Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Post-Thanksgiving Post

Back to reality after my first weekend off since the seasons all began. And I even filled one of my only other weeks off between now and Christmas with a call to play here again. This Fall has been just about as financially productive as could be possible living where I live and doing what I do (short of teaching a gazillion little nose-pickers every free hour.) Next Sunday, if the audition gods are on my side, I'll have a chance to secure a regular seat in this orchestra which will go a long way toward making the Spring just as fruitful. I'm also trying to get a brass quintet and a horn quartet off the ground too so a break was nice.

I think I spent my time off well. I found/made enough time to practice before the wine started flowing each day. I got in a couple good short runs with my little brother, AP. I even learned a thing or two.

Lessons from Thanksgiving

  • Ground cumin is not a viable substitute for ground cinnamon though it is a tasty* alternative.(*Tastes may vary.)
  • A red eyeball is freaky.
  • The average plate at Thanksgiving dinner contains about 2 to 3 pounds of food.
  • It is really hard to eat more than two such plates without special preparations.
  • Sipping water with each swallow keeps the body from rejecting the last dozen or so unappetizing bites necessary to win the family "Most Weight Gained In One Meal" title.
  • I do not have a discerning wine palate. It all tastes drinkable to me.
  • Off-road go-carts are really fun and are every man-child's dream toy!
  • Pogo sticking is not as easy as a little kid makes it look. Sure AP has the record at 35 successive jumps but he didn't look pretty doin' it!
  • Making a jigsaw puzzle is a pretty good metaphor for life. It starts off simple. You put together the obvious parts like the corners and the edges. Like learning to tie your shoes and stand in line and make appropriate animal sounds (How does a cow go? Mooo). But it just gets harder and harder. First you focus on the parts of the picture which are easily discernible even when hacked to pieces. You put them together separately and then fit them into the whole. Kinda like college, right? Right. Then all that is left are regions of solid color and you swear there aren't enough pieces in the box and you have to go by shape and some seem to fit together but don't really give that warm snap feeling they should but it is so close and you try to convince yourself it is right but eventually, if you keep looking, you find the one which fits tight and then you have to break up the ones that are slightly mismatched but that's okay because in jigsaw puzzles there is always a place for everything in the end. You just have to keep looking. And in life? Not so much.
  • Bingo can be really exciting even if you're only playing for an old Snickers, some pencil-end troll dolls and a matchbox. Try speed blackout: Numbers are read very fast and only once (no repeats!) so stay focused.
  • Bunk beds, ceiling fans and adults do NOT mix!
  • Yoga is more than just relaxation and stretching. I would rather do thirty push-ups than hold another downward dog "relaxation" pose. And don't go for a run before doing half a dozen deep warrior poses unless you're a lactic acid junky. Oh and this is not going to happen without the accompaniment of popping, grinding and tearing!

Time for a run. I'm gonna try and break 18:00 in this 5k on Sunday. Then play a matinee concert here and then take an audition here. Should be fun. At least I should sleep well that night.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Tofu Spinach Pasta

Okay, I'll enter the recipe exchange. Here's a dish I make weekly. Pretty simple and vegan but feel free to make substitutions to your liking. Fresh spices are best but I often use dried ones.

1 lb tofu (not silken unless it has been frozen for longer than a week*)
6 to 8 flavorful mushrooms, sliced
6 to 8 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 to 2 big handfuls of fresh spinach
Fresh chopped basil
Several cloves crushed garlic
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
Dash of red wine
A long pasta of your choice

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large frying pan or wok over medium heat. Begin boiling water for pasta. Use a dash of salt and a drop of olive oil in water for flavor.

Slice tofu in half and squeeze out water between two cutting boards. Slice halves of tofu long way making strips. Rub garlic, salt and pepper on all sides of tofu strips and cover with chopped basil.

Place rubbed tofu into pan with any extra garlic and basil and cover for several minutes.

Add pasta to boiling water.

Turn tofu strips when bottoms begin to brown and use spatula to cut strips into cubes. Add mushroom slices and red wine (and, if necessary, enough extra olive oil to keep things saucy). Cover for several more minutes.

Stir, add tomato halves and re-cover for several minutes.

When tofu seems lightly browned on a couple sides, but not too crisp, add spinach right on top of everything, re-cover and turn off heat.

When spinach is nicely limp serve over pasta with a red wine and some french bread.

This is a single meal for me but would serve two to three normal people.

*Tofu note: Long frozen silken tofu acquires a fibrous texture much different than its original slippery, creamy state. Almost like that of baked fish. It tends to fall apart easily which is why I prefer to use the sponge-like non-silken variety for rubs like this.

Non-vegan/non-vegetarian options:
Substitute chicken for tofu if you like and/or dust with some grated hard Italian cheese.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Here's Mud In Your Eye...

...and your other eye, and both ears, and crunching between your teeth, and under your finger nails, and between your toes, and...
I ran the Living History Farms cross country race this morning. 35 degrees, 15 mph North wind, 5,500 runners, 7 muddy miles, a half-dozen water crossings, hills so steep they came with ropes (optional), hay bale jumps (the seven foot high variety), wipe-outs and pile-ups left and right, and of course the requisite crazy costumes. It's billed as the largest race of its kind in the country and I can't imagine it becoming much bigger. That many runners makes for a frustrating start, especially on uneven terrain. I spent the first three miles cutting through the pack to get up to a group that was running at my pace. My friend CC, who got stuck starting near the back, did more zig-zag maneuvering looking for passing lanes than forward progress. And she did it running on a recently sprained ankle no less. Now that's who my old high school band director would call a real trooper.

The above picture accurately depicts what the water jumps were like visually but if you want an image of what it feels like as you're doing it, try this or this or, near mile 6, this. The first was the worst for me. It was waist deep and I made a poor exit choice: a slick, steep section of the bank with little grass left at the top for grasping. If I had been a Serengeti-migrating wildebeest, I would surely be croc chow after that crossing. Thankfully I got better and by the last one I was able to make it entirely across in one leap taking the water out of play. Of course that landing sapped any reserves my quads had left and it took me the better part of half a mile to recover.

As mentioned, costumes were in abundance. I snapped these caped and winged crusaders on the way to the start. There were at least three other batmen that I saw, several muscle-suited supermen, a woman trapped in Christmas garland, a hula dancer complete with grass skirt and coconut shell bikini top and the blue man touring group was apparently passing through and decided to race. I had the bad luck to be stuck behind a guy wearing an ISU thong and sports bra for about a mile. Can you imagine the chaffing?! Sadly though, C had the extreme misfortune of following a guy in nothing but a loin cloth, and by her description a rather loose fitting one at that. If that doesn't motivate a surge and pass I don't know what would. My favorite was a man in a business suit with the pants cut off to shorts. Amazingly he had hardly a lick of mud on him.

I wasn't in any sort of racing shape for this. I just start running again after letting a few minor summer injuries heal up. I was on a seven minute pace through 5 but didn't see any markers after that. I finished in 52:00 and the last mile or so felt awfully slow so that time makes sense. It would be nice to hack five or ten minutes off next year if the course stays the same length. After it was all over, a cup of hot cider, a few laps around the complimentary doughnut tent and a slow hot shower more than soothed any cuts and bruises. I'll definitely try to do this one again next year. Maybe even with a team. Anyone interested? Comment below.

Now I'm just resting up for the DMS concerts tonight and tomorrow with TW playing Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and boy does he sound great on that piece. In fact I can hear him warming up in the hall right now... unless that's the piano tuner... nope, it is definitely not the piano tuner. (I just love halls with guest wireless networks backstage.) Then it is off until after Thanksgiving week. Hope everyone has a happy holiday and for those expatriate readers out there who won't be making it back home I'll have an extra serving of stuffing, an extra glass of wine and hug my mom extra hard for you all.

Monday, November 13, 2006


All Washed Up
It's getting busier around here just before the Thanksgiving lull. I know because I finished a concert set tonight with the DSO (refreshingly near my house) and when I got home I went straight to the laundry room, stripped off the concert tux and threw everything (sans jacket) in the wash to pack up for a week of rehearsals, teaching and concerts in Des Moines starting Monday. This was slightly different than my usual behavior after the end of a concert set: falling asleep on the couch in said concert tux (sans jacket) trying to pound through my netflix backlog.

You Can Kiss My Asst., Principal!
Boy it sure felt good to get done with this week. I like Shostakovich a lot, but if I don't play his tenth symphony again until his 125th birthday it'll be fine by me. And I'm ecstatic to officially have no more assistant horn obligations on my calendar. This time I had to do all the heavy lifting (and a good bunch of the light stuff too), usually alone, while getting that silent left-hand-signal advice from the principal: louder, softer, longer... louder! He's a nice guy but it was definitely much more work than I've become accustomed to when playing assistant.

Something Old, Somethings New
Now on to my main money maker, the DMS. I get to play that Tchaik warhorse, R & J, for the second time in three weeks. It's fun to watch women swoon in the audience at the appropriate spots. Okay, I'll admit it. I swoon too. And I get to play Dvorak 8 for the first time. Just my luck, though. I've always wanted to play those trills in the last movement, then I go and win the fourth spot just before that piece comes up on the docket and now I don't get to play them. Maybe I'll sneak a couple in during a rehearsal just for fun.

Something else new: I just got a real haircut. (That is, I paid another person, with the appropriate skills, to cut my hair. Usually I just do it myself every few months.) First one in, oh... 7 years. And only the second one in probably twenty. My impression? I've been walking around with a hack job on my head for two decades. How come I didn't notice? I'm firing all my DIY-haircut enabling friends and family. If you really loved me you all would have tackled me, thrown a bag over my head and dragged me to the nearest barber. Or at least organized an intervention. It is still a degrading experience though, but I have a fun, new technique for getting through things like that. I just ask myself, "What would Larry David do?" and I act accordingly. Perhaps I'll blog about it in detail.

That's all for now. I've got to get to sleep and give the house mice some alone time. Just remember the deal, guys: I promise to use only live-traps and you promise not to gnaw through my toes at night.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Banana Nut Bread: The Mother Load

I had a couple shows with the QCSO last weekend. We played some Beethoven (#3) with ST. He wore puffy shirts! A black puffy shirt Saturday night and a white puffy shirt Sunday afternoon. Looked just like a pirate. Arrrrgh! We also played a little Barber I hadn't even heard before; "Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengeance." What a fun piece that is... unison high C's and all. We did a good job on it, too.

I made a batch of bread for a few friends in the orchestra on the morning before the last show. Here's the recipe if you're interested (and a running commentary based on actual events). It is a bit longish so grab a cup of coffee or tea and settle in.

Banana Nut Bread
(Makes eight loaves)

-2 2/3 cups butter
-8 cups sugar
-16 Tbs. sour milk (Finally! A use for that carton in the back of the fridge. Hmmm... At least I think that was milk at one time...)
-16 eggs (Bawk-Bawk-ba-KAWK!)
-8 cups past-ripe bananas (No you're not crazy. That is a lotta bananas. About 25 or so. Start stashing them away now for Christmas baking.)
-16 cups flour (Holy crap is right. Open another bag.)
-4 tsp salt
-8 tsp baking powder
-8 tsp baking soda (Cool! Equal amount of soda and powder. That's one less mistake waiting to happen.)
-8 cups walnuts. (Yes you will save money if you buy them still in the shell... unless you include the carpal tunnel syndrome physical therapy tab.)

Preheat oven to 350˚. This will be too hot but you don't know it yet.

First, substitute shortening for the butter. Let's face it. Butter has lots of everyday uses... and 2 2/3 cups is a lot, it'll completely deplete your supply... and you always forget to pick it up at the grocery store... you'll be eating dry toast every morning for weeks. Shortening, by comparison, comes in a huge vat that sits stoically in the back of the pantry cupboard for years. What's that? What about trans fats. Yup. Shortening is loaded with 'em, but why do you care? I mean c'mon. You're gonna give this bread away not eat all eight loaves yourself, right. Okay, so back to the recipe.

Cream the shortening together with the sugar in a large kettle. (It won't be big enough but you don't know that yet, either.) Yes I know. That's a lot of sugar... Well you've gotta have some more somewhere. Sure, use some brown sugar, that's fine. More?! I don't know, maybe molasses? Honey... corn syrup... maple syrup... sorghum... Do you got eight cups of sweet stuff yet? Okay, good. Now mix it all together.

Separate the 16 eggs into the group of ten or so which exist and another group of about a half dozen which do not, because c'mon, who has 16 freakin' eggs sittin' around. Mix in the well-beaten existent eggs, however many there are. That'll have to do.

Next combine the dry ingredients in another very large bowl or pot. That's 16 cups of flour, or until you lose count, in which case stop when it "feels right." What do you mean you can't find a large enough bowl? I know, that is a lot of flour. Well, what about your sugar container? That's empty now, right?... It isn't big enough either? Well, then use that for half the dry ingredients and we'll do it twice. Okay so we're dividing the above amounts by two and doing this step twice... Got it?

So combine half the dry ingredients in the empty sugar container and... Your salt is what? A solid block? Well, yes it was a humid summer but... You haven't used salt since the summer?! I don't know, try pounding the container on the floor. You only need 4 teaspoons. Okay, have you pounded enough salt loose yet? Good. Now slowly mix in the dry ingredients to the creamed shortening and sugar mixture. Add the sour milk intermittently. Keep mixing... Keep adding... Keep mixing...

About now you should realize your mixing kettle ain't gonna be big enough. I see you eyeing that Rubbermaid trash can. Don't even think about it. You'll have to create some sort of overflow system. Get creative. Gravity is your friend. Keep mixing.

All done? Good. Now the bananas. Peel and mash until you've got a nice banana pulp. Add them slowly to the lot and... you guessed it... keep mixing. Mix, mix, mix. Make sure the overflow is periodically added back to the main volume so it gets mixed with some banana pulp too. Mix, mix, mi... Do you smell something? No, it's more like electrical smo...YOUR MIXER! YOUR MIXER IS SMOKING!! Shit! Oh don't drop it into the batter! It's still beating! Quick shut it off before it sinks!! Pull the plug!! PULL THE PLUG!! Holy crap! That was close... Well why didn't you tell me when your hand started getting hot?!

Okay you've gotta get moving. The concert is in a few hours, you've got an hour drive to the hall and this stuff takes a while to bake and cool. Um... put the mixer in the freezer to cool it off quicker and then power through the rest of the banana pulp. Repeat this every time you start to smell smoke.

Done mixing? Good. Yes, it would've gone faster if the mixer wouldn't have kept randomly ejecting the beaters into the batter but what are ya gonna do? It's a cheap piece-a-junk. Now then, let's get those loaf pans greased... Yes all eight... That's right, you grease them with shortening... You used it all in the first step?! Well how did you expect to keep the bread from sticking to the pans? Okay, okay... hurry find something slick to substitute... No body lotion is not edible... I don't care if it does have cucumber extracts. All right, break out the butter.

Now, pour the batter evenly into the greased pans and put four on the top rack and four on the bottom rack because you don't have time to bake two separate batches. Yes, I think the oven is plenty hot. It's been preheating for over an hour-and-a-half. Okay now set the timer for twenty minutes. You'll have to switch the top loaves with the bottom loaves and the back loaves with the front loaves to ensure they all get baked evenly. Got it? Good. Now go take a quick shower to get ready for the concert. Oh and uh... do yourself a favor and test the smoke alarm battery on your way upstairs.

...Cue Music: Jeopardy Theme...

...Cue Sound Effect: Record Player Needle Rip...

Shit! Get out of the shower! We forgot about the walnuts! Hurry up! They shouldn't have baked too far along yet! You may still be able to mix them into each loaf separately!

Why is there only one bag of walnuts? Where's the rest of the walnuts?... You only bought one bag?! One bag is no where near 8 cups! This is gonna be banana bread with essence of walnut! Okay, okay, never mind get chopping. And do yourself a favor; don't mention to anyone you were baking in a bath towel. I'm just saying, it's not very appetizing.

Alright mix in those nuts. Make sure they sink into the batter somewhat. I don't know, maybe poke them down with a chopstick or something, but hurry up. Now put everything back in the oven and go finish getting dressed. Remember to listen for the timer. Oh, and uh... recheck the smoke alarm battery on the back way upstairs. In fact, better just put in a new battery altogether.

...Cue Music: Jeopardy Theme...

Beep, beep, beep! Go rotate those loaves. And don't lose track: top to bottom, front to back. Okay, now here is when you realize the oven is too hot. They seem to be brown around the edges already while the center is still just batter. It's not looking good. I guess go down to 300˚ and hope for the best. Reset the timer for twenty minutes and repeat these steps until loaves seem done. While waiting for the beeping go warm up for the concert.

When a knife inserted into the center of a loaf comes out clean they're done. Then put them on a cooling rack until they are at room temperature, about 45 minutes, and wrap them up in tinfoil. What's that? The concert starts in an hour and half? And you've got that hour drive to the hall. Right then. Well the freezer worked for the over heated mixer. Let's use it to cool the loaves. Take everything out of the freezer and fill it up with the loaves. Do Not Forget To Return The Contents Of The Freezer To The Freezer Before You Leave! Now, go finish getting ready.


Finally. Wrap up the loaves. I know, they're probably still a little warm, but... They're still hot, you say? Well you gotta leave, so wrap them up in tinfoil anyway... Burned hands? You're such a wuss... Yes I remember the mixer. Fine. Then... I don't know, use oven mitts. Just get wrapping! Wrap! Wrap! Wrap!...

I guess in retrospect, oven mitts were not the best protective hand apparel, because that wrap job looks like crap. Never mind. Throw them in a bag, grab your horn and get going!... No, I have no idea how the bread will taste. I guess you should have tried a piece before you wrapped them all up. But, I mean really, anything with that much fat and sugar has to be at least edible, right? Now get going! And remember that speed trap near Maquoketa!