August – Oceans

Although this song sounds very personal, it’s not about me. It’s based on a cartoon a friend drew and posted on facebook a little over 5 years ago. It was a simple image of two stick figures standing outside of a house with a large television set. To the right were arrows pointing to and from the word “work”. It has haunted me and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Then one day, not too long ago, it turned into a song. I was in the shower at the time – probably with soap in my eyes.

01_robert_on_shaker

When we play concerts, I’m terrible about giving credit to the band so I’m going to make up for it here. Robert is the amazing the drummer that keeps the whole thing together. Photo by KC Jung.

A few weeks after I came up with the basic idea – the first two verses, pre-chorus and chorus – I wrote the third verse to put a positive spin on the song. Our hero, lost in an ocean, sees clouds ahead, which suggests an island, and perhaps an opportunity to get closer to people.

Brian plays guitar and keyboards. His job is to fill out the sound and keep things interesting.

Brian plays guitar and keyboards. His job is to fill out the sound and keep things interesting. Photo by KC Jung.

This song is a significant milestone that I’m very excited about – it’s the first one that includes the whole band. I’ve been playing concerts with three very talented musicians since the spring, but only now have we all managed to add a part to a recording. Just like last month, we recorded drums at Warrior Sound, and, as always, the results are amazing. Everything else was done in our home studios.

Carol plays bass and keeps everything cool.

Carol plays bass and keeps everything cool. Photo by KC Jung.

I hope everyone had a great August! I know I did and I’m excited about the upcoming September. I’ve got big plans for a lot of things: 1) I’ll be playing my dance music for two nights in New York City, and 2) an exciting new song to record for you.

If you’d like to sing or play long with this month’s tune, here’s the song sheet.

Photo by KC Jung.

Photo by KC Jung.

Recipe – Pancakes from Dawn Till Dusk

pancakes_1

I love pancakes. They’re simple and they’re satisfying. I love them for breakfast and I love them for dinner. The one problem is that I always feel a little guilty just eating pancakes for dinner. Whenever I do something like that I can always imagine my mother asking me where my vegetables are. Pancakes and vegetables don’t mix, right? Or do they?

A few years ago, when I was making a crazy complicated vegetable fritter, I realized that, fundamentally, I was just making a pancake with vegetables in it. There was less sugar and more salt in the fritter than a pancake, but those were the only differences. The vegetable fritter turned out really well, but guess what? Two weeks later I made my standard pancake recipe (adjusting the sugar and salt) with vegetables and it tasted just as good, and the preparation was way, way easier. I was sold, and you will be too, once you try this recipe out.

Breakfast Pancakes:

In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup flour, 1 Tbs. sugar, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1/4 tsp. baking soda and 1/4 tsp. salt. Heat one or two large pans over medium heat. When the pan is evenly heated, use a fork to whisk 1 egg and 1 cup buttermilk into the dry ingredients. Add 1 tsp. of oil to each pan and swirl to coat. Pour in enough batter to make pancakes the size of your choosing. There should be enough batter to make two large, pan sized pancakes, or four smaller sized pancakes. Flip the pancakes when deep holes appear on their surface.

pancakes_cooking

Serve the breakfast pancakes with butter and maple syrup.

Dinner Pancakes:

In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup flour, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1/4 tsp. baking soda and 1/4 tsp. sugar. Heat one or two large pans over medium heat. When the pan is evenly heated, use a fork to whisk chopped veggies, crumbled feta cheese, 1 egg and 1 cup buttermilk into the dry ingredients. Add 1 tsp. of oil to each pan and swirl to coat. Pour in enough batter to make pancakes the size of your choosing. There should be enough batter to make two large, pan sized pancakes, or four smaller sized pancakes. Flip the pancakes when deep holes appear on their surface.

savory_cooking

Serve the dinner pancakes with a compound butter:

Compound Butter

Use a fork to combine minced herbs, fresh ground pepper and a pinch of salt into 1 and 1/2 Tbs. softened butter. (if the butter isn’t soft, microwave it for 10 seconds before adding the other ingredients).

To summarize the ingredients (you can also download the recipe):

  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Baking Powder
  • Baking Soda
  • 1 Egg
  • Buttermillk
  • Oil
  • Optional: chopped vegetables, crumbled feta cheese, butter, herbs.

July – Don’t Worry About Me

For the past year and a half I’ve wanted to include more musicians in my recordings. Recording alone is fun, but making music is, by it’s very nature, a social activity. We make music with people and we make it for people. This is because music is a form of communication that connects with our basic instincts. By that I mean that we don’t have to think about music to enjoy it; we just react to it.

So far I’ve succeeded in a number of collaborations, including duets with Andrea Connolly (The Whistle) and Miriam Chicurel-Bayard (That Dress), and Robert Cantrell has played percussion on a number of songs. But when I formed the band, Starmakers, I wanted to include the members in a big way. This started last month with Casual Shirts, when Brian Risk played keyboards, and has continued this month with Brian and Robert (and next month, we’ll finally include Carol on bass!!!)

There are two logistical challenges to bringing collaborators into my project: I must write the songs early in the month so everyone can hear what I have in mind, and I need a space to record drums. On past songs, I’ve worked on lyrics right up to the day the song’s due. And while my little space is perfect for recording a ukulele, Robert would have to put his snare drum in one room and his cymbals in another, and that would never do.

Lucky for me, two things happened: a whole swarm of songs showed up in my head, giving me a jump start on the lyrics and arrangements, and my next door neighbor, Al Jacob, moved in. Al, it just so happens, co-owns Warrior Sound, one of the best recording studios in the area. In a beautiful setting surrounded by a horse farm, Warrior Sound has an amazing room for recording drums – just what I need.

The ukulele couldn't be happier recording drums at one of the best studios in the area!

The ukulele couldn’t be happier recording drums at one of the best studios in the area!

One thing I love about collaborating with other musicians is that the results are a dialog greater than the sum of it’s parts. Even though “Don’t Worry About Me” is a sad song, a song about rejection, think of it a a conversation between three people about what rejection means to them. Each person, Robert, Brian and I, bring different perspectives and experiences to the music. We have three stories and we tell them with the instruments that we play. In that sense, by talking it through, we can help each other deal with the sadness.

My home town is going through some changes! They're demolishing University Square to make room for a new art space.

My home town is going through some changes! They’re demolishing University Square to make room for a new art space.

I hope everyone had a great July and has a wonderful August! If you like the tunes, please share them with your friends (and have them share the tunes with their friends). And if you’d like to sing along, here’s the song sheet.

Recipe – Baked French Fries

Everybody lives fries and I’m no exception. In the summer I like grilling burgers and steaks and nothing goes better with those than fries, so I had to figure how to make them at home. I also wanted an easy recipe that wouldn’t require a lot of hands on time, so I could spend most of my time outside by the fire. Here’s what I came up with – using the oven to bake the fries means these guys require very little attention and cleanup is a snap!

First, get yourself 1 pound of Idaho potatoes (although any potato will do). It’s worth noting that a single large potato can easily weigh in at 1 pound, so you might only need one. To cut the potato (or potatoes) into 1/4 inch fries, cut a 1/4 slice off of one side. Then roll this potato over so that it’s sitting on the cut side (this makes it easier to cut the potato since it can no longer roll away). Now cut it into ¼ inch slabs. Lay the slabs on their sides (or stack them), and then cut them into ¼ inch fries.

Cut 1/4 inch off of one side of the potato, then roll the potato onto the flat side. Cut the remaining potato into 1/4 inch planks, stack the planks and cut them into 1/4 inch fries.

Cut 1/4 inch off of one side of the potato, then roll the potato onto the flat side. Cut the remaining potato into 1/4 inch planks, stack the planks and cut them into 1/4 inch fries.

After you’ve cut the fries, place them in a large pot and fill with enough water to submerge them by 1 inch. Add 1 Tbs. of salt and bring the pot of potatoes to the boil. Boil for 3 to 5 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat an oven to 400 degrees.

Drain the potatoes and mix with freshly ground black pepper and dried herbs, if using, and anywhere from 2 Tbs. to ¼ cup of olive oil, . Spread the fries into a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 30-40 minutes (until cooked to your liking – just try one!), flipping the fries with a spatula after 20 minutes. If using fresh herbs, sprinkle them on when the fries are done baking.

Fresh out of the oven!

Fresh out of the oven…

... and nestled up next to a chickpea burger!

… and nestled up next to a chickpea burger!

To summarize the ingredients (you can also download the recipe):

  • 1 lb. Idaho potatoes cut into ¼ inch fries. NOTE: A single, large potato can weigh 1 lb.
  • Salt
  • 2 Tbs – ¼ cup olive oil
  • Black Pepper
  • (optional) Dried or fresh herbs

June – Casual Shirts

We just played at Mystery Brewing. Stay tuned for our next performance!

We just played at Mystery Brewing. Stay tuned for our next performance!

Malls didn’t always depress me. When I was in high school I worked in one, in a magazine shop, and I enjoyed it. It had an eclectic mix of regulars that made every hour interesting.

There was the mall security guard – an old southern gentleman who kept a coffee mug behind the counter. Every hour would come by and pop the mug into the microwave for 30 seconds and take a sip or two before moving on. Without even trying, he’d make a single cup of coffee last 8 hours.

There was the guy from the stockroom at Dillard’s – every day he called to reserve magazines and newspapers. Since I never understood a word he said on the phone, I would stash a random assortment of periodicals behind the counter with hope that I had what he wanted. Face to face I understood about 30% of his words and I remember him asking me, “Can’t you understand what I’m saying?” after I had failed to reserve the Sunday edition of the Washington Post. (Quite miraculously, I had managed to reserve everything else he asked for.) I played it cool and told him it was sold out. He then pointed at the stack of Sunday Washington Posts still for sale and asked, “You sold out of those?”

Lastly, there was a pizza shop two doors down swapped calzones for cigarettes. It was a pretty sweet deal.

But since then, being in a mall wears me down. I’m not sure why, but I can feel my energy level dropping every minute I’m inside one. Maybe it’s the air. Regardless, I always feel like I need to shop as quickly as possible or else I’ll permanently wither.

Not that long ago I needed to buy some shirts, and I must have lingered just a little too long. By the time I made it outside, I was so dark and moody that I couldn’t even talk. I felt like a dementor had sucked out my soul. And then, out of nowhere, out popped this song. At least the first verse and chorus did. After that, the rest was easy.

On a completely different note, it has come to my attention that many people believe that my ukulele has a permanent smile, and are surprised when they they see it in person.

On a completely different note, it has come to my attention that many people believe that my ukulele has a permanent smile, and are surprised when they they see it in person.

But the smile is only photoshop...

But the smile is only photoshop…

You may have noticed that the instrumentation for this month’s song is, shall we say, non-traditional. That was intentional. As many of you know, I’ve got a band, “The Star Makers”, and the people in it bring a lot of talent and skills to my songs and I intend to feature their abilities in my recordings. This one features my long time friend Brian Risk (who also does a mixture of data analysis and music). I recorded the vocals and gave him a rough outline of the chords, and he came back to me with this incredible arrangement.

Folks! It’s been a great month! If you like the song, please share it with your friends. And if you’d like to sing along with this tune, here’s the song sheet.

 

Recipe – La Ferme Salad Dressing

Here, in the United States, it’s summer time and all kinds of things are growing in my back yard. These are the days for fresh salads, all the time. Here’s my French twist on a classic American recipe for ranch salad dressing.

First, puree a clove of garlic. You can do this with a garlic press, or you can do it with a knife and a large pinch of salt. While I generally enjoy the ease of a garlic press, for this recipe I prefer using a knife. Here’s video showing how I do it:

Once you’ve got your pureed garlic, put it in a small or medium sized bowl along with some fresh ground pepper, 1/2 tsp. of herbs de Provence, 1/4 cup of mayonnaise and 1/4 cup of butter milk (and if you used a garlic press, add a large pinch of salt). Then just whisk everything together. Bam!

The recipe makes about a half cup of salad dressing. If you need to, you can keep it in the fridge for about a week.

The recipe makes about a half cup of salad dressing. If you need to, you can keep it in the fridge for about a week.

Here’s a summary of the ingredients (you can also download the recipe)

  • 1 clove of garlic
  • A large pinch of salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dried herbs de Provence
  • 1/4 cup. mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk

 

May – The Cue For The Band

Unlike a lot of my recent songs, this one wasn’t written in the shower. Instead, I wrote it in a comfy chair. This comfy chair was wedged in the corner of a room with terrible wi-fi, and that makes it perfect for being productive. The only thing you can do in that chair is get something done. Or read a book.

The ukulele enjoys a sip of tea while sitting in the comfy chair. (This comfy chair just so happens to be in Yangon domestic terminal).

The ukulele enjoys a spot of tea while sitting in a comfy chair. (This comfy chair just so happens to be in Yangon domestic terminal).

When I was younger I feared dancing and I blame my first middle school dance. The DJ (aka the school principal) was playing the Aerosmith/Run-D.M.C. version of “Walk This Way” and everyone was going nuts. People were just jumping up, down, left and right. It looked so easy! Because it was a group dance, I didn’t even have to build up the courage to ask anyone in particular to dance with me. Thinking, “what could possibly go wrong?” I jumped in and started to bounce around with everyone else.

BAM! Blood was all over the place. Within seconds I had hit a cute Indian girl (that I had a small crush on) in the nose with the top of my head. She was in tears and her clothes were ruined and I just stood there in shock, not knowing what to do. This was definitely The Worst Night Ever.

After The Worst Night Ever I gave up dancing until I was halfway through college. Unless I was careful, I knew it would lead to tears, so I played it safe; I signed up for ballroom dancing. I figured the rules and predetermined steps were there to keep everyone safe. However, once I learned a few steps, I noticed I was never in sync with anyone else. It was a mess. I moved early, and, to my mind, everyone else moved late.

I didn’t know this at the time, but different people have very different ideas about the beat. Classically trained musicians anticipate the beat. They are taught to lift their bow and move it across the strings just a moment early, so the audience will hear something at the exact moment the beat occurs. In contrast, many people react to the beat. They wait until they hear it before moving. As you can imagine, if one person is early and their partner is late, the result is a disco fiasco.

After a few years of playing with rock bands, who are relaxed about everything, I finally learned to be flexible with the beat. Now I don’t fear dancing nearly as much as I used to. It’s fun! (And it’s been years since I last bopped someone’s nose on a dance floor!)

Now the ukulele is relaxing on a nice park bench. (In the botanical gardens in Singapore).

Now the ukulele is relaxing on a nice park bench. (In the botanical gardens in Singapore).

Folks! It’s been a great month! For this tune I owe a huge debt to Robert Cantrell for coming over on a Sunday afternoon and recording the fantastic pandeiro part that you can hear throughout the song. If you want to sing, or play your own pandeiro along with the tune, here’s the song sheet.