Sunday, September 7, 2008

Perfect Pecan Pie

I love how Cook's Illustrated is all business.

"The Problem: Pecan pies can be overwhelmingly sweet, with no real pecan flavor, and they too often turn out curdled and separated. What's more, the weepy filling turns the bottom crust soggy and leathery. The fact that the undercrust usually seems underbaked to begin with doesn't help matters.

The Goal: To create a recipe for a not-too-sweet pie with a smooth-textured, curdleproof filling and a properly baked bottom crust.

The Solution: Use a combination of dark brown sugar and light corn syrup for a classic praline flavor. To prevent a soggy bottom crust, heat the filling and add it to a hot prebaked crust, and to prevent curdling, cook the pie in a slow oven until almost done, then allow residual heat to finish the baking."

This recipe from Cook's Illustrated was, of course, one of the best pecan pies I've ever eaten. If you're as fastidious about recipes as I am, joining is entirely worth it.

It looks big enough, right? Wrong.

Should have made two.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Mythical Horizon

In 1924, a couple of years before he died, Gabriel Fauré wrote a four-song cycle called "L'horizon chimérique" ("The Mythical Horizon"). It's a beautiful eight minutes of music. Click here for the whole translated text (which is poetry by Jean de la Ville de Mirmont) and some discussion.

I. La mer est infinie (The Sea Is Infinite)
II. Je me suis embarqué (I Set Sail)
III. Diane, Séléné (Diana, Goddess)
IV. Vaisseaux, nous vous aurons aimés en pure perte (Ships, We Shall Have Loved You in Vain)
Ships, we shall have loved you in vain;
The last of you are all gone on the sea.
Sunset brings so many open sails
That this port and my heart are forever deserted.

The sea has returned you to your destiny
Beyond the shores where our steps halt.
We could not keep your sails enchained;
You must have far-away places that I do not know.

I am among those whose desires are on land.
The wind which intoxicates you fills my heart with fear,
But your call, in the depth of the nights, makes me despair,
For I have great departures unsatisfied in me.

Gabriel Fauré

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New Romantics on WXDU

This past weekend my good friend and general manager at WXDU and I hosted a special one hour show loosely centered on the New Romantic movement. More accurately, it's a bunch of melodramatic songs, mostly British, from the late 70s and early 80s, but rest assured that most of these bands wore lots of makeup. We called the show "His Mascara Is Running". If you listen closely you can hear me misuse the word "iconoclastic" for the thousandth time and totally fail to mention Japan's name after blathering about how awesome they were. Here are the tracks we played:

  1. Tears for Fears - The Hurting
  2. Fun Boy Three - Our Lips Are Sealed
  3. Echo and the Bunnymen - The Back of Love
  4. Ultravox - Dancing with Tears in My Eyes
  5. Tuxedomoon - In a Manner of Speaking
  6. Depeche Mode - New Dress
  7. ABC - Poison Arrow
  8. Visage - Fade to Grey
  9. Icicle Works - Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly)
  10. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - She's Leaving
  11. The Sound - Total Recall
  12. Peter Godwin - Images of Heaven
  13. Japan - Life in Tokyo (12" version)

You can download the broadcast from sendspace here.

Steve Strange of Visage

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sharing Is Caring

Listening: Gas - Nah Und Fern

Reading: Five Women (Musil)

Watching: Western Spaghetti (Pes)

Baking: Pear Bread

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Summer music

Since it's now 130 degrees by 10 am here in North Carolina, I thought it would be an appropriate time to share some music.

Summertime (2008)

I've been putting this compilation together for the past few months. The compressed file includes the songs, tracklisting and cover art. The mp3s are all tagged, so if you just drag them into iTunes they should organize themselves in the Mixes genre as an album called "Summertime". Download from sendspace here.

The Congos - Heart of the Congos (1977)

I don't know much about reggae, but this is my favorite I've ever heard (alongside Burning Spear's Marcus Garvey). Apparently it's Lee "Scratch" Perry's production masterpiece -- the perfect mix of songwriting and dub genius. has a good writeup here.

The Savages - Live 'n Wild (1966)

Awesome garage album by some kids from Bermuda. Long writeup and download link here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Visualizing Music

"All of a sudden it hit me -- if there was such a thing as composing music, there could be such a thing as composing motion. After all, there are melodic figures. Why can't there be figures of motion?"
--Len Lye

I've always been interested in animated interpretations of music, and partly for my own sake I wanted to put some of my favorites here. Although I don't have much exposure to this area of film, the earliest examples of animated music I've seen have been the experimental films of Len Lye and Oskar Fischinger.

Len Lye's A Colour Box (1935)

Len Lye made "direct film" -- film made without a camera -- by scratching and painting individual frames of celluoid. I can only imagine how grueling this process must have been, but the results speak for themselves.

Oskar Fischinger's Studie #8 (1932)

Like Len Lye, Oskar Fischinger's films were totally abstract visualizations of sound, albeit much more stripped down and traditionally produced. He designed the "Toccata and Fugue in d" sequence for Fantasia but quit after Disney's animators made his designs too representational.

György Ligeti's Artikulation (1958/1970)

Sometimes animation can help us interpret music that would otherwise be almost totally inaccessible. This "visual listening score" for an early electronic composition by Ligeti is a good example of using discretization for musical analysis. Animating the score and allowing the audience to anticipate the seemingly random tones somehow grounds the whole experience and makes it almost participatory.

Autechre's Gantz Graf (2002)

Aphex Twin/Chris Cunningham's Monkey Drummer (2001)

Dense electronic music lends itself well to visualisation for the same reason that the Ligeti animation works so well. When music as incredibly complicated as Gantz Graf is set to perfectly synched animation, the editing and artistry in both the music and the visuals really shine through.

John Coltrane's Giant Steps (1959/2001)

For someone as jazz-illiterate as I am, this encompasses the imagination and vitality of a piece like "Giant Steps" and packages it in such an immediate, engaging way that I start to understand how much of a genuis John Coltrane was. That's a pretty huge achievement for an animated short. (High quality version here)

Larry Cuba's Calculated Movements (1985)

Sometimes animation and music work togeter just to create a mood, and I wanted to end this post with one of my favorite examples of that. Coincidentally, Larry Cuba did the very early computer animation that was used in the first Star Wars movie. He's done some other beautiful films too.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Chocolate Chip Cookies, and a really good margarita

I already posted the recipe for my "favorite" cookies but that was sort of a lie. My go-to recipe for blended oatmeal chocolate chip cookies is below. I've made these so many times that they're down to a science and recently I started experimenting with the chocolate. I figured, rightly, that chocolate that is good straight up would also make good chocolate chip cookies. To this end I got my favorite eating chocolate (Green & Black's Maya Gold) along with a couple bars of high cocoa content Ghirardelli and followed protocol:

Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1 cup brown sugar

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 2 ½ cups blended oatmeal

  • 2 cups flour

  • ½ tsp. kosher salt

  • 1 tsp. baking soda

  • 1 tsp. baking powder

  • 12 oz dark chocolate

Preheat oven to 375, or in my case 380, since my oven lies and my thermometer tells me so.

Cream together butter and sugars at high speed until fluffy. Set mixer to low and add eggs and vanilla.

Put about 2 cups of rolled oats in a blender and chop until fine, repeating with another ~2 cups until you have 2 ½ total cups of blended oats. Whisk dry ingredients together or combine in food processor.

Add dry ingredients until just combined. Make sure to incorporate the dough well since a lot of the dry material will fall through to the bottom. Mix in the chocolate and spoon out onto a jelly roll pan. Bake for 10-12 min and move to a cooling rack.

Equipment is usually a convenience, not a necessity, but whenever I make cookies I always use my aluminum jelly roll pan. It never needs to be greased and always does the job. This recipe makes a lot of cookies... 3 dozen maybe?

And the picture below is the beginning of a really good margarita.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Lemon Macadamia Cupcakes

I made a small, obligatory step towards finishing the cookbook last week: lemon macadamia. After adding a handful of white chocolate chunks, they turned out great. The clean taste of the lemons shone through and the creamy macadamias/white chocolate pairing gave them a really rich base. I took them to a rainy kickball/beer get together and luckily got my hands on one before they were all gone.

I also made some incredible blueberry mascarpone crepes a few weeks ago. Seriously, if you ever want to make some sweet crepes, these will knock you on your ass, but be warned -- there's enough dairy fat in these to drop a mule. Thanks Emeril!


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Music from 2008

Neon Neon -- Stainless Style

Neon Neon is the latest side project by Gruff Rhys (Super Furry Animals) and LA producer Boom Bip -- an homage to the life and times of John DeLorean. Hilarious subject matter, shiny 80's-rivivalist production, Gruff's crooning -- even though it's disposable, there are a couple of really catchy songs. By far my favorite is "Dream Girls," which is ostensibly about DeLorean growing up in Detroit.

Autechre -- Quaristice

If you don't already like Autechre you probably won't be overly excited about their new album, but I love it. It's similar to some of their earlier music in that it's more accessible than their later stuff, but the diversity and looseness is definitely informed by some of their more impenetrable albums from this decade. As hard as it is to make not-insipid guitar music, imagine how hard it must be to make electronic music as emotional as "Simmm".

Listen to "Simmm" by Autechre

Portishead -- Third

The most exciting new music I've heard in ages -- probably since the last Broadcast album, or Panda Bear -- is Portishead's amazing third album, coming out in April. It's so coherent, well-written, and unapologetically, intensely dark, without ever approaching morose self-indulgence, that it's easily my favorite of their albums. Any band confident enough to release a song like "Machine Gun" as a single is doing something right.

Listen to "We Carry On" and "Machine Gun" by Portishead

And not to belabor the point, but it's still hard to believe how much I love Talk Talk's The Colour of Spring.

Talk Talk -- Give It Up

Friday, March 7, 2008

Siouxsie and Talk Talk

I've probably already gushed about how much I love John McGeoch (Magazine, Siouxsie & the Banshees, late PiL) but I figured I would post another example of why he was such an amazing guitarist ("Into the Light"). "Dazzle" features Robert Smith (the Cure) on guitar and is another favorite Siouxsie & the Banshees song, post-McGeoch.

Into the Light
(Juju, 1981)

(Hyæna, 1984)

Of all the 80s bands I love, I think Talk Talk were the most ahead of their time. Their last three albums are beautifully arranged and performed. "I Believe in You" is one of my favorite songs (and videos) ever.

Happiness is Easy
(The Colour of Spring, 1986)

I Believe in You
(Spirit of Eden, 1988)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Massive Cooking Backlog

To be honest, all the recipes I've linked in this entry except for the homemade nutella are baked and generally terrible for you, so this isn't so much a cooking backlog as it is a butter backlog. A few weeks ago I got a Le Creuset dutch oven for super, super cheap on craigslist and the first thing I made was no-knead bread from my new favorite magazine, Cook's Illustrated. Here's the lone photo from the past few weeks:

This is absolutely one of the easiest, most awesome things I've ever made if you can't tell from the photo. Perfect bread with zero effort. This bread is a great template for homemade nutella -- as long as you're not expecting something as smooth as commercial nutella, it's great. No hydrogenated oils and 3x more hazelnuts than commercial nutella. And speaking of Cook's Illustrated, the latest issue has something of a holy grail for me: the best yellow cake/chocolate icing recipe ever. I know how embarrassing that sounds, but it's my favorite kind of cake and it's great to finally have a recipe that works so well.

A couple other recipes I can recommend: chocolate cinnamon bread, which is just a stupid name for amazing spiced brownies. This took way, way longer to bake than suggested. Making it in a 9x9 worked much better than a loaf pan, and this would probably work best of all. I think the key to this recipe is grinding the whole cloves and cinnamon sticks in a spice grinder. Finally:

equals maple bacon cupcakes. I was invited to a potluck put on by some foodies who have a weakness for pork-y desserts, so I decided to step up to the plate. Yes, collecting bacon drippings was pretty gross for me, but I have to admit they were delicious, if sort of breakfasty.

Monday, February 4, 2008

radio show at WXDU

So I'm starting a regular show Tuesday afternoons from 2 to 4 pm on WXDU here at Duke, and this morning I had a fun hour proving to my training DJ that I knew how to work the boards etc. Anyway here are a couple sets from this morning that give an idea of what to expect if you ever want to tune in. Don't miss the part when I give out the incorrect phone number for the station (twice). I'm a professional!

listen to wxdu

Download Set A
  • P.I.L. -- Public Image
  • Scrotum Poles -- Helicopter Honeymoon
  • The Whigs -- Like a Vibration
  • The Victors -- Scotch Mist
  • Pylon -- Volume
  • Ricky & the Impressionables Band -- Baco Walk
  • UT -- Sham Shack
  • The Fall -- Why Are People Grudgeful?

Download Set B
  • Takako Minekawa -- Plash
  • Plaid -- Diddymousedid
  • XTC -- English Roundabout
  • Kazino -- Binary
  • Xiu Xiu -- Under Pressure
  • The Plimsouls -- Lost Time

"Lost Time" is one of those songs that should be on the radio somewhere in the world at all times. (Sendspace links are dead -- I'd be happy to re-post if requested.)

Saturday, February 2, 2008

new music!

Super Furry Animals were my favorite band in high school. They're an "innovative, weird and endlessly enjoyable" Welsh group, and their latest album is my favorite of theirs since the late 90s. Here is a write-up about some recent reissues that hits the high points of one of the best pop groups of the past 15 years. One of their most famous songs is "The Man Don't Give a Fuck," which samples Steely Dan's "Show Biz Kids" and was their concert closer for ages. In 2004 they released a vinyl-only 20 minute live version from a show they played at the Hammerstein Ballroom, featuring a massive house breakdown in the middle of the song, c/o their amazing keyboardist Cian Ciarán (who's also 1/2 of Acid Casuals). I digitized it for easy access and posted it below.

Download "The Man Don't Give a Fuck" Live @ the Hammerstein Ballroom

Clark came out with a new album this week called Turning Dragon -- way more aggressive than his previous stuff but from my first impressions it sounds great.

Bochum Welt recently came out with a vinyl sampler for his upcoming album, "Robotic Operating Buddy," and I've really been enjoying the main track (Interlude (Mix 2)). You can hear a sample of this "lilting mid-90's padded breakbeat track" on boomkat or just download the whole thing here.

Two more things: next time you make hot chocolate at home, be sure to add some Cointreau. And in case you needed your faith in the internet restored, just watch this.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cooking backlog

By request, I made some cashew butter cardamom cupcakes this week -- not being a huge nut butter fan these weren't my favorites, and opening up each cardamom pod individually was a pain, but they turned out really aromatic and interesting. The frosting was way ugly because apparently you have to chop up powdered soymilk in the food processor first, or you get little pellets in the frosting (this was stressful).

Next, I made my favorite cookies for like the sixth time and was reminded to undercook them.

Double Chocolate Espresso Cashew Cookies

  • 2 sticks softened butter
  • 1 c sugar
  • 3/4 c brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp instant espresso powder (instant coffee works too)
  • 2 c AP flour (280 g)
  • 2/3 c cocoa (65 g) (not Dutch-process)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 c unsalted cashews, toasted and chopped
  • 3/4 c semisweet chocolate chips (I like the 60% Ghirardelli stuff)

Preheat oven to 325. Cream butter and sugars, add eggs and vanilla and espresso powder slowly. Sift together dry ingredients, mix into creamed butter/sugar, and stir in cashews and chocolate chips. Scoop the dough onto a jelly roll pan (I use a spring-loaded ice cream scoop, leveling it off before unloading it onto the pan for uniformity), bake for 19 or 20 minutes, and let cool on a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes. By the way, this was stolen from The Great Book of Chocolate.

The real event was finally getting to make panettone french toast, which is as good as it sounds. The recipe for the wash is pretty involved -- in my mind, the more ingredients the better the flavor -- but the technique is straight Alton Brown: stale the panettone slices for at least 24 hours ahead of time, just barely dredge the slices in the wash, cook on a griddle, and hold in the oven until ready to serve. Panettone is way harder to work with than stale challah, but the flavor is pretty amazing (especially with maple syrup and mascarpone cheese). And yes, that is sriracha all over my eggs.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


Just dust yourself off
The promise of a new year
Singing north charleston

photo: Jenn, haiku: Andy