White bean fennel soup

White bean and fennel soup

Made this up last week and have been dipping into batches since. Great stuff, and as I love fennel I couldn’t ask for more. The recipe came from one of my CSA mailouts:

• 1 large onion, chopped
• 1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 5 cups reduced sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
• 1 (15 ounce) can white kidney or cannelini beans, rinsed and drained
• 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
• 1 teaspoon dried thyme
• 1/4 teaspoon pepper
• 1 bay leaf
• 3 cups shredded fresh spinach

In a large saucepan, saute onion and fennel in oil until tender. Add the broth, beans, tomatoes, thyme, pepper and bay leaf; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until fennel is tender. Discard bay leaf. Add spinach; cook 3-4 minutes longer or until spinach is wilted.

Savory greens stir fry

Savory greens stir fry

Such is the name of the recipe — it’s a fairly basic enough stir fry on the one hand but on the other it’s a nice way to use a lot of different things in tasty fashion. Recipe from my CSA mailout:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, halved and sliced thin
1 (7 ounce) can water chestnuts, drained and thinly sliced
3 shiitake mushrooms, sliced (if using dried, soak, discard the stems and slice)
1 pound kale, washed and cut into large pieces
1 teaspoon mirin (or seasoned brown rice vinegar)
1 teaspoon tamari (or high quality soy sauce)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Ingredient Options:
Combine several types of greens. Add 1 tablespoon of brown rice syrup along with the tamari. Use chard and add a cup of drained, chopped tomatoes after adding the greens. Top greens with chopped, roasted walnuts.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic and onions and sauté until onions are translucent. Be careful not to brown garlic or it will give a bitter taste.

Add water chestnuts and shiitake mushrooms. Sauté for 3 minutes. Add kale and sauté for 1 minute. Add mirin, tamari and pepper and continue cooking until kale is just tender.

Roquefort pear salad

Roquefort pear salad

So this was a fun recipe to try — prepared for a monthly get-together with friends; I seem to have become the ‘salad guy’ of late but I don’t mind at all, as this almost always gives me a chance to use more of my CSA basket than I might normally.

I received the recipe via my CSA newsletter — a couple of variations: I didn’t add any salt (the Roquefort has enough already!) and instead of candying the pecans I simply bought some prepared but unsalted fragments. Meanwhile I only used one tablespoon of sherry vinegar and smaller amounts of the sugar and mustard in the dressing. While this reduced the full taste range of the dish on the one hand, on the other I felt it was a better balance as well as being a bit healthier.

• 1 head leaf lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
• 3 pears – peeled, cored and chopped
• 5 ounces Roquefort cheese, crumbled
• 1 avocado – peeled, pitted, and diced
• 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
• 1/4 cup white sugar
• 1/2 cup pecans
• 1/3 cup olive oil
• 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
• 1 1/2 teaspoons white sugar
• 1 1/2 teaspoons prepared mustard
• 1 clove garlic, chopped
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• fresh ground black pepper to taste

1. In a skillet over medium heat, stir 1/4 cup of sugar together with the pecans. Continue stirring gently until sugar has melted and caramelized the pecans. Carefully transfer nuts onto waxed paper. Allow to cool, and break into pieces.
2. For the dressing, blend oil, vinegar, 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar, mustard, chopped garlic, salt, and pepper.
3. In a large serving bowl, layer lettuce, pears, blue cheese, avocado, and green onions. Pour dressing over salad, sprinkle with pecans, and serve.

The garden on January 21, 2011

And yep, time for a new year! We are essentially in maintenance mode right now more than anything else, but now is a good time to do that:

Meanwhile, some photos from the new Flickr set:

Beds in transition

Sunset comes to the garden area

Ah, weeding

Honey roasted potatoes

Honey roasted potatoes

Roasting potatoes is an easy and common enough thing but the honey glaze suggested in the recipe following, which I received from my latest CSA mailout from who knows what source, was a very nice variant. Officially for red potatoes but hey, I just used what I had to hand. So:

• 1 pound red potatoes, quartered
• 2 tablespoons diced onion
• 2 tablespoons butter, melted
• 1 tablespoon honey
• 1 teaspoon dry mustard
• 1 pinch salt
• 1 pinch ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Lightly coat an 11×7 inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Place potatoes in a single layer in prepared dish, and top with onion. In a small bowl, combine melted butter, honey, mustard, salt and pepper; drizzle over potatoes and onion.

3. Bake in the preheated 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) oven for 35 minutes or until tender, stirring halfway through the cooking time.

Mid-January, time for AMG reviews…

…allowing for a slight holiday delay earlier:

How to win the Internet without really trying

Strange, the things that can happen in your day.

So yesterday I wondered why an ILX thread asking if I was classic or dud had been revived, read the new posts and saw the comment ‘apparently ned raggett has won the internet?’ related to a post that had appeared on the Thought Catalog site. Said post, entitled “The Different Types of People There Are on the Internet” had a section written by Molly Young called “People Who Have Won the Internet,” which concluded in this fashion:

There aren’t a lot of them but there are too many to name–so maybe it is time we started a list. I will offer my top five: Molly Lambert, Julian Assange, Tavi, Andrey Ternovskiy, and Ned Raggett.

And that was a list of names I thought I would never read together — much less be part of.

I was terribly flattered, wondering if I had missed a joke somewhere and utterly baffled all at the same time — I don’t know Molly Young personally and in comparison to what everyone else listed had done, ranging from high profile style blogging to massively popular new software to, well, being Julian Assange, I was just this random guy who mostly writes about music. Nothing too different or special from a lot of other people, and I think a lot of other people do it better. On Facebook and elsewhere the reactions from friends were pretty great — Max R. said “i couldve told you this, ned,” while Conrad posted, “‎*imagines a ceremony where Ned is standing next to Assange and an LOLcat, receiving medallions ala the end of Star Wars.*” And this is a vision, it’s kinda true.

After I expressed my thanks (and befuddlement) on Twitter, Molly mentioned that she’d been reading ILX for a while — given my ups, downs and all arounds there over all ten plus years of its existence, that’s quite the impression I must have left! But it made me think a bit of the first part of her entry on winning the Internet, so to quote that:

People who deftly dramatize and inhabit the internet; people who have read the whole thing; people who determine the rules of internet engagement.

Which is when I grew a bit more reflective. (Okay, so I’m overthinking this all a bit, perhaps, but that’s what I can do.)

I’m coming up on forty years here in six weeks, and for half that time I’ve been on the Net in one form or another — my first tentative e-mailing was in 1991 and the real plunge wasn’t until two years later, but even so. For about a decade before that time I was generally aware of computer culture, however haphazardly — I still remember the first home PC I ever saw, owned by a former executive officer serving under my dad in the Navy, back in 1981 (and by this time I’d had my Atari game system for a couple of years so some form of roots go back even further). But pretty much from twenty two years of age onward I’ve been on the Net, in one way or another, though always — in my mind, at least — just as someone who was there almost randomly.

A couple of friends have joked that it’s due to having read the whole thing which caused me to win the Internet and, well, I’ve read a LOT but I think far more people have read a lot more. (Given some of the foolish folderol out there now anyway, who’d want to read the whole thing unless one has endless patience for, say, illiterate YouTube comments.) But the other criteria proffered — deftly dramatizing and inhabiting the Internet, determining the rules — made me think less of the Net than something more than that. If one has that kind of impact, on any scale large or small, it’s less about actively trying to stake a place than simply being yourself. To dramatize, inhabit, determine anything — in real life, on the Internet, whatever — comes from that base.

Which sounds patently obvious, I realize. But looking at my fellow winners-as-such brings that a bit more home — all five of us, from what I can tell via their own public profiles, are distinctly different personalities rather than of a type. Certainly we’re all a bit showy at the least — Assange perhaps most notoriously in the public eye, given his paranoia and predelictions — but we’re all coming from it in much different ways and at different points in life. I definitely couldn’t expect Tavi and I to see the world in anything quite the same way, for instance. We’re all inhabiting the Net in our own fashion — Lambert has her sites and photos and writings, Ternovskiy his programming and resultant possibilities.

Determining the rules? Well, perhaps we’re all just setting examples. All of us — and as Young noted in her piece, it’s not JUST the five of us and never could be — might seek to gain different kinds of reactions from audiences but if we’re doing so it’s because we’re operating in a social sphere; the Internet is if nothing else not designed for isolation. Whatever aspects of our personality are projected and then finely honed or cartoonishly overblown (or any range of points between). They can become something to be observed and — I suppose, if one likes — reacted to, engaged with, perhaps even be something to serve as a model.

Which is kinda grotesque to type, at least in my case. I really don’t know what example I set at all in anything, really, and I try not to act that way. Keep in mind I am eternally my own worst critic, and most often frustrated with myself over and above anything else. Learning to take compliments of any sort is still a little hard, no matter how nice it is to receive them and what an honest boost it provides. The counterexamples in my head of me at my worst never quite go away, and that’s not false modesty talking, believe me.

But with that in mind, I still try to do my best, as I can, when I can. Hopefully that’s more often than not. I said some years ago that my existence at base is “the product of a combination of fortuitous circumstances” when it comes to my life and upbringing, and as time goes on I see that all the more. I try not to take it for granted.

I can also say that in many ways these last few months have been some of the best ever in my life — I don’t go into private aspects too much here on the blog or elsewhere simply because, well, it’s a blog, and that’s a pretty public thing. If that’s part of the example set — that it’s more than all right NOT to talk about everything — then I’m content with that. But I have reached a point where I feel like I’ve found an overall calm and balance in many things, in health and home and heart, and without wanting to specifically teach or instruct people on how to find that — and while, again, acknowledging the role of fortune, whether it relies on making one’s own luck or understanding the goodness that luck provides — I can say that there is no reason not to try for that as one can. Call it a midlife crisis if you like — or the aftereffects of one — but there it is, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

The day to day continues in life, and it’s never guaranteed. I have no idea what the future will bring and for all I know five minutes after I post this, the long suspected Big One hits SoCal with levels well off the Richter scale and that could be it for me. But — to also take an excuse to post a photo of me from this past weekend’s trip up to Oroville — if I’ve won the Internet at all at any point in anyone’s eyes, well, maybe I’ve just won at life in general to some degree. If so, I only wish we all could.


As an addendum — in a private discussion with friends about all this, one suggested that the five of us who won the Internet would make for the best Real World season ever, while another suggested we should form a band. I asked for a name, and a third friend suggested the highly appropriate ‘Screen Tan’ — which led to the creation of this by Photoshop expert Sean C.:

Screen Tan

About right, really.

My Pazz and Jop 2010 comments

The results are up and there for the browsing, and as ever there’s a slew of reflections and comments well worth the reading along with the results themselves. As per the recent past, I’ve submitted no actual ballot, but I submitted comments which more or less serve as a year-end review from my own particular perspective:

As has been the case for some years now I do not feel the need to create and contribute a formally ranked list for my year’s listening; to talk about the reasoning behind that would be repeating myself to a large degree, both in past Pazz/Jop commentary and via other areas like last year’s Stylus Decade roundup. Suffice to say that I do not listen to rank or to group except when required by other demands (eg, the AMG star system); my one formal choice of anything this year, due to a request sent out by the Awl for a flat-out favorite album of the year, was School of Seven Bells’ Disconnect From Desire, chosen in the same way I used to do so — it was the album I ended up listening to the most.

In that the album title could be seen to be representative of my current state of engagement with the world of music in general is amusing coincidence, yet that’s both true and false in equal measure. It’s true in that — in keeping with my increasingly wary thoughts on the way there is little in terms of private and silent space that cannot be found except by actively pursuing it — a certain disconnection has been in keeping with much throughout the year with myself and music. In a year when Tumblr became ‘the’ place, the latest of many, for the fizz and spark of a lot of critical energy and debate to be found, I found it ultimately a step too far, yet another form of social activity turned wearisome requirement for participation. My feelings on critical hothouses ebb and flow as much as anything else and I have already considered ways to make use of the platform in a fashion that isn’t yet another timesuck, but we shall see; as it is I’m already idly wondering what everyone will pick up on next.

That speaks of critical thought, though, not the question of music-as-such — and as such, what little more needs to be added to what has already been apparent? Fragmentation continues, the listening audience finds what it wants as it does and communities coalesce in all sorts of interacting and self-selecting ways — cliches all that don’t appear to be any less true. In tandem with that, the push to find something to keep justifying the sense of buildup, event moments, whatever they might be. (Think album releases but think elections, think sports contract signings, think whatever.) The huge rush to canonize — or at least, be SEEN to canonize and/or acknowledge — Kanye West’s album reminds me of little so much as how — supposedly — everyone had to ‘say something’ about Use Your Illusion nineteen years back. It’s all very well and an acknowledgement not only of West’s eye for maximizing the possibilities of public access but how anchor points provide something to react to or against. If you have nothing else to say, there’s at least that, therefore say something about it.

Which I suppose I’ve just done as well — but, having no immediate desire or need to do so, I didn’t hear it myself, so I didn’t have anything to say about it. Perhaps I will at some point, I’m in no rush. Any withdrawal from the field becomes something impossible to quantify so easily, the more so when it’s not ever something that would be measured in the first place. It’s interesting to me that once again the largest amount of voters in the recent midterm elections consisted of those who didn’t vote. In California, where airwaves were blanketed and blanketed again with commercials and hectoring and where whatever music criticism hothouses I referred to were utterly dwarfed in comparison by the rantings online and off, much was made of the fact that it was the highest turnout for a gubernatorial election since 1994. And indeed it was…at 59 percent. When 4 out of 10 people who could vote did not — and this in a year when the stakes were supposedly higher than they ever had been, the future of the country in question economically and culturally and more, etc. etc. — it serves as the constant reminder that things aren’t always as they seem to be through the self-chosen prism.

So some sense of disconnection — musically if not politically in my case — is true, and yet as noted it’s also false. Not everything is macroscopic and pumped up, nor should it be. For myself, the strongest musical experiences this year were onstage, thanks to a combination of some wonderful touring appearances, a slew of smaller festivals and, above all else, the founding and thriving of a local series of shows at the college campus I work at. My friend and fellow writer Scott Seward noted some months ago with reference to his own experience in New England that a new kind of scene thrives now where sounds and styles are pursued by bands and musicians who do not look to ‘make it big’ so much as create what they want to do at the level that suits them the best, a return of sorts to the pre-recorded world where if you want to hear something you do it yourself. It’s less regional than microregional, something that could gain attention but not something where attention is constantly sought — not if the rewards gained, artistic satisfaction, the appreciation of friends and immediate peers, whatever it might be, are enough.

It’s the kind of thing I see in my own experience, often due to the activity and hard work of people half my age, and it means that ultimately I don’t have to fret about ‘the future of music,’ that amorphous worry. That may sound like a leap, but I know very well that what I catch is only a small, small slice of the kind of activity out there from performers all over the map, in many different venues and in many different styles. Knowing that this is all going on, getting the sense of those possibilities being pursued, catching what one can, enjoying the moments as they happen — there’s no disconnection there, there’s a full embrace. It’s about where I want to be right now in life, and if the sense is almost one of the conclusion of Voltaire’s Candide — “Cultivate your own gardens” — then is it not any less valid? An 18th century wish for a little private focus and stability loses no force when the garden could be digital as much as literal, where the cultivation is carried out quietly and with the help of only a small circle and for that small circle.

Not that it always needs to be literally quiet, of course — not when, at one point this year, I found myself sitting and watching a triple guitar performance by Barn Owl and Tom Carter that was all dark clothing, feedback howls and focused, fixed concentration. I could have listened to that all day, but then again, they might have gotten a bit tired at some point had they kept at it.

Views from Oroville and Chico

Went upstate for a quick visit this past weekend to an area north of Sacramento I’ve never really been before except sort of once, and these particular spots not at all. My mom actually spent much of her younger life in Yuba City but she’s insistent that there’s no real need to go back there specifically — confirmed by various sources in the area — so I can’t expect a family return trip any time in the near future. But both Oroville and Chico provided a lot of spectacular views and sights — the full Flickr set can be perused but here’s a few samples:

Oroville Dam

Skies over Oroville

Cherokee Cemetery, Oroville

A view from the cemetery

A view from Table Mountain

A view from a Chico park

A bridge near Lake Oroville

Some January SoCal skies

It was pretty beautiful viewing around here for the first half of the month — it was as if all the rain had happened over the holidays to allow for all this as the payback. Some scattered samples from my Flickr stream:

Going homeward

Clouds, trees...

A campus morning

Leaving work...

Sunset, palms and the moon