In this week’s OC Weekly, an interview with Cynic’s Paul Masvidal

Almost forgot this ran! Then again I was all about Disneyland and hanging with friends yesterday. Anyway, a preview interview for their upcoming show — here’s a snippet:

When rock musicians draw comparisons between their work and poetry, one might be forgiven for looking askance in many cases, recalling too many self-serving, blatantly false claims—like Derek Smalls insisting that his Spinal Tap band mates are on the level of Byron or Shelley.

Cynic guitarist/singer Paul Masvidal’s reference to a muse, however, not only shows his good taste, but also a sense of perspective in an era when music stardom seems far too quixotic a goal.

“The integrity of the art comes before anything, and that allows me to sleep at night,” he writes via e-mail. “Although I do aspire to the pure intention and detached heights of an Emily Dickinson—who never saw reciprocation in her lifetime and yet persevered, delivering a tremendous wealth of poetry. As artists in the public domain, we all have to admit there is a sense of validation that comes when someone ‘receives the work’ and makes it their own.”

Disneyland in approaching dusk

Or at least the California Adventure part of it but whatever. Yesterday friends Dan and J., visiting from out of town, and I went to the park and had a great day of it, thanks to the weather in particular. Took a slew of photos as I went, giving me the chance to work on my ‘take lots of pictures in a busy location showing as little people as possible’ approach. You can view the full set here.

First week done and I am…amused

Highly, highly amused. And pleased. But not in the least surprised.

I muttered in a Facebook update a week back that I rather wished that the whole ceremonial part of the Inauguration could be over and done with just so the guy could get to work and, you know, be president. Obviously this is kvetching on my part, people like a grand entertainment and all. Still, much the same way as it’s always been with me given the course of Barack Obama’s striking career these past few years, I felt less like it was some huge massive historical moment for the nation — even though of course it was — than just a feeling that he looked plenty suited for the role, and things would probably go from there.

As we know now, they have. The blizzard of high profile executive orders coming out has captured a lot of attention right off the bat, covering as they did a substantial number of subjects. Meantime, there’s been the various coffee klatches and meetings and more regarding the economy, Joe Biden’s off to Europe doing the ceremonial rounds, George Mitchell’s off to the Middle East to do the harder stuff, Pentagon’s getting visited tomorrow, the cabinet secretaries are all settling in…it’s good stuff, if one wants to see people actually getting busy with the business of government, and I do. Hey, they are the ultimate public servants, after all.

But I’ve been a bit surprised at others’ surprise at it all. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not seeing myself as some sort of figured-it-all-out oracle on the subject. Also, anybody complaining on the right about Obama’s executive actions seems to have forgotten who lost the election and all — hey, now you know how a lot of people felt over the past eight years, so my sympathy level is kinda low. So that’s not surprising, that’s just ‘eh, what are you going do’ type stuff. We could be in a stellar economic and geopolitical situation right now and they’d still be complaining, really.

No, what caught me a bit off guard were friends and acquaintances on the left (or the more thoughtful right) surprised that he issued so many orders and so forth that were in line with what he said he would do during the campaign. It got to the point where I had to say I was surprised at their surprise, and when I was called on that a bit — after all, I am a self-declared arch cynic about the process of power and its self-perpetuation — I reflected on that. Quite obviously I have a certain bias to my preferred candidate of the two on offer in November winning, and I didn’t want to assume that I was seeing things strictly through a rose-colored afterglow.

I had to conclude that, quite simply, I had already taken it as read that he would pretty much hit the ground running and do things straight out of the gate, as I hoped he would do. And so it’s proven. One week is still one week, but hey, he ran for the job, got it, and now he’s getting to work. A certain naivete on my part for making that assumption, which easily could not have been the case? I guess, but intellectually I really didn’t have any reason to assume otherwise — my surprise would have been if nothing had happened, or nothing much.

So I’m pleased rather than surprised, because to my mind there was no reason to be surprised if he did all this, and looked to doing more. And as for being amused? Well it’s already the talk of any number of websites, but the various zings, some understated and a couple more upfront, that have been directed by Obama and his crew to various political opponents have all been done with a mixture of deftness and icily precise aim. Both have had as their biggest target one of the biggest of all, a certain R. Limbaugh, who has somehow gotten it into his head that it’s 1993 again and he represents a new and fresh voice opposing all that doesn’t match with his vision of the world instead of, well, representing being a boring crank complaining into his cups. (Admittedly he’s attracted plenty of fellow cranks, but they seem to be drinking even worse rotgut.)

Now personally I’d always figured that the smartest thing to do with him would be to ignore him, under the presumption that engaging with the type of glory hound like that merely makes him all the more flattered. Instead, there’s been a taking-the-bull-by-the-horns approach on the part of the White House, done with this calculation in mind: “Hey, if the GOP wants to be represented by this guy while Obama stands for the Democrats, I don’t think it’s much of a contest.”

The end result has been talked about already in a few spots — try this link from the Moderate Voice for a good enough summary. Obama’s absolutely killer line to GOP opponents in today’s Congressional meetings about inevitable points of fundamental difference — “I understand that and I will watch you on FOX News and feel bad about myself” — is the kind of thing you almost figure only exists in novels and film scripts, and yet there it is. It’s a perfect dare that’s also a shutdown, because how can you react against it if your move has already been anticipated — and dismissed — by your opponent?

And for Rush? Well, more stories like this one, please — and I have a feeling they will increase. To quote from the Moderate Voice story:

…he’s getting lots of ink, Internet attention and broadcast time. But he’s unlikely to be the GOP’s ticket to regaining the support of the public — unless the party wants to write off many independent voters, Democrats who don’t like the Democratic party’s far left, and moderate Republicans who don’t like the way Limbaugh has demonized Republicans who aren’t conservative enough for him. A Rushuplican party would not do well as a thoughtful, bigger umbrella Republican party.

Obama knows this. Rush doesn’t. The contrast is illustrative (and the latter’s followers will need it outlined and explained in great detail in order for them to understand it, I suspect, but let that pass…).

But in the end, one week is one week. One month, one season, one year…we’ll all know more then. So far, though, one hell of a start. Best as ever to keep a line in mind from friend Mackro today: “…there’s less difference between Obama, Clinton, GWB, Bush I, Reagan than most Americans, especially Obama fans, realize.” Quite true, both positively and negatively, I think. The trick will be to see how much or how little difference in the end.

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Curried cauliflower with tomato paste over rice

Another Mark Bittman winner from How to Cook Everything, but as per usual with some slight variety. In this case, the recipe called for tomatoes, but I had none around, either canned or fresh. However, I did have a can of tomato paste I wanted to use, so I semi-impulsively added that instead. The curry mix was created from scratch — I missed the coriander but had everything else to hand — while the rice had been cooked already and the bread from the loaf from last week I’m still working through. Quite good and I may well do something like it again in the near future.

Yesterday’s sunset…

…was pretty sharp, I have to say. Got lucky to catch this while out and about.

And a relaxed weekend on the whole, but various thoughts bubbling up about books, films and more besides. The upcoming week will be quite busy at work due to some extra stuff I’m doing but we’ll see what thoughts surface! Also more pieces soon to run in the OC Weekly, the Quietus and elsewhere…

“36 Hours in Carmel-by-the-Sea”

Well, this was amusing to note. It should of course be said that Carmel, like any number of places that rely on the tourist trade to one extent or another, gets plenty of attention like this in travel sections and magazines, so seeing another Carmel story isn’t a surprise, and of course this can’t be the first Carmel story in the NY Times. Nor will it be the last — the whole idea is to go back, revisit and update from time to time, each time talking about finding ‘the real Carmel’ or whatever place is being talked about.

As per such time-specific pieces there’s too much about trying to cram everything in and too little about, you know, enjoying your time. So I get to look at something like this and try and square it with my own experience of Carmel, which for me means going home, sleeping in, wandering about as desired and enjoying everything about the place at leisure. If I miss something one time back, I’ll catch it the next time through. But then again anybody who lives in a place that gets the tourists will recognize that phenomenon, where the tour buses go past the monuments that to you are just the regular everyday skyline and mental geography.

Further, and utterly unsurprisingly, the whole idea is ‘yeah, please come here…preferably if you’re made of a lot of money.’ The accompanying slide show underscores this a bit — the photos are all great but also made me wonder if I was viewing a high end clothes catalog instead. (Not too surprising, really — have I ever mentioned the couple of times I’ve seen Ralph Lauren around down on Ocean Avenue?) Such is image, luxury, conspicuous consumption — whereas if I had written a piece like this I would have mentioned RG Burgers, low-key, relaxed and a favorite of the whole family’s, and where old students and athletes who my dad taught or coached almost always seem to run into him whenever we’re there.

Still, there’s plenty of crossover between Carmel as I know it and as it’s described in the piece, and many spots are singled out that I would always recommend to visitors — the Mission Ranch is a bit of a no-brainer, and my sis, my cousin George, his wife Pilar and I all had drinks there one night during the holidays. Similarly I loved the mentions of Bruno’s and the Cheese Shop, and Point Lobos, the Mission and the 17-Mile Drive are certainly all that. (And I did have to appreciate a piece on Carmel that acknowledges Pebble Beach but didn’t dwell on the various hotels and restaurants and things there — though I almost wonder if they felt that in this economy that might be one step too far in terms of what to focus on.)

In all, as mentioned, an amusement. But it does make me glad that I can call it home.

Sauteed rapini with rice and tatsoi salad


So earlier today I idly mentioned to a friend who knows her cooking that I wanted to figure out what to do with some tatsoi and rapini I had around. Her suggestion: “Tatsoi salad with sesame vinaigrette & toasted genmai, stir fried rapini with garlic & ginger, sushi rice?” Me: “That sounds like a good idea!”

The rapini recipe I followed was this crispy rapini recipe, though I admit this didn’t quite turn out as I expected, so it was more of a heavy sautee. Not something I normally do with greens because of the overcooking out of the healthy stuff in it, while I should have chopped more of the stems in half, frankly! But still had its points, and while it was more of the brown basmati rice instead of the sushi rice suggested, it was all quite hearty.

The salad was the real focus for me, though, since I’d rarely done tatsoi without cooking it somehow, even if only slightly steamed. I trimmed the stems and chopped up the leaves a bit, while the vinaigrette recipe I chose came from here, and very tasty it was. Happily I’d also had some genmai tea around — it’s essentially a dried tea leaf/fried rice blend — and the added crunch to the salad was a treat.

The Village Voice Pazz and Jop 2008 poll is up and…

…to my considerable surprise, part of my commentary with my (non-)ballot was quoted at length. Very kind of them, especially since, as noted, I chose not to submit any ballot at all — you can find my full comment here.

It was neat to see similar sentiments expressed, though, and without trying to say there’s been a specifically universal alteration, Charles Aaron’s quote just before mine got right to the point:

Considering 2008′s daily fuckery (the election, the economy, the Internet’s continued destruction of journalism as a viable career option), I’ve never felt less inclined to make some head-up-ass editorial case that pop music plays a pivotal role in the development of modern society.

Blunt but apt and accurate. I don’t think music’s importance as something cultural — as something commonly human, at base — has changed in the grand scheme of things, but I do think the massive sea change in how it’s listened to, created, shared, talked about and more has taken the wind out of the idea that Aaron identifies. On a day when Idolator’s been having well-deserved fun with expressions of inherited ideas from the 1960s about music and relevance — check out this post and this one, and I’ve a couple of things to say in the comments section of the latter — the inherited idea that Aaron notes, comforting as it is, deserves some harsh scrutiny too. This is obliquely addressed in the first Idolator post I linked, not about music critics trying to advance grand unified theories of pop music, culture and society but about MTV’s attempt to advance their own, so to quote Mike Barthel from that:

If the kids watching MTV now have an interest in politics, they’re certainly not getting any information about it from the channel. Until now, to do so would be unhip, an awful incursion of seriousness into a glittery world. Obama’s glamour did an end-run by showing up all that as tacky, embracing understatement and dignity. And now, MTV’s trying to rub up against that in hopes of catching the energy Obama summons, and pop music lacks.

But, MTV being MTV, the channel failed even in this. Obama’s call for collective action was not really a request for more volunteerism. It was, rather, an effort to restore government to its true position: the solution to our collective needs. This doesn’t require conscious effort on the part of citizens so much as a realization that the government is not an entity that steals your money and forces you to do things you don’t want to do, but instead a tool we use to pool our resources and produce results we could not have come up with on our own. What’s required for this is to have everyone—or almost everyone—on board. Pop music, you may recall, was like this in 1993; in 2009, someone admits on national television that he hasn’t even heard of one of the biggest-selling rock bands in the country. With decreased participation comes decreased benefits, and even as MTV tried to recapture an era it had long since abandoned, so did the country move on to an era that didn’t need its efforts anymore.

Still, I have to note something anecdotal in turn about this: I distinctly remember a commentary on a local LA news station from one of the behind-the-set producers back in 1994 when Kurt Cobain passed on — this was about a week or so after it happened — and while I don’t recall much about what was said, the point the commenter made was that he didn’t know anything about Nirvana until Cobain died, hadn’t even had heard of the name of either band or singer. So pop music was not necessarily ‘like that’ even at that time, though I’m sure I snorted a bit and wondered how he couldn’t’ve known — but that was my own bias coming into play.

There’s way more I could say about these subjects all being intertwined right now, but just a little something to chew over for now. Anyway, it was, again, surprising and admittedly flattering to be singled out like that in the Pazz and Jop section given that my piece was ultimately questioning the rationale of the ballot in the first place, as least from my point of view, and I do thank Rob Harvilla and crew for it.

EDIT — Mike is actually on fire today at Idolator with all this, thanks to a new story he just added talking about the well-worn ‘where are all the protest songs of this decade?’ hobbyhorse, using Carrie Brownstein’s NPR piece today as a starting point. Both well worth reading in full, and Mike’s stellar conclusion is almost a manifesto:

The dominant view of the ’60s always forgets all the bubblegum and parent-pop that was even more popular than the politically engaged stuff, and overstates the reach and importance of the artists we’ve come to value. It seems more likely that music wasn’t more politically engaged in the ’60s; rather, it was more culturally prominent, more of a megaphone for the values of the majority, and thus more representative of public opinion. When music is smaller, why should politics pay attention to it?

The funny thing about all this, of course, is that the election of Barack Obama represents a rejection of “the ’60s,” or at least its dominance over our political and cultural dialogue. By picking Obama over Hillary Clinton during the primaries, Democratic voters seemed to indicate a desire to move away from arguments about culture war and identity politics. Music, on the other hand, still seems stuck in the boomer mire; even the supposedly transformative album of 2009 can be legitimately described as “psychedelic.” There seems a disconnect here.

(And as someone who is now quite thoroughly sick of all the talk around said album, I can’t applaud that final touch enough.)

Tororo soba, fried rice and sake


So basically I wanted to wrap up a certain presidency well — ie, by looking positively towards the future and sending him off with a metaphorical flea in his ear — and as I’ve been mentioning here and there I wanted to work more with the vegetables and other produce at the local Japanese market more just to see what they’re all about. It’s a simple rule, really — if it’s being sold, then people want to buy it, presumably because they want to eat it.

The core of this soup is a Japanese tuber, yamaimo — equivalent to a yam, essentially, but very watery when prepared and chopped up. (‘Slimy’ is another word used but honestly I’ve dealt with worse.) So after some scrounging I found this handy blog, Anna’s Cool Finds, detailing her own encounter with said vegetable and what she did with it, giving me the idea of making tororo soba. You’ll find full details at her link but to briefly summarize:

* Peel the portion of yamaimo you’ve bought are working with and grate it as finely as possible — and *always* do both these steps while wearing rubber gloves, as yamaimo apparently causes really bad itching or other skin reactions.

* Mix with a serving of dashi (Japanese soup stock, like the European/American versions available in many varieties — Anna recommended iriko aka dried anchovy, but various vegetable varieties can be found as well) and some boiling water, then chill.

This concludes the basic making of the soup, but to make tororo soba one obviously needs soba noodles — cook up a batch, chill and then put on the soup. As you can see from Anna’s link, she topped the soup with the noodles where I mixed them; I’d guess her take is more traditional but hey. She also suggested the green onion garnish.

Meantime the fried rice is just that — made up a batch of rice the other day and mixed that with a big of egg, green onion and some spices, cooked in a small amount of peanut and chili oil.

The sake is Hananomai Junmai Ginjo — I gather it’s a well respected manufacturer, there’s a slew of positive reviews on the Net, while I liked this brief story about the current master brewer or toji, Kazuhito Tsuchida. My knowledge of sake’s subtleties is limited but this worked nicely with a gentle finish.

Good stuff, this. I like being back on a roll again with cooking ideas.

Potato and onion soup


This recipe comes courtesy of Marcella Hazan, one of those cooks and writers of an earlier generation pre-Food Channel overload. Friend Stripey turned me on to her work and generously gave me a copy of The Classic Italian Cookbook, where I found this one (that book and a later one were combined into Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking — Stripey had lent me her copy of that earlier and the huge amount of annotations in there was enough to confirm that Hazan was one to rely on).

This grew out of a desire to do something with potatoes beyond regular standbys — I’d used potatoes in soup plenty of times, but this one was new to me and I’d been fortunate to have some onions to hand as well. As is my wont, I turned the recipe into a strictly vegetarian one, so substitute a rich vegetable broth for the beef one below, while margarine can stand in for butter. Vegetable oil is required but no one sort is specified; I chose canola rather than olive, say, figuring it would be lighter in the end. And indeed, the end result is hearty but not heavy, and there was plenty left over currently chilling in the freezer. I’ve no doubt this would go excellently with fresh bread to mop up the remains.

The basics of the recipe are below rather than reproducing her language word for word:

1 1/2 pounds yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tbps. butter
3 tbps. vegetable oil
Salt if desired
2 pounds boiling potatoes, peeled and diced
3 1/2 cups meat broth
3 tpbs. freshly grated Parmesan

* Cook the onions, butter and oil (plus salt if desired) in an uncovered skillet over low to medium heat — the goal is to slowly wilt the onions, not deep fry them or the like. Cook until onions are light brown, then remove from heat but keep in the skillet.

* Boil the potatoes in 3 cups of the broth until tender — boiling should be steady, not maxed out. Hazan suggests salt here if desired but if you’ve already added some to the onions, then no need for more.

* Add the onions and cooking fat to the potatoes and broth mixture, using a bit of the broth to loosen up anything on the skillet.

* Add remaining broth and return to a gentle boil. Mash up some (not all!) of the potatoes with a wooden spoon against the side of the pot and then stir into the soup. Cook for 8 to 10 more minutes, adding more broth or water as needed.

* Stir in the Parmesan and serve out. I added more grated Parmesan on top plus ground pepper.

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