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Under the table and dreaming of Dave

7 Jun

Under the Table and Dreaming, v. 2.0 | Myrtle Beach SC, May 2012

Hailing the real Boys of Summer: Welcome back, Dave Matthews Band
 

Rambling

Summer belongs to Dave Matthews. The season of lazy days and languid nights just wouldn’t be the same without Dave Matthews Band. Last year, when Dave and company decided not to tour fully (Caravan, schmaravan), summer downright sucked. For the better part of the last 20 years (holy shit), I and legions of other fans and followers have taken for granted that DMB would be there for us. Like clockwork. In these parts, serving as the official kickoff to summer. With two nights of extended jams, familiar standbys (heard dozens of times before but still sounding fresh), and a smattering of new tunes every few years. Echoing through the woods of the Saratoga Spa State Park, from our storied SPAC. But last year, silence. No DMB. And for me, no summer.

This weekend, the DMB drought ends. And summer officially begins. The past few nights have brought me vivid dreams, with Dave on the brain. The new DMB album hasn’t dropped yet, but that’s okay. I’ll dance with Dave Feet to new versions of the old favorites, and sing my made-up words to the lyrics I can’t understand, and wax nostalgic about the arc of my DMB fanhood…

I credit my brother Vik with introducing me to this eclectic “college band” in the early 1990s. As the more responsible (read, geekier) older sister, I was only marginally aware of the crazy and quasi-illegal hoops Vik jumped through to see DMB concerts as a teen (a “sleepover” at a friend’s house that masked a secret New Year’s Eve overnight road trip to a Virginia Beach concert, for instance). Vik was (and is) bad ass, so my dorky self felt privileged to share a first live DMB concert experience with this Original Fan in 1995. It was an auspicious introduction. It was in a college gym. A cheap general admission ticket got us into the campus rec center at the State University of New York at Albany on a weeknight in September. Vik and I had been working together in Albany at the time, so camped out after work until the venue doors opened, and then rushed the stage area with hundreds of others to claim a spot on the gym floor. My first DMB show, and we were front and center! Pushed up against the gym mats padding the platform that was pretending to be a stage.

Meshell Ndegeocello (remember her?) was the opener. No one wanted to listen to her. The crowd was rude and unruly. She was booed off stage. It was appalling. After what seemed an eternity, Dave and friends finally appeared. And so did chaos. The moshing began. The pushing, the shoving, the bodies, the crushing, the feet to the face. Who the hell was this band? Who were these fecking rabid fans? I had never been so terrified. At 6’3″, my “little” brother embraced the crazy crowd vibe, literally head and shoulders above the rest. At 5’5″ (okay, maybe closer to 5’4″), I was dodging death by student stampede. Ultimately, I retreated from the front-and-center stronghold, and tried to enjoy the rest of the show from the gym’s nosebleed-equivalent seats.

Thanks to the interweb, I relive that concert, and my time as a petrified DMB virgin, and invite you to join me for a sampling of that show. Note the silhouettes of people walking across the stage? Crowd-surfers–or potential crush victims–who made it to the front, invading “Dave’s House”, before being escorted offstage by security in a steady stream. Sigh. At least I can claim to have had a front row “seat” at a DMB show. Even if for just a few precious minutes.

A few years later, I would see DMB again, and again in a gym (well, indoor tennis stadium). This time, north of the border, in Montreal. It couldn’t have been a more different experience. It was May 1998. DMB was enjoying widespread mainstream popularity stateside. But in Canada? If there were more than a thousand people at this performance, I’d be surprised. It was intimate, informal (standing only), beer served on the sidelines, Canadian cordial crowd. And the band was having a jolly rollick. It felt more like a practice session. For a teenage garage band. I couldn’t find any videos online, but did find this entertaining collection of fan reviews. Memorable in its own right. Every year since, Hubby and I have searched for a repeat of this mellow Montreal gig. No luck.

A few months after Montreal, I was in for another “crushing” concert experience. It was July 1998. (My now) Hubby and I were front-and-center at our nearby “neighborhood” concert venue, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC). Kid brother Vik insists that SPAC is among DMB’s favorite places to play. That the performances and set lists are never better than when the band is at SPAC. For Hubby and me, this was our first “non-lawn” DMB SPAC show, and we were lucky enough to have scored fourth row orchestra pit seats (my boss at the time was a big-time SPAC supporter and member, and got dibs on The Fancy Seats for all the shows). We smugly took our places in The Highly Civilized Section at the very front of the amphitheatre, alongside the Muffy/Buffy/Skip/Chip monied set and privileged teenagers (none of whom were True Fans like us). Behind us, in the regular seats and on the lawn, sat The Lowly Rabble. But not for long. In a flashback repeat of my inaugural DMB concert experience, the stage was rushed. Our temporary folding chairs crumbled. Our bodies were crushed. We retreated. Once again watching a DMB concert from a safe distance. Bruised and disappointed. But no less awed by the music. After that show, all sorts of security measures were put into place (wrist bands, limited pit audience, beefy bouncer types instead of old lady volunteer ushers). Epic.

Fast forward to 2000. A truly memorable millennial. Summer saw me between graduate school and jobs, and working for the season as a front desk clerk at The Gideon Putnam. Situated in the Saratoga Spa State Park, and adjacent to SPAC, this hotel saw its share of celebrities, especially during the summer months. In my brief front desk stint over several summers, I had met the likes of Bobby Flay, Ralph Wilson, Frank McCourt, Tara Lipinski, Dr. Ruth, and Celeste Holm.

And in August 2000, Dave Matthews. And the gang. We front desk clerks didn’t know for sure if the band would be staying with us until the very last minute, when pseudonyms on the original reservations were changed, to Dave, and Boyd, and Leroi, and Carter, and Stefan. But I had brought my disposable Kodak to work, just in case.

I remember it clearly. There was a conference of school administrators and teachers meeting in the hotel that day. During a late afternoon meeting break, a group of harpy women swarmed the front desk, chirping orders for photocopies, replacement room keys, faxes, more water in the conference rooms.

Behind them, standing alone, patiently, quietly, no airs, duffel bag slung over his shoulder, lips puckered in a sort of whistle…Dave.

Above the melee, we made eye contact. I motioned for Dave to meet me at the side door to the front desk area. Ignoring the pecking shrews, I stepped away from the desk, and ushered Dave into the private area behind the front desk mailboxes (old school hotel). He was much taller than I had expected. And he smelled fresh and clean, like fabric softener. The small talk was a blur–I think I congratulated him on his recent marriage, and he told me he had a head cold; I mentioned my kid brother who had met him before a recent Albany show, and he said something like, “Oh yeah, tall Indian kid, I remember”–as I fumbled with his keys and told him how to get to his room. And in a move that surely should have gotten me fired, I whipped out the camera. “Would you mind terribly? I would love to get a picture.”

A silken, baritone “well, sure.” One photo left in the Kodak disposable. One Charmin squeeze for the ages.

I’d had my seminal Dave moment. One that can never be matched nor topped. It was followed close behind by helping to check in a very ripple-y Boyd, a surprisingly petite Stefan, an impish Carter (who later had a problem with bees in his hotel room), and a sunglasses-less Leroi (whose credit card signature I photocopied after he checked out…man, I should have been fired. You just don’t do those sorts of things as a front desk clerk, especially at the buttoned-up Gideon Putnam).

Now it’s nearly Summer 2012, and I am looking forward to this weekend’s performances as eagerly as ever, 15+ years on. My brother–still a diehard DMB fan, but now living in southwest Florida, and bereft of his regular Dave fix–counts down, and sends me regular emails with concert stats, links to DMB articles, schedules, set lists, album release information. Nagging, really. To make sure that we don’t miss the performance (“Guys, PLEASE go to Saturday night’s show…It was the fastest sell out of the entire tour.”), and everything that it represents.

While I still look forward to DMB concerts as the true harbinger of summer, I have come to appreciate Dave and friends more from afar. Just outside the SPAC gates. Away from the noisy throngs. With the other “grownups”, who are content to spread out on the park lawn, sipping our shrouded beers–or perhaps now some Dreaming Tree wine–and reliving happy memories of concerts past. This is how we roll now…but don’t tell anyone our secret.

(I am also tickled to find “work appropriate” versions of DMB on Spotify, for the soundtrack of my professional day. DMB in lullaby, yoga-fied, classical piano, even bluegrass.)

The other day, I ran into my old boss from the Gideon Putnam Hotel. He had been a DMB fan, too. He’d even given me a live cassette recording of that 1998 SPAC show. We hadn’t seen each other in over a decade. Still, he remembered that Dave day.

“You know, I still have a copy of that picture you had taken with Dave Matthews. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone so happy about anything, then or since.”

Rock on. Welcome back, boys. And hello-o-o-o-o, Summer.

Have a favorite DMB concert moment or memory? Share it!
 
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Library Lobby Day, or Spending 6 hours in a marble mausoleum

15 Mar

Legislative Office Building, Albany NY | Photo by Dan Lurie

 Squandering the day where good ideas go to die
 

Rambling

Last week, I had an opportunity to participate in The Political Process: I lobbied. It was a last-minute request from my boss. “Do I have to speak?” “No, we just need to show our strength in numbers.” “Is lunch included?” “Sure.” Alrighty then.

I was there with other public library professionals from all over New York State. Our common goal was to meet face-to-face with our respective legislators, keeping State library funding “top of mind” as our 212 elected officials entered into their annual budget negotiations. We were armed with “talking points” and library statistics–increased visits by the public, dwindling funding levels, how the community uses library resources–ostensibly to share with each legislator, to hammer home the need to keep these institutions adequately funded.

In theory, this approach sounded reasonable. In practice, however, it looked/felt/sounded a lot more like this:

We had appointments to meet with about a half-dozen senators and assembly(wo)men throughout the day. This involved spending about six hours shuffling through the dingy, depressing, windowless, fluorescent-lit halls of the Legislative Office Building, the imposing marble structure pictured at the top of this post. The LOB is a massive, unapproachable, mausoleum-like building, vintage 1970s ugly, conceived and built at a time when everyone involved in design and architecture was stone cold trippin’. The LOB is one of several similar structures that comprise the Empire State Plaza. The Plaza houses our state government and related agencies, and resembles a vast, cold, marble whitehead on the pocked, pimpled face of our esteemed capital city, just begging to be popped. It was developed and constructed over the course of nearly 20 years–and at a cost of a few billion dollars and thousands of displaced Albanians–in an attempt to give the much-maligned Albany some semblance of a skyline. I loathe it.

But I digress. Back to the LOB: The exterior and first few interior levels of this building are of marble. More marble than should be legal in any civic, religious, or private structure. I think a whole corner of Vermont must have been forsaken to extract this quantity of the stuff.

Mounting the marble stairway in the LOB lower levels. Marble, marble everywhere!

Even in the utility stairwells, marble. We spent a lot of time on Lobby Day going between floors using the stairs; never has a place had such few, slow, crowded, pungent elevators.

Let's take the stairs! Hey, look...more marble.

But mount to the upper floors where our legislators and their aides occupy space, and enter into the office equivalent of a sensory-deprivation tank.

Hospital? Insane asylum? Millenium Falcon? Waiting for the storm troopers...

And that’s when it hit me: This is why our elected officials are so ineffective. This is why New York State can never pass an on-time budget. This is why our legislators are so cranky and uncreative. It’s this bloody building. A mausoleum where good intentions and ideas go to die a slow death, suffocated by marble, and fluorescent lights, and…wood paneling. Oh, yeah. Wood paneling.

We shuffle into the inner office of one of our tenured state senators, a highly respected gentleman sporting a brown leisure suit that, like the LOB, was likely built in the 1970s. He matches his walls. He talks about himself, about all he’s done for his constituents. He tells us he’s been “doing this for 36 years, which is more time than all the women in the room have been alive.” For reals. (Eyeroll/gag/Oh brother!) He wants to know all of our names, and where we’re from. But he doesn’t get around to asking us why we’re packed into his office, why we think libraries are so important, why he should support library funding in the 2012-13 budget. He’s a supporter. We should know that. (Repeat of all that he’s done for us over 36 years…is he running for re-election?)

Wood, sitting at wood, in front of wood, dressed like wood, speaking like wood.

I grow bored. Behind me is a window. A window! Daylight! Sort of. The view out this senator’s window is, well, dirty. But it’s a beautiful day. I can see three people ice skating in the recently re-opened Plaza rink. I can see The Egg, the football-shaped performing arts center/amphitheatre. At the far end of the Plaza, the NYS Museum, a perpetual grade school class field trip destination about which I briefly wax nostalgic. And as far as the eye can see, you guessed it: marble. Steel, and glass, and marble.

The White Wonder: Empire State Plaza. Left foreground: The Egg. Middle: Base of Corning Tower, the tallest building in New York State...outside of NYC. At the far end of the Plaza: NYS State Museum and Library/Archives.

Our time with this senator ends. A glimpse at our itinerary tells us it’s time to visit with our assemblyman. But he’s not there. Instead, we plead our case to a legislative aide who is, on the outside, 20.

This was all I could see of our assemblyman's aide. His windowless, wood-paneled office was too crowded, so I had a better view of my co-worker's fabulous head of hair.

Outside the assemblyman’s office sit two more aides. One, I think, is very focused on his Facebook page. The other is munching on potato chips and trying to engage his aide-in-arms in silly talk. While the cat is away…

"Dude! Yo, dude!" Our tax dollars at work? Or hapless unpaid interns?

We exit this assemblyman’s office. I look back at the cheap placard outside his office suite. I muse over his title, and all the various titles of his co-legislators as I walk the LOB halls, reading the lists of committees in which the various senators and assembly(w0)men participate, wondering just how anything in government ever gets accomplished. Mental note for when back in the office: Look up what exactly a “whip” is/does

Whip it...whip it good!

Six or seven appointments, and a quick lunch in what is essentially the Plaza’s basement, and our “lobbying” is done. A half-hour later, we are back at the office. The Library. I reflect that, in this silly season of politicking, my glance at the democratic doings in New York’s capitol is less than inspiring. But one thing sticks with me. As I pass through the hushed reading room on the way to my office at our library the next morning, drinking in the light from the lofty windows, marveling at row upon row of stacks, glimpsing all the different titles and appreciating the manifold interests they represent–1000 Sensational Makeovers, Lasagna Gardening, Bush’s Brain, Riding the Iron Rooster, Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?–I recall something said by Leisure-Suit Senator: “Libraries are like the cathedrals of learning.” True dat, Senator. Amen.

"Libraries are like the cathedrals of learning." -Leisure-Suit Senator

How to win a cooking contest

21 Feb

Rambling

This past Saturday, I was in my first live cooking contest. It was part of an annual food bank fundraiser–the Mac & Cheese Bowl–hosted by a food critic and blogger for our local newspaper. Now in its third year, the event draws about 2,000 people who crowd a Marriott ballroom on a mid-winter Saturday to sample a variety of macaroni and cheese recipes from 30 or so area restaurants. Before the doors open to the carb-clamoring public, a handful of pre-qualified “home cooks” shows up with ready-to-eat original recipes for a panel of judges to taste. This year, I was among the 10 finalists, chosen for my Muumuu Mac & Cheese recipe. I did not walk away a winner, but do share these tongue-in-cheek tips for how to win, based on the success of the now two-time Mac & Cheese Bowl “home cooks” champion, a ringer named Christian Noe.

#1. Be tall, aloof, and too cool for contests.

Notice the J.Crew dude amidst us rag-tag amateurs? He knows he’s already got this thing in the bag. He’s done this before. Laid back, unassuming, just-rolled-out-of-bed casual. Yet possessed of that certain celebrity “aura” and quiet confidence. He was the last to arrive and set up his dish. The rest of us in this motley crew were on time, eager, chatty. He rolled up almost fashionably late, taking his place at the home cooks’ table as we fellow competitors looked on with a sort of hushed reverence at last year’s title holder. Classic winner power play.

#2. Don’t have too much fun.

As we were arriving at the venue and hustling to set up promptly as instructed, Hubby gently mocked my earnestness, even comparing me to Little Miss Sunshine. Personally, the experience felt a bit more Westminster Kennel Club. As we posed for the cameras, I turned to the fun fellows beside me, two guys from Manhattan who were competing as a sort of challenge to their winner friend Christian, masking my insecurity as I often do (with humor) by querying: “So, do you think the judges are going to, you know, cup our groins like they do at those dog shows?”

#3. Make a dish that gives a subliminal directive to the judges.

In this case, the winning dish sported a “churro garnish”. To me, it looked like an edible “#1”. Or like a mocking “we’re #1” finger pointed skyward. Or like an exclamation point at the end of “Pick me! Pick me!”

 

 

#4. Already be somebody, so that the judges can be confident that they are not picking a “flash-in-the-pan” contestant. 

Apparently, having your own catering business does not disqualify you as a “home cook” at the Mac & Cheese Bowl (at least, not until next year). So, if you can pull it off, establish a company, call it “Nighthawk’s Kitchen”, and have a loyal posse show up with sweatshirts bearing your business name. Instant dedicated cheering section when you are announced as the winner.

#5. Have friends who really can cook, and will still be your friends, even when you win with a dish that is clearly inferior to theirs.

I never expected to win this contest with my submission (so please don’t interpret this post as a case of sour grapes). But I didn’t expect the defending champion to win either. “Nighthawk” Noe’s dish was mediocre at best. On paper, Christian’s recipe looked good. But in presentation? Just awful. It really needed that silly churro to stand out, since it lacked any sort of flavor except “spicy”. While the home cooks’ dishes were not offered to the general public for tasting, we all tasted each other’s once our samples had been served to the panel of judges. Each dish was so different, how to choose a winner? No apples-to-apples comparison. But on taste and uniqueness, the gents from Manhattan who giggled at my groin joke should have won. It is with hats off to them that I share their recipe here.

Roast

Tequila Mac & Cheese

by David Press & Tim Scholler

Ingredients

  • 8 oz. Spanish chorizo, casings removed, diced
  • 4 jalapenos, diced (or one 4-oz. jar of jalapenos, drained)
  • 3-1/2 c. half-n-half
  • 1/2  c. Mezcal or Anejo tequila
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 lb. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
  • 1 lb. sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 lb. cavatelli pasta, cooked per package directions and drained
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1-1/2 c. crushed tortilla chips
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • In an airtight bag, crush the tortilla chips into small pieces and set aside.
  • If using fresh jalapenos, slice the jalapenos in half lengthwise, removing the seeds and all of the white parts. Place the jalapenos on a baking sheet in the center rack of the oven and roast for 12-15 minutes, turning once. Once cooled, dice the jalapenos and seat aside.
  • Heat frying pan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Once the olive oil is heated, add the chorizo and cook 2-3 minutes until lightly browned. Set aside.
  • Heat the half-n-half in a small sauce pan, but don’t boil it.
  • Separately, melt (4) tablespoons butter in a large pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the warm half-n-half, tequila, and mustard, and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth.
  • Remove the mixture from the heat and add the cheeses, jalapenos, and chorizo. Add the cooked cavatelli and stir well.
  • Pour into a 3-quart baking dish. Sprinkle crushed tortilla chips evenly over the top.
  • Melt the remaining (4) tablespoons of butter over low heat, add the crushed garlic, and let it infuse in the butter for 2-3 minutes. Discard the garlic and drizzle the butter over the top of the crushed tortilla chips.
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly.

Resolved

2 Jan

“New Year, New You.”

After 37 (or is it 38?) January 1sts, I should know better. Resolutions are fooey. Most are broken within days (if not hours) of being made. And yet every year, like millions of others who suffer from delusions of miraculous self-transformation–brought about, no doubt, by marathon-watching of Twilight Zone episodes, celebrity “Best/Worst-of-the-Year” highlights on E!, and hypnotic infomercials about the latest diet/exercise gizmo/youth serum in the run-up to that mystical midnight moment–I resolve. To be a better, thinner, smarter, healthier, kinder version of me. After midnight.

Bullshit.

I dig deeper into this word that takes on fresh, new meaning every January, and becomes as overused on the covers of women’s magazines as “fabulous”. I find at my very favorite and most oft-used website, dictionary.com (yup, I’m a nerd):

res·o·lu·tion, rɛzəˈluʃən/[rez-uh-loo-shuhn], noun: the act of resolving or determining upon an action or course of action, method, procedure, etc.; the mental state or quality of being resolved or resolute; firmness of purpose; a solution, accommodation, or settling of a problem, controversy, etc.; Music . the progression of a voice part or of the harmony as a whole from a dissonance to a consonance; reduction to a simpler form; conversion; Medicine/Medical. the reduction or disappearance of a swelling or inflammation without suppuration. Origin: 1350–1400; Middle English

The first thing I think when I read through the definition is that, prior to the late 14th century, people didn’t worry about making New Year’s resolutions because the word didn’t yet exist. Lucky bastards. The second thing I think is that “suppuration” sounds like a really gross thing (looked that up, and Google imaged it, and it is).

English: Dominant seventh tritone resolution

Image via Wikipedia

But mostly I focus on the musical definition. “The progression…from a dissonance to a consonance.” I like that. That’s the approach I have decided to take to this New Year. To gather my thoughts, opinions, experiences, and habits, and shepherd them via this blog to achieve that progression. To be consonant.

From what I hear/read, blogs are supposed to have a point, a focus, cover an area of expertise. I can’t claim to be expert in anything, and interest and relevancy to any audience are, well, relative. So I enter into this with me as the core audience, and will be tickled if anyone else out there takes the time to read/follow/comment. As its focus, and as the title conveys, my blog will cover:

  • Ramblings–Be they road trips or just random thoughts (I engage in a lot of both); and
  • Roasts–Of both the culinary and the critical persuasion (I love to cook, but love even more to eat; I love to complain and criticize, too, but rarely about anything food-related…just everything else).

So, in 2012, with just enough time to spare before the world comes to an end, my resolution: To write, to read and be read, to record my daily doings for whatever purpose this might serve. And hopefully not to experience any sort of suppuration. Cheers.

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