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.

Recipe – Home Style Fried Okra

Not everyone likes okra, but I’d be willing to bet that most people will like this recipe. It’s very different from the restaurant style fried okra you may be familiar with (if you are familiar with fried okra at all), where each piece is individually battered and deep fried. Instead, with this method, the okra clumps together a little and the shallow pan frying brings out more flavor.

One of my favorite quick and cheap meals, this is the recipe my mother made when I was a child. I serve it in a bowl on top of jasmine rice with a glass of wine or beer.

You start by combining 1 pound okra cut into 1/2 inch rounds (fresh or pre-cut frozen) with 1/4 cup of all purpose flour1/4 cup of ground corn meal (yellow or white – and if you don’t have corn meal, just use more flour), 1 tsp. of salt, 1/2 tsp. of ground pepper and, if you’re feeling adventurous, 1 tsp. of chili or curry powder in a large bowl. The chili or curry powder is terribly non-traditional, but it’s a fun twist on the flavor.

Here's the okra, flour, corn meal, salt, pepper and chili powder before I stir it all together.

Here’s the okra, flour, corn meal, salt, pepper and chili powder before I stir it all together.

Stir the mixture around with a fork to lightly coat the okra. Most of the flour and seasonings will migrate to the bottom of the bowl.

After stirring, the okra is lightly coated with the flour mixture (but most of the flour is now in the bottom of the bowl).

After stirring, the okra is lightly coated with the flour mixture (but most of the flour is now in the bottom of the bowl).

Then add two eggs and stir to combine. If there are still dry spots, add another egg and stir it in. It’s better to use too many eggs than too few.

Here's what the mixture looks like after I've stirred in 3 eggs.

Here’s what the mixture looks like after I’ve stirred in 3 eggs.

In a 12-inch non-stick pan (or cast iron skillet), add enough oil to coat the bottom and heat it over medium-high heat (I usually use close to 1/2 a cup). When the oil starts to ripple on the surface, add the okra mixture and spread it out into a single layer.

I've just added the okra mixture to the hot pan with the oil.

I’ve just added the okra mixture to the hot pan with the oil.

Put a lid on the pan and cook for 10-15 minutes. Use a spatula to check the bottom of the okra every now and then. When it’s golden brown, remove the lid and flip the okra. NOTE: At this point, the okra mixture will have stuck together to make a single sheet in the pan. Don’t try to flip this whole sheet, just break up into smaller pieces and flip them individually.

Here's what it looks like when you try to flip the okra the first time. It will have all stuck together. Just break it into smaller pieces.

Here’s what it looks like when you try to flip the okra the first time. It will have all stuck together. Just break it into smaller pieces.

Here's what the okra looks like after I've completed flipping all of it.

Here’s what the okra looks like after I’ve completed flipping all of it.

 

Cook for another 10 – 20 minutes, stirring and flipping the okra every 5 minutes or so, until the okra is well done – dark brown and even black in spots.

This is what the okra should look like after another 10 or 15 minutes of cooking, stirring it every so often so that it is cooked evenly all over.

This is what the okra should look like after another 10 or 15 minutes of cooking, stirring it every so often so that it is cooked evenly all over.

 

Season with extra salt to taste and serve immediately or transfer to a plate lined with paper towels.

Here's my favorite way to serve home style fried okra.

Here’s my favorite way to serve home style fried okra. It’s tasty, inexpensive, and satisfying.

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

  • 1 lb. okra cut into ½ inch sections (fresh or pre-cut frozen)
  • ¼ cup. all purpose flour
  • ¼ cup. ground corn meal (white or yellow)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • (optional 1 tsp. chili powder or curry powder)
  • ½ tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2-3 eggs
  • about ½ cup oil

April – Look Away

Thanks to everyone who came out to the album release show a few weeks ago. It was great to see so many friends in the audience. My friend Kacy Jung was in the front row and took some wonderful pictures (which I’ll sprinkle throughout this post).

The band, plus friends, all on stage for the "Going Back To Cali".

The band, plus friends, all on stage for the last song of the night, “Going Back To Cali“. It’s hard to see in this picture, but that cello is strapped to me so I can stand and play at the same time..

Lately, it seems like I’ve written all of my songs in the shower. This tune was no exception, but it has a bit of a story to it.

One day, before I took a shower, I came up with a really catchy pizzicato riff on my cello and I’d worked it into a full song. The part was peppy and it even included a really clever key change in the middle of the chorus. I thought it was cool, but I didn’t have a melody or lyrics for it yet. So I came up with a plan: I would play the cello part a bunch of times and get it stuck in my head and then run and jump into the shower and sing whatever came to mind.

Performing "The Whistle".

Performing “The Whistle“.

So that’s what I did. I played the part a bunch, then jumped into the shower and started singing. At first I was coming up with potential melodies and words that worked, but somewhere between the shampoo and the soap things changed. The melody got darker and slower, from peppy to introspective. By the time I got out of the shower, I had a melody and lyrics, just like I’d planned, but for an entirely different song. Before, the cello part was flashy and complicated, now it barely had two chords.

After I got dressed I wondered what had happened to my plan and peppy cello part. I tried the same thing the next day and ended up with the same song. I have a theory that this song was stuck in my head to balance out my concert. The show was a huge extroverted thing that was fun and confident. In contrast, this song was entirely introspective. Maybe I needed to have both experiences to keep an even keel?

Performing "You".

Performing “You Don’t Know“.

Folks! I hope you had a great April. Spring has been slow coming, but it’s beautiful now and May should be a wonderful month. As always, if you’d like to play or sing along with this month’s tune, here’s the song sheet.