Vegetable Toscana soup

Cooking up a thickish soup in hot weather seems counter-intuitive, I realize, but the idea here was to use up a slew of ingredients before they weren’t fresh anymore, and to store nearly all of it (aside from a quick bowl to taste) for later. And I succeeded just fine on that front!

1 tbsp olive or canola oil
8 large garlic cloves, crushed or minced
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 cups chopped raw kale
4 cups low-fat, low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 15-oz cans white beans, undrained
4 plum tomatoes, chopped
2 tsp dried Italian herb seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chopped parsley

In a large pot, heat olive oil. Add garlic and onion, saute until soft.

Add kale and saute, stirring until wilted.

Add 3 cups of broth, one can of beans and all of the tomato, herbs, salt and pepper. Simmer 5 minutes.

In a blender or food processor, mix the second can of beans with the remaining broth until smooth. Stir into soup to thicken.

Simmer 15 minutes.

Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with chopped parsley.

A passing in threes

The canard that ‘famous people always die in threes’ is just that, a canard — a handy cliche, fun but a bit of superstition. So my grouping of the three I note who have passed today is a knowing use of it, but it strikes me that these three together help to represent some of the best we can offer as a species.

Robert Rauschenberg is, like many artists of recent times, someone who I knew of more by reputation than through his direct work, but his was a familiar name. His famous works of the 1950s still have a lingering impact — anyone who ever loved the 1980s work in particular of Vaughn Oliver and 23 Envelope for the 4AD label felt that influence, given the textured, found-material work that Rauschenberg explored during that time — but like any creative artist worth his salt, he did not stay there but went as his heart followed him over the years.

The NY Times obituary, a thoughtful overview of his life and work, includes this key section:

Apropos of Mr. Rauschenberg, [John] Cage once said, “Beauty is now underfoot wherever we take the trouble to look.”

Cage meant that people had come to see, through Mr. Rauschenberg’s efforts, not just that anything, including junk on the street, could be the stuff of art (this wasn’t itself new), but that it could be the stuff of an art aspiring to be beautiful — that there was a potential poetics even in consumer glut, which Mr. Rauschenberg celebrated. “I really feel sorry for people who think things like soap dishes or mirrors or Coke bottles are ugly,” he once said, “because they’re surrounded by things like that all day long, and it must make them miserable.”

This is wisely observed — rather than assuming his perspective emerged out of nowhere, it contextualizes it while allowing for the great leap forward. And that leap is important — it’s almost an extension of the idea that one must be happy with oneself, however that balance is maintained, and similarly that one can find a happiness in the aesthetics of the familiar. This said, both these observations have potential downsides — if one’s familiar surroundings are a crumbling building and a lack of security in job and day to day living, such aesthetics are secondary — but the larger point about one’s environment and having to live in it is still crucial. (And lest I inadvertantly sound too negative, Rauschenberg was heavily involved in charitable work throughout his life, including the founding of Change Inc..)

This only touches the surface of Rauschenberg’s work and philosophy, but it’s a start — in contrast, the work of Larry Levine on the face of it seems more limited, and certainly he is not a famous name in comparison. Regular readers of this blog, though, might remember my piece on legendary British recording engineer Norman Smith, and the key role he played in capturing the sound of the Beatles in concert with producer George Martin. Larry Levine’s influence was no less far-reaching in his own partnership — that of being the engineer to Mr. Wall of Sound himself, Phil Spector:

If Spector was the visionary architect of the “Wall of Sound” that defined such 1960s hits as the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” the Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron” and the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” Levine was the nuts-and-bolts contractor charged with making it work.

Inside the cramped Studio A of Gold Star Recording Studios at Santa Monica Boulevard and Vine Street in Hollywood, Levine applied his skill to capturing and shaping arrangements that often encompassed three or four guitars, several pianos, brass, percussion and other instruments, not to mention the vocals.

“He made Phil Spector a genius by applying the simple logic of using echo chamber,” Gold Star’s co-owner Ross said Monday of Levine. “Phil had a tendency of overbooking the room, and there were more musicians than there should have been in the studio.

“It began to saturate the walls, and you couldn’t make it happen unless you get some separation, and the only way you could do that is by getting some echo and making the room sound larger. . . .

“I showed him how you work this echo chamber thing and he got into it and sure enough it worked. . . . If Phil had gone into another place to do it, it would have been a normal record without any wall of sound. . . . It gave it dimension, it sounded like it was a football field.”

To say that Levine’s work is therefore inextricable with that of pop music as a whole understates. The role of the Wall of Sound in moving such music towards the anthemic — to sound ‘like a football field’ even in the time when the idea of regularly playing in a football field was still only starting to come together if at all — has been beaten to death and I’ve little to add, but again, it’s that ‘nuts-and-bolts guy’ you have to have to hand to carry it out, if you’re not the engineer yourself. That famous picture of Spector in his heyday standing behind a mixing desk should have been a double-portrait.

Yet the third passing I wish to note is, in the end, that of the person who truly did the most — Irena Sendler. The LA Times obituary is a must-read — to quote briefly:

Fate may have led Irena Sendler to the moment almost 70 years ago when she began to risk her life for the children of strangers. But for this humble Polish Catholic social worker, who was barely 30 when one of history’s most nightmarish chapters unfolded before her, the pivotal influence was something her parents had drummed into her.

“I was taught that if you see a person drowning,” she said, “you must jump into the water to save them, whether you can swim or not.”

She studied at Warsaw University and was a social worker in Warsaw when the German occupation of Poland began in 1939. In 1940, after the Nazis herded Jews into the ghetto and built a wall separating it from the rest of the city, disease, especially typhoid, ran rampant. Social workers were not allowed inside the ghetto, but Sendler, imagining “the horror of life behind the walls,” obtained fake identification and passed herself off as a nurse, allowed to bring in food, clothes and medicine.

By 1942, when the deadly intentions of the Nazis had become clear, Sendler joined a Polish underground organization, Zegota. She recruited 10 close friends — a group that would eventually grow to 25, all but one of them women — and began rescuing Jewish children.

She and her friends smuggled the children out in boxes, suitcases, sacks and coffins, sedating babies to quiet their cries. Some were spirited away through a network of basements and secret passages. Operations were timed to the second. One of Sendler’s children told of waiting by a gate in darkness as a German soldier patrolled nearby. When the soldier passed, the boy counted to 30, then made a mad dash to the middle of the street, where a manhole cover opened and he was taken down into the sewers and eventually to safety.

Decades later, Sendler was still haunted by the parents’ pleas, particularly of those who ultimately could not bear to be apart from their children.

“The one question every parent asked me was ‘Can you guarantee they will live?’ We had to admit honestly that we could not, as we did not even know if we would succeed in leaving the ghetto that day. The only guarantee,” she said, “was that the children would most likely die if they stayed.”

What can be added to this, really, as we continue on into a century of sorrows no less poignant and heartbreaking, no less predictable until they occur — and I type this aware of the crushing news that in the Chinese earthquake, many of the victims were children caught in their school buildings. That, at least, was no deliberate action, a cold comfort at best.

Sendler’s work and life reminds us that we do not plan to be heroes or heroines. In fact — and I hope I do not denigrate anyone by saying this — we seek to live life in comfort and peace, enjoying our time in this world and on this planet in the hopes that we can pass on something of value, and to make it at least a little better. Rauschenberg and Levine, in their individual ways, aimed for that too, applying their skill and knowledge to creations undreamed of. Sendler too wished to do this — but she did not plan to be a heroine. Instead, a circumstance — if so banal a term is appropriate — arose, and she reacted. The rest followed.

It is not that we should hope to be like her in specifics. Consider — this would mean hoping something so horrific has occurred, that so much death and suffering is in the offing or happening, that in such an extraordinary time, the extraordinary measure is required. The goal is to prevent such a thing from happening again, to fight the injustice before it occurs. But when the moment of prevention is passed, then the next steps are crucial.

Who knows what we would all do in similar circumstances, but this is not to criticize the other choices made, looked at in hindsight and from a distance.

It is enough to simply note this — Sendler jumped into the water and swam.

Lasagna — of a lighter sort

Strange but true — the idea here was to go relatively light on the cheese (only mozzarella and a sprinkling of Parmesan) and to emphasize the sauce instead, as well as the kale that was included with. The sauce itself had just been made beforehand — not completely from scratch, it was canned tomatoes, but everything came together rapidly and worked a treat.

Zhug bean and tomato soup

I wish I could claim credit for making this but no dice, this was an Avanti Cafe creation that I’d had in my freezer for a while. Thawed out with a basic carrot/radish salad on the side plus more bread and cheese and chardonnay = a fine dinner the other night.

A past and a future

I’ve been brooding on this for a couple of days and am not entirely sure how best to address this — but nothing ventured, etc.

First, I’ve already spoken in detail here and here about what Trent Reznor’s already been up to this year, and he’s done it again — yesterday he let a full-on new single emerge out of nowhere, “Discipline.” It’s good, not great but it already beats the hell out of “Survivalism” as an initial single — and that’s the thing, it looks like it IS an initial single since the implications are that a full new album is on the horizon in the next two weeks. Which I’m all for.

I’ve already made a joke over on Idolator
about how if he wants to become the new Muslimgauze in terms of turnover of releases, he can go right ahead — why not, after all? But combined with what’s almost certainly going to be an even bigger haul than Ghosts I-IV made on initial release, Reznor and his crew are sitting so pretty going into their upcoming summer tour that it’s really kinda crazy. I’ve outlined in my previous posts exactly what this all means and how Reznor’s in a strong position to have this approach work for him in the first place, but I still often think about how many artists and managers would just kill to have that level of committed devotion that translates into immediate cash returns. If as I suspect he goes from there to selling immediate show downloads from the tour, as opposed to those demi-clunky LiveNation setups, then the sky is really the limit — but let’s see if that happens, it’s just a guess on my part. And there’s nothing to say he wouldn’t have yet another album out soon as well. And did I mention the inevitable remix collection. And…

My contrasting story really isn’t comparable, but it did happen around the same time, so. The fact that My Bloody Valentine’s reuniting and touring and all that is its own thing, and I’ve felt oddly flat about it for some time. Part of the reason is selfish, of course — the sense that a certain ‘special’ moment that I was lucky enough to catch through timing and an accident of geography (the latter helping establish that I caught the ‘last’ show, as I wrote about in Marooned) is no longer quite so special. If anything I guess I know what people who saw the Velvet Underground with Lou Reed in 1970 at Max’s Kansas City or wherever the last show was felt when 1993 rolled around. Further, as there’s been some vague talk that the lineup coming together for the tour wouldn’t be the exact same one, I’ve felt more than a little discontented — while you could argue that a full-on reunion of the original lineup would therefore have to include Dave Conway, it’s more straightforward to note that aside from his departure after the first EP the lineup stayed unchanged through to 1992.

What’s left me feeling really deflated, though, was the announcement of the New York festival that they’re playing at and curating, another in the series of ATP festivals that pop up as they do. And one look at the lineup was enough for me to know that something — for me, at least — had gone wrong:


Let me put this in an appropriate context, if I could.

Let’s say it’s 1998, ten years back. Allow for the fact that a couple of these acts didn’t exist then — and those acts make up the minority of the bill. Let’s say someone had forwarded an e-mail of this to me with a “HOLY…!” subject line or whatever. My jaw would have dropped, and my thoughts would have been along these lines:

My Bloody Valentine coming back? Damn, so great! Tortoise, whatever, but Thurston Moore, the Meat Puppets, Built to Spill, all playing albums straight through, cool. Mogwai! Low! Hell, even Shellac!

And so forth. I would have been scrounging for plane tickets and making plans as I could, or at the very least hoping like hell there would be something on the West Coast like it. This was the same year that I attended my first Terrastock festival, the second overall, up in San Francisco, and that would have been an amazing complement to it.

Now, it’s 2008 and…well, I am going to Terrastock again. Being frank, a lot of the appeal of Terrastock is its familiarity, and it’s something which has been discussed both positively and negatively in recent times, about how it’s the ‘same’ acts each time and all. Not true, but there are many acts that do appear every time, and many people who always attend, and so forth — it is a social function as much as anything else, it does rely on comfort and certain expectations, though some of the best performances often come from those who reappear and try something different each time out, working with their new albums and releases and so forth.

Which is a key part of my unease with the ATP festival. Over on ILX, John D. and Sean Carruthers have been able to articulate a little more clearly than I why I’ve felt so down about that festival news, though, so let me quote them first (alternating between John and Sean, with John’s last quote being a response to another poster, Matt):

Jesus Christ but the indie/alternative kids really are becoming the “I want to hear the classic music of my youth ’cause it was the best music” generation without making any bones about it, eh?….the people getting excited to go see a bunch of people who haven’t made any new music in ages come from the generation who Nelson Muntzed at oldsters going to see Clapton drag Layla out of the grave for the millionth time – for me, I don’t care how good the band doin’ the “here’s the great music we made when we all were young!” was: if they’re not making new music, it’s sad & pernicious nostalgia


I’m constantly vigilant about exactly what you’re talking about above — I hate JackFM and the whole “we’ll play nothing but that awesome shit you grew up with 24 fucking 7″ so this lineup (especially considering the really good chance that MBV is going to pull a baileroo) is only marginally more appealing to me than sitting at home and pulling out albums by Velocity Girl, Chapterhouse and the 24-7 Spyz. I mean, yeah, it would probably be a great concert but I’m not THERE any more.


I am totally in favor of old bands still working, and I don’t say they have to be always innovating. (It’d be pretty ripe for me to be the guy demanding that bands always be branching out, right?) But it’s this revivalism that icks me out…when the bands and albums in question were iconoclastic signal moments whose very motivations, in some cases, were the tearing down of dwelling-in-the-past modes of thinking – well, y’know, it’s like I’m sure that last Sex Pistols tour was a fine rockin’ time, but how sad for it to have come to that. You know? It’s not that I ONLY want CONVULSIVE! INNOVATION! – fuck dude I listen to death metal, that shit has been stagnant for ages and I like it that way – but (and I say this as an old dude!) once you start making a point of reliving the past, it’s just strikes me as really conservative.

There are other points to raise but these capture it pretty clearly for me. Something just seems WRONG about all this. Part of it is the play-the-classic-album-straight-through gambit — as I said on the thread, I can be of two minds about this; Sparks is doing its upcoming 21 night stand of going through all its albums, but in the last few years all their shows have been centered around touring and performing their current album at any given time in full, something that strikes me as wise anti-nostalgia, and which I think has done them a world of good.

But Sean’s comment — “I’m not THERE any more” — cuts to the chase. I almost can’t add to it. It’s not like the THERE in question is a bad thing, and neither is it the case that I don’t still like a number of these acts, though in many cases I now do so far less intensely than before. That’s just how taste changes. In terms of my listening, whether driven by review work or by random word or curiosity, I’m mostly elsewhere now, and I hope to be elsewhere down the line still more; I’ll never claim to be the most diverse listener in the world, but I’ll hope to not be completely in the box which my past words and obsessions have inevitably marked me as. They capture snapshots and thoughts, not necessarily conclusions of any sort.

To quote a comment of my own from the thread as well: “if Kevin Shields made the final decision on who played…I dunno, it’s just that here was the guy who was talking about Public Enemy as the wave of the future in 1988 and raving on about jungle tracks back in 1993 and so forth.” Something about the promise of MBV as the Creation releases happened was a sense of obeying the time, responding to it and incorporating it, and that meant a lot of things in the pot. But if you look at the festival lineup…the dance/hip-hop/rave element in MBV gets reduced to a ‘here’s Edan, enjoy’ moment. This in a world where you have Daft Punk, one of the most widely known/referred-to/sampled/imitated acts out there right now, talking about how it was hearing “Soon” that led them to explore dance music more thoroughly in the first place, for instance. But instead of those destabilizations and incorporations and sense of wider awareness and all that implies, there’s stolidity and formalism. Now, let me say again — I prefaced my statement with ‘if.’ How big his involvement is with this bill I don’t know. But just having it exist as it does is cause for a sigh.

Again, trying to connect this with Trent Reznor’s latest steps is a stretch, there’s no exact parallel to e drawn here. But in a conceptual way, you do get a sense that Reznor is obeying the time brilliantly, maybe less so musically than socially, culturally. Anyone can see he’s figuring out what to do now in a way that keeps a wide variety of people happy and interested while keeping himself solvent. If that means merely praising him and his manager for a good business sense, then hey. In contrast, the ATP festival is a huge ‘remember when?’ activity at work. People will go, and they’ll have good reasons to go, and there’ll be good times. But I’m not there anymore. I’m glad to be here. I’ll be glad to find out where I end up. I just idly, frustratedly wish that all would be so glad in the end.

A white bean, rice and greens soup

Turned out really nice — took the recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, about which I’ve spoken enough times that I don’t need to repeat myself. I hope. Seriously, just buy it! And remember — once you try a recipe from it, next time vary it somehow, surprise yourself. That’s the goal.

A little something basic (for me at least)

Orzo with homemade tomato sauce (patiently waiting in the freezer from last summer) and fresh parmesan, a radish/apple salad with walnuts (interesting combination) and bread with a bit of margarine and garlic. No complaints!

This is a test.

This is a test of how easy it is (or not) to post on here using a new toy I picked up today.

Answer: passable.

This is only a test.

Early December mental reboot

Mmm, one of those days. (Not a BAD day, just very full, with work and the like.) So nothing major to post tonight, more during the day tomorrow instead, but I will make mention of the Meebo widget over in the left sidebar — still getting the hang of the program but seems simple enough — along with the fact that it’s been an interesting past few days geopolitically with Putin’s victory, Chavez’s defeat and the NIE on Iran all following one after another, and with only the first of the three following the expected results.

I will also take the opportunity to note the wonderful recap of Xanadu over at the Agony Booth — to quote the opening part:

When I was a kid, I adored Xanadu. It had funky graphics, a great soundtrack, and lots of cool skating that we kiddies back in 1980 endeavored to emulate. I spent weeks in the driveway of our house, skating round and round in my frilliest of dresses like I was Olivia Newton-John—which was quite a stretch for a little black girl. Regardless, I knew all the lines by heart. I knew every choreographed move by heart. I knew it all.

At least twenty years went by before I saw Xanadu again. When I saw it came out on DVD, I quickly grabbed it. As I started watching it again, I realized that there was much about Xanadu that I didn’t know or care about at the time. For instance, I never knew that Danny Maguire was played by the great Gene Kelly. I didn’t know that half of the soundtrack was done by the Electric Light Orchestra.

And I certainly did not know that, in reality, the movie sucked.

Discussion on the site’s boards eventually led to the posting of this mid-eighties video, which is truly one of that decade’s worst efforts. As friend Brian put it elsewhere, “Olivia Shreds.”

Baked pumpkin with kale and pear

Interesting dish, this — found the recipe randomly, and while it’s designed more for acorn squash, still came out tasting beautifully. The kale was cooked with leeks and garlic, then mixed with sauteed pear. The pumpkins were baked, then further baked with some parmesan in them, then finally baked some more with the filling, plus parmesan again on top. Quite delicious!


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