Friday, May 28, 2010

The May Ultimate Thursday Open Mic at Cafe Caffeine

May Day! May Day! Indeed...

For some reason it felt a little like the Gong Show last night, and I was the gong. Well, as the event organizer I was sort of gonged, but as a performer things turned out all right.

If April was slow, last night was almost a dead stop: regulars Southernmost Smoke and Gary DeVries showed up, as did a couple of college guys (Michael and Daniel -- apparently they don't give out last names with final grades). And we had a youth activist poet, too. Ordinarily I'd try to maintain a songwriters only protocol, but we needed voices on stage, plus this was a young woman poet, and we need women's voices as the OM tends to be male dominated.

Smokey got things rolling or, rather, I did, with my song, Texas Angel, a bluesy number on which Smokey played along. I don't think I've ever seen Smokey so chipper. He explained his nickname to me for a start. He went to college in Key West, the "southernmost" city in the U.S., farther south than Brownsville (with whom there's some sort of "how low can you go" rivalry, latitudinally speaking). Friends gave him the moniker to use for his business: Stone and, uh, pipe carving. Now you know where the "Smoke" comes from, right? Smokey did a couple of classics: San Antonio Rose and the Tennessee Waltz, plus a couple other harp numbers in between, then he skedaddled to meet an infirm friend.

Our female poet/activist, Lindsay Coley, took the stage next for a pair of poems ("Youth" and "Old Enough To Kill" the latter about young soldiers who can't get served in bars 'cos they're not 21). After youth activist poetry more active youth: The young men of college and no last names took the stage for original and recently "learned" songs. The best was an original number about Facebook. Whatever that is. Ah, young people these days! In Smokey's day they carved pipes for a living; now them youngsters are all connected to Senator Stevens tubes (Die Stevenstube!).

Gary D. played a trio of tunes that are familiar to regulars; he sings so damned well! Sort of like Paul Simon if he'd worked some blue collar or manual labor gig for a living and played music with Simon Garfunkel on the side.

And, sadly, that was it for the guests. Three of our regulars phoned or e-mailed me earlier to say they couldn't make it; the others? Whither the others? So I got up and played. A lot. I strummed Elvis Costello's (The Angels Want To Wear My) Red Shoes for our audience member from Phoenix, a professed Elvis fan. I hope I got the right Elvis (Red suede shoes...toe-MAY-toe...toe-MAH-toe...). After that I did a bunch of songs The Late Joys don't perform: new tunes (Sweet Pretenses, Little Swimsuit), acoustic versions of former LJ blasts (Bloody Little Numbers Game, Haymarket Rain) and some really old stuff that surfs well under the radar (Extra Ordinary, We're Going Steady Now). I did the slow, original version of Just Like Gravity, and when the recently transplanted Phoenician requested I play a song in the current LJ repertoire, out came Everybody's Going Away. Toss in Land of 1,000 Girls and you can see why on the one hand I was having a good time performing, while on the other I was wondering where the heck everyone else could be last night -- they missed so much stage time. Ah well, we'll catch them next time 'round.

Speaking of next time 'round I have some ideas on garnering a bigger crowd of musicians for June (assuming there is a June O.M.!). And that's beyond guilt-tripping all the no-shows into playing!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Lapse in Maintenance

"What rapidly became clear after the theft was that the museum's security system had failed catastrophically."

That's the line from the Guardian's coverage of a daring, and sad, art heist last night. What strikes me, even more than the loss of our cultural heritage -- though that is thoroughly depressing in and of itself -- is the sense that we're not taking care of the things that are most precious to us, instead allowing supposed security systems and fail-safes to lapse into insecurity and failure.

What is up with our systems of checks and balances? Is this the logical evolution of the Bush administration's eroding of said Cs and Bs? Not really: Even that low point of governance appears a mere symptom of a larger, more intransigent ailment of mankind: laziness. I'd venture to say it's greed, which, indeed, motivates the omission of proper oversight: an oversight of oversight! Except that so many of the recent disasters we've faced (the man-induced ones, not nature's) seem to be the result of people just not doing their jobs, jobs that demand discipline, attention to details, a system of checks to ensure that life goes on without catastrophic incident.

I mean: oil derricks go unchecked and explode (to say nothing of a recent history of needless spills and explosions). Planes go unchecked and crash. Trains derail on unchecked tracks. And now this. It's a "serious attack on humanity." Well, yes, but humanity seems to prefer shortcuts and inaction when it comes to ensuring our culture, environment, our very existence is protected. Humanity could care less: it's attacking itself! Or, more to the point: We're attacking ourselves!

Is it because our attention spans have waned and we don't want to -- or can't -- take the time to ensure everything is in proper working order? Is it that we feel we are above the quotidian tasks of checking and rechecking systems to ensure safe operations? Is it that we just don't care enough? It's someone else's problem? I'm disconnected from the results of my oversight? What is going on?

Catastrophic failure of our security systems, whether protecting invaluable artwork, delicate environments or precious lives, should be exceptional. Nowadays is anyone surprised by such lapses?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Recipe for Matzoh Ball Soup

It's forking brilliant!

[I shared this with a friend recuperating from surgery. But you don't have to go under the knife to benefit from the healing properties of matzoh ball soup!]

Open a bottle of red wine. Let stand for a little while or until your patience runs out. Pour a glass. Drink. God, I do love to suck down some red wine while I cook! Right: The soup.

Toss a few bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts in a large pot of water (you can also use a whole chicken if you like). Add salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika. (How much of each? Good God man, do I look like a measuring spoon to you? Put in enough of each and not too much of any.) Bring the lot to a boil. Keep your bird or bird-bits on the boil for, say 20 minutes. After that you could let the pot stand and cool or, if you're in a hurry, pull the boiled chicken out of the broth and place to the side/in the fridge. You're gonna get your hands on it sooner or later and the last thing you need is retributive chicken burns.

While the chicken cooks, dice/chop/emasculate some potatoes, onions, carrots, celery (maybe mushrooms, too, or leeks; whatever you fancy in a soup, this is your soup!).

ALSO, while you are letting the bird boil, you can prep the matzoh balls. Here's how. In a mixing bowl lay three eggs -- sorry! "add" three eggs -- a tablespoon (large dollop) of olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic to taste and a bit of boiling soup broth.* Mix (it's a mixing bowl, for fork's sake!). Add Matzoh meal a bit at a time. Mix. Keep doing this until you are happy with the batter (too dry? add more soup!). But whatever you do, do not stoop to using pre-fab matzoh ball mix in a box. I don't care what rabbinical supervisory blessed that sawdust. Use real, unadulterated matzoh meal, blessed or not. How much matzoh meal do you add? Good question. I add it until the batter is sorta firm and your fork has to work a little harder to get the stuff to move around the bowl. Not exactly bread batter thick but at least a little stiff. In a hurry? Skip to ** below. If not, cover and let stand in the refrigerator. My dad swears this makes the balls hard, and he likes his balls hard. HEY! Keep it clean, you: This is my DAD we're talking about. I've found that no matter what you do your balls take on a life of their own and attain the firmness that Yahweh always intended and you can do nothing to change them. So it is written. (Yield approximately 8-12 balls, depending on how greedy you are.)

*If you have lots of time, let the soup cool then scoop up some of the fat off the top and use it for the matzoh balls instead of the broth. Oh my forking god that is good!

Remove the chicken from the pot replete with recently boiled bird broth and shred the meat from the carcass. If that's too gruesome you could just shred the meat and ignore from whence you are shredding it. Or pull it off the bone and cut it up, la la la, no carcass here, la la la. I don't care: Just make sure you put the meat back into the broth having turned it into bite-sized morsels of some fashion. Add all those veggies to the re-chickened broth.

**Bring soup to a boil again. When it boils, drop little balls of matzoh dough into the roiling waters. HINT: To keep the batter from sticking to you and thus dropping as perfect little spheres into your soup, wet one of your hands. No, there is no Talmudic rule as to which one. How do you make little balls of matzoh dough? Use a spoon, scoop up a little batter (approximately the size of an adolescent golf ball), roll it in your wet hand and drop it into the boiling soup. Yes: Splattering, boiling broth is hot. Try not to scald yourself! If scalded, there's probably a rabbinical supervisory blessing you could utter or at least a good bit of Anglo-Saxonry to thwart your focusing too much on the pain.

If you have lots of time, extend all the steps above by another bottle of wine or by a factor of three or four episodes of "NCIS" or something more brutal (if you have HBO, that is). The longer the soup sits, the longer the balls cool, the more time everything has to "flavor-up," if I might be so bold.

Serve the soup to slavering guests hot, but not boiling hot (see that bit about scalds above -- you want everyone to eat with a tongue that can discern your soup from sewer water). You might serve with Tabasco, if you dare, and red wine (whatever you didn't drink while you cooked). L'chaim and bon apetit!

A final word on matzoh ball soup: As with everything of Jewish origin, this soup gets better and better over time, or so my wife tells me. Day two will taste better than day one, day three better than day two, and if your soup lives to be as old as Methuselah, you probably ought to throw it away.

Friday, May 14, 2010

On The FA Cup Final (Tomorrow)

From the Guardian's daily teatime take on football, "The Fiver," this makes me laugh. Then sigh.

"Tomorrow we must decide whether we would like a team built on money from Great British charities, small business-owners and taxpayers to bask in glory, or whether we would prefer the trophy to be hoisted aloft by a side constructed using what amounts to another nation's natural inheritance, given away during a dark and weak hour in the country's past and since monetised, exported and converted into so many superyachts and full-backs"

The whole thing appears under the sub-head: "Every Ash Cloud ..."