Growing Up in the State of Bland

Growing up, my family didn’t use many exotic spices when cooking. Like many people in the Midwest, we got by on salt and pepper. Mexican cuisine was probably the most ethnic we ever got. It wasn’t until I went to college that I truly started exploring other types of food. I’m a fan of just about everything now, but I still love any excuse to eat Mexican food.

With Cinco de Mayo just around the corner, I thought I would share this far-from-authentic enchilada recipe from my childhood. It is still something I frequently make. It’s quite simple, tastes great, and is very satisfying with a side of Spanish rice or a salad. Sit back, relax, have a margarita or Corona, and enjoy!

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Revisiting the Classical – Orff

Carmina Burana by Orff

Carmina Burana by Orff (1996)

I once had a woman tell me she thought this type of music was “scary.” Well, I don’t know about scary, but this isn’t something everyone will like. With its Latin and Germanic lyrics and operatic style, it can be a little intimidating at first.

The first track, “O Fortuna,” is well-known in cinema for its epic sound, something later tracks lack. Instead, we are left with lighthearted choral melodies like “Merchant, give me paint to make my cheeks rosy” and “Round-dance,” the triumphant “If the whole world were mine,” and the despondent “Day and night are hateful to me.” I love how the cyclical nature of fate is shown when the disc culminates with “O Fortuna” instead of simply ending after the previous track.

I think this CD would be great for anyone who loves musicals, opera, or choral chanting. My recording is with the Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra, but there are others that may be better or worse. Listen to a few and find one you prefer.

View Orff: Carmina Burana on Amazon.

Say Goodbye, Not Hello…to Jello Pudding

I grew up on Jello brand pudding. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with it, other than you pay the price of convenience and consistency (in flavor). Like any other brand name prepackaged food item, marketing has reinforced the idea that it’s easier to buy their product than to make something from scratch. But why pay extra for something when you probably already have the raw ingredients? And really where’s the convenience? Believe me, you aren’t going to save much time by opening a box of pudding mix versus measuring out the individual ingredients (at least not for chocolate or vanilla). Measuring out ingredients might set you back a whole two minutes. Can’t afford two minutes? Might I recommend a cup of chamomile tea to relieve your stress instead.

However, if you choose to pursue the path to chocolate bliss (I won’t blame you), this pudding recipe is where to start. The pervasiveness of this recipe, and similar variations on the Internet, demonstrates its simplicity. It’s not difficult to make and tastes better than prepackaged varieties. Plus you can control what goes into it, adjusting quantities to fit your tastes. Don’t want chocolate pudding, then don’t add the cocoa and maybe add a splash more vanilla. Once you get the hang of it, branch out to other flavors like banana cream, lemon, or butterscotch.

Revisiting the Classical – Satie

Satie: Works for Piano

Works for Piano by Aldo Ciccolini and Gabriel Tacchino (2003)
Composed by Satie

If I remember correctly, I purchased this CD when I finally learned who composed the first track. A song without lyrics isn’t always the easiest to find information about. The first track, Gymnopédie no. 1, is quite well-known and played as background music in many movies and commercials; so I would hear it every once in a while. However, the epiphany came when I heard a friend play it on the piano. It’s not often I purchase a disc for a single song, but I would argue that the first Gymnopédie is probably one of the saddest and most beautiful pieces ever written.

The Trois Gymnopédies and Six Gnossiennes are my favorites on the disc. The remaining tracks have a few good songs, but for the most part I find them too internally discordant. Some tracks sound more like random note-playing and key-banging when I would prefer more melody. I like music to elicit some sort of emotional response or convey a sense of mood, which most of the later tracks fail to do. I would recommend this disc simply for the first nine tracks and the later tracks, while not for everyone, do have some merit for those who enjoy Satie’s style.

View Satie: Works for Piano on Amazon.

Revisiting the Classical – Rachmaninov

Music for Two Pianos by Rachmaninov

Music for Two Pianos (1995)
A Collection of Works by Rachmaninov

I first started paying more attention to Rachmaninov’s works when I heard Études-tableaux op.33 No. 4 in D minor in college. Ever since, he has become one of my favorite classical composers. His works have a grandiose sound with playful high tones and powerful low tones.

This is a two disc set and the first disc is by far my favorite. Disc one contains Suite No. 1 for Two Pianos op. 5, Suite No. 2 for Two Pianos op. 17, and Études-tableaux op. 33. I love listening to this on a lazy Saturday morning with a cup of coffee or tea. I will admit it’s not the most cheerful music, but it’s beautiful. It always conjures up imagery of overcast skies. I can almost hear the rain drops fall as thunder rumbles in the distance, yet there are times the sun tries to peek through.

I can’t comment on other recordings of the same work, but nothing about the playing style of Vladimir Ashkenazy or André Previn is terrible. The two pianists complement each other quite well; the recording is crisp, clear, and played with emotion. I would definitely recommend these discs to anyone who enjoys classical music, especially piano works.

View Rachmaninov: Music for 2 Pianos on Amazon.

Shred Your Monday Stress with a Meaty Sandwich

Sometimes it’s just one of those days when nothing seems to go right. After a long and arduous day at work, you have to go home and cook. But fear not, this shredded BBQ beef sandwich recipe may help you regain some sanity on a hectic Monday.

What makes this sandwich so great you ask? Well, it’s simple to make and tastes good. The ingredients can be prepped the night before and using a slow-cooker, the meat will be ready to eat by the time you get home; just shred and put on a bun. What more could you ask for (other than someone to do the dishes)?

Arriving in Port After a 5 Year Long Journey

Port of Morrow by The Shins

Port of Morrow by The Shins (2012)

With the one year anniversary of this album’s release coming up, I thought I’d give a review. At first listen, I wasn’t sure if I liked this album as much as I enjoyed Wincing the Night Away (2007). This album seemed to have less edginess from previous albums despite having a more polished sound. With that said, there are some great tracks. Some are great because they sound like earlier Shins’ works and some are great because they show how the group has changed. After a five year hiatus, I think it’s a good thing this album simply isn’t an extension of their previous albums.

The tracks that immediately stood out were “No Way Down,” “The Rifle’s Spiral,” “Simple Song,” and “Bait and Switch.” “Bait and Switch,” with its surfer rock style, and “September” let me know I was listening to the Shins. “The Rifle’s Spiral” and the powerful “Simple Song” have great beats but were it not for James Mercer’s distinctive voice, I’d be pressed to say it was the Shins. Even more funny is the chorus of “40 Mark Strasse” resembles “Sara Smile” by Hall and Oates to me; and “Life of Illusion” by Joe Walsh was playing in my head during “Fall of ’82.” In the end, I think the album is a good buy even though it may not turn out to be an instant classic. I still prefer Wincing the Night Away to this album, but that could be attributed to the fact I’ve listened to it much more. Hopefully they won’t make us wait another five years for the next album.

View Port of Morrow on Amazon.

I Was Looking for a Change

The Reminder by Feist

The Reminder by Feist (2007)

I bought this album some time ago as a change of pace to what I had been listening and perhaps to broaden my range. I was trying to step away from the electronic and fast-paced rock-style albums.  The Reminder is similar to the works of artists like Adele and Sondre Lerche. The album is a nice balance of fast-paced and slow songs with each track having a coherent, yet distinctive, sound. Many of the tracks rely on the soft sounds of the acoustic guitar and piano accompanied by Feist’s breathy, yet fierce vocals to portray a sense of longing, love, vulnerability, and strength.

My favorite track on this album is the duet “How My Heart Behaves” with Eirik Glambek Bøe. A close second is “The Limit to Your Love.” “The Water” is a somber track which sounds endlessly deep, as if you could drown in it. “Sealion” is based on an American folk and children’s playground song; it is quite upbeat and catchy as it describes a less than reputable woman. There really aren’t any tracks on this album I hate or find unsatisfactory; in fact, despite being an older album I think it still holds up to current trends.

View The Reminder on Amazon.

A Favorite Food at any Family Function

It started many years ago when my mother found this raspberry dessert recipe and brought it to one of our family gatherings. It was a hit! My cousins would request that she make it for subsequent get-togethers. Over time, no one needed to make that request; she would simply bring it.

The wonderful thing about this dessert is its layers. The pretzel crust has a salty and nutty flavor. The cream cheese layer is sweet and rich, but not heavy. The raspberry layer is tart and refreshing. Together, the dessert is a complex symphony of flavors and textures that perfectly balance each other.

Try it out, it may become one of your family’s favorites too!

“Like the Faint Exquisite Music of a Dream”

Fleet Foxes by Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes by Fleet Foxes (2008)

Like the faint exquisite music of a dream;–
All was too much for him, too full of bliss:
The heart could nothing feel, that felt not this.
–Thomas Moore

Thomas Moore said it perfectly. I don’t know if I can adequately put this album into words. It has become one of my favorites when I’m in the mood for something mellow. The vocals captivate with pleasing harmonies while the folksy guitar flows over you as if it were water. Songs like “Ragged Wood” and “He Doesn’t Know Why” have a more upbeat rock feel which keep the album from becoming too depressing. While songs like “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song”,  “Meadowlarks”, and “Heard Them Stirring” are rather solemn and reflective.

This group also has a couple of other songs I enjoy on their earlier Sun Giant EP: “Mykonos” and “English House.” I can’t help but hear the essence of Neil Young in “Mykonos” and it’s definitely worthy of a listen.

View Fleet Foxes on Amazon.

View Sun Giant EP on Amazon.

A Sentimental Side Dish

I grew up eating these wonderful pickled onions and cucumbers. My grandma makes them for family gatherings during the summer; so I’ve come to associate them with a fish-fry, BBQ, or a bonfire and hot-dogs. I would have absolutely no problem eating them with every meal, but perhaps I’m a bit odd.

There is a creamy version of this recipe floating around, but I always stick with this one. There’s no need to weigh it down with a fattening mayonnaise dressing when it is perfectly fine in all its tangy glory. And better yet, when the cucumbers and onions are gone, the vinegar can be heated and reused again for a new batch. Although I would still be cautious about how many times I’ve used it and for how long.

It’s Never Too Late…

Futurama by Supercar

Futurama by Supercar (2001)

It’s no secret I love older music. By the time I discovered this album, the group had already disbanded (with some members going on to form the group LAMA). It’s a shame too, because this was such a standout album. It takes all that was enjoyable about millennial music and wraps it in a blanket of bubbly electronic goodness.

The Japanese lyrics, with the occasional English thrown in, have a rhyme and catchy repetitiveness. I often find myself trying to sing along, usually horribly. I may not understand the lyrics, but I try not to let that stop me from enjoying something new (even if it is old).

All of the songs on this album are pretty solid. “Baby Once More” is reminiscent of a song by Sugar Ray, while “New Young City” has more of a Goo Goo Dolls/Verve feel. My other favorites include “A.O.S.A.”, “Blue Subrhyme”, and “I’m Nothing”.  Because Amazon doesn’t have any track previews, I’ve included some Youtube videos below for your viewing pleasure.

View Futurama on Amazon.

Show Youtube Videos