Friday, March 26, 2010

So Over These Songs

Dear Radio,

Please understand that, while I appreciate the wonders of alternating currents and free music, there are some songs that I just.cannot.stand.anymore.

My coworkers have little radios at their desk, and while I don't mind a little background music, they don't choose the same station - so two days a week, I have opposing sounds coming from my left and right. And so here are the songs that I would really, truly appreciate, Radio, if you could convince your other Listeners to dial down the requests.

Hey Soul Sister - Train

Replay - Sean Kingston

Fireflies - Owl City

Rude Boy - Rihanna

Today Was A Fairytale - Taylor Swift

Empire State of Mind - Alicia Keys & Jay-Z

"Empire State of Mind" and "Rude Boy" are particularly annoying, because they are very repetitive and the range is such that, over the desk partition, I can't hear what I'm sure are carefully crafted countermelodies and lyrical verses, and so all I hear is this:

"C'mon boy, boy boy... take IT take IT take IT take IT"

"New Yo-ooooork... New YORK New Yoooooork!"

I can barely understand Sean Kingston (Iyaz? really?) until halfway through when he stops playing with the synth and actually SINGS a verse. Fireflies is totally overplayed.

And Taylor, I love you - but do all your hits have to be about princes and fairytales?



Saturday, March 20, 2010

No Burnt Pizza Here

There are good weeks and bad weeks in my kitchen. The bad weeks are when I manage to burn frozen pizza or add bad milk to my eggs, and then I throw up my hands and declare it take-out night.

But this has been a good week in the kitchen. Sunday I baked cookies AND brownies, and although I burnt my finger it is healing well (darn those metal bowls sitting too close to the gas element). Earlier this week we had stir fry & cous cous. Last night was the simple but tasty salad, bakery rolls and barbecued sausage. Lunch was mock greek salad. And tonight? Oh yes. Tonight was the fabulously rustic and soon-to-be-repeated Chicken Thighs in Riesling.

One of my new favourite food blogs is Everybody Likes Sandwiches, which has recently migrated from a blog site to its own domain (the Vancouver-based foodie is also a graphic designer). There's much more to love there than sandwiches, and while poking around the site's newly created category search, I discovered what seemed to be the perfect culinary end to my week. So last night I scurried to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients, none of which are obscure - you might even have them in your fridge or cupboard right now.

Chicken Thighs in Riesling
Adapted from Gourmet
and Everybody Likes Sandwiches

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
2 tsp garlic paste or 2 cloves, chopped
1 t oregano
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 t ground cumin
4-6 skinless chicken thighs
(even easier if they're boneless)
salt & pepper
1 T olive oil

1 T butter
4 large shallots, roughly chopped
4 medium carrots, cut into 1 inch long rounds
1/2 – 3/4 c riesling
4 potatoes, cut into large chunks
1/4 - 1/3 c heavy cream
juice of 1/2 a lemon

1. Rinse and pat dry chicken thighs, using paper towel. Prepare a dish with the garlic, bell pepper, oregano, cumin and lemon juice. The lemon is key for moisture and zing! Stir to coat and allow 30 minutes to marinade.

2. Heat olive oil over med-high heat in a wide saucepan or pot, then add chicken and marinade. Brown chicken on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside.

3. Heat butter and saute shallots and carrots for about 10 minutes, then add the chicken. Pour riesling overtop and cover. Cook over med-low heat until chicken is cooked through and carrots are tender, about 30 minutes. Get the potatoes ready while you're waiting.

4. In a separate pot, cook potatoes in boiling water until just tender. Drain and add to the main dish once chicken is cooked. Add heavy cream and squeeze in lemon juice, then stir gently to combine.

If you have boneless skinless thighs this recipe is even easier, and I got six fresh ones from my deli for just over $5. No photos this time because chicken, potatoes & carrots are not particularly photogenic. This meal doesn't look like much, but it is delicious.

After dinner, Jody complimented me on a successful meal, and then commented on the lighting. "You're funny, turning out the lights because the halogens are too bright."

"I didn't do it to be funny, I did it to be romantical!"

"Oh, that's right - you have nice candles on the table."

That's a good week right there, folks. Enjoy your weekend.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Goodbye Vancouver 2010

I wasn't quite ready to say goodbye to the Olympics when I took down my medals table from this blog. So I leave you now with a thank-you note from NBC News anchor, Brian Williams.

After tonight’s broadcast and after looting our hotel mini-bars, we’re going to try to brave the blizzard and fly east to home and hearth, and to do laundry well into next week. Before we leave this thoroughly polite country, the polite thing to do is leave behind a thank-you note.
Thank you, Canada:
For being such good hosts.
For your unfailing courtesy.
For your (mostly) beautiful weather.
For scheduling no more than 60 percent of your float plane departures at the exact moment when I was trying to say something on television.
For not seeming to mind the occasional (or constant) good-natured mimicry of your accents.
For your unique TV commercials — for companies like Tim Hortons — which made us laugh and cry.
For securing this massive event without choking security, and without publicly displaying a single automatic weapon.
For having the best garment design and logo-wear of the games — you’ve made wearing your name a cool thing to do.
For the sportsmanship we saw most of your athletes display.
For not honking your horns. I didn’t hear one car horn in 15 days — which also means none of my fellow New Yorkers rented cars while visiting.
For making us aware of how many of you have been watching NBC all these years.
For having the good taste to have an anchorman named Brian Williams on your CTV network, who turns out to be such a nice guy.
For the body scans at the airport which make pat-downs and cavity searches unnecessary.
For designing those really cool LED Olympic rings in the harbor, which turned to gold when your athletes won one.
For always saying nice things about the United States…when you know we’re listening.
For sharing Joannie Rochette with us.
For reminding some of us we used to be a more civil society.
Mostly, for welcoming the world with such ease and making lasting friends with all of us.

– Brian Williams, NBC News

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Off? Off-Off? On?

The familiar sound of a smoke alarm from somewhere in our complex prompted a perplexing question.

Why does an alarm go off? Shouldn't it go on? When the alarm goes off in the midst of baking, we then turn it off again. Is that off-off? Or does that mean it's on, much like a double negative creates a positive?

Why are English phrases so unreliable and baffling!?

The Music Geek in Me

I was trying to fall asleep on Monday night, the day before my class, but the thought of my long-gone days as a brass instrumentalist popped into my head and I had to get out of bed and write. The night was warm and quiet as I slipped out to the balcony of our apartment and seated myself at the patio table, with the living room light illuminating my notebook just enough. The scents and sounds embedded in my memories of my time behind a music stand tumbled onto the page...

It’s been years since I held a horn to my lips. I miss the tang of brass and oil in my nostrils, the cool metal mouthpiece unyielding as I begin to warm up. I miss counting rest bars and holding whole notes, interpreting a wall of sound from black symbols on a white page. I miss playing with a group, layering my part into a fluid, cascading arrangement.

Once, I was a member of the Salvation Army youth band. I was third chair cornet, but as there were only four cornet players, this merely served my purpose of not being first chair – a spot reserved for the soloist and the best musician in the section. My part was the harmony – the often unnoticed, often offbeat counter to the melody – and I liked it that way.

The cornet was a popular choice for brass bands in the UK, where the Salvation Army was founded, while military and marching bands favour the sleeker, more commanding trumpet. They are essentially the same to play, with three valves, a conical, tubular construction that curls around and ends in a bell, and the same pitch of B-flat. In defence of the cornet, it has a humbler, sweeter sound, and is not so brash as its long-stemmed cousin. The trumpet might have a greater volume, but when played skilfully, a cornet has no trouble reaching the depths and heights of the scale, and its mellow tone does not restrict a player from pelting out sharp, crisp staccato marches.

I miss the confident weight of an instrument in my hands. Not so heavy as to drag my arms down, my slightly battered cornet – which belonged to the church – gave me a reason not to slouch in my chair. Its care became my responsibility, and knowing that I had cleaned and polished it gave my twelve year old self a certain pride.

Cleaning a brass instrument, now, that is a funny business. First of all, you hope that the band leader has not given you a horn that has languished in a cupboard for a decade or more. Second, you must find an old towel to lay in a warm bath to prevent scratches – both on the tub and on the instrument. Third, you must note which valve is taken from each of the three slots as you unscrew them and lay them gently in the water.

Once the cornet emerged from the towel-padded tub, the drying, oiling and reassembly could begin. Oiling the valves was always my favourite part of maintaining my cornet. Mine had shiny mother of pearl discs where my fingertips rested on the piston valves, unlike many of the newer, mass-made cornets. The oil that lubricates the piston valves has a scent not unlike olive oil, but it is much less viscous.

Even with a minor dent in its bell, I was proud to play my cornet, harmonizing with the other parts. My lips would buzz and strain against the cup of the mouthpiece, warming it and coaxing it to become an extension of my lungs and my lips and my tongue. The valves, when depressed, changed the way the air flows through the cornet, altering the pitch as I played. I grew to be a more confident player, mastering hand-eye coordination and posture as my ability to read sheet music grew.

Right foot lightly tapping against the heavy black music stand. Breath even and controlled, with a bit reserved for that sustained note at the end of the phrase. Reading the music and watching the conductor out of the corner of my eye. Adjusting my volume to blend in. During the rest bars, discreetly opening my spit valve – the owner’s manual would call this the water key – and blowing to dislodge any spit that had gathered. More than once a bandmate’s eagerness resulted in spit on my shoe, but water in the tubes could block an otherwise even note. I loved to soak up these gems of experience from my grandfather, who played the baritone in the senior band.

My family’s move abroad halted my progress in the band for a time, but in first year university I began to play again – this time, with a baritone. Baritones look somewhat like a small tuba and the bell points upward instead of toward its audience. But it had three valves, and the band was sorely short of baritone parts to round out the group that was traveling to Hong Kong. I picked it up and six months later, I was on a plane.

I took piano lessons for two years, but aside from the impossibility of finding a piano-friendly apartment, tinkling the keys didn’t appeal to me as much as playing the cornet. Brass music captured me from a young age, and the crush of sound that builds with a crescendo still thrills me.

Since my trip to Hong Kong in 2001, I’ve had little motivation to buy a cornet of my own. It needs the richness of other parts to be in its element. Apartment dwellers might tolerate the romantic tone of a well-played violin or flute, but a horn is not the sort of instrument your neighbours rejoice in listening to.

* Written at midnight the day before my weekly writing class, and mostly from memory. Any instrument-related errors are my own.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Ultimate 5 : YouTube Guilty Pleasures

If I'm in the mood to let the Internet entertain me, this is where I turn. It is absolutely fascinating what people put on YouTube. I don't have anything up there, myself.


Meekakitty, aka Tessa, is a redheaded model who lives in NYC and recently won $100,000 in a vlogging contest- which she says she will use to go to college for video editing. Awesome! She's funny and can sometimes talk really fast and comes up with the strangest things to do on camera, yet doesn't come across as a try-hard. She's a Zelda nerd and she doesn't drink coffee. Everything else, you'll have to find out by watching her videos.

Chocolate Shop Adventure
Tessa + Caffeine=WORST IDEA EVER
51 Things I Found In My Suitcase

2. An Engineer's Guide to Cats

Two geeks. Three cats. Corporal snuggling and cat yodelling.

The Original
Halloween Portrait
Cat Yodelling

3. Michelle Phan

I discovered Michelle Phan by chance, and although I've watched a few random makeup tutorials before (none of which have made me want to race to the drugstore or department store makeup counter) Michelle is in a different class. For starters, she's a professional makeup artist. Her videos are clean and crisp, she does the video separately from the audio so you can actually see and hear what she's doing, all her makeup and tools are listed in the sidebar, and she mixes it up. Sometimes she'll do a simple look I could wear during the day (not that I have - still at the "watching and marvelling" stage of viewing makeup vlogs) and other times, it's a really big, impossibly complex costume makeup tutorial.

Here are a few that impressed me or bewildered me the most.

Glamorous Birthday Look
Easy Autumn
Lady Gaga Bad Romance Look
Sailor Moon Transformation
Kissable Cheeks with Chocolate!

4. Harry Potter Puppet Pals

Some are better than others, and some are not suitable for school-aged kids... but they make me laugh. Potter fanfiction has practically over-saturated the web, but Harry and pals as puppets? I only wish they could have talked Alan Rickman into reprising his role as Snape.

The Mysterious Ticking Noise
Wizard Angst

5. YouTube, Granny-style

Jody's grandmother asked us to show it to her, because someone told her, "You can just type in any tune and it will play it for you - for free!" She was rather excited about this. I was more than a little wary. The person had not told her there were videos to match... Fortunately there wasn't much that could go wrong from her chosen "tester" song, Auld Lang Syne.  (Thank goodness she asked me and not Jody, who can't spell.) I typed it in and explained "suggestions" to her -

"See? There's Auld Lang Syne with drums, or with bagpipes, or a choir - "
"Oh, let's have bagpipes!"

Design by: Blogger XML Skins | Distributed by: Blogger Templates | Sponsored by Application Monitoring