Saturday, February 28, 2009

Vegan recipe week, the conclusion

I loved Veganomicon. If I had bought it, it would probably be worth it just for learning the trick of boiling tempeh. There are a number of recipes that require some "out there" ingredients for a lot of people. The recipes I tried, though, were absolutely fantastic. For people who think that eating vegan or vegetarian means losing flavor, just give this cookbook a try.

You can even force the recipes on your friends! At the end of the book the authors put three pages of menus for various occasions or styles of food.

The appendix is nice in that they break out the recipes by categories (soy-free, gluten-free, low-fat, under 45 minutes and supermarket friendly) so that you can still find stuff to make even if you live in Bismarck, North Dakota.

I did try one other recipe this week which I botched. It was supposed to be the fresh-type rolls you get in Thai restaurants but for the life of me I could not find rice wrappers. I tried wontons but that just flopped. The filling was a mix of rice noodles, pumpkin seeds and butternut squash. Cooked too many noodles and messed that up also. Made a nice cranberry-chile dipping sauce (once again the blend of fruity/tart, sweet (it uses sugar) and spicy) that went well (and I always love cooking with cranberries).

Next time I put in an order for books I'm getting myself a copy of this awesome cookbook. I highly recommend it for everybody, carnivores and veggielovers alike.

The plan is to return to the regularly scheduled schedule for next week. I'm just about done my editing (so close I'm procrastinating on that last little tough bit) so my schedule should free up a bit.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Almost there

The last recipe for vegan cooking week is a dessert. The ridiculously named fudgy wudgy blueberry brownies. A better name for them is delicious.

Since I'm not vegan, I'm not going out of my way to get vegan chocolate and a bit of soy milk.

Preheat oven to 325. Grease a brownie pan. Melt 2/3 c chocolate chips. In a bowl mix 10 ounces of spreadable blueberry fruit, 1/4 c milk, 3/4 c sugar, 1/2 c oil, 2 t vanilla extract and 1/2 tsp almond extract (I added more vanilla). Add 1.5 c flour, 1/4 c cocoa powder, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/4 tsp salt. Mix in the melted chocolate. Add 1/2 c chocolate chips and 1 c blueberries. Put in pan and bake for 45 minutes.

Since there's no egg, more oil is used to hold it together. I worried that the brownies would be greasy but they were pleasantly moist and not greasy at all. The blueberries add a nice touch and is another example of what this cookbook does well - add flavors, often unexpected, to make something even more yummy than normal.

Really, I would make these before I ever made regular brownies again. But then I'm the guy who brought in a chocolate tofu cake to work for my birthday so caveat emptor.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Still running behind

OK, vegan recipe week hasn't been as good idea as I thought. Not because of the recipes - those have been awesome - but because I haven't had time to cook and write about them plus my camera has been less than enthusiastic about letting me put my picture online. I can see them on the camera itself but letting you see them? Forget it.

So day four of this, which is being posted Saturday but will be dated Thursday, was yet another delicious and unusual recipe. Pineapple-cashew-quinoa stir fry.

This was also another easy recipe to make, mostly just chopping. Open a can of pineapple chunks in pineapple juice. Drain the juice into a saucepan. Add a cup of water and a dash of soy sauce. Add a cup of quinoa and bring to a boil. Cook until done.

Saute a pair of scallions, a pair of garlic cloves, a serrano chile, some fresh ginger, a red bell pepper and a cup of peas in some oil. Add basil and mint. Add the quinoa, pineapple and cashews. Add 3 T soy sauce and 1 T mirin.

That's how I made it. They like things in a different order and also added a few tablespoons of vegetable broth at the end.

Lots of flavors going on. Really didn't need the mirin as all the pineapple made it sweet enough. The serrano gives it a nice heat. The cashews give good texture. Just an all around nice recipe that you can whip up pretty quick.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Vegan recipe week, Dia Tres

I was having problems with my camera which accounts for the lateness of my adding this post. Still no picture. Sorry.

I absolutely loved this newest recipe, a chickpea romesco. Essentially it's a thick tomato sauce which I served over rice.

Like the previous recipes, this was pretty easy (I'm liking that about this cookbook). Roasted two red bell peppers in the oven. Peeled them and tossed them in the food processor with two cans of diced tomatoes. Pureed it together. Chopped two shallots, three cloves of garlic and a serrano chile and sauteed them in oil until the shallots got golden. Poured in the tomato mixture and let it simmer. Added a dash of vinegar and sugar. Pulverized a third cup of almonds and added that. Added some fresh thyme (the recipe called for dried thyme and rosemary). Simmered some more. Added two cans of chickpeas (garbanzos). Simmered for about twenty minutes. Serve.

I've been real happy with everything so far. A lot of flavors that intermingle well.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Vegan recipe week, Tag Zwei

I had laid out a bunch of recipes I wanted to cook from the Veganomicon this week but I still have yet to acquire all the ingredients. As a result, I was faced with fixing a dinner for which I had yet to plan. I went with the Hot Sauce-Glazed Tempeh.

The recipe offers a bunch of both other recipes and simple foods to accompany this dish. I went with spinach and mashed taters and was happy with the choice.

I'm not normally fond of tempeh. I have eaten quite a bit of it in my lifetime but I cannot say it is one of my favorite foods. The last time I bought some it stayed in the frig for so long that the soybeans continued to ferment and the gasses inside the package caused it to balloon up. Not good.

This recipe, however, may change that. First off, I was struck that the first step is to boil the tempeh in water to get rid of the bitterness and make it ready for marinating. I had never heard that before and it seemed to work.

The marinade/glaze for the tempeh is very easy. Half a cup of wine (I used some ancient Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais that has been hanging out in the frig since well before the last time I had tempeh), 1/4 cup hot sauce, 2 T olive oil, 2 T soy sauce, 3 T lemon juice, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 tsp cumin, 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper. I marinated the tempeh for about an hour and then broiled it in the oven. It was delicious. I was expecting it to be really spicy but it ended up having a nice tangy flavor with a bit of a kick. The side dishes went well with it and I put some of the residual marinade from the tempeh pan onto both the taters and spinach. It was very filling. I only ate about 2/3 of what you see on the plate (which is probably suitable for two people anyway) and I was eating way past my standard dinner time due to a busy schedule (as opposed to the recipe taking eons) and was hungry.

Definitely will eat this again and I think I may cook up some chicken in the next day or two with the leftover marinade.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Vegan recipe week, Day One

I've been feeling a little under the weather for the past 36 hours or so. Woke up yesterday feeling really sore and attributed it to a hard workout the day before. As the day went on, though, I started to have a congested head and sore throat which carried into this morning.

I'm not a believer in pharmaceutical products. I avoid them at all costs. My solution to colds is Asian soups. As it so happened, I had lunch with a former co-worker and we had Thai food. Had some soup and began to feel better.

I still felt like some soup was in order this evening and so I went with a soup recipe from the Veganomicon. Ancho-lentil soup with grilled pineapple.

Cookbooks like this one drive me a little nuts. One of the problems with most vegetarian cookbooks (and many cookbooks in general) is that they assume you live in sunny California like they do and have access to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Either that or you live in New York City and have an abundance of farmer markets. While I do feel that produce is much more accessible here than it was in Delaware, I still don't have access to everything that this cookbook calls for (either because of unavailability or cost). All this is to say that sometimes I take some liberties.

One of the things that grabbed me about this recipe is that you make your own chile powder. Why it's necessary, I don't know. You're to take a couple dried ancho chile peppers, remove the seeds, and grind them into a powder. I was thrilled recently to find de arbol chiles dried and have a whole bag of them so I went with them instead. Added a tablespoon each of ground cumin and coriander (I ground my own coriander but my cumin is pre-ground) and there's your chile powder.

That's the toughest part of this recipe. Saute an onion and a trio of garlic cloves, all chopped, in a saucepan with some oil. Add a couple bay leaves and a dash of salt. Add two cups of lentils. Add eight cups of liquid (I used two of vegetable broth and six of water). Add the chile powder. Simmer until the lentils are cooked. Puree half the soup to thicken it up a bit.

While it simmers, you're to grill some fresh pineapple rings. I opted to broil canned pineapple rings. Toss some pineapple in a bowl, add some lime juice and Tabasco and serve.

I'm always a little leery of lentil soups. I like them but they tend to have a strong earthy taste and often feel heavy. Not this one. The chile powder and hot sauce give it a nice bite and the acid from the lime and pineapple bring it out. It had a very Asian feel to it and really helped loosen up the congestion. It was a very light soup and bore no resemblance to any lentil soup I've ever had previously.

All in all, I'm very impressed with the debut from this cookbook.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


I've been on an eighties kick as of late. Songs from my youth have been coming to me and of course I have to pull them up on Youtube and give them a listen. One in particular made me realize I've always had an appreciation of guys who can both scream and sing. The singing part is crucial. I'm not into screaming for screaming. It has to be musical screaming (which, if that doesn't make sense, will hopefully become clear in these examples). In chronological order, my favorites:

Joe Leste of Bang Tango (the song that inspired this post). (no embedding)

Then we have the all around vocal stylings of Mike Patton of Faith No More (and many other groups) UPDATE: The Faith No More videos I had on this post were removed because of a copyright claim. This is a better example of the screaming nature of Mike Patton with the group Tomahawk:

On to Chester Benningfield of Linkin Park:

And finally M. Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold (some language):

Again, not my favorite songs but exemplary of the singing and screaming of these guys. I like that they all sing real well, too. None of them are just screamers. The screaming is just part of the vocal toolkit.

I have to put one more of Mike Patton. If the rest of the guys I cited have vocal toolkits, Patton has a vocal Home Depot. Here's a nice range of his skills in a pair of live songs:

Oh, one more, why not. You can't really talk about Mike Patton and his vocal capabilities without putting Epic out there:

I guess I'm intrigued by screaming as a means of creating music. Supposedly M. Shadows ruptured a blood vessel in his throat from screaming. The inherent stress and difficulty of actually achieving specific notes makes it a skill of limited appeal, I suppose.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Special recipe review week

Since I haven't been following my intended blogging schedule anyway, I'm making next week an all-cooking week beginning on Monday. From Monday through Saturday I will be cooking a recipe from a cookbook I signed out at the library, Veganomicon by Isa Moskowitz. Look for hopefully delicious vegan meals all next week!

Friday, February 20, 2009

More Press Pass Racing

Target had the boxes and I've had more positive response than negative concerningthe video breaks and, most importantly, I have fun hamming it up and doing them and using the word and six times in a sentence. So there.

6 of 36 NSCS Drivers
3 of 12 NNS Drivers
0 of 6 NCTS Drivers
3 of 12 Built for Speed
2 of 12 Nascar Scene
1 of 8 Looking Forward
4 of 11 Tony Stewart - 10 Year Retrospective
2 of 9 Joey Logano - Through the Years
2 of 12 Top 12

6 blue parallels - 2 NSCS, 2 Scenes, 1 Tony Stewart, 1 Joey Logano
3 Freeze Frames
1 Trading Paint
1 Unleashed

and two Target cards

That brings me to:
18 of 36 NSCS Drivers
7 of 12 NNS Drivers
3 of 6 NCTS Drivers
7 of 12 Built for Speed
9 of 12 Nascar Scene
1 of 8 Looking Forward
8 of 11 Tony Stewart - 10 Year Retrospective
4 of 9 Joey Logano - Through the Years
7 of 12 Top 12

So 64 of the 120 card baseset. Halfway home.

8 of 36 Freeze Frames
3 of 12 Unleashed
2 of 9 Trading Paints
19 Blue parallels of 120

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The usual drill

Back in the day, when I used to live in Delaware, one of my favorite things about visiting the library was picking up a copy of Book Page. Book Page is a monthly publication that reviews books and interviews authors. Great stuff. I would get it each month and read through it, adding books that sounded interesting to my "To Read" list.

Book Page is online but as you've probably gathered, I've old-fashioned about a lot of things, reading being one of them. I still don't own a cellphone so my guess is that I will be the last person on the planet to use a Kindle to read a book. I've gotten out of the habit of looking for recommendations on Book Page.

Why use it at all? I'm always looking for different ways to pick books. There's too many that have been written for me to be aware of everything that comes down the pike so if I can save my self some time and effort and read something that someone else liked, I should stand a good chance of liking it myself.

Key word, should. Just got done reading Jonathan Barnes'The Somnambulist. I read a review of his most recent book on Book Page, found that it was too new to acquire, thought that this one sounded better and requested it.

Did you ever see the movie The League of Extraordinary Gentleman? That's this book. Not the story line, although there are some similarities. What I mean is that LoEG had so much potential. A team of great literary characters that band together to save the world. Dorian Gray, Tom Sawyer, Dr. Jekyll, etc. The comic book series was supposed to be awesome although I never checked it out. The movie should have been and was not. It was a fun watch for me but miles away from good. That's The Somnambulist.

The Somnambulist is an eight foot mute with mystical powers. Apparently he cannot be hurt in any way, shape or form. He also loves to drink milk. He lives with Edward Moon, a conjurer and Holmesian ratiocinator who has fallen out of the favor of the public and the police after an incident that is much referred to in the book but never discussed. After about the 27th time, you're like, "Yes, Mr. Barnes, I get it. Moon messed up. Everyone knows about it. You don't need to have the bagger at the grocery store bring it up now, too".

Another irksome quality of Barnes is his interspersing his clear, simple writing with Words of the Day. I swear he was using one of those calendars when he wrote the book. They don't even make sense. It's like he came across the word "inchoate" which means partly or not fully in existence or operation and he'd write "Moon walked by the inchoate building under construction". The building would serve no purpose other than as the subject of inchoate. Moon also lies twice in the book. You know how I know? Because Barnes has him "lying fluently". What does that even mean? Why, yes, I'm fluent in lying. I tell both white lies and whoppers. The phrase just stood out as being so absurd to me that I remembered both citations.

It's crap like that that ruined the book for me. Lots of extraneous information. Way too many modifiers, and, oh, the dialogue. I started eating crackers while I was reading this because there was so much cheese.

This could have been a really good book. There was a lot to it that had promise. Mostly, though, it seems to be a lot of random things packed into a book that don't tie together well. This book did inspire me to start ranking my reading list. I'm going to mark my top ten favorites. As the twelfth book I've read this year (I think), this won't make the cut.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sunday book review

Finished reading a book last night called The Soloist by Steve Lopez. The dust jacket labels it "A lost dream, an unlikely friendship, and the redemptive power of music". It's because of the music that I'm writing it today. That and I already have a review written for Tuesday for an awful book and didn't want to taint this one.

Lopez is a journalist for the L.A. Times. One day he stumbles across an older, homeless black man in a tunnel playing violin. Lopez listens to him and realizes that he's quite a musician. The man, Nathaniel Ayers, is hesitant of Lopez at first but warms to him after a number of visits. Lopez befriends him and discovers that Ayers was a former student of Julliard, the famed music school in New York City.

Lopez is intrigued how someone with so much talent can find himself homeless on the other side of country decades later and begins to write about Ayers. Like so many homeless people, Ayers is a victim of mental illness, in this case paranoid schizophrenia. Lopez's articles in the newspaper begin to bring awareness to the homeless, mental health and substance abuse problems in Los Angeles.

The book arises from these articles and the journey Lopez and Ayers make together as friends over the years. When they first meet, Ayers sleeps on the sidewalk and distrusts everyone around him. Gradually, through the support of Lopez and others, Ayers moves into an apartment near a treatment facility, starts taking music lessons, and the story ends with Ayers being "artist in residence" at another treatment center.

I can't recall a book that brought me to tears as often as this. I have a soft spot for mental health issues and the alternating breakthroughs and frustrations that Lopez and Ayers endure are heartwrenching. Lopez is a terrific journalist, reporting this story and adding all the necessary details. He delves into Lopez's past and visits former classmates and family members. He works with local mental health workers to try and help Ayers and understand how areas such as L.A.'s Skid Row can grow so large. Through it all, Lopez also maintains a great level of humility. His own involvement in the story could easily become the story but he never lets is become so, always keeping the focus on Nathaniel.

The only disappointment of the book to me was the ending. Near the end, Lopez and Ayers have a falling out which results in Lopez, who refers to Ayers as Nathaniel for the first 85-90% of the book, being more formal and distant and referring to him as Mr. Ayers, both in personal interactions and when writing about him. Like any broken friendship, this turn is saddening. Also, this is an ongoing story but, of course, the book has to end. It would be nice to know how Ayers progresses and how Lopez's relationship continues. Perhaps one day there'll be an update. If so, I will definitely read it. This was such a great story.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Chicken salad revisited

This editing business is harder than I thought. I hope to complete it this weekend and maybe get back into a regular schedule of everything.

As such, not much new to report in the cuisine area except I had two new supermarket chicken salads this week. Picked up a chicken salad wrap at Darrenkamp's which I thoroughly enjoyed. Lettuce and tomato, the chicken salad was light tasting with no strong flavors. Perfect lunch.

I also had Dutch Way's hickory chicken salad. It was nice as a change but not something I would want to eat regularly. Has that fake hickory flavor to it and it seemed like the chicken salad was made differently from their normal. Good bit of egg in it which surprisingly I didn't mind.

Thanks for your patience.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Another NASCAR card break

I had fun the last time and so picked up another seven packs when I was at Walmart. Even though I got less out of these from an insert standpoint, I liked what I got better. The doubles I'm listing are just from these seven packs.

8 of 36 NSCS Drivers (including one double)
3 of 12 NNS Drivers
1 of 6 NCTS Drivers
3 of 12 Built for Speed
4 of 12 Nascar Scene (2 doubles)
1 of 8 Looking Forward
5 of 11 Tony Stewart - 10 Year Retrospective (1 double)
1 of 9 Joey Logano - Through the Years
5 of 12 Top 12 (1 double)

7 blue parallels - 1 NSCS, 1 NNS, 2 Joey Logano, 1 Built for Speed, 1 Tony Stewart and 1 Top 12

4 Freeze Frame inserts

Getting a nice start on the set. Only four duplicates from the first pack break plus the five within these seven packs so I have 52 of the 120 base cards, 14 parallels, 6 Freeze Frames, 2 Unleashed and a Trading Paint.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Russians and Reds

Just a brief note on the two books I read this week. The first, Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, is a novel/poem about a young red man/creature named Geryon. It is based on a lyric poem by the ancient Greek poet Stesichorus.

Carson's Geryon is a red man with wings trying to live in the modern day. You can almost ignore that Geryon is a creature, though. The story is love lost, dysfunctional family relationships, and growing up as an outsider. It was good, but weird. This was the other book that Toby Barlow cited as his inspiration for Sharp Teeth's style. I can see how he blended this and White Jazz. Autobiography of Red is a quick read and was a change of pace for me. I tend to struggle in the appreciation of poetry and short stories and this was no exception. I'm not quick on the draw when it comes to symbolism. I don't feel the allusions here were as obscure but I usually find myself feeling like I missed something when I read poetry or short stories and I felt that way here.

Maybe my simple-mindedness when it comes to reading is what lets me appreciate Turgenev's Fathers and Sons. Set in Russia in the late 1960's, it's just a basic tale of two young men, their parents (largely their fathers), and their search for their place in a changing Russia.

It is very much about generational differences. The one son, Bazarov Vasilevich, is a Nihilist, not believing in anything except the study of science. The other (it's two families), Arkady Kirsanov, is younger than Bazarov and relies on him as a mentor. As they flit around the countryside meeting with young and old alike - family members, peasants, socialites - both find themselves struggling with the nihilism beliefs.

The story ends with Arkady, more of the "good guy", finding a happy medium between young and old, helping his father move into the modern times as Arkady himself grasps the traditional. Bazarov struggles to the end and winds up dying of a germ-infected wound inflicted while trying to study a disease-racked body.

There weren't too many surprises with this book. Straightforward, very much the style of a lot of Russian literature of the time. A nice read all in all.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Easy way out

Had plans for today's post but it got lost in the shuffle. No baseball post tomorrow as I continue to edit. Even though we're in February, I'll throw my favorite video from 2008 up here. The Old 97's Dance With Me.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Playing sous chef to a nine year old

As much as I like to cook, baking has never grabbed me as much. I think I experienced a bit of overload in my childhood. Somehow we acquired this Pennsylvania Dutch cookbook that had a tasty apple pie recipe in it. As a kid I asked to make it, did so, and served it to audience that received it a little too well. From then on it became a staple of every holiday meal: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July, King Kamehameha Day (I love that Blogger knows I spelled Kamehameha right), Groundhog Day, Grandparent's Day, Thursdays. I got a little tired of it.

Fortunately Doodle loves to bake. We had occasion to make a birthday cake recently. I rooted through the magazine exchange box at the library and found an issue of Bon Appetit that someone had donated. It had this really yummy looking chocolate cake. I bounced it off Doodle, he liked the idea, so we made it. Delicious, moist, chocolately. We skimped a little on the ingredient quality (Hershey and Nestle chocolate) but it didn't matter. It was good. We also used semi-sweet chocolate although the recipe calls for bittersweet. Doodle did everything except for the ring of chocolate that goes around the outside.

It is a convoluted cake. First there's the cake part:
4 oz chocolate
3 T cocoa
1/2 c coffee
1/2 c hot water
1 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 c oil
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
3 eggs
1/2 c sour cream

Pour the hot water and coffee over the chocolate and cocoa and stir until smooth. Mix the flour, baking soda, salt and baking powder in another bowl. Mix oil and sugars in another bowl and add eggs one at a time. Add sour cream. Mix all three bowls together and pour into spring form pans (we only had one pan so split the batter and baked each level (there are two) separately. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Pudding portion:
1/2 c water
5 tsp gelatin
8 oz chocolate
5 oz milk chocolate
2.5 c whipping cream
2.5 c milk
1/2 c sugar
1.5 tsp vanilla

Dissolve gelatin in water. Mix cream, sugar, milk and vanilla and boil. Add gelatin mixture. Pour over chocolate and dissolve. Let chill until pudding-like.

Take one level of cake and keep in pan. Pour pudding on top. Put next layer of cake on top. Pour rest of pudding on top of cake. Chill.

Chocolate band
Melt 5 oz of chocolate. Spread it on strips of wax paper. Let it cool and then wrap the strips around the cake and remove the wax paper.

That's it.

Friday, February 6, 2009

First live card break

Went out to Walmart today and bought some Press Pass NASCAR cards. In honor of Chris Harris at Stale Gum, I did a video card break. It was fun. I'll try and figure out the sound issues for any future ones I do.

The 120 card base set is broken into 9 sections plus the checklist card and the schedule card. Got the checklist and the following:
8 of 36 NSCS Drivers
2 of 12 NNS Drivers
2 of 6 NCTS Drivers
3 of 12 Built for Speed
6 of 12 Nascar Scene
0 of 8 Looking Forward
3 of 11 Tony Stewart - 10 Year Retrospective
3 of 9 Joey Logano - Through the Years
2 of 12 Top 12

7 blue parallels - 1 Joey Logano, 3 Scenes, 1 Looking Forward, 1 Built for Speed and 1 NCTS

1 Trading Paint insert
2 Unleashed inserts
2 Freeze Frame inserts

I may not do this anymore. It takes forever to upload.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


I'm writing this Tuesday night. I'm just feeling really good right now.

For three days in a row now, I'm doing virtually everything right. The reason for this is that my mind is right.

Just got off the rower where my workout was 10 250 meter sprints. I warmed up with a slow 2000 meters. I had done squats earlier in the day, was sleepy at the end of work on a work day that lacked the challenges (and patrons) of most days. Had to drive Doodle to choir practice. A week ago there would have been no way I got on the rower when I got home. Late last week I took a look at how I was feeling and what I was accomplishing and decided to whip out the old mental/physical toolkit.

One of the things I have learned over the years is not to look too far forward into the future. The farther you plan ahead, the more at risk you put yourself for unforeseen circumstances to pop up.

Karate was one of the best things in the world for me in this regard. I think everyone wants to be a black belt when they start a martial art. No one goes into it and says "Yeah, that green belt is what I'm looking at". They might get into it for other reasons; fitness, self-esteem, self-defense, etc. but you can't help but think how cool it will be when you get that black belt.

Then you get started. You aren't flexible, you're breathing hard, you hurt, you get beat up when you spar, you can't remember your forms, you can't remember what the names of techniques are or how to do them, you can't string more than two techniques together, you can't fall right. You look at black belts and you think you'll never be as good as them.

That's why a lot of people quit martial arts and why so many places that teach them tie you into contracts. They know that the majority of the people will drop out and they'll be out the dough.

You have to go into class every day. That's the first step. If not every day, at least every day that is humanly possible. Why I lose sight of this is beyond me. The same held true when I played the sax. I didn't accomplish what I did on the sax by practicing once a week. Somehow I lose this, though.

Once you're in class, though, you need to have one goal. Leaving class better than you came in. Then once you leave your goal is to come back tomorrow. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. When you look at it that way, all of a sudden you look up years later and you have no doubts, your skills are great, it's all subconscious from being done over and over and you're on your way to a black belt.

Really simple stuff. I've been making a point of doing it each day. Eat good meals. Stop snacking. Crossfit and Crossfit Endurance as appropriate. Not doing a couple things that put me in a poor frame of mind. Write. Baseball. It's not like this takes a huge amount of time either. Cut out some bad habits. Make the time.

Back to the rowing. Before tonight, my best 250 was a 48.0.

First sprint:50.2
2nd: 47.8 (new personal best)
3rd: 48.4 - I pulled up at the end and got mad at myself because I would have beaten my time. I wasn't tired. I just eased up.
4th: 49.2 - Don't know what happened here.
5th: 46.6 (new personal best)
6th: 46.5 (new personal best) - Here I am on my sixth sprint of the evening and I just had my third personal best. At this point I got it in my head that I would try to break the mythical (to me) 45 second mark. 45 is fast (at least for this overweight old man. Kudos to you if that's your cruising speed). I bumped up the resistance thinking that I had the strength if not the lungs to pull it off. Got myself ready and....
7th: 53.8 - I was psyching myself up so much that I didn't have my foot strapped in right and it popped out as soon as I started and I started laughing at myself.
8th: 44.9 (new personal best) -I DID IT!!!! You have no idea how thrilled, excited, pleased with myself I was. That pace for 100 meters has been a challenge for me and now I have done it at 250.
9th: 45.7 - now I'm feeling tired. Bumped the resistance back to my normal for the last one
10th: 45.9 - Still two full seconds faster than my previous best and my second sprint of the evening.

What does this mean for the long run? WHO CARES?!?! I row again tomorrow. Now I'm going to go fix some delicious looking tofu and cashew curry.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Favorite book of the year

Last week I mentioned how much I had enjoyed reading Jeffrey Moore's Prisoner in a Red Rose Chain oh so many years ago. I had picked it up at a book outlet in Lancaster which, like so many booksellers, has gone defunct. Now here I am living in Lancaster County and getting around to reading Moore's second effort, The Memory Artists.

The Memory Artists is about multiple characters and is a book within a book. Or maybe books within a book. It's a novel about a psychologist who intends to write a book about one of his patients, a synesthete (someone who sees sounds as colors, for instance) and hypermnesiate (someone who remembers virtually everything) named Noel. The doctor's book is a combination of diaries of characters, a novel one of the characters wrote, the doctor's footnotes, and ultimately, a ghost writer who finishes the doctor's book upon his death. Confusing?

The book is largely about Noel's search to find a way to counter his mother's Alzheimer's while dealing with his own conditions. Every character has his or her own story and importance. There is the love interest, Samira, a former actress who suffers from short-term amnesia. Norval, who receives a grant for his performance art piece, The Alpha Bet, where he tries to sleep with a woman whose first name begins with each letter of the alphabet, in order, over a period of 26 weeks.

There's a lot that goes on and even with the extraordinary, abnormal stuff going on, it still comes down people and their emotions and Moore pulls that off well. His dialogues are really good. It's a really good story.

Prisoner has a lot of similarities to Memory Artists. Both are set in Montreal (one of my favorite cities). Both feature main characters who are really unusual. Both girlfriends are Arabic. Both feature familial relationships. Both are about the pain of love. Both are really good.

Moore's books are just "out there" enough that I can see some people not liking them. I find them touching and quirky. I've reread Prisoner a few times and can see myself going back and re-reading Memory Artists in a few years.

I also re-read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It's on a number of high school reading lists around here and is a quick read so I grabbed it with the thought that maybe Gaga might want to read it if the time comes in his English classes. I found myself remembering more about the old text-based computer game of the same name than I did the book itself which I thought was really weird since it's been a quarter-century since I played that (put fish in ear).

I was disappointed by it. The book isn't really a stand-alone story. You almost have to go on and read Douglas Adams' other books of the trilogy (of which there's what, four others? Yes, a five book trilogy). I don't see myself doing that. It was entertaining and a bit of a flashback to my younger days.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Baseball research

It's a small world. I think what happened this weekend is pure coincidence but I thought it was pretty funny and since I'm still working on the editing of this baseball book, I haven't taken the time to do any baseball research of my own for this week's post.

I received an e-mail over the weekend from a fellow writing a history of the Marie Katzenbach School of the Deaf. He was trying to track down information on a deaf baseball player who had graduated from there. He contacted a historical society near one of the teams for which the player had played. The historical society said, "Sorry, we can't help you but contact this baseball guy" and they gave him my e-mail.

The funny part of this, to me, is that I had recently applied for a position with this historical society. Had they gone and hired me, they could have just eliminated the middle man. I don't think the person who forwarded my address knew I had applied. I just thought it was funny. Heck, maybe the referring person was the one they hired for the role.

I did some quick work and discovered a publication called The Silent Worker that had a mere 130 articles on the player and a half dozen on his wife. Plus, the entire publication has been digitized and is available online. Contains photos, which the researcher was especially interested in. It was nice being able to hit the mother lode like that. Found some other things, too, but it's rare to come across as much information in one place as I did.

In the past I have talked with an audiologist friend of mine about us doing some baseball research on deaf players. Maybe this is an omen.

Regardless, it started my week off nicely. I get such a thrill out of helping people with their research. It's my favorite part of working at the library and has been a great part of my role as minor league committee chair of SABR. Don't mean to be tooting my horn and all. Just feel good and wanted to post something today.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

My Comrades!

In the last month or so, I have decided to renew my interest in the Russian arts. In general, I love most any work of art created from the time period 1880-1920. That Romantic/Impressionist era, regardless of country. Books, music, art. All good stuff. Love it.

When I was in high school and early in college, I really liked Russian literature from that time period. Dostoyevsky, Chekov, Tolstoy. I never took it far enough to get into Gogol, Turgenev, Pushkin, et al and think I will this year. I'm reading Turgenev right now.

This post is about music, though. I've been listening to one of my favorite pieces lately. Modest Moussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. The thing is, I really don't care for Moussorgsky's original composition. He wrote it as a suite of pieces for the piano. The Frenchman Maurice Ravel took it and arranged it for orchestra and made it really beautiful and powerful which is ironic in a sense in that Moussorgsky was often criticized for not making his music strong and militant like so much of the Russian music of that era was.

Moussorgsky is also well known for his Night on Bald Mountain. It was used in the Disney movie Fantasia.

Here's the orchestral version of the final movement, The Great gate of Kiev (note, this is conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy, the Russian pianist, who has done his own arrangement and orchestration of this which differs from Ravel's. I can't tell much difference but I'm no musicologist.I'm not even sure this is Ashkenazy's version.):

And here's the piano version (again by a Russian, Vladimir Horowitz. The Great Gate of Kiev starts at about the 3:20 point. Baba Yaga's Hut, the next-to-last movement begins this clip):

Don't get me wrong. I still like it. Horowitz does a better job than most of matching the depth that the orchestra brings to this piece. As originally written, though, it's just a nice piano piece whereas I feel turning it into an orchestral piece makes it more "Russian" sounding.