theme of the album I found distasteful. This track for Flying Lotus, though, showcases Lamar's skill with none of the gangsta elements. It's just Lamar meditating on mortality. It's exquisite, perfect. Flying Lotus's track is, in my opinion, more interesting than anything on mAAd city. Flying Lotus is like the Frank Zappa of the EDM world, incorporating jazz, funk, 90s IDM, musique concrete, and basically every other musical flavor to further the atmosphere of the tracks. Lamar flows effortlessly over the jazzy landscape as though it were his home.

Mariah got a couple of bunnies, as I said. She got two, so they could snuggle. One is an albino, white with pink eyes. The other is white with thick black eyeliner and a black stripe down the back. The albino, Mariah named Pink, which quickly became Pinky when I explained that cute pets need two-syllable names. The other, we struggled to name. It has a black mustache, so I thought about names related to Charlie Chaplin/The Scamp, but those names didn't fit. I kept calling it The Brain, since the other's name is Pinky. I thought about Zappa, because of the mustache. I thought about calling it Triumph, because it has a racing stripe and I love Triumph motorcycles. We got a green carrying case, which I called British Racing Green. I joked about painting the carrying case with a racing stripe, then realized that the unnamed bunny actually has a racing stripe on her back. I proposed that we call her Triumph, The Brain Zappa. This name seemed to work on every level. Triumph, because this bunny has a racing stripe, and because she is the adventurous one, the explorer. I thought that Triumph, The Brain seemed like a name that Zappa would approve of. We liked it, and now we have Triumph, The Brain Zappa and Pinky.

The bunnies are hanging out in the garage, in the rabbit cage I previously bought for some ornery chickens. We put a waterer in the cage, and an amazon box with a hole cut out for a little nest. They seem to like it. We plan to relocate them to the backyard when it warms up a bit. We will probably have to fence the bunnies off from the rest of the yard.

This morning, there were huge thunderstorms. When we got up, we found that the rooster was nowhere to be found. We assumed he had fled over the fence to the neighbors' yard with the other chickens. If he went to the other neighbors' yards, he probably would have encountered dogs. We weren't worried, because he's fled over the fence to the other chickens before. But we haven't heard him crowing all day. If he just fled next door, we probably would have heard him crowing, and we haven't heard a thing. We thought, hopefully he was just being quiet because of the bad weather, but we are skeptical that this is a reasonable excuse. We hope that he made a good choice in his emigration. If not, he probably didn't survive when the dogs came out. Our feelings are complicated. In light of Snowflake's recent demise, we sort of blame him. If he were a better rooster, he would have protected all of the flock and let himself die before one of the hens got killed. Instead, he ran away and let Snowflake die. It's complicated, though. We bought him thinking he was a hen, and Snowflake took on the role as alpha, and even when it turned out he was a rooster, Snowflake maintained a strong protector role. With Snowflake gone, we fear that the rooster wasn't used to standing his ground when shit got scary, and that he fled during the thunderstorms, wherever he could go. We hope that he turns up, because we don't wish him ill. On the other hand, we knew that we couldn't keep him, because we aren't allowed to keep roosters in town. We were already looking for someone who could take him. In that sense, if he just disappeared, it would be less work for us. But we would still feel sad, because we had grown fond of the guy.

I've got to get up early tomorrow to get the roast in the oven for the rescheduled party. Last time, I cooked all day and had the roast ready about 6:00, to be at the party by 7:00. Tomorrow, the party has been bumped up to 5:00. I need to have the roast in the oven at least an hour earlier. This means I need to get up and get in top gear early, otherwise the roast will still be tough when I need to leave. This is a group in which I have already developed a reputation for bringing good food, and I don't want to let that slip. The curse of expectation. I am a person who loves cooking, though. Making food that people enjoy brings me a deep, visceral pleasure. I can't half-ass it.

EDIT: To clarify: we have only one neighbor who keeps chickens. Our accidental rooster, whom we alternatively call Ivan the Terrible or Mrs. Doubtfire, has gone next door to visit the ladies before. We hope that he went over that fence, so he could mate with the CILFs next door. If he fled over a different fence, he would have instead encountered angry dogs rather than hot CILFs. We hope that he made the right choice. We will wait until tomorrow to see if he is crowing at dawn. If not, we assume the worst. If he were next door with the ladies, we would hear him.
vambot5: (CBX)
One of my all-time favorite songs is Guy Clark's epic Desperados Waiting for a train. It is a brilliant narrative ballad about a young boy and a grandfather figure, someone worn around the edges, "an old-school man of the world." Guy has spoken about the origins of this song, and he said the song was written about his grandmother's boyfriend. His grandmother owned a hotel out in west Texas, "a town between Pecos and nowhere," and that setting informed a number of his songs. For example, The Last Gunfighter Ballad, which Waylon Jennings loved and lent his voice to the original recording.

Anyway, Guy wrote this song about his pseudograndfather. The song is a bittersweet tale of growing up with this man. The narrator recounts memories of tagging along while this man played 42 (a Texas tradition in local domino parlors, more like bridge or spades than standard dominoes), and driving his car when he's too drunk to drive himself. The narrator casts them as two charactes in an old Western movie, "like desperados waiting for a train." Later, when the old man is dying, the narrator plays an old song that they used to sing and eases him into death, with the iconic phrase, "C'mon Jack, that sonofabitch is comin'."

Growing up, I knew this song intimately. Jerry Jeff Walker recorded a version on his landmark album ¡Viva Terlingua!. That album was etched into my soul when I was a kid. It was constantly playing, on my mom's record player while I jumped on the bed, at the lake, in the car when we first had a cassette deck. Jerry Jeff's version of the song adheres to the wild spirit of his Hunter S. Thompson-inspired Lost Gonzo Band. The song reaches its peak on a surprisingly quiet note, with the lyric subtly changed to "Yeah, Jack, you know that son'a'bitch is comin'." It then builds to a frenzy, with the drums picking up into a fast shuffle and the bass and organ kicking into a frantic note, before the song fades out. This was the version of the song I knew and loved. In a way, the frenzied denouement was almost an apology for the heavy material. On the album, it goes straight into Sangria Wine, an ode to getting drunk with friends.

After Jerry Jeff's version, outlaw-country supergroup The Highwaymen did a version of the song. Despite the talent involved, the slick, keyboard-heavy version never really spoke to me. It was interesting to hear Kris, Waylon, Willie, and Johnnie do the verses, but overall, I always found it an oddity. Like most of the Highwaymen recordings, really. It was the 80s, I suppose.

When I was in college, I started to get into Guy Clark's catalog, and was faced with his version of the song. At first, I was repelled by his raw version, because it is so different from Jerry Jeff's gonzo version. Over time, though, I came to appreciate Guy's pure emotion when he sings the song, particularly since he is singing an ode he wrote to a person who was literally a real figure in his life. When the Nashville overlords gave Guy permission to record his first album. Old No. 1, he whittled his already-extensive catalog down to what he considered his best songs, and this one made the cut. That studio recording is great, but it was transformed into a largely piano-driven ballad.

For my money, the best youtube-available recording of the song is this one, a solo recording that was included in the documentary Heartworn Highways. This is the song as Guy wrote it, in a quiet, emotional solo guy-and-guitar performance. A song "about a man who was kinda like [his] grandfather, really [his] grandmother's boyfriend, a man named Jack Prigg." This is the tall Texan who migrated to Nashville and set up a salon for young songwriters, where anyone with a guitar and half a song could show up and know they'd find a tall long-haired guy with a chambray shirt and turqoise ring, who would help them make their songs better. This is Guy the icon singing the song that would later make his name when Jerry Jeff recorded it. No bullshit, no band, just a dude and a song.


As an aside, Heartworn Highways has some great footage, though it is not necessarily a great movie. Ostensibly, the filmmaker wanted to document Guy's scene in Nashville, but was distracted by flashier acts like David Allan Coe and Charlie Daniels somewhat. The film, and particularly the bonus footage, includes a number of songs from Guy, and a young Rodney Crowell, and an impossibly young Steve Earle (he must have been like 18 or 19), and even a young John Hiatt shows up. As the story goes, Guy and Steve Earle were irritated with how intrusive the filmmakers were getting, and on a lark they told them they needed to go to Austin to check out the best songwriter in the world, Townes Van Zandt. They did believe that Townes was the best songwriter in the world, but they knew Townes and thought he would generally be a wild goose chase. Ironically, Townes's scenes stole the movie, because he was the only one who unabashedly played to the camera. He shot some cans with a BB gun, held some chickens, and generally goofed off. He told a tall tale about how he was raising the world's biggest rabbits, and pretended to fall into a rabbit warren. He was shacked up in Clarksville, Austin, TX, which was traditionally an all-black independent neighborhood, separate from Austin's grid. He brought over an old, black, traveling blacksmith, who sat in on his performances and cried during his performance of Waiting 'Round to Die. Townes jokingly said "let me play you the medley of my Hit," and did did Pancho and Lefty. It had then been a minor "hit" for Emmylou Harris, but a decade later it would later become a much bigger hit for Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. Willie admitted he had didn't know the song before they recorded it, and it was his daughter who suggested it as a track. Not that Willie owes any credit to other songwriters for making his career, but in concert I have always seen him give props to Townes for the song.
vambot5: (CBX)
I had a mediation today on a pair of my cases, both with same claimant. I never get to do mediations. In case you aren't familiar, a mediation is basically a settlement negotiation with a neutral third-party helping out. Most of my work is on my boss John's cases, and for the important ones he will always do the mediations himself. For the rest, his partner Brenda always does them. Over time, I came to realize why. The other attorney I work for, Greg, describes mediation as "totally gravy" for defense attorneys. Basically, it's really easy billing for a minimal amount of work. Without a mediation, to do a settlement evaluation and send an offer, you get to bill like an hour, then for each response/counteroffer maybe 15-20 minutes. For a mediation, though, you get to sit around for hours and bill for it, with most of the time being spent just waiting while the mediator talks to the claimant. If you are able to bring other files to work on while you wait, you can easily double-bill your time and bill maybe six hours for a three-hour mediation. As a result, the partners are reluctant to give up the opportunity to an associate attorney.

In this mediation today, I represent a trucking company. The claimant had a claim from 2011 where he had a knee injury. I didn't represent the company in that originally, the insurance company handled it in-house and negotiated a sort of pseudo-settlement, basically an agreed order for the amount of permanent disability while leaving the claim open. That meant that he was able to file a motion to reopen his claim if he thought he had suffered a change of condition for the worse, which is exactly what happened. I also represented the company in a 2014 claim for a low back injury. When he filed the motion for the 2011 claim, the adjuster asked me to handle that as well, since I was already handling the 2014 claim. At the mediation today, we hoped to settle both of the claims.

There was a significant complicating factor. In 2014, Oklahoma created a new administrative agency to handle workers' comp claims. Previously, claims were handled in a court system under the judicial system. This meant that the old claim was under the court system, the the new claim was under the administrative system. The administrative system is new and generally regarded as claimant-hostile, whereas the court system is regarded as claimant-friendly.

In these cases, the claimant is an older guy, native american-looking, and extremely overweight. When he had the knee injury in 2011, the doctors diagnosed him with a torn meniscus, but also diagnosed him with severe osteoarthritis as a result of his obesity. It was my position that if he had suffered a change of condition, it was due to the arthritis and not in any way related to our injury. I think I had a strong argument there, but I also had to face the fact that in the pseudo-settlement he did for the original injury, he wasn't represented by an attorney and he agreed to an amount of permanent disability far less than what he would have been awarded if the case had gone to trial. The court very well might have let him reopen his case just for the opportunity to get more permanent disability that probably should have been paid in the first place. If so, we would have had to send him back to a doctor, who would have recommended more treatment, possibly even a knee replacement. Easily tens of thousands of dollars in additional medical bills, thousands in additional temporary disability while he was under active treatment, and thousands if not tens of thousands in additional permanent disability. Even though I thought I had a good case in denying the change of condition, I had to admit that there was significant exposure.

In the back case, I didn't feel I had much exposure, really. This was under the claimant-hostile system. The claimant had a minor back injury, no surgery. However, he did end up with permanent work restrictions such that his employer could not take him back as a truck driver. As such, I had exposure for vocational rehabilitation (even though I don't think the claimant intends to ever return to work). I didn't think he had much to stand on in the way of permanent disability, but I had to admit that I was facing thousands in voc rehab.

At the mediation, I started out by telling the mediator flat-out what my full authority was for the back claim. I lied, of course, as I'm sure he expected. I kept a couple thousand close to my chest in case it was necessary, but I didn't expect it to be. I thought the number I gave was a reasonable upper limit, and, ultimately, they accepted it. The claimant's attorney knew that if he forced that issue to trial, he was unlikely to come out with more than what I was offering.

The knee claim was more complicated. This wasn't a simple case of how much disability the court might award. This was a denied motion to reopen that the court had not yet ruled on, and so there was an actual risk analysis of what might happen at trial. I had a strong argument for the court flatly denying the motion to reopen, in which case the claimant would get nothing. But if I lost, I would be facing tens of thousands of dollars in exposure, possibly hundreds of thousands if a knee replacement happened and the court awarded pain management for the rest of his life. We both had to weigh our best-case with our worst-case and determine at what point we were willing to walk away and risk it at trial.

After several discussions on the matter, my client was only willing to to extend authority for $25K for the knee claim. If it was going to take more than that to settle, she was willing to risk our chances in court. I had the impression that the mediator was feeling me on this one, and I told him I could only offer up to $15K. (Often, when the claimant flat-out rejects your offer and insists something higher, you can say "I need to call my client" and bump up into your hidden authority.)

After some wheeling and dealing, I was able to get it done for what I had offered. I came in at $12K under budget, and was able to tell my client that I was a rockstar. My boss was impressed that I handled the whole thing so well, both in terms of managing my client's expectations and coming in for significantly under my authority. My boss, in his dryly humorous way, told me that today I'm a hero, but reminded me that humilty is only one "green envelope away." (The court used to mail its orders in green envlopes--now they're just plain white envelopes with big letters "ORDER ENCLOSED.") That's John's entire legal philosophy, which he learned from our firm's founder--don't get too high, don't get too low, just go out every day and do the best you can for your clients. Today, I got to tell my client (and my boss) that I did a killer job negotiating a settlement. Next week, I'll get an order in the mail and have to tell my client that we lost. Again.

Of course, I would have warned the client in advance that, to steal my boss's catchphrase, "our likelihood of prevailing on this issue is approximately 15%."
vambot5: (CBX)
I'm making some red chile pork. I thought about making standard beef chili, but I didn't quite feel up to it. Making beef chili is almost a religious rite for me. I didn't want ritual, I wanted something more experimental. I have never made red chile pork before. I've eaten it lots of times, sure. But the version I made was different from anything I have had in a restaurant.

I went with a combination of boneless pork short rib and boneless pork sirloin, trimmed of hard fat and cut into 1/2" cubes, seasoned with salt and pepper. I made a chile paste more or less the same as what I use for beef chili, with ancho, pasilla, and new mexico chiles. For this chili, I tried to use a higher porportion of new mexicos and pasillas in the mix. It's tough, though, those chiles have super thin flesh compared to anchos, so you have to use a LOT more of them before it makes a big difference. Anchos are really thick and meaty, and add serious texture to the sauce.

After I'd blistered and seeded the dried peppers, I tore them into pieces and covered them with boiling water to reconstitute. I browned the pork in batches, then browned a chopped onion and a couple cloves of garlic. A splash of dry vermouth to scrap the bottom of the pot, then add liberal paprika and cumin. Add the pork back and top with chicken stock. Puree the peppers into a paste and add to the pot, along with dried mexican oregano and a bay leaf. Add a big splash of white wine vinegar and some salt & pepper to taste.

I bought a habanero, but decided not to use it because I would like for mariah to try the end product. I did add a pinch of pequín powder to brighten it up.

Then wait patiently while it cooks, and write an LJ post in the process. Pork takes longer to get tender than beef, generally, particularly if you use rib meat. I went ahead and threw some short-grain brown rice in the rice cooker, but the rice will likely be done long before the pork is ready. I will go back every 30 minutes or so and taste the broth, adding more salt, vinegar, or spices as necessary to achieve the perfect flavor. When it's done, I'll probably want to thicken it with a cornstarch-water slurry. If I had thought about it, I would have bought some mexican hominy to put into the pot. That would have helped thicken it without needing the cornstarch, and generally hominy is awesome. I am a lifelong advocate of nixtamalization. But alas, I have no hominy, so I'll just thicken with starch and eat it over brown rice whenever it's done.

I'll leave this public in case someone is interested in my culinary adventures.


EDIT: I forgot to add that I added one coarsely-chopped red bell pepper right after I added the stock. I wanted the red bell pepper to have a bit more substance to it than what I usually do with my fresh peppers in a beef chili, so I did not sautee it at all, just added it whole once the liquid was in the pot.
vambot5: (CBX)

For anyone with even a passing familiarity with the two artists, the comparison is obvious. Country rebel Johnny Cash, and macabre Aussie Nick Cave. Cave largely co-opted Cash's sense of style, with flamboyant tailored black suits with frilly shirts, and high, unbuttoned collars. Like Johnny Cash, Nick Cave had an obsession with writing songs from the perspective of characters on the margin of society, the poor, the beaten, the people who maintained hope despite all hopeless surroundings. Though Cave is an obvious songwriter of the Leonard Cohen school, his sense of style and theatrics owes much more to Cash's demeanor rather than Leonard Cohen's understated stage presence. Cave covered one of Cash's songs on his early cover album, Kicking Against the Pricks. The title is not a cheeky pun, rather a biblical reference. Cave covered Johnny Cash's "The Folk Singer" (retitled "The Singer") on that record, a dark and apolyptical take on the song. He also recorded a Cash-influenced version of country standard Long Black Veil. (From my standpoint, though, Lefty Frizzel's version of the song reigns supreme.)

Soon thereafter, Cave wrote wrote what would become his signature song. On the album Tender Prey, he included his song The Mercy Seat. It is a tale of a convicted killer on death row, facing the very real fact that he will be executed for his crime. The titular "mercy seat" refers unambiguously to the electric chair, yet it is also a reference to heaven's golden throne. The original recording of the song is challenging. The production is part of it, a caustic sound, with Cave spitting the verses in a spoken-word style, and with the chorus repeating a million times at the end with subtle changes. Cave's original version of the song, though, casts some doubt on the narrator's veracity when he proclaims his innocence. From the beginning, he states that he was convicted of "a crime of which I am nearly wholly innocent, you know." The chorus repeats many variations of the refrain "I've got nothing left to lose, and I'm not afraid to die." One of these refrains in the original recording states "I've got nothing left to lose, and I'm not afraid to lie," and the final refrain is "and I'm afraid I told a lie."

Cave has played this song at nearly every concert since the song was released in 1988. The song has varied dramatically over the years as Cave's musical tastes have changed. The recording on the album Live Seeds is, in my opinion, the canonical version of the song. He realized quickly that the verses need to be intelligible, and that the coda needs far fewer refrains. The song includes sung verses rather than the muttered lines on the original studio version, and generally the music is more listenable, starting simple and building to a crescendo as the narrator's fate goes from defiant to accepting. A result of the abbreviated storytelling, though, is more ambiguity about the narrator's guilt of the crime. It lacks the into with the flippant line about he is "nearly wholly innocent, you know." It lacks the line about "I'm not afraid to lie," though it does include the line "I'm afraid I told a lie."

As Cave's style became increasingly mellowed, so did this song. See the version he played on David Letterman. In support of the 1998 album Abbatoir Blues, rather than playing a cut from the album, Cave decided to do a solo piano version of this then-decade-old song. This plays into Nick Cave's iconoclastic style--he could have done one of the songs from the album (which certainly had plenty of great candidates), but instead he did this song purely to make his long-time fans happy. Letterman quipped "I've never been so depressed in my entire life," but clearly he signed off on the number. Letterman has alwayes been a supporter of fringe singer-songwriters, and this line was pretty clearly to add levity to the end of the program. Cave continued to adapt the song, trimming verses and refrains to boil the song down to its essence, as shown in this recording for KCRW.

At some point during Nick Cave's rise from esoteric post-punk provateur to international star, Johnny Cash experienced his own renaissance. Rick Rubin had persuaded Cash to do a series of stripped-down acoustic albums for his American Records label. This series, American Recordings, spawned a number of albums. Cash included a number of renowned covers--Depeche Mode's Personal Jesus, Beck's Rowboat, U2's One, and, significantly, Trent Reznor's Hurt. During these recordings, Cash was persuaded to record his own version of The Mercy Seat.

Cash's version of The Mercy Seat was significantly different from Cave's versions in a critical way. Whereas Cave's narrator always protested innocence in a cheeky way, Cash's narrator was unwavering in his innocence. His narrator was "TOTALLY innocent" of the charges. This cast a totally different perspective on the song. Cash's narrator is a literal martyr who accepts his impending death with stoicism and grace, unlike Cave's narrator who seemed to joke about innocence while never truly confessing his guilt.

In Cash's version of Hurt, he turned Reznor's petulant song about self-hate and lost love into an epic ballad about deceased loved ones and acceptance of impending death. In his version of The Mercy Seat, he achieved a similar task. He turned Cave's tale of a semi-repentant murderer into a story about himself, basically. It is a song about someone who has been accused of many things, yet maintains his innocence, and is not afaid of his own impending death.

(I lost a significant part of this entry when I tried to post, apologies if the second half is not as detailed as the first.)

if you can only listen to two clips from this post, please listen to Nick Cave's Live Seeds version and Johnny Cash's version. I recommemd going back and listening to all of the clips, though.

vambot5: (CBX)
Steve Earle has been in my consciousness since I was a teenager. I had a subscription to Rolling Stone (a 13th birthday gift from Mom's best friend--thanks Jana) and he was a country renegade, not an outlaw like Johnny Cash, but a renegade. As an aside, the journalist who coined the term "outlaw country" originally wanted to call it "renegade country" until she looked up the meaning of renegade. She didn't think it fit for the Nelson/Jennings/Coulter vibe, but it totally fits for Steve Earle: a person who deserts and betrays an organization, country, or set of principles." Steve Earle actively tried to reject his country allegiances, and made an album, Copperhead Road, which he considered "for me . . . a heavy metal record." It's not remotely metal, but it shows a clear attempt to do something that rejected his folk/country roots. He didn't manage the rejection he hoped for, but he achieved a certain caché for trying. Anyway, I had this picture of Steve Earle that I cut out of Rolling Stone just because I liked the look of it, and I put it on one of my walls-of-pictures.

I didn't get those Steve Earle first couple of records. They had a style that journalists called "power twang," that basically amplified the redneckness to almost cartoon levels. The first time I went to the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, Steve was headlining, and I didn't bother to stay for his set and went home early to avoid driving in the middle of the night. I overheard someone saying "He plays half the time and the other half is him ranting about politics." I wasn't into politics at the time (though I was already an obsessive voter), and just didn't think it was worth staying. I have regretted it since.

I have since learned a lot about Steve Earle, largely due to my interest in the guys who were his mentors. Townes Van Zandt is country music's poet laureate, an impossibly deep, thoughtful songwriter. Steve found Townes when he was a rebellious teenager and immediately latched onto him. He loved Townes not just for his songwriting, but for his hard-drinking, drug-addled, rebellious spirit. He tells the story of how he was at a gig, and Townes showed up, three sheets to the wind. Townes kept shouting out "Play Wabash Cannonball!" between every song. Steve eventually admitted that he did not know the song, and Townes yelled "How can you call yourself a folk singer if you don't know Wabash Cannonball?" In response, Steve played one of Townes's songs, Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold. It's a song with a million words, one that at the time only two people besides Townes had learned--Steve himself, and Rex Bell (subject of Rex's Blues), a local bassist and club owner. Townes was apparently impressed and shut up after that.

Later, Steve moved to Nashville to be a songwriter (he was still a teenager) and hooked up with Townes's best friend, Guy Clark. Guy was a sort of mythic Nashville figure, along with his wife Susannah, and their house had become something of a salon for young songwriters. Guy would take people in and teach them how to write songs. Townes was always a pretty vague mentor, with advice like "go read Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, and rewrite this song after you've finished it." Guy was much more concrete, and would offer actual advice about how to make the songs into masterpieces.

As far as I'm concerned, Guy Clark is the coolest motherfucker alive. He has been writing and honing his crafts--as a songwriter and a luthier--for over 40 years. I got into Guy and Townes around the same time, and was struck by their differences in songwriting. For literary comparison, Guy is more like Steinbeck and Hemmingway, whereas Townes is more like Faulkner meets Pynchon. Guy's songwriting in particular stood out to me for his storytelling and ability to use simple verses to convey huge emotions.

I learned, later, that Steve had been one of Guy Clark's first proteges. Before I knew this, I had sort of imagined that Guy would not have approved of Steve, seeing him as part of the dark side of Townes Van Zandt's image. Nothing could be further from the truth. Steve moved to Nashville and Guy totally took him in, letting him play bass in his band and encouraging him as a songwriter. Everybody wanted to write a song that Guy liked, and Steve wrote one that Guy thought was one of the best he'd ever heard. In the documentary Heartworn Highways, you hear Guy telling everyone at his party to shut up and listen to this song and quizzing his guests whether they listened to the verses.

Steve took up as a songwriter, making a few bucks a week in hopes of getting to make a record. This happened occasionally--Guy got to make records--but it didn't happen for Steve. His first album, Guitar Town, came out over a decade later. The followup, the aforementioned Copperhead Road, got him some traction as a "renegade country" artist. But he was pretty deep into drugs by that time, and spent a few years in a dark period of booze and heroin, unable or uninterested in making more records. He came home one time to find Townes Van Zandt sitting in his living room, demanding to know whether he was using clean needles every time. Assured that this was the case, a very drunk Townes said "let me play you a song I just wrote" and played an early version of Marie.

Steve eventually got sober and found himself wanting to record a new album. That album, 1995's Train a Comin', included many of the songs Steve wrote in the 70s when he was hanging out with Guy Clark, like Mercenary Song, Tom Ames' Prayer, and Ben McCullough. Only a few songs on that album were new. One of those was his masterpiece Goodbye. The first song he wrote after getting sober, it's a song about losing a loved one during his strung-out days, which he has often called "the ninth step in the key of C." Emmylou Harris, an old friend of the gang, was immediately blown away, and did her own version, and often joined Steve in concert on the song.

I love everything about this song. The studio version is probably my favorite recording of it, in concert it's never as intimate and heart-wrenching as it should be. It's a song for a dark room, just you and your ghosts. The seemingly simple yet delicate fingerpicking seems to flow out of his fingers straight from his soul. Playing it on guitar, you cannot help but follow Steve into the place of loss and desperation to apologize.

I consider Train a Comin' Steve Earle's best album. I am glad he finally decided to record those songs he wrote in the 70s, and that he did so at a time when he really felt he had something to prove to the world. If he had haphazardly cut them when he was back on top, they wouldn't have the same fierceness with which they were originally written. Really, it's a shame he didn't get the opportunity to record them when they were fresh, but by the time he got an album deal, he'd been shopping those songs for a decade and didn't think they were worthwhile. Overall, the whole album is fantastic, it's a reaffirmation of where he came from with the older songs, but also a strong sense of rebirth and new direction. His cover of "I'm Looking Through You" is always a bit odd for me, but I didn't grow up with the Beatles. His cover of reggae classic Rivers of Babylon is also a bit odd on the album, but if you listen to the version (witn Emmylou Harris) on Live in Nashville 1995 (not on youtube, but on spotify), it's moving, a moment of realizing he wasn't living right and weeping when he remembered how life could be.

EDIT: For anyone interested, I strongly recommend Townes Van Zandt's Live at the Old Quarter as a starting point for Townes's work. It's just him and a guitar, and avoids some of the production conceits of his studio records. It also reflects his personality better than his studio albums. It shows his ability to go from lighthearted humor to darker songs in an instant, showing both aspects of his personality. You get the impression that as a person Townes was charming, affable, funny. But he definitely has a depth and darkness, and he realized that he needed to intersperse the humor to keep the audience from getting depressed. It's a great listen.
vambot5: (CBX)
I went down for Grandmother's funeral yesterday.

It was an all-day affair. I decided against spending the night, because of other matters here at home. The funeral was Thursday. Wednesday night, I had an inn of court meeting that I didn't want to miss--it was the first one of the year, plus I'm going to miss next month's due to a conflict with my bicycle maintenance class. Mariah had to work until 10 pm anyway and didn't think she could get anyone to cover her shift, they just lost a couple of people. So I didn't want to drive down to Ennis, TX leaving at 10 or 11 after a really long day. Then I didn't want to spend Thursday night because I had a mediation scheduled for Friday morning on a pair of cases I really want to settle and get rid of. So I planned to drive down Thursday morning and back as soon as the funeral was over.

Mom didn't really communicate to me about the funeral at all. She said the funeral was at 1 pm and texted me the address of a funeral home in Ennis. I assumed we'd go to the cemetery after the funeral. The cemetery is in the middle of nowhere in Byrd, Texas, on an unmarked road. You pretty much have to know how to get there; it's not on the map, on an unmarked gravel road. Ennis is right off I-45, and Byrd is about 20 minutes west, the other side of Bardwell Lake, into the very rural triangle between I-45 and I-35E.

An aside about the cemetery. My great-granddaddy, Homer St. Clair, was a farmer, a cotton-picker, an overalls-wearing man of the world. He would sit on the porch of the farmhouse at night and spook the kids with tales of the horrific wampuscat (pronounced WHOMP'scat), that would pick the flesh off your bones after blindsiding you from the side of the path. He would play with the feral arm cats on the porch during the late afternoons. He was, by all reports, a brilliant, clever man who constantly amused himself by playing word games with people. When I was little, the family was having dinner in the dining room, which had a door to the porch. I was out on the porch playing. Granddaddy, at the head of the table, could see outside, but no one else could without turning. He started telling this rambling story about this tribe in sub-saharan africa that did not believe in wearing clothes. The whole family was like Homer, what are you talking about. Then he stood up and pointed to the front porch, and everybody turned and looked and saw that I had taken off my clothes and was running around on the porch butt-nekkid. On another occasion, he was going with mom's uncle to the bank, and he stayed in the car while uncle Tommy went inside to make a deposit. When Tommy came out, Homer said "I just saw a guy go from the bank to the drugstore (across the street) without taking a single step." This was clearly a puzzle, and Tommy couldn't figure it out. They watched until the guy came out of the drugstore--in a wheelchair.

Homer had a gig mowing the cemetery near the farmhouse. Every Sunday, he would load the lawnmower into the trunk of Ford Fairlane (that's the car I remember, I don't know what he had when Mom was a kid) and go mow the cemetery. Mom would spend Saturday night with her grandparents every week, and she would go with him and play in the cemetery while he mowed. She knew all of the tombstones, and would hear the stories about the ones Homer knew. When my granddaddy died, Mom and her siblings decided to bury him there instead of at the Ennis cemetery. It just felt like home to them. Grandmother would obviously be buried in the same cemetery.

Anyway, back to the funeral. I had assumed that the funeral would be at the funeral home in Ennis, the address Mom had texted me. I planned to drive down and get to Ennis about 11:45, get something to eat for lunch, and then head over. As I was driving, Mom kept calling me, but I couldn't answer because it's illegal to talk on the phone in Texas. I give the phone to Mariah, who had been asleep and was still functionally so, and Mom said that if we wanted to see Grandmother in the coffin we'd have to be there by 11:30. We were still about 20 minutes out and couldn't get there until 11:45, and I'm not generally into the whole viewing thing. So we just said no, it's OK.

So we get to Ennis and stop at a locally-famous barbecue place for lunch. It was pretty awful, a big disappointment. Right after we've tasted the food and expressed our disappointment, Mom calls and tells me for the first time that the funeral is actually at the cemetery, 20 minutes away, and that we have to be there at 12:30. In other words, we have to immediately drop our lunch, meet her at her hotel, and drive to the cemetery. I don't know the arcane driving directions to get there, so I have to follow my dad. He's driving like a maniac and drives through two yellow lights, leaving me stopped on a red. I'm catching air and bottoming out my car trying to keep up with him in my little car as he's driving 65 on twisty country roads. We manage to get there right at 12:30, and...we're the only ones there. All that stress was just so Mom could be there first, I guess? I dunno. I was frustrated by the rush that could have been easily avoided if Mom had just communicated to me ahead of time what the plan was.

So then it's just standing around for 45 minutes in wool suits in the hot Texas sun, with nothing to drink and no bathrooms, making awkward small talk with extended family as they pull in. I was frustrated and in a pretty sour mood at this point, I didn't have time to stop and get something to drink and go to the bathroom, I'm sweating through my suit, and generally wanting to get going.

Then the funeral started. My mom's uncle, grandmother's younger brother-in-law, is effectively officiating, though there's a preacher there. Uncle Larry is a genuine Texas character, spent most of my life owning a patch of gravel where he would buy and sell farm equipment. He later ran for county commissioner and won, serving a term or two. His son, Brian (or BW more commonly) read the insert of the funeral program, which hilariously described Mariah as my "life partner." Then, in a pure country moment, we sang Amazing Grace and Precious Memories a capella. Larry gave a speech about how when his dad died, Granddaddy and Grandmother provided guidance and support to him as a teenager. By this point, tears are just streaming down my face, and I'm filled with memories of Grandmother from my childhood. Larry asks if anyone would like to share anything, and though I had previously thought of some comments, I couldn't compose myself enough to get them out. Then the preacher stands up and talks about how he knew my great-grandparents Homer and Mattie Mae from childhood, and he'd seen Grandmother and her siblings grow up. He talked about Mattie Mae's legendary skill as a dressmaker and how "Neiman Marcus wishes he could hold a candle to her dresses." He didn't do much in the way of real preaching, and then said a simple prayer and concluded the ceremony.

We stood around and chatted for a long time after the ceremony. Afterwards, we drove by the old farmhouse (which is no longer in the family), and we took pictures next to the St. Clair Rd. sign. Mariah's stepmom's maiden name is coincidentally St. Clair, so we sent her the picture. The huge old pecan tree by the farmhouse had fallen down and the enormous split trunks were still lying in the pasture. Mariah, the apprentice arborist, said that pecans rarely grow so old and they are naturally prone to splitting and falling over when they get to 30 years or so. This one was already enormous when I was a kid, and Mom remembers it from her childhood. The farmhouse looked radically different. The grapevine-covered porch was gone, and they have replaced it with an aluminum peaked roof. They replaced the front door with an AC window unit. They painted (or put on siding?) and it looked very different. I wasn't sure it was the same housee at all until Mom told me later.

We went back to Ennis and everybody went to the bathroom before hitting the road. Nick was driving back, Mariah and I were driving back, and Christine and Adam were driving back. Mom and Dad were staying the night and meeting with the financial guy in the morning.

We hit atrocious traffic in Dallas, despite our efforts to leave as early as we could. By 4:00, traffic was already at a standstill, and it took an hour and a half or so to get across town. We then had heavy traffic all the way to Denton, really almost all the way to the border. Every time I go down, it seems like the Dallas traffic is extending further and further, and eventually all of North Texas is just going to be part of the Metroplex. We stopped to get some Dogfish Head beer in Denton, and when we pulled over we were finally in fifth gear, then ten minutes later when we got back on the highway traffic had caught up and we were crawling again.

I got home almost exactly twelve hours after I left. About nine of those hours were spent driving. I was exhausted.

Oh, before we left Ennis I stopped at the Kolache Depot and got a mixed dozen. I told Mariah she wasn't allowed to take one bite out of every single one because I was going to take them to work. To my surprise, NO ONE at my office had ever heard of kolaches. I figured someone had family from Texas, or from Yukon, OK, or from Prague, OK, or had, you know, driven through Texas at some point and seen these pastries that they sell at every gas station. But, no. They were nevertheless well-received.

The Boz

Oct. 5th, 2014 08:29 pm
vambot5: (CBX)
Several years ago, my family went to eat at Charleston's. It was me, Mariah, my brother Nick, his then-girlfriend, and Mom and Dad. Charleston's puts their specials on a chalkboard when you first walk in. Usually, the server also repeats the specials to the table. Either this server failed to do so, or else Dad didn't hear (it was long before his cochlear implant for his right ear, he was deaf in that ear most of my life). The server was taking orders, and Dad was last.

Dad: "I'll have the Boz steak."

Server: uncomfortable confusion. "Which steak?"

Dad: "The Boz steak. It's on your special board."

Server: uncomfortable confusion, then awkward realization. "Sir, the special is an 8 oz. steak."

Dad: awkward realization. "OH! OK, I'll take that."

Since then, the Boz steak has been a recurring joke whenever we would eat at Charleston's. Mostly, it's my brother's joke. I actually forgot about the incident and Nick had to remind me the next time he joked about it.

Today, I went to the store and they had a special on 8 oz. boneless ribeye. I was like "The Boz steak!" I got one and cooked it for dinner, and made a red wine vinaigrette with fresh thyme, then made a salad with some spring greens. I took a picture of it, and texted Nick and Dad "The grocery store had Boz steak on sale!"

Dad got a kick out of it.

Chili Day

May. 19th, 2013 03:42 pm
vambot5: (CBX)
It's chili day at vambot5's hacienda, and I am posting my chili recipe for all of LJ. I make a pretty traditional Texas-style chili. I commented to a friend that it's funny that despite my mom's family being from Texas, I am the only one in the family who makes proper Texas chili. I loved her response: "Social liberal, Chili conservative."

Ingredients:
3 pounds beef chuck roast, cut into cubes about 1/2 inch
1 large white onion, chopped
3 big cloves garlic, minced
High-temperature vegetable oil
1 can chopped tomatoes, drained (non-traditional, but the acid helps; in the alternative, use apple cider vinegar)
~12 ancho chiles (start with more than you think you will need, because often a few will be moldy inside)
~1 cup dark beer, flat (I usually use Shiner Bock, because Texas, but today I'm using Marshall Pub Ale)
1 quart beef stock
1 heaping tablespoon comino seeds, crushed with a mortar & pestle
2 tablespoons paprika
1 heaping tablespoon of dried Mexican oregano
Salt and Pepper
1-2 tablespoons of cornstarch or masa
Hot sauce or cayenne to taste. I usually don't use fresh chiles in my recipe because so many people I know can't handle spicy food, and fresh chiles can vary dramatically in how hot they are.

Non-Ingredients: tomato sauce, tomato paste, beans, pre-mixed chili powder, MSG. The color from the chili should be from chiles, not tomato.

Heat a skillet (ideally cast iron) on very high heat. In batches, blister the anchos. You want them to blister but not burn--if they get black and crispy, throw them out. They should soften just a bit and balloon up. Wearing rubber gloves, cut off the tops, scrape out the seeds, and tear them into small pieces. Put them in a bowl and top with boiling water. Set aside to reconstitute.

Toss the beef cubes with some salt and pepper. Get a heavy-bottom pot or dutch oven and crank up to high heat, adding about 1 tbsp of oil to the bottom. Brown the meat in batches, just enough to get some color. Add more oil if necessary. Keep the beef in a large paper towel-lined bowl.

Turn down the heat to medium and add a bit more oil. Add the onions and cook until soft, then add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly. Add the cumin and the paprika, stirring constantly (the spices are prone to burning). Add the beef back to the pot and toss together. Turn up the heat and cook, still stirring constantly, until most of the liquid from the meat is cooked off.

Add the beer and scrape all the bits off the bottom of the pot. If you want to skip the beer, just add some stock at this step. Bring to a boil and add the tomatoes and the oregano. Add the stock and reduce to a simmer. Put the lid on the pot but leave a gap so the fumes can escape and make your house smell like it's chili day.

Now, back to the chiles. Using a blender or food processor, puree the chiles with some of the liquid until you get a smooth, pourable paste. Pour the chile paste into the pot and bring to a full boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add a pinch of salt and a few twists from the pepper mill. At this point, it should smell like proper chili.

Let the chili simmer for about two hours. After one hour, taste the chili and adjust the seasonings. You may need to add some vinegar at this stage to brighten the flavor.

When the meat is tender and the flavors have melded, take it off the heat and let it rest for about 30 minutes. Then, bring it back to a boil and add 1-2 tablespoons of cornstarch or masa mixed with cold water--masa is more traditional, but cornstarch is better at thickening. Boil for about one minute, stirring constantly, then remove from heat (or reduce to a bare simmer if you need to keep it warm).

Serve to taste. I recommend Fritos or corn tortillas, hot sauce (something very hot and not too vinegary, like El Yucateco; the chili should have the right amount of acidity already), chopped onion, and a dollop of sour cream. I admit, I like to add some pinto beans, but I always cook them separately and add them to the bowl (not to the pot) at the serving stage. Pair with the beer you used in the chili. Add enough hot sauce to make you sweat a little--it makes the beer taste better.
vambot5: (CBX)
It took a long time for me to appreciate flowers. Cut flowers, I always thought why enjoy something I bought to die in a jar? Living flowers, I always thought why plant something you can't eat? I've grown to enjoy flowers more in the last few years. Most of my favorites are still flowers that I encounter growing, not cut flowers. Ones you can eat still get bonus points.

1. Wisteria
2. Magnolia
3. Crepe Myrtle
4. Passionflower
5. Xenia (Zinnia, apparently. I always assumed the name came from the Greek word for hospitality, like Xenia, Ohio, but apparently they're just named after a dude named Zinn. Disappointing.)
6. Morning Glory
7. Indian Paintbrush
8. Indian Blanket
9. Apple Blossom
10. Poppy
11. Chrysanthemum
12. Redbud
13. Squash Blossom
14. Bluebonnet
15. Daffodil
16. Iris
17. Mimosa
vambot5: (CBX)
This one is hard. I do very few things EVERY day. My weekend routine is so different from my weekday routine.

1. Shower or bathe
I shower most days. I take baths sometimes on the weekend or in the evening, but most mornings start with a shower. I like to run the water fully hot for a minute or so to warm the tub and create some steam (especially since there's a window with no blinds in the shower). I like to put a few drops of eucalyptus oil in the hot water and breathe the steam for a few seconds to clear my sinuses. I use Dr. Bronner's almond soap and Neutrogena Clearly Natural face bar. Shampoo and conditioner vary.

2. Shave
I started shaving wetshaving a year or two ago, and now I like to shave. It still feels like a chore when I'm trying to get ready in the morning, but on the weekend I love taking a long time with it and getting a good, close shave. I have a few double-edge razors and a straight razor, a silvertip badger brush, a pure badger brush, and a boar bristle brush, and a variety of shaving creams and soaps. After showering, I rub the face with glycerin, make lather, re-wash with Dr. Bronners, and shave. I use an alum block after shaving, rinse that off with cold water, and finish with alcohol-free witch hazel. Sometimes I wear Creed Royal English Leather cologne.

3. Put on a suit
Just on weekdays. I like clothes well enough, but putting on a suit in a hurry is frustrating. Too many buttons and shit. I'm usually running late by the time I am getting dressed, so the clothes that require extra steps--vested suits, cufflinks, etc.--don't get as much use as the basics.

4. Shoes
I wear shoes every day. I cannot, offhand, remember a day that I went barefoot all day. I wear dress shoes for work, and when I'm not at work, I'm usually wearing boots. I love boots. I wear cowboy boots, harness boots, chelsea boots, LL Bean boots when it's wet or snowy, rubber work boots when I'm working in the mud, whatever. I wore the same pair of Dr Martens almost every day from 1995 to 2005; the soles were totally smooth when I finally retired them.

5. Cats
I love my furry little friends. Unless I'm out of town, I feed, pet, and snuggle frequently. There's a cat laying on my arm while I'm typing this.

6. Consume caffeinated beverages
I'm an irish breakfast tea guy at heart, but I live in a coffee world. There's coffee at court (with a coffee fund jar), and free coffee at the office, so I mostly drink that. At home, I make tea or espresso with a moka pot.

7. Drive
I live in a car culture, and participate more than I would like, but I do like driving. I have always driven a stick, and have never owned a vehicle without a manual transmission. I commute, and even if I wanted to take public transport to work, my job is too travel-intensive. I have to get to court, then to the office, then to depositions, and generally everywhere. I bounce around the state, going to lawyers' offices, doctors' offices, and courthouses. I spend as many waking hours in the car as in my house, for sure.

8. Sleep
I love sleep, and value it tremendously. I attribute all my academic successes to a dedication to sleep; I always recognized that I'm better when I am rested than when I stay up late studying. I like to snuggle with Mariah and my cats when I sleep, but I get really hot at night, so I'm often on the edge of the bed. I cannot get to sleep without covers over me, though.
vambot5: (Default)
Chris’s Chicken Noodle Soup

Ingredients:
1 chicken, skin still on, giblets removed, quartered
1 quart chicken stock
3-4 large carrots, peeled and sliced
2-3 stalks celery, split lengthwise and sliced
1 small or ½ medium white onion, cut into pieces
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and cracked
1 bouquet garni (with thyme, bay leaf, and parsley)
-you can use dried thyme if fresh is not easily available, but do not substitute dried parsley unless necessary—it has a very different taste.
salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
-you may use whole peppercorns instead of cracked pepper; this adds a better flavor to the broth, but they are unpleasant to bite on whole after cooking. you may want to consider putting the peppercorns and the bouquet garni in a muslin teabag to make straining easier.
1 package dried egg noodles, preferably homestyle
-adjust the amount of noodles to taste. you may use few noodles for a brothier soup, or more for a heartier and more filling one.

Directions:
1. Rinse the chicken pieces and place in soup pot. I like to add the neck for extra flavor in the broth, but I do not add the liver or gizzards. Cover with the stock, then add enough water to cover the chicken. Cover the pot with a lid.
2. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Skim the fat as needed.
3. After the chicken has cooked for 30-45 minutes, add the vegetables and seasonings to the pot and stir. Continue to simmer until the chicken is fully cooked, probably another 30-45 minutes.
4. When chicken is fully cooked, use tongs to remove the chicken pieces and bouquet garni from the pot. When they are cool enough to handle, separate the chicken meat from the bone and skin and cut into bite-sized pieces.

If you are eating the soup right away:
5. Bring the broth back to a rolling boil and add the noodles, cooking them to desired tenderness. Add the chicken back to the pot, stir, and serve.

If you are eating the soup later:
5. Put the chicken pieces back in the pot and stir, then chill the soup until ready to eat. Before serving, bring to rolling boil, add noodles, and cook until tender. Stir and serve.
vambot5: (Default)
so long, oxford--hello, bath.

who knew?

Jul. 18th, 2009 11:12 pm
vambot5: (Default)
I think I like marmite, maybe.
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