Friday, May 29, 2009

Argentines: the alpha-grillers

With all the recent hype about full-animal feasts, livestock meet-and-eats, and outer-borough barbecues, it seems timely to bring up an amazing Argentine tradition with which many Americans may be unfamiliar: the asado.

Argentines love their parillas, sturdy brick grills, but it's the ground-based cooking where they really shine -- specifically the asado a la cruz, which involves flaying and crucifying entire pigs and slow-roasting them over open beds of embers. When I lived in Buenos Aires as a kid, I would walk past restaurants (on the street, or occasionally even in shopping malls) and be mesmerized by the sight of the asados on display in the window. (It's very telling that, in the U.S., you have to read a book to find out how your food is made. In Argentina, they wear it on their sleeve -- along with everything else.)

There is no cooking process more communal than an asado a la cruz. You know the feeling of sitting around a fire in silence, watching the flames dance off the pulsing embers? Imagine that, but with pork.

The question, of course, is how to do this in an urban area, since many of us city folk don't have yards, or gigantic iron crucibles. Apparently there may be some answers in a cookbook coming out this summer from superstar Patagonian chef Francis Mallmann (I know, nothing about his name says "Patagonia" to me, either). His book, Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way, covers asados, and while he probably doesn't have much experience in city grilling, I'm sure his methods can be adapted for our purposes. Anyone want to donate their back yard? (Or better yet, anyone who works at Artisan Publishers want to donate a copy of the book?) As enticement, here's another photo showing a slight variation on the theme:

You know you want it.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The second-best use for goats

Anyone who's been to a barbecue at my apartment in the past few months knows that I have developed a mild culinary obsession with goat meat after reading a spectacular article on the topic by Henry Alford for the New York Times Dining Section. I was originally drawn to the article because Henry uses the word "sexytime" (yes, as one word) in the second paragraph, and I wanted to know who could possibly get away with writing such an amazing thing in our paper of record.

It quickly became clear to me that Henry was onto something. I've since started getting ground goat meat from a halal butcher on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, and making goat-burgers laden with curry powder, cumin, green onions, parsley, sage, basil, and whatever else I have lying around. I then stuff them with chevre. Kosher, it is not, but it makes for one of the best burgers I've had since I was almost killed by a Peter Luger's bacon burger a few months back. (If the Bacon Hamburger Fatty Melt didn't get me, Luger, what made you think you could?)

Anyway, Mitsubishi Motors in New Zealand has obviously caught onto the goat fad, because they're now offering a free goat with the purchase of their bizarre-looking Triton pickup. This may seem strange at first, but their director of sales and marketing explains things: "Goats," he says, "like our Tritons, are hardy, versatile units, which will integrate directly into existing farm operations."

Science tells us that any person who calls a living creature a "unit" is ten times more likely to kiss his wife goodnight through Saran wrap. You know what would help him with that? Eating some goat.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Giant steps in bathroom reading, spectacularly gross book titles

A scatological shocker from Japan: Koji Suzuki, the author of The Ring, has written a new novella called Drop that's printed on rolls of toilet paper. It's marketed as "a horror experience in the toilet," and can be had for about $2.20, which I guess is kind of a steal, since we pay about that much for eco-friendly T.P. in the U.S. anyway, and the only reading material we get is the self-congratulatory copy on the wrapper.

That's not a chair, by the way. Just look at how bored she is! If only she had remembered to bring something to read...

Seriously, though, I didn't know toilet paper was still used in Japan; I could have sworn that when I was over there in 2007, their toilets had advanced well beyond such an antiquated mode of hygiene. I remember one combination toilet-bidet that played music when you sat on it. Those were the days.

Anyway, I'm surprised the Germans didn't think of this first; Wetlands would have been perfect in this format.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Chris Garneau plays on a barge; I somehow prevent myself from screaming "I'm on a boat!" halfway through his set

Though last night was my first time seeing him perform, I'll bet Chris Garneau is awesome in any setting -- but put him in front of a Steinway on a reconditioned coffee barge, with the Manhattan skyline swaying in the background, and he's pretty damn near perfect.

Chris's music walks a fine line between the adult and the infantile; his vocals are ethereal and lilting, always gentle, often playful, and sometimes overwhelmingly sad. The guy was literally overcome by emotion while singing "Leaving Song" -- I swear he was wiping tears from his face as he took his applause.

Toward the end of his second set, he asked the crowd to join him in singing "Happy Birthday" to his mother, who was in the audience. "I practiced," he said in his barely audible speaking voice, before plinking out the song on the piano. Chris, that I were half the son you are. (Thanks to the Music Slut for the above photo.)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Trial by Ex

Best book review format ever: The Rumpus just posted a critique of Jonathan Segura's new novel Occupational Hazards -- a critique written by his ex-girlfriend. It's absolutely hilarious. And (more importantly, or perhaps resultantly) it actually makes me want to read the book.

Katie Crouch is an author herself, and in her review she gives as much attention to her failed relationship with Segura (and to Segura himself) as to his novel. Not everything she has to say is nice, but in the end she takes the high road. Sort of:

Jonny and I had a good, poisonous time together, and things like that need to end. As for the book, it’s smart, brave, and filthy, and more people should read it. I’m proud to have Jonny on the shelf.

You know you're a good writer when you get a thumbs-up from someone who (at one point, at least) hated your guts. I'm totally tracking down a copy.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Breaking news: 71.3% of people are dumb

Myself included, apparently. Students are Hunter College have formalized their observational study of New York cyclists, and guess what? The overwhelming majority of us ride like idiots. As Gothamist notes, almost 30% or the cyclists observed didn't wear helmets, 10% rode against traffic, nearly 30% didn't use marked bike lanes when they were available, and almost 4% rode on the sidewalk.

It's arguably this last figure that's most upsetting, as a cop I once knew pointed out. Bikes are perfectly capable of killing pedestrians -- especially small children, who're quick-footed and naturally camouflaged.

Also, nearly 40% of riders blew red lights, and roughly 29% paused before running the light (admittedly, I fall somewhere in between -- what can I say? I like the ring of "California stop"). But I think the most interesting finding is that cyclists who wear a helmet are more likely to stop or pause at a red light. It's a state of mind, folks.

This is why you're not dead

Because you cannot even conceive of what I'm about to show you -- much less eat it. But, in the Tradition of This Is Why You're Fat, Adam Kuban over at A Hamburger Today dreamt it up. (Whether he ate it is a different story.) Behold, the Bacon Hamburger Fatty Melt:

Yes, that's a bacon burger with two bacon grilled-cheese sandwiches as buns. Before you ask: No, I haven't tried it. And yes, I plan on making it tonight. If you don't see a post from me tomorrow, call my super -- I've gone to the burger joint in the sky.

P.S.: There's a double-decker version, too -- not having a death wish, I'm going to steer clear of this one:

Monday, May 18, 2009

Happy etymology day

Since most Mondays my brain is about as quick as cold molasses, I'm going to try to insitute a weekly post on the etymology of up-and-coming phrases. I met a guy last night who is compiling a dictionary of regional smoking terms (they call cigarettes "squares" in places besides Massachusetts, apparently). That'll provide fodder for next week, hopefully. Today, our topic is "le sigh."

Anyone who's spent four or more hours on the internet (or has ever had a conversation with my friend Andrew) is probably familiar with the phrase "le sigh." It's one of those melancholy, post-irony catchalls that can be adapted to fit almost any situation. Your latest crush has a boyfriend? Le sigh. Sardines and Wonder Bread for dinner again? Le sigh. Homeless lady peed on your new loafers on the morning commute? Ok, an hysterical scream might be warranted in that last one, but you get the point.

("Le sigh" is such a useful phrase that Andrew imposed a weeklong moratorium on its usage two Sundays ago. Andrew, you've been off the wagon for about a day now -- how does it feel?)

Anyway, "le sigh" is a handy phrase. Right, you say; big deal. But get this: I went through the massive journalistic undertaking of looking the phrase up on Urban Dictionary, and discovered that its originator is none other than the Looney Tunes character Pepe LePew (pictured, above, pretending to be a possum).

Basically, this whole "le" meme just blew wide open for me. So let me just say that I had le fun this weekend at le pig roast in le Bed-Stuy, and now have to get back to le work. Booyah.

Friday, May 15, 2009

ZOMG, a new Slice post!

Breaking: My biweekly contribution to Slice magazine's lit blog is up. Just thought you'd like to know. There's lots of cursing, but I censored myself a bit, so you can still read it at your desk and not blush or get fired.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

On second thought, I'll have a glass of that Jesus juice. In fact, make it five.

Sure, there were some super-weird skeletons in Michael Jackson's closet when an auction house aired it out at the Beverly Hilton in L.A., but I'm not going to say anything disparaging about the King of Pop. I'm just going to post this, and be done with it.

Believe it or not, one of my cousins looks kind of like that. I am never. Sleeping. Again.

Frito Lay goes locavore; I choke to death on a ramp

It was only a matter of time before "local" went the way of "organic," as a legitimate qualifier of food. But if you believe this article in yesterday's Times, corporations are gobbling up the movement's legitimacy faster than an obese toddler scarfing a pack of Oreos.

The Best Quote award goes to a ConAgra flack for this priceless justification of big business's meddling:
"The problem is there is absolutely no way we can have local produce within 100 miles of every person in America."

Er ... really? Sure, if you like in Wisconsin you're probably going to be eating a lot more cornmeal and fried cheese than grapefruits and avacadoes, but edible things do grow in every part of the country, and eating them might just be the price we have to pay for having a sustainable diet. But to tell someone in Madison that the mango they're eating is "local" because it was grown fifty miles from the processing plant in Brazil, well -- let's just say it kind of defeats the purpose.

Good news for books; magazines, not so much

The publishing-reporting agency Bowker just released an interesting report on book consumption, which quantifies trends that most of us were already aware of:
  • 45% of Americans aged 13 and over read books
  • The average age of reader is 44, and 58% of them are women
  • 41% of book purchasers earn less than $35k a year
  • The average price paid for a book is $10.08
  • The average book buyer spends about 5 hours a week reading, vs. roughly 15 hours spent online
  • 54.1% of readers found out about books through the internet, vs. 15.7% who learned of it through periodicals
So half of the adult population of America reads books ... but, predictably, as an auxiliary to reading online. And, if people's source for book news is any indication of broader trends, anyone who still works at a print periodical should probably start saying a Kaddish. Or at least try to switch into the web department.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

And God said, Let lasers shoot forth from the cat's eyes ... and it was good

I've just wrapped up a review of Moondagger, the full-band debut of Detroit electro-pop group Deastro, and I had to bite my tongue (fingers?) to keep from writing more about their first album, Keepers, than about Moondagger. I mean, really -- the cover of Keepers deserves a review in of itself.

Yes, that's a space-cat (painted by off-the-wall Bay Area artist Jesse Balmer), and yes, it's shooting laser beams out of not one, not two, but three eyes.

Keepers is a superb electronic album, on par with (though a bit more unrestrained than) Moondagger. Some of its tracks (like "The Shaded Forests") made it onto Moondagger as bonuses, but others -- like the spectacularly soporific "Michael, the Lone Archer of the North Shore" -- are exclusive to this album, making it a must-have for anyone who gets swept up in this band the way I've been.

I'm especially a fan of Keepers' double-whammy of "LIGHT POWERED" and "WIND POWERED," two unconventionally slamming thrash tunes that echo Crystal Castles and Anamanaguchi. (In fact, Deastro's got a whole slew of "POWERED" tracks -- enough to merit a separate MySpace page, the logo of which is also amazing. But I digress.)

Deastro has already bookended Moondagger (out June 23rd) with a flashy, free-download EP called Grower, which takes its cues from the "Powered" tracks, but takes their cascading-synth style in a quieter, more nuanced direction. I wholeheartedly recommend it, as with the rest of the band's rapidly growing oeuvre. I mean, when the 22-year-old Wunder-frontman behind these tracks looks like this, how could I not?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Robert Moses would be spinning in his grave

That was a pun, by the way. But seriously, I'm hoping the Big Apple will follow the lead of a little German suburb I've just read about.

The town in question, Vauban, has all but outlawed cars. Granted, it's only 0.32% the size of New York City, and has 0.06% of its population -- but still: awesome.

Sheldon Silver, take note. Apparently Vauban is one of a growing number of bike-friendly New Urban communities (they call this subset of the movement "smart planning," terminology that I think Jane Jacobs would approve of). Kind of makes me want to strike out for the great interior and try to find one of these utopias. For the moment, though, I'm going to sit tight and hope that NYC can take a hint.

Oh sure, you wonder where food would come from, and how we'd maintain a normal urban infrastructure with only bikes. To which I say two things: Vertical farms. And rickshaw ambulances. (Sorry, I don't have a link for that last one ... yet.)

Dear Ryan Muir: please take me with you wherever you go

I recently noted that Olof Arnalds was opening for Bjork and the Dirty Projectors' exclusive show at Housing Works in SoHo, and I just found photographic proof that this concert occurred. It was heartbreaking.

The show was shot by Ryan Muir, who besides being a nice, laid-back fellow is (in my humble opinion) one of the best concert photographers in Brooklyn at the moment. Seriously, when they write the (music) history books, this dude will be providing the images. Take the above shot of his, for instance. Not necessarily a feat of photographic genius, but definitely daring; I was under the impression that your head would explode if you got this close to Bjork. Maybe he was using a telescopic lens.

Ryan, next time [sob], please let me be your plus-one. You won't have to worry about me -- I'll just shadow David Byrne the whole time.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

DC, you hurt so good

Dropped down to the District of Columbia this weekend to visit my pal Nate, and it's safe to say I won't be eating again til Wednesday.

My stomach tends to be my primary means of travel, and this weekend's theme was soul food. In our thirty-two-hour culinary whistlestop, we hit three DC notables: Ben's Chili Bowl for half-smoke chili dogs; Oohs and Aahs for fried catfish, mac and cheese, collards, and slipping-off-the-bone beef short ribs; and Florida Avenue Grill for pillowy hotcakes, scrapple, cheese grits, corned beef hash, and sweet tea.

But the real standout meal was our own Sunday afternoon barbecue, stocked from the DC Farmers Market (which must be a misnomer, as I'm pretty sure no farmer has set foot in there; the chicken above is totally from Perdue). We had rough-cut cole slaw, lemonade and a few PBRs, a mint-watermelon salad, and ten pounds of baby-back ribs.

Granted, I felt like I was going to die afterward (as with every other down-home meal I had this weekend), but I figure I have another year or two before gout or diabetes set in, so I might as well punish myself while I can -- I'm already planning my next trip. Thanks, Nate.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Things I love: Women

No, you pervert -- the band. My dear friend and musical mentor Ian King introduced me to them recently, and I've been listening to nothing else for the past week (rain hitting an air conditioner doesn't count). Their style is dreamlike, impeccably composed, and makes tasteful use of serialization. Basically, they're like a pre-Merriweather Post Pavilion Animal Collective, except I actually enjoy listening to them.

That's right, I said it.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Desperate times needn't call for desperate concert-going

I haven't started the apple-core-and-rainwater-smoothie regimen quite yet, but I'll be on it by mid-July if my bank balance keeps plummeting like this. Timely, then, that Oh My Rockness just released a fuller list of free summer shows in New York.

The schedule really takes off on Monday, May 18th, when Golden Shoulders plays Pete's Candy Store. I've just got my hands on a copy of their upcoming album Get Reasonable, and Adam Kline has really outdone himself. I'm sure they'll be showcasing music from their new LP on the 18th, but really, as long as they play "I Will Light You On Fire," I'll be happy.

Other notables on the list include (deep breath) Iron and Wine, Francis and the Lights, Blonde Redhead, Here We Go Magic, Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band, Matt & Kim, The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, They Might Be Giants (yes, I'm still a fan), M83's Anthony Gonzalez, Q-Tip, Built to Spill, Micachu and the Shapes, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, M. Ward, Crystal Stilts, and -- drumroll -- Yeasayer and Amazing Baby.

Whew. Charity has never sounded so good. Now if this rain would just let up, we'd be in business.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Food + music = wish I thought of that

I've been sort of stumped about how to combine food-writing and music-writing on this humble blog, but this writerly burden may be a blessing, because if I had any video skills whatsoever I'd just start a two-bit knockoff of Jennifer Robbins' Cooking With Rockstars series. If there's a better idea out there, I have yet to hear it.

I caught half of St. Vincent's set at Union Square's doomed Virgin location yesterday, and of course now I'm totally head-over-heels for Annie Clark. That was before I saw this video; now, she'll need to take out a restraining order. I mean, that pistachios-in-pancakes trick? Two words: Dream. Woman.

At long last, the musical equivalent of a grand mal seizure

"Thrash" seems like the best descriptor for the new genre of aggressive, midi-inspired electronic music coming out these days, and I'm going ahead and using it now to describe Brooklyn electro-rockers Anamanaguchi. Their music could very well be an Atari soundtrack, except it'd give an entire generation of gamers brain hemorrhages. Appropriately, one of their instruments is a hacked Super Nintendo from the mid-eighties:

It's basically an entire band that sounds like Crystal Castles' "Alice Practice," but with better melodies and without all the yelling. Looks like they're playing Europa this Friday; if you go, remember to bring a mouthguard and helmet.

This is why I don't submit more of my writing for publication

Because, like British sitcom character Bernard Black, I just can't handle rejection. It's also why I cross myself every morning before going to work at a publishing house. A flugelhorn? I don't stand a chance.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dear Swedes: enough, already

Seriously, I can't take it much longer. I just got my hands on the Loney Dear album (which, yeah, is apparently old news, but I never said I was with it), and it's blowing my gourd; I'm about to renounce my American passport and start breaststroking for Gothenburg. Being the musical turncoat that I am, I thought I'd try to incite the rest of you to treason with a video:

(A.) Love the intro, and all those jump cuts keep me engaged despite the fact that he spends all but the last 25 seconds of the video in a car, a mode of transportation with which I don't have much truck these days. (B.) This is going to sound totally crazy, I can't listen to this track without thinking of both Warren G's "Regulate" and the "South American Getaway" song from the Butch Cassidy soundtrack. I think I need a new brain.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Every single plant in the history of the world, ever

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is holding its annual plant sale on Wednesday and Thursday of this week; there's a special members-only session tomorrow morning but I probably won't be able to get into it because my membership card was lost in the mail, so look for me picking over the leftovers with the rest of the plebes.

Still, there should be a lot to choose from; the BBG boasts it's stocking "every kind of plant, both for indoors and outdoors," which is good because I've been looking for a healthy titan arum to ward off that Chinese-food deliveryman who keeps slipping menus under my door.

Anyway, the sale may have come a little late for Littlefield; I just ordered a Meyer lemon from, which turns out to be a total shot in the foot since they're out of stock until June. So if you see a Meyer at the BBG, give it some extra loving on my behalf.

The awesome South African dance track that ruined my weekend

A friend introduced me to South Africa's DJ Mujava last August, but I had all but forgotten him until I heard "Township Funk" playing at Trophy Bar a few nights ago. I momentarily mistook him for Crystal Castles (which I tend to think of as the gold standard of electronic music, so I can give no better endorsement). I was happy to get reacquainted, and to revisit the slithering dance moves in the song's video.

And then I listened to it one too many times, and had that infectuous synth hook stuck in my head for the rest of the weekend. Handle with care, people -- if I start whistling the refrain one more time, I won't have a single friend left.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The third Paper: kind of like 'The Fifth Element,' except the singer isn't blue

Are you familiar with Paper, dear reader? No, not the pressed-pulp product on which you may still write the occasional grocery list (assuming you're like me and don't have an iPhone). And no, not the tastefully designed magazine of the same name. You're not going to guess it, so I'll just tell you: I'm talking about Paper, the post-punk, pretty much post-everything-else band from Stockholm.

That's right -- Sweden again! Only this time, it's not their fault; Paper badly wants to be from the States, as evinced by their English lyrics and stylistic nods to Joy Division. Wait, Britain had both of those first? Well, I suppose we all have to start somewhere.

I had the good fortune of seeing Paper play at the Cake Shop a while back, and they really lit the place on fire; it was a welcome reminder that a band can take its cues from Joy Division and still be completely electrifying live. (Crystal Stilts, I love you, but onstage you're about as exciting as a crushed-up Quaalude in a glass of warm milk -- which, come to think of it, is kind of exciting. Never mind.)

I'm especially a fan of the guitar-driven "My Life is Going Under" -- even the title gets to me. Do I have to be from Sweden to use English like that? Anyway, this is dark, downbeat stuff, and it might be a little too much for the average listener to handle on such a dark, downbeat afternoon. But if you're feeling brave, don't dally; these guys popped up in New York and then dropped off the face of the earth, as far as I'm concerned.

So have a listen before Paper turns into a pumpkin -- or rather, New Order. And thanks to Jens Johansson for the above photo.

Round two from Raleigh: a welcome tickler

I'm sure this is old news, but I just can't figure out The Rosebuds. I'd been seeing them in the Friends sections of a lot of musicians' MySpace pages, and decided to have a listen. Now I'm just perplexed -- but in a titillating way, like when you're eyeballing a cute girl on the subway and then notice her face tattoo.

Another guy-and-girl group from Raleigh (I promise they'll be the last this week), The Rosebuds have ties with folk acts like Bon Iver and The Bowerbirds, so you might expect them to fall on the folksy end of the spectrum. You would be wrong. Sure, there are songs like "Nice Fox" that are every bit as woodsy as they sound -- but then, like the bunnies trying to cross the highway in Watership Down, you get broadsided by some eighteen-wheeler of a club track like "Can't Believe It's Life Like."

Once I scraped myself off the pavement, I was astounded by their range. "Boxcar" has mid-nineties, post-shoegaze echoes; and with its synth-driven hook and simple, plaintive melody, "Get Up Get Out" could be a Black Kids song, except Ivan Howards vocals are a bit more studied and, well, adult than Reggie Youngblood's.

Confusing, to be sure, but not at all unpleasant. Just look both ways before you take the first step.