A fun fresh tomato sauce for midwinter.

pasta_on_plate

A little bit of summertime in the middle of winter.

Just when you thought winter couldn’t be any colder and darker, here’s a fun way to shake it off and bring a bit of summer into your home — An easy and delicious recipe that uses cherry tomatoes, which are pretty at the peak of their ripeness all year round.

Here’s how you do it:

1) Cut a large onion into thin slices. Add it to a large pan over medium heat with 3 Tbs. of olive oil and a large pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, occasionally, until the onion just starts to get soft, 3 to 5 minutes.

onions_in_pan

The first step – cut an onion into thin slices and cook it over medium heat.

2) While the onion is starting to cook, cut 7 cloves of garlic into thin slices and then add them, with another pinch of salt, to the onions, cooking for another 3 to 5 minutes. The goal is to soften the onions without allowing them to brown.

sliced_garlic

You don’t have to slice the garlic “Goodfellas” thin, just thin.

3) Once the onions are soft, add 2 pounds of cherry tomatoes, stems removed and rinsed, and 1 tsp. of salt. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes until most of the tomatoes have deflated and the sauce is thick.

tomatoes_in_pan_first

Here I’ve just added the tomatoes and salt to the onions and garlic.

tomatoes_in_pan_third

After 20 or 30 minutes, the tomatoes will have deflated and made a thick sauce.

4) While the tomatoes are cooking, boil a pot of salted water and cook 1 lb. of pasta. Once both the sauce and pasta are cooked, combine and enjoy!

pasta_in_pan

When the sauce and pasta are done cooking, combine and then serve!

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

  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced thin
  • 7 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
  • 2 lbs. cherry tomatoes, stems removed and rinsed
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 lb. pasta

December – Amadeus

Friends, we made it! Hooray! It’s been another magical year and I’ve loved very minute of it. Like last year, I thought it would be fun to end with an unexpected cover song. Something you’d never think would be played on a cello. Something inspired by a movie. Something in German. The only song I could think of that fit all of those criteria was “Rock Me, Amadeus” by “Falco” (aka Johann Hölzel). I remember this song as a kid, thinking that it made classical music “cool”, not realizing that it was played entirely on synthesizers. Well, I guess I finally got revenge for that – I swapped out the electronic instruments for banjos, mandolins and, of course, my cello.

Writing songs each month has been an exciting adventure. Like seeing a mountain on a map, but not knowing the best way to get there, I knew what I wanted the songs to be like, but had to explore different combinations of instruments to make the right sounds. It was a lot of fun and I learned a whole lot in the process. I guess it’s no surprise that a lot of the songs were written during, or were inspired by, real life adventures to Cambodia (Up In The Air), the Galapagos (Puzzle Pieces), Long Island (Dance Party) and Colorado (You and Cabin Pressure). And since I sing in the shower, it’s no surprise that a few were written there (That Dude (in the movies), Right Here, Right NowTurn On Your Radio). The rest were written on my bike ride to work (The Chariot, That Dress, Winter), where the rhythm of pedaling provides a constant beat to try ideas against.

The ukulele is hard at work learning "Turn on the Radio".

The ukulele is hard at work learning “Turn on the Radio”. He can’t wait to play it live!

Just like last year, I’m going to make final mixes of this year’s tunes, plus a bonus track, and compile them into an album. This one will be called “Germany Zulu”, after the last two phonetic alphabet letters in my father’s old ham radio handle. The first three and middle two letters were coded in the song sheets for Puzzle Pieces and Turn On Your Radio.

I’ll keep you posted with progress on the new album and the release show for it. The band has already been hard at work learning these songs, plus favorites from 2013. And who knows, we might toss a few of the newest songs from 2015 into the mix. I think it will be a blast.

All of the other instruments  super excited about band practice, too!

All of the other instruments are super excited about band practice, too!

Folks! I hope you enjoy this last tune for 2014 and that 2015 will be full of awesome things for you. I know it will be for me. This adventure isn’t over yet and you can look forward to another new song at the end of January.

p.s. Bonus points to anyone who can guess who my father’s favorite composer is. Feel free to put your guesses in the comments!

A fantastic vegetarian caesar salad dressing

salad

I’m pretty sure this recipe is the best vegetarian Caesar salad dressing out there, but, I’ll be honest, I haven’t tried them all. However, I know for sure that this one is easy and tastes great. This time of year my favorite Caesar salad is fresh kale, with the stems removed and the remaining leaves chopped into small pieces, shaved parmesan cheese and croutons. If you leave the croutons off until the last minute, you can make this salad, mixed with the salad dressing, up to a day in advance. That’s right, you can make this salad a day in advance, which makes it the easiest salad on the planet.

The recipe is quite simple (and I’ll have pictures up here as soon as I can).

1) Puree one clove of garlic. You can do this with a garlic press, but the way I like to do it is on the cutting board. I sprinkle a pinch of salt on the garlic and then chop it up. When the bits are small, I spread them out with the side of the knife while pressing down firmly. Sweep the garlic back and fourth a few times and it will become a paste.

2) Then, in a small bowl, whisk together the pureed garlic, 1 Tbs. mayonnaise, 1/2 Tbs (or 1 and 1/2 tsp.) Dijon mustard, and 1/2 Tbs. red wine vinegar.

3) Now, while whisking, slowly pour in 2 Tbs. – 1/4 cup of good olive oil. The amount of oil depends on how thick you want the dressing to be. I like mine to be pretty thin so I can coat a whole lot of kale. Continue to whisk until the sauce looks uniformly brownish.

4) Lastly, season the dressing with with salt to taste (maybe one or two more pinches will do), black pepper to taste (maybe 1/4 tsp.) and the juice of one small lemon wedge.

That’s it! The whole thing can come together in less than 5 minutes. Toss it with your chopped kale, shaved parmesan and croutons and you’re in for a delicious treat.

November – Turn On Your Radio

When I was growing up, my father was an avid radio operator. Not the kind of radio for listening to music, but the kind for talking to people far away. When the weather was right, a cloudless night sky, he’d say, “Propagation’s good!”, power up his equipment and scan the frequencies for friends, most of whom he had never met in person. He talked to people as far away as Russia and deep into the southern hemisphere.

It's hard to see, but there's a tall radio antennae to the right of the ukulele. He's wondering how far it's signal reaches!

It’s hard to see, but there’s a tall radio antennae to the right of the ukulele. He’s wondering how far its signal travels!

In the room where he stored his radios, my father had a world map that showed the distant places he’d contacted. My favorite was the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Rocks. I thought the name alone was funny, but it was also as remote a place as I could imagine. My father showed me a black and white picture of it; a few barren stones in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. Back then, the internet was limited and it wasn’t easy to communicate. I showed the map and picture to my friends because I was proud that my father talked with people so far away.

During the holidays, my father turned on his radio and it sounded like the skies were alive with good cheer. We heard celebrations taking place all over the world. Friends and strangers wished us a merry day and we returned the joyful salutations. It made the world seem like a friendly place. Even though the US and the Soviet Union were waging a “cold war”, I realized I had something in common with the people outside of my country. I learned that the only way to really know someone was to talk with them.

All of these instruments are different, and the cello doesn't trust the banjo all of the time, but for the most part they get along!

All of these instruments are different, and the cello doesn’t trust the banjo all of the time, but for the most part they get along! Without each one, this song wouldn’t be the same.

Folks, I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday this year. I know it’s a busy time, but it’s also a time to reflect on how much we have in common with everyone else in the world. Most people like to hum a tune and share their happiness with the people around them.

This month I was very lucky, Robert Cantrell helped me with the percussion parts in the song. If you hear an awesome “THUMP” during the verses, or a little razzle-dazzle during the last chorus, you’re hearing the fun, skill and energy that he brought to the part. If you’d like to sing or play along with us, here are the chords and lyrics!

My Sister’s Amazing (banana) Chocolate Chip Muffins

One of the highlights of visiting my sister is that she makes the most amazing muffins for breakfast. These come together quickly and it doesn’t take long before her whole house is filled with the mouth watering aromas of chocolate and vanilla. I wish I could visit my sister every weekend, but I can’t, so she was kind enough to give me her recipe. Since I always seem to have bananas around my house, I’ve added them to the mix, but these work great with or without them.

Here’s how you do it:

1) Preheat your oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit (about 200 degrees celsius) and grease a 12 cup muffing pan.

2) Combine 14 and 3/4 oz (3 and 1/2 cups) of all purpose flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. baking soda and 1 tsp. salt in a large bowl. Hold onto that teaspoon measuring spoon, since you’ll need it again in a bit.

3) Now coarsely chop up 1/2 cup of milk chocolate chips and 1/2 cup of any combination of dark, bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate chips and add them to the flour mixture. Combine everything with a fork.

chopped_chocolate

This is what “coarsely chopped” looks like.

dry_stuff

Now I’ve added the coarsely chopped chocolate to the flour mixture.

dry_stuff_combined

Now I’ve combined the chocolate with the flour mixture.

4) In a separate bowl (potentially a large glass or other microwave safe bowl),  measure 7 oz (1 cup) of sugar and 4 Tbs. of butter, cut into 1 Tbs. pieces. If you had the foresight to take your butter out of the refrigerator well in advance, which I never do, you can cream together the sugar and butter with a fork. However, I usually just microwave the butter and the sugar for 30 seconds to a minute – until I can easily combine the two with a fork.

I can never remember to leave the butter out overnight, so I just microwave it for 30 seconds.

I can never remember to leave the butter out overnight, so I just microwave it for 30 seconds to a minute.

Here I've combined the melted butter with the sugar.

Here I’ve combined the melted butter with the sugar.

5) Optional, but awesome: Add 1 or 2 ripe bananas to the sugar mixture and mash them up with a fork.

6) Whisk in 2 eggs, 2 tsp. vanilla extract and 10 oz. of a combination of sour cream and buttermilk to the sugar mixture. (I usually have 6 oz of sour cream sitting in the fridge from last week’s taco night and 4 oz. of buttermilk from the jug that lasts forever.)

7) Fold the sugar mixture into the flour mixture until there are no longer any patches of dry flour, and distribute the mixture among the 12 cups in the muffin pan.

all_combined

Here’s what it looks like when you finally combine all of the ingredients into a single bowl.

Here's what the mixture looks like in the pan before baking.

Here’s what the mixture looks like in the pan before baking.

8) Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. You can tell when the muffins are done when you can poke the biggest one with a toothpick and it comes out clean (or just smeared with chocolate).  After baking, let the muffins rest in the pan for 5 minutes before transferring to wire cooling rack.

A tasty treat, waiting for you to eat.

A tasty treat, waiting for you to eat!

Shockingly, these muffins taste better at room temperature than when they are still warm.  I find this out the hard way every time I make them.  It’s a delicious lesson.

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

Dry Ingredients:

  • 14 3/4 oz (3 1/2 cups) all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup of any combination of dark/semi-sweet chocolate chips, coarsely chopped.

Wet Ingredients:

  • 7 oz (1 cup) sugar
  • 4 Tbs. butter, cut into 1 Tbs. pieces
  • 1-2 ripe bananas (optional, but awesome)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 10 oz of a combination of sour cream and buttermilk.

October – Winter

Some people love fall. Summer chafes them for months on end and they can’t wait for the season to change. I’m not one of those people. I love long summer days and sunlight. I love the little turtle that comes out and plays in the creek at the bottom of the hill. I love day trips to the shore, and ice cream out in the countryside. I even love, to a degree, the warmth of summer. To me, summer is freedom with infinite possibilities to explore.

trees_1

Fall, on the other hand, evokes nostalgia and melancholy like nothing else. Everything seems to be coming to an end. The days get shorter and the spontaneity of summer is traded for routine. In the past, this has really brought me down, so I decided to do something about it this year. I made a list of all the good things that fall brings to help me focus on the positive rather than the negative.

The first thing I thought of was pretty obvious: cooler, drier weather is actually pretty nice. There are fewer mosquitos, too.

Then I started to notice that the shorter days meant I experienced the sunrise more frequently. Summer is all about sunsets, but fall, it seems, is all about sunrises, and some of them are really spectacular.

sunrise_2

And lastly, I realized that fall can be a time of newness. New people come to college towns in the fall, and new friendships begin. I’d never thought of it that way before. Fall wasn’t the end of all things good, but the beginning of so many good things. All of the sudden, fall wasn’t something I feared any more.

trees_2

For those interested, I have a few notes about this month’s song. First, it’s based on a chord progression that I used in Gaspard and Dancer’s “Annatations”. You can hear the original version in the studio version of the song (10 minutes and 29 seconds in). Second, “Winter” features the cello equivalent of “falsetto” – it’s a flute or whistle like tone that comes when I play with the bow close to the bridge. Technically, this is called “sul ponticello”, and it emphasizes high harmonics rather than the full tone. To me, it’s an “icy” sound, and fits with the theme of the tune.

As always, if you’d like to sing and play along, you can download the chords and lyrics.

The Best and Simplest All Day Tomato Sauce Ever

One of my favorite things about the first chilly days in fall is making the house feel all cozy by slow cooking an amazingly simple, yet rich and complex tomato sauce. I can not overstate how good, and yet easy, this recipe is. And it will make your house smell great. Use this sauce on pasta (straight up, or with a little cream and vodka), with homemade ravioli (I’ll show you how in the coming months), in a lasagne or just drink it (yes, I know that last one doesn’t sound appealing, but I’ve done it and, wow, it really was good!). This recipes makes a lot, so use what you want and freeze the rest. Anything that you put this sauce will taste better than ever before.

Here’s how you do it:

1) Combine 5 to 7 peeled cloves of garlic and 3 Tbs. of olive oil in a large pot.

Step 1:  Combine the garlic and the olive oil in a large pot.

Step 1: Combine the garlic and the olive oil in a large pot.

2) Warm the oil up just enough for it to start bubbling around the garlic, then turn the heat down as low as it will go, cover the pot, and wait 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, the garlic will be soft and slightly browned on one side.

Step 2: Cover the pot and cook the garlic over low heat for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, the garlic should be soft and lightly browned on one side.

Step 2: Cover the pot and cook the garlic over low heat for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, the garlic should be soft and lightly browned on one side.

3) Add 4 28 oz. (about 800 grams) cans of whole, peeled tomatoes to the pot.

Four 28 oz. cans of whole peeled tomatoes.

Step 3: Add 4 28 oz (about 800 grams) cans of whole peeled tomatoes to the the pot.

Step 3: Add 4 28 oz (about 800 grams) cans of whole peeled tomatoes to the the pot.

Here are the tomatoes, in the pot.

4) If you’re not already wearing an apron, put one on and then reach into the pot and carefully break open the tomatoes with your hand. This is where the apron comes in handy; no matter how gentle you are, one of the tomatoes will squirt juice all over you.

sauce_hand

Step 4: Breaking the tomatoes up with your hand.

After breaking the tomatoes up, this is what they should look like.

After breaking the tomatoes up, this is what they should look like.

5) Turn the heat up until the sauce just begins to simmer, then turn the heat down to keep it at that simmer and no more. Simmer for 5 to 8 hours. If the liquid seems to be evaporating too quickly, you put a lid on the pot or add more water. After about 6 hours of simmering, the tomatoes should be very, very soft, and the garlic will start breaking up.

Step 5: After about 6 hours of simmering, the tomatoes should be very, very soft, and the garlic will start breaking up.

Step 5: After about 6 hours of simmering, the tomatoes should be very, very soft, and the garlic will start breaking up.

6) After you’ve simmered the sauce all day long (and your house now smells amazing), puree it using an immersion blender, a food processor or a food mill.

Step 6: After letting the sauce simmer all day long, puree it using an immersion blender, food processor or food mill.

Step 6: After letting the sauce simmer all day long, puree it using an immersion blender, food processor or food mill.

7) Taste the sauce. Often I don’t need to add any salt, but if it does, add it in small amounts until everything is just right.

That’s all there is to it.

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

  • 5-7 stemmed and peeled cloves of garlic
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 4 28 oz. (about 800 grams) cans of whole, peeled tomatoes
  • Salt to taste