Monday, December 31, 2012

Fumbling Toward Culinary Talent: Aromatic Potato Pancake

When my mom would have leftover mashed potatoes, she would often make what she called potato pancakes: not a sweet pancake but a savory one.

She mixed a few chopped onions into the mashed potatoes, formed them into pancakes, and then heated them in a skillet.

I did something similar after Xmas except I used the leftover aromatics I stuffed into my turkey.

Roughly equal parts diced carrot, bell pepper, and red onion with chopped parsley
Leftover mashed potatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

Place mashed potatoes in a mixing bowl and fold in the aromatics. Mix it all together and form into a thick pancake. Lightly oil a skillet on medium-high heat, slap the pancake down till you get a good crust on the bottom, and then flip it to get a tasty crust on the other side.

Here's what the pancake looks like when it's in a small cast iron skillet.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Fumbling Toward Culinary Talent: Mrs. Nasty's Lemon Whip Cocktail

Tonight Mrs. Nasty made some fancified jello shot that uses the lemon's outer being. You cut the lemons in half, scoop out the innards, and then fill the lemon halves with the jello mixture. It uses whipped cream flavored vodka. 

After she was done, she said, "I wonder if you can make some kind of cocktail with that whipped vodka?"

You can, and here it is. 

1 and a half to two shots of Pinnacle whipped cream flavored vodka
1 and a half tablespoons of fresh lemon juice

Throw some ice in a Collins glass, pour in the vodka and lemon juice, and then fill the lemon-lime pop to the top of the glass. Stir and drink.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Music Friday: "The New Year" & "The Sound of Settling"

I'm later than usual for my Music Friday post because we're here in my hometown visiting my parents, but here are a couple of songs from Death Cab for Cutie that should help you ring in the new year. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Random Notes from a Crank

Food Porn Alert

What you see above is the eleven-pound bird I lovingly basted every thirty minutes on Christmas Eve day.

We travel to see my parents on the 27th, but I'm bringing part of the bird with me. Virg always loved the neck, so I'm bringing it with. Darby, our dog, got the turkey's heart, and I get the liver. Huzzah offal. 

Speaking of Darby, it's safe to say she may sometimes dread the holidays.

One of my favorite characters in American cinema is the father in A Christmas Story. He's known affectionately as "The Old Man." 

I got an Eddie Bauer clearance catalog this week, and I turned to the pages where this coat is advertised. It's a great coat if you want to look like a ribbed condom. For her pleasure. 

I remember reading about one of those questions that's supposed to tell you something about your personality. It's whether you're a Beatles person or a Rolling Stones person. From those two choices, for me it's Stones all the way. 

I've trolled a number of best albums of 2012 lists to see how mine compares to others. When I do this, I discover new artists. One album you might want to check out is John Fullbright's From the Ground Up. Fullbright, a native of Okemah, OK (birthplace of Woody Guthrie), put out a fine album this year. The genre is Americana and all the loose connotations that category entails. Todd Mathis at Twangville compares him to Jason Isbell in his review, but I think he's more like a cross between John Hiatt and Joe Pug. Although I'm an agnostic, I enjoy the religious imagery in the lyrics, and he also plays a good harp.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Random Notes from a Crank

On Sunday my son and I made three pie crusts from scratch and then made a pumpkin pie. Is this a minuscule victory for, as my Dad would describe them, the "women's libbers" like me? 

I now know why my parents would never buy me the game Mouse Trap as a gift. You always lose the pieces (we're missing one of the balls and the rubber band), and the game, as a whole, is boring. When you have to patch together the game, it doesn't work very well. 

If you've been paying attention to this blog, I closely follow college football. But this NFL deal, there's something to it. I lived in St. Louis for five years and rooted for the Rams and want them to do well, but if I had to pick one team to root for in the NFL, it would have to be the Vikings. That was the team I cheered for as a kid. Other than those teams, I like the Falcons purely because of Julio Jones.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Music Friday: "Stop"

When I was working in the office today, I was groovin' to Nothing's Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual from Jane's Addiction. 

I listened to those two albums a lot back when they were current. 

Damn fine music. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Stay Positive: The Beautiful Wishes of Ugly Men by Adam Prince

When I read the title of this short story collection, I was intrigued. 

Because I'm a man (and over "forty" as Mike Gundy is famous for saying) and I'm a sucker for good short story collections (the book is highly rated on Amazon), I thought I'd see what all the hubbub was about. 

On the back of the book, one person proclaims, "These stories scared the hell out of me."

Another opines, "Woman [sic] can learn more from these stories than from thousands of issue of Cosmopolitan." Well, that task shouldn't be too hard though I'm always curious about Cosmo because most of the articles in the rag mag seem to be about getting more and different kinds of nooky. What up with that? 

But I digress. 

It's a strong collection of stories. Some of my favorites are "Big Wheels for Adults," "Tranquility," "Keener," and "Bruises and Baby Teeth." Those are stories I might read again. 

Here are some snapshots:

From "Big Wheels for Adults": "And as he spoke, be began to think about the difficulty of accounting for the distance between who a person was and who that person would like to be, between ourselves and the performances we put on for those we hope will love us."

From "Tranquility": "Reaching for the coriander, Clare noticed that Miss Kim wasn't wearing any panties and that her private region was completely shaven. So instead of asking Miss Kim what country she was from, Clare decided to wash down one hundred and fifty milligrams of Sobritol with as much vodka as she could swallow." 

From "Keener": "'Because if you do. If you want me to--I will unloose the primal me.' 
'Oh, god,' said Amanda, 'Don't do that.'"

From "Bruises and Baby Teeth": "Walt had an answer. He did. It was intricate and lovely, a kind of confession."

And here's a review of the book at PANK

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Smackdown of Musical Thievery: Rolling Stones vs. Led Zeppelin

In late May of this year, I wrote a post titled "Bad Lyrics Smackdown." 

Today I was listening to Let It Bleed by the Rolling Stones, and I got to thinking about how many rock-n-roll bands have been thieves of the blues. And then I thought of another smackdown. 

To get all DIY and HGtv on you, I guess you could describe what the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin did as "repurposing" the blues in a rock format. 

However, I'm curious as to what you all think. Which band is the bigger thief of the blues?

I've got a poll to the right where you can vote. You have until 11:59 pm on the December 31st, so if you know people who might like to vote or provide their thoughts in the comments section, please pass this post and poll along to your comrades. 

The question is this: 

  • Which band is the bigger thief of the blues tradition? 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Portal to Post-Massacre Links

If there is ever going to be a time to enact stricter gun control laws, that time is now. Below I've provided some articles that hint at possible solutions.

"After a 1996 Mass Shooting, Australia Enacted Strict Gun Laws. It Hasn't Had a Similar Massacre Since." by Will Oremus on Slate

"The Geography of Gun Deaths" by Richard Florida from The Atlantic

"Viewpoint: If We Want Gun Control, We'll Need to Compromise" by Adam Cohen from Time.

"Joe Manchin: Time to Act on Guns" from The Washington Post.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Random Notes from a Crank

If you get a chance, check out this short article in Forbes from 2011: "Why Trying to Learn Clear Writing in College is Like Trying to Learn Sobriety in a Bar." While Ellsberg creates a strawperson about humanities professors (or presents a blanket/hasty generalization), especially because he's speaking from the viewpoint of an Ivy League grad, it's a damning portrait that provoked and will probably continue to provoke responses. Thanks to Dr. Kim of Pros Write for passing this along on 12/12/12. 

I rarely talk about my work on this blog because I usually don't want to "go there." In general, I've wanted PlannedOb to be a place for my other interests in life. However, this week provided the highs and lows of what I do. My group of first-year students, as a whole, did fine jobs on their final portfolios, which made me feel good about what they learned this semester and their prospects next semester. One group in my other class, however, did a half-assed job on their final report. In fact, when I met with two of the group members on Thursday, I told them that if I were to receive a report like theirs in a business setting, I would start thinking about ways to fire them. A finals week of pumping sunshine and bringing the pain. 

Some people like to use online systems to sort out their schedules. I, however, am old fashioned. On Wednesday, I bought a new weekly planner and perused 2013 wall calendars. Take that 21st century practices. Huzzah to old technology. 

My son, in his ongoing quest to repeat all kinds of stuff he hears, was funny Thursday morning when shot out his index fingers at Mrs. Nasty and said, "What's happenin', hot sauce?" 

I finished David O. Stewart's American Emperor: Aaron Burr's Challenge to Jefferson's America a little while ago. I highly recommend the book if you're someone who likes reading about history. Aaron Burr, what a character. He was a fellow who was close to becoming President of the United States over Jefferson in 1800, and then after he was no longer Vice President and after his duel with Hamilton, he hatched a plan that he thought would separate the western part of the US to become its own country along with acquiring grand chunks of Mexico and Florida. And he got off. He beat the rap at his treason trial (thanks, in part, to Chief Justice John Marshall). But the biggest villain might have been General James Wilkinson. Stewart's book reads like a cross between history and detective work because Burr, a highly successful lawyer, was smart not to leave solid records of his true intentions. And when he did leave records, his intentions to various people provide mixed messages. Burr was known to repeat the maxim, "Things written remain." Indeed. 

Now it's on to shuffling my reading life among Everyday Genres: Writing Assignments Across the Disciplines by Mary Soliday, The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us by James W. Pennebaker, and The Beautiful Wishes of Ugly Men: Stories by Adam Prince. 

Music Friday: "Great Divide" & "Coffee Cups"

I put Langhorne Slim & the Law's The Way We Move as number two on my Top Ten/Twenty Albums of 2012 below, yet I haven't featured any songs from it. 

So, I guess I might as well do that. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Top Ten/Twenty Albums of 2012

It's that time of the year again. 

As I did in 2010 and 2011, I'm providing my top twenty albums that came out this year. In contrast to the other two lists, I've changed the honorable mention category to come after the twentieth album. 

If there are any albums that you feel are worthy of my top ten/twenty list, feel free to provide 'em in the comments section. I look forward to your recommendations. 

1. Soundgarden, King Animal

It's only been, what, sixteen years since the these fine fellows from Seattle put out their last album. They're back, and now the drummer has to split his time between two hard rock icons, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. This album reminds me of Superunknown though it seems a bit harder. King Animal is forcefully consistent as though the years between albums never happened. And that, for this listener is a very good thing. Favorite songs: "Non-State Actor," "Blood on the Valley Floor," "Attrition," and "Rowing." 

2. Langhorne Slim & the Law, The Way We Move

Though I don't have any of his other albums, I was a little familiar with Mr. Slim before I bought The Way We Move this year. The album is certainly one I've listened to a lot, which is how I pretty much rank these albums. If you're not familiar with this guy's work, he plays what I would describe as garage folk, and he has a distinctive voice. The album puts me in a good mood, its fare is mainly uptempo songs with interesting lyrics. Favorite songs: "Fire," "Great Divide," "Wild Soul," and "Coffee Cups." 

3. Jay Farrar (Son Volt), Anders Parker, Will Johnson (Centro-matic), and Yim Yames (My Morning Jacket), New Multitudes

I highly recommend purchasing the deluxe edition because the two albums are worth it. The first disc features all four of those dudes, but the second disc only has Farrar and Parker singing. The story of the project is that Farrar spent some time researching Woody Guthrie's notebooks and sketchbooks, and other artists became interested. So what the album provides is a group of talented musicians playing 23 previously unrecorded songs by Guthrie. It's wonderful stuff, and the album inspired me to read Joe Klein's Woody Guthrie: A Life, which is the definitive biography of the man. Favorite songs: "My Revolutionary Mind," "V.D. City," "Angel's Blues," "No Fear," "Whereabouts Can I Hide," "I Was a Goner," and "San Antone Meat House." 

4. Punch Brothers, Who's Feeling Young Now?

It's clear as I survey the first four albums and the one that's coming next, the first five could be ranked in any order really. What I'm saying is that any of the top five albums could be number one depending on my mood. 

Regardless, this release by the Brothers de Punch is outstanding because it provides a balance of uptempo, midtempo, and slower tunes that range from traditional bluegrass to "alternative," however that may be defined. There are a couple of solid instrumentals, "Flippen (The Flip)" and "Kid A" (a cover), and the other offerings are excellent all around. I might like this even better than Antifogmatic, and I'm looking forward to going to their show in St. Louis in late January. Favorite songs: "Who's Feeling Young Now?," "Clara," "New York City," and "Don't Get Married Without Me." 

 5. Todd Snider, Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables

Mr. Snider got all kinds of love in the music press for this release, and it's warranted. This album provides some of the best lines of the year. The chorus of "New Yorker Banker is "Good things happen to bad people." In "Too Soon to Tell," Snider opines, "They say that 'living well is the best revenge.' I say, bullshit. The best revenge is revenge." And in the middle of "Big Finish" there's this darkly humorous nugget: "It ain't the despair that'll get you. It's the hope." Snider explores the invention of religion, takes on the bank bailout, gives you the perspective of an unemployed person, among other personas, topics, and issues. In addition, the incredibly talented Amanda Shires plays fiddle and provides backing vocals on most of the tunes. Favorite songs: "In the Beginning," "New York Banker," "In Between Jobs," and "Too Soon to Tell." 

6. Patterson Hood, Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance

The frontman of the Drive-By Truckers created a fabulous solo album this year. It's thematically consistent. Listeners used to his DBT tunes will find a different m.o. on this album. I mean, there's a cello on some songs, so it's not your in-your-face rock-n-roll. The lyrics are reflective and personal -- like confessional poetry. Favorite Songs: "Disappear," "Better Off Without," "After the Damage," and "Depression Era." 

7. Bela Fleck & The Marcus Roberts Trio, Across the Imaginary Divide

I suppose the "imaginary divide" the title refers to is the perception that the banjo shouldn't be used in jazz music. If that's the case, this collaboration between the best banjo player on the planet and one of the best jazz trios out there destroys that perception. It works, and the album is fine music. Favorite songs: "Some Roads Lead Home," "Across the Imaginary Divide," "Petunia," and "That Ragtime Feeling." 

8. Craig Finn, Clear Heart Full Eyes

Like Hood of DBT, the frontman of The Hold Steady decided to make a solo record this year. The album is not the guitar-oriented fare of THS; Finn's vocals are the focal point. Songs explicate the tactics of womanizer, contemplate mortality, recount hard living, and other interesting narratives. "No Future," in particular, has a great line about the persona seeing the devil at the "riverside Perkins." Favorite songs: "When No One's Watching," "No Future," "Jackson," and "Balcony." 

9. Joe Pug, The Great Despiser

This fellow, who at one time was going to school to be a playwright if I remember right, has his stuff together. He's probably a guy who gets labeled with the singer-songwriter moniker. He writes damn fine songs and arrangements. The title track for this album is probably one of my favorite songs of the year. It's a fairly simple song lyrically speaking, but the affective dimension is just right. Then there is "Ours": "So we took what we inherited,/ and we dug a hole to bury it,/ all our property and marriages./ All we wanted was a narrative/ that was ours." Favorite songs: "The Great Despiser," "Ours," "Neither Do I Need a Witness," and "Deep Dark Wells." 

10. Brandi Carlile, Bear Creek

Where the hell have I been that I didn't know about Brandi Carlile? What's wrong with me? If last year was the year I discovered the wonderful Amanda Shires, one of the discoveries of 2012 was Ms. Carlile. A mix of folk and rock supported by an incredible voice, I'm hooked. Favorite songs: "Long Way Home," "Raise Hell," "Keep Your Heart Young," and "Rise Again." 

11. Gary Clark Jr., Blak and Blu

On the opening track of the album, "Ain't Messin' Around," Clark sings, "I don't believe in competition./ Ain't nobody else like me around." This year marked his first major full length album, which includes revised versions of a few songs he had on his EP last year. And there aren't many people like Gary Clark Jr. around these parts. While there are a couple of songs I skip over on the album when listening to it, he shows his range on his debut. From a old school blues number of "When My Train Pulls In" to the R&B "Blak and Blu," from the Chuck Berry-like "Travis County" to the Hendrix homage of "Third Stone from the Sun/If You Love Me Like You Say," Clark delivers. I prefer the bluesier and rock-focused affairs, but this album is a solid effort, one that makes me want much more. Favorite songs: "When My Train Pulls In," "Glitter Ain't Gold," "Ain't Messin' Around," and "Next Door Neighbor Blues." 

12. Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball

Springsteen's sparse albums seem to get all kinds of critical acclaim -- Nebraska, The Ghost of Tom Joad, and Devils & Dust. I like those albums, don't get me wrong, but I tend to be a bigger fan of albums like Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and The Rising. So Wrecking Ball works well for me: anthem rock. I played this album a lot in my car because my kids enjoy the Celtic-inflected tunes on the disc. "American Land" is tattooed on my brain. Favorite songs: "Jack of All Trades," "Death to My Hometown," "Wrecking Ball," and "You've Got It." 

13. Shovels & Rope, O' Be Joyful

I read about the duo of Carrie Ann Hearst and Micheal Trent on Hear*Ya this year, listened to some videos on YouTube, and promptly bought this album. As far as a genre of music, I guess it's Americana because it's a mix of country and rock with a folk do-it-yourself sensibility. I bet they're a lot of fun watching live -- just those two having fun and playing tunes. Favorite songs: "Birmingham," "O' Be Joyful," "Hail Hail," and "Shank Hill Street." 

14. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Live from Alabama


It was really difficult for me to not put this album in the top ten because I'm a huge fan of Isbell & the 400 Unit. This release distills songs from performances in the Birmingham and the Shoals this year. It's a great album, but because I'm a connoisseur of  his work, I'm thinking about the songs I want on Live from Alabama Part II. I want more, so I might as well get it out of my system. Here's my fantasy Live from Alabama Part II track list: 

  • "The Day John Henry Died"
  • "Never Gonna Change"
  • "Chicago Promenade"
  • "Grown"
  • "Seven-Mile Island"
  • "Good"
  • "However Long"
  • "Soliders Get Strange"
  • "Streetlights"
  • "We've Met"
  • "Codeine"
  • "Stopping By"
  • "Never Could Believe"
  • "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay" (cover)
Favorite songs on Part I: "Goddamn Lonely Love," "In a Razor Town," "Outfit," "TVA," and "The Blue."

15. Heartless Bastards, Arrow 

What a great name for a band. And what a distinctive voice the lead singer has with a fully charged band. Just wonderful. When you listen to "Marathon," you're bound to get reflective when you hear the lead singer say, "on this long road home..." I got intrigued about the band when I saw them play "Gotta Have Rock and Roll" on Letterman. Indeed, mofos. Favorite songs: "Parted Ways," "Only For You," "Skin and Bone," and "Late in the Night." 

16. Regina Spektor, What We Saw from the Cheap Seats

I like an excellent pianist. Regina Spektor fills that role, and she's a damn fine singer.  "Firewood," in particular, provides a powerful bundle of pathos, especially if you've ever visited someone in a hospital.  And she's gets all wonderfully beat-boxy and surreal on "All The Rowboats." Then there's the lyric of "Work it. Work it, baby. Work it round that room." on "Ballad of a Politician." Brilliant work. Favorite songs: "All The Rowboats," "Firewood," "Ballad of a Politician," and "The Party." 

17. Bob Mould, Silver Age

This year Mould got back to voicing his barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world. If you're looking for ballads, look elsewhere. Easy listening? Move along. This album reminds me more of his work in Husker Du than Workbook and Black Sheets of Rain, which are two very fine albums by the way. It's a great album to listen to when you're working out. Favorite songs: "Star Machine," "Fugue State," "Keep Believing," and "Silver Age."

18. The Lumineers, self-titled

Most people will recognize these folks by "Hey Ho" because it was used for some commercial, but overall it's a solid debut album. Whether they're part of this "roots revival" or whatever, this is a fun listen. Favorite songs: "Classy Girls," "Submarine," "Big Parade," and "Flapper Girl."

19. Truckstop Darlin', Hope & the Heart It Breaks

These fine fellows churned out a second album quickly. At least it doesn't seem that long ago that their debut came out. They do seem like an unlikely band to come out of Portland though. TD is pure alt-country, like the early albums from Lucero. I would imagine the best venue to hear this band's music is in a bar after a few good whiskey drinks. Favorite songs: "Southern Ghosts," "Sad Sweet Songs," "Dead Roses," and "They Don't Mind." 

20. Trampled By Turtles, Stars and Satellites

TbT albums have a tendency to grow on me. I'll listen to one a couple of times, and I'll think, "Eh, it's all right." Then I listen to it a few more times, and I think, "I'm liking this more for some reason." And so on. The same goes for Stars and Satellites. Favorite songs: "Alone," "Risk," "Beautiful," and "The Calm and the Crying Wind." 

Below is the Honorable Mention category. I've provided an extra ten albums (in alpha iTunes order) that I enjoyed quite a bit, but they didn't make the top twenty. I only provided the albums with image -- no commentary. 

Honorable Mention: 

Avett Brothers, The Carpenter

The Bad Plus, Made Possible

Baroness, Yellow & Green

The Barr Brothers, self-titled

Calexico, Algiers

Caroline Herring, Camilla

Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten

Horse Feathers, Cynic's New Year

Justin Townes Earle, Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now

Sara Watkins, Sun Midnight Sun

Friday, December 7, 2012

Music Friday: "Never Know" & "Good People"

I tend to think of Jack Jackson as this era's version of James Taylor except that he usually has a number of songs that have some strong social commentary. 

Today I'm featuring a couple of those from In Between Dreams. I've also provided the lyrics of  "Never Know" if you're feeling like contemplating humanity and our place in the universe.  

We're just moments.
We're clever, but we're clueless.
We're just human,
amusing but confusing.

Never Know

I heard this old story before
where the people keep killing for the metaphors.
Don't leave much up to the imagination,
so I wanna give this imagery back,
but I know it just ain't so easy like that.
So, I turn the page and read the story again
and again and again.
It sure seems the same with a different name.
We're breaking and rebuilding
and we're growing,
always guessing

Never knowing,
shocking, but we're nothing,
We're just moments,
we're Clever, but we're clueless.
We're just human,
amusing but confusing.
Were trying, but where is this all leading?
Never Know. 

It all happened so faster
than you could say disaster.
Wanna take a time lapse
and look at it backwards.
From the last one
and maybe that's just the answer
that we're after.
But after all
we're just a bubble in a boiling pot,
just one breath in a chain of thought.
The moments just combusting.
Feel certain, but we'll never never know.
Sure seems the same,
give it a different name.
We're begging and we're needing,
and we're trying and we're breathing.

Never knowing,
shocking, but we're nothing.
We're just moments.
We're clever, but we're clueless.
We're just human,
Amusing but confusing.
Helping, we're building,
and we're growing.
Never Know.

Knock knock on the door to door.
Tell ya that the metaphor is better than yours.
And you can either sink or swim.
Things are looking pretty grim.
If you don't believe in what this one feeding,
it's got no feeling,
So I read it again
and again and again.
Just seems the same,
too many different names.
Our hearts are strong, our heads are weak,
we'll always be competing, never knowing.

Never knowing,
shocking, but we're nothing.
We're just moments.
We're Clever, but we're clueless.
We're just human,
amusing but confusing.
But the truth is
all we got is questions.
We'll Never Know.
Never Know.
Never Know.