For me, music highlights this year included: a tribute to poet Langston Hughes, visits from a milkman, a Shakespearean sonnet, the strangeness of seeing your face on television, finding Gatorade in the wrong section at Wal-Mart, Bibles coated with tropical fruit and drunk simians who refuse to jump. Of course, this is only the tip of the proverbial cupcake (all of these songs aren’t from 2011, but that is when I came across them).
Vegetarian Restaurant of the Year Meze 119. We went to this place on a whim and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Plenty of vegetarian and vegan options that aren’t overly fake tasting. Pair the amazing food with a bathroom iPOD that plays washing your hands songs and you’ve got the best place for a vegetarian to sit down and enjoy a meal.
This is a shot of my birthday cupcake baked by J-Fur. It was Lavendar infused cake, filled with homemade lemon curd and iced with Citrus-Lavendar icing. As one of the kids in my class would say “I have just one word for you. It was Marvelous.” Hey, I didn’t teach those guys how to count, I just multiply and divide with them. We drizzled the leftover lemon curd over Beecher’s Cheddar Cheese for a beautiful sweet, salty, punch of a snack.
I like my birthday music not like my cupcakes. That is to say, my cupcakes need to be intense fusions of flavors while my birthday music should be simple and direct. This year’s anthem was Paper’s “Our World.” Just shout “Our World” over and over and over again while playing a roll of wrapping paper as a guitar and you pretty much have the gist.
The Time Out Tykes are the Skunk Ape of Christmas music. After piecing together a number of different clues what starts to materialize is a murky picture at best of who or what this band is. Are they really pre-schoolers who sound well beyond their years? Is it true that they hung up on grandma? What do these “pint sized punk rockers” have planned for 2012? And those rumors of inter-band squabbling…
Maybe the Tykes are part of the ancient prophecy that suggests 2012 is all she wrote for human kind. Maybe they have songs explaining how cancer can be cured. Maybe they’ve got a better way to kill those huge roaches that haunt Floridian nightmares. Those answers will come later. For now let’s just relax, enjoy the holidays and listen to the Tyke’s plea that Santa forgive their worst moments in “Christmas Time.”
Traffic was at a standstill. Stupid Bucs game. Here it was, my birthday dinner and I was going to show up late. I looked into my rear view mirror, met my eyes and thought, nope, not gonna happen. I quickly swerved my car onto the shoulder and began passing all the football fans. 40, 50, 60 miles an hour. I hit the CCC in no time. It was here that I noticed the flashing lights in the far distance. The police were on my tale. It was only 4 miles to the Pierogi Grill would the catch me? I met my eyes again. Nope, not gonna happen. I pushed the pedal in my Dodge Neon to the floor. I moved in and out of traffic like America moves in and out of foreign conflicts, ran red lights like Britney Spears. It was all to no avail. Right as I pulled into the Pierogi Grill parking lot I was apprehended, cuffed and thrown into the back seat.
But what a back seat it was! Everywhere I looked there were Polish Apple Pies with Ice Cream, Fried Green Beans, Potato Pancakes and Pierogies! If this is what being arrested is all about, sign me up.
The Pierogi Police Car
On Saturday, I rounded up the usual suspects for a small birthday celebration at the Pierogi Grill and Deli , a Polish Restaurant in the middle of Clearwater’s sprawl. Aside from the police car outside, the first thing I noticed was the restaurant’s inauspicious building. It looked more like a Burger King that has been converted into a church than a classy eating establishment. Weird. Inside things weren’t any less crazy. Every where I looked were statues and pyramids. I turned to J-Fur and inquired, “Do they serve pierogies in Egypt?” She just shrugged, probably too winded from our wild ride.
All our guests had already arrived, ordered beers and wrapped my presents. J-Fur and I took our places and quickly scoured the menu. I decided to start with a batch of fried green beans.
The Fried Green Beans and dipping sauce.
The green beans were fat and thickly breaded. Usually I think bigger is better but in this case I wasn’t feeling it. They were fine, but the lingering oil and bread taste in my mouth wasn’t what I had come to expect from fried green beans. The Pierogi Grill probably needs to take a lesson from Mr. Dunderbaks as their green beans are a real party to your palette. But let’s face it, I wasn’t going to a place called the Pierogi Grill and expecting their fried green beans to impress. The real test was coming next, the pierogies.
I was slightly disappointed because the restaurant has four vegetarian options: potato and farmer’s cheese, potato and cheddar, sauerkraut and mushroom and spinach, but no way to try all four without spending twenty dollars. You could order a six pack of one flavor, a twelve pack of two or you could order a twelve pack with 3 farmer’s cheese, 3 cheddar, 3 sauerkraut and mushroom and 3 meat. When I asked about substituting the meat for the spinach the waitress told me the trays were pre-made and they would have no idea which ones were meat. It would seem to me that offering a vegetarian mix wouldn’t be hard to do. Just make the tray that way in the first place. Perhaps that is something that will come in the future, all four veggie options without shelling out an Andrew Jackson. For this night though I had to stick to two flavors. I went with a twelve pack of half spinach and half sauerkraut and mushroom. J-Fur did the same only she went with half potato and cheddar and half spinach.
Sauerkraut and Mushroom and Spinach Pierogies
The twelve pierogies are served on a large plate and topped with butter and onions. This is my preferred method of delivery when I make them at home as well (although I usually do olive oil instead of butter) as the onions seem to enhance the vegetables that are stuffed inside. I was pretty disappointed with the spinach pierogies. There seemed to be a slight sweetness to them. I will say they tasted much better as a leftover than they did fresh, if that means anything. The real pierogi winner was the mushroom and sauerkraut. There wasn’t too much vinegar to the kraut, just enough to let you know it was there. The ‘shrooms were sliced small enough that J-Fur didn’t even suspect them. Falling just slightly behind was the potato and cheddar. This was J-Fur’s clear winner as she liked the mashed potato, onion and cheese combo. She was also not super impressed by the spinach.
The Polish Platter
Our friend Chris celebrated his actual birthday that night (unlike me who was posing) by ordering a Polish Platter which he shared with Mike and Lana. The platter includes a stuffed cabbage roll, pork cutlet, roasted pork loin, polish sausage, potato pancakes, 12 mixed pierogies, boiled potatoes, fries, yellow rice, sauerkraut and a salad or soup. They raved about the platter until their stomachs exploded. The three of them came nowhere close to finishing all that starch. Winners seemed to be the sausage, cutlet and the stuffed cabbage (which is unfortunately filled with meat). I tried the potato pancake and fries. The pancake was decent, though it was served with sour cream and not applesauce which I prefer. The fries were…fries. Hard to mess those up.
Dessert meant Polish Apple Pies (szarlotka) with vanilla ice cream on top.
Szarlotka with Ice Cream
The Szarlotka was good, but it didn’t seem to pack all the punch it should have. I think the ice cream or pie needed some cinnamon to kick it up a notch.
Overall the group liked the Pierogi Grill. I plan to return but will do so on a day where I am not really feeling the urge for appetizers or dessert. Afterall, they are called the Pierogi Grill for a reason.
There were quite a few moments that night where I was forced to “face life’s inevitable choices, to stand firm in contentment or venture into the unknown and brace the next season of life.” This is the story of Jackson Hunt and the title track from his new album The Verge. After listening to the album a few times it is clear to me that “The Verge,” “Breaking Up” and “Dance Dance” are the stand out tracks. One because of its beautiful reflection, the other two due to Jackson’s mile a minute tickling of the ivories. Jackson Hunt is one of the few people that make piano driven, pop rock that doesn’t annoy me. Think of him as the next to walk the ivory path laid by Ben Folds, Billy Joel and Elton John. Get your copy of The Verge.
Last weekend J-Fur and I sat in La Crepe Bistro with two of our friends from Chicago. The four of us enjoyed fresh squeezed orange juice alongside crepes, omelets, quiche and Vegetable Au Gratin. While all the food was good, the highlight was the Vegetable Au Gratin. This thing was packed full of zucchini, mushrooms, onions and asparagus and drowned in a waterfall of butter and cheese. All of this reminded me that I had been in the process of working on my own Au Gratin earlier this fall before life got in the way.
-1/2 head green cabbage, roughly sliced
-3 potatoes, diced
-salt and pepper (to taste)
1. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a Dutch Oven, add butter and heat on the stove top until melted. Drop in the cabbage, potatoes, salt and pepper. Stir until the potatoes and cabbage have been coated by the butter and spices.
3. Pour skim milk into the Dutch Oven until it covers about half of the potato/cabbage mixture. Top with swiss cheese.
4. Bake the Au Gratin for 50 minutes. Manger comme quatre.
Alessandro Cortini, former keyboard player for Nine Inch Nails, is currently working on an experimental project called SONOIO. This project has seen Cortini complete and release two albums (Red and Blue), remix a number of artists including Ladytron, NIN, Health, and Big Black Delta all while using only a Buchla analog synthesizer. “Can You Hear Me?” is from the red side of things.
Prepping for their next release, Reign of Terror, is Sleigh Bells. This album, according to guitarist-producer Derek Miller, will see the band focus less on the samples and more on the guitar. This does not mean a heavier sound though. Alexis Krauss, the other part of the duo, has played more of a role in the shaping of the songs which has created a more melody driven, catchier sound. Reign of Terror’s first single, “Born to Lose,” makes a great Au Gratin.
It 6:53 on Saturday morning and I am awake, eating soup, writing and listening to music. It is taking a lot of effort to hold my head up as it is swimming, probably somewhere out in the Arctic Region by this time. This is my yearly ritual as we close in to my birthday: head colds, congestion, sometimes writing on the floor of an airport unable to keep any type of food down. Maybe it is the stress of the job leading into the Christmas break, maybe it is the immune systems of the kids I teach. Whatever the cause, I’m hoping that sometime in the near future I can celebrate a birthday without running through a box of tissues.
My combative approach this year has been drinking lots of orange juice and eating a ton of soup/stew. One of those stews is a fennel frank and white bean stew that is chock full of vegan sausage, beans, tomatoes, leeks and garlic. I figure one of those vegetables has to help.
1. Make the sausages according to directions. Brown for three minutes in a pan. Allow to cool then slice into small pieces.
2. Preheat the oven to 360 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine the beans, tomatoes, leeks, garlic, thyme, sausage and vegetable stock in an oven safe plate. Cover with foil and cook for an hour.
3. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with parsley and serve at once.
This week has seen the amount of holiday inspired music on my computer increase. These aren’t your mom and dad’s traditional holiday songs however. The Connects’ “Christmas in the Club” is a club-style dance song that wound up in my inbox along with some writing about coke stuffed animals and post op tranny breasts. Mr. Dan had my attention. The song itself drops lines about blow jobs, Casey Anthony, cherry poppin’ and much much worse. It is the type of thing that would offend hard core traditionalists and moderates alike. As hard as I’ve tried to look away though, I just can’t.
Slightly less offensive, though no less rowdy, is “T.O.Y.S” by Secret Music (Chase Nicholl and Daniel Fry). While not specifically a holiday song, when I think of toys I think of Christmas. The song starts with a wondrous blend of synths and guitar before the synths fall away leaving a jangly metallic solo in its wake. Around the time of the chorus, both instruments come back to join hands in matrimony. Throw in catchy, telephone style lyrics and you’ve got yourself a stocking stuffer worthy of the center of the mantle piece. “T.O.Y.S” is the first track from the band’s self-titled debut album which is due out on March 6th via Black Bell Records.