21 November 2014

'Tis the season...how to hate the airport a little less (hopefully)

Most of my travel in any given year is to go somewhere and perform a show, maybe give a master class, maybe give a talk on music entrepreneurship.  This kind of travel is OK; I end up in the airport during the week, generally between the hours of 9am and 4pm, and most of the people waiting to go through security with me are individual business travelers.  Now, they can be pretty tedious, always shouting into their phones and jerking out their arms to sigh at their wristwatches, but they do know the drill, and that makes everything flow a lot smoother for everybody.  There is also the fact that you simply have numbers on your side; there are no large families and no national guilt trips driving everyone to the airport at the same time to eat the same overcooked turkey, if you get my drift.  Denver International Airport, my home base, is quite large and often very busy, but it's a pretty serene place on a Thursday at 2pm.  

When I do travel for the holidays, it is like being swung around rapidly by a total stranger and then punched in the face. Hard.  It doesn't matter how slick I think I am at the airport, it is a completely different place the day before Thanksgiving. It is an ugly place.  People who travel so infrequently that they are mesmerized and confused by all the directions at security and small children who can't carry anything or even take off their own shoes are particularly hard to be behind in line, but that's about all I ever see this time of year. Everyone at the airport hates being alive in the days leading up to and immediately following a major family-oriented holiday, from security to the gate clerks.  Here's how I try to cope (and I beg of you, fair readers, if you have any other tips, please share them in the comment section below.  There is no such thing as too many coping techniques this time of year.):

GETTING WHAT YOU WANT. There is no guarantee that you will get anything you want this holiday season, but I can guarantee you will be treated like a criminal if you show an attitude.  Repeat the mantra "I'm so lucky this isn't my job" over and over in your head while you are dealing respectfully (and pityingly) with harried airport personnel, and try a little play acting by adopting the "Kindly Brontosaurus" posture. (I've been using this a lot, and it really works, even if it looks silly.) Above all, DO NOT act like a head case who's about to throw a temper tantrum.  You will be seen as a violent enemy of the state. 

DISTRACT YOURSELF. You're stuck waiting in a crowded, noisy, uncomfortable seating area near your gate.  People who sound like they are literally swallowing the microphone scream what sounds like pertinent information, but you really have no idea how to decipher it.  Everyone who has ever procreated in the last six months anywhere in your state is taking the same plane as you, and they all think the aisle between rows of seats is a reasonable place to change a diaper.  What can you do? 

  • PLAY WITH YOUR PHONE. I'm an android person, so pardon my non-Apple-centric advice here.  If you can tap into free WiFi at your airport, you can watch YouTube for free, or Hulu, Netflix, Amazon or Google Play movies for a fee.  Podcast apps abound (I like Podcast Addict and NPR Podcast), and so do news apps, which help you avoid the constant CNN running everywhere overhead (try Ted Conferences to get sucked into something inspiring on a long wait, Slate for a little junk food while you're waiting to board the plane.) And of course, don't forget to load some appropriate music before you leave the house. 

  • EAT, DRINK, AND BE MERRY. Airports are not known for their great prices and competitive dining, but they're trying to do better.  And honestly, your aunt's Thanksgiving meal is still going to be worse, and your grandparents don't have a liquor cabinet.  I blogged a while ago about some honestly good places to drop your money in some of my frequented airports; share some of your own in the comments section below! 

  • GET SOME REST/EXERCISE. Those prayer rooms tucked away in major airports don't get used all that often.  Be respectful, but if the place is deserted, this is a great opportunity to do some stretches, yoga, breathing exercises, or even some jumping jacks and push-ups to avoid atrophying while you wait. Stretching before wedging yourself into your airport seat makes the recovery time on the other side of your trip much shorter.  (Pro tip: I've practiced my flute in these spaces before when in dire need.  Just keep an eagle eye on anyone else entering the space to actually use it the way it was intended.) Many airports are even adding yoga rooms so you don't have to risk offending the truly pious! 
When I travel to see family, I like to treat myself for behaving once I get there.  In Chicagoland, it might be a stop at White Castle (which we don't have out West) or a request for Brown's Chicken for dinner that night, because while this is total and utter junk food, it reminds me fondly of my childhood. Judge if you must.  If we go down South to see my in-laws, I would like very much to arrange a trip for crawdads and oysters. Generally family are happy to oblige, especially when you are stingy with your visits. It's not the same as sitting in my own living room enjoying a glass of wine in my pajamas, but it's still an improvement over the airport.  

Happy holiday season!

18 November 2014

It's time for the obligatory Thanksgiving post!

Well, isn't it?  I rebelled last year and you all punished me for weeks afterwards with lousy numbers of hits, so here's what I'm thinking: let's take some of the classic flavors of this brilliant food-obsessed holiday and apply them to different bases.  What do you say?

Sage: We could all use a cocktail or two on Thanksgiving.  I never thought tequila was appropriate for any holiday other than Cinco de Mayo until I moved to Colorado, where it is almost as well-loved as beer. How about a Tumbleweed? Trust me, it works:

Makes 1 drink

1 oz. lemon juice
6 fresh sage leaves
2 oz. tequila
1 oz. honey syrup*

Place sage leaves in a cocktail shaker and muddle with a wooden spoon.  Add all remaining ingredients and shake vigorously until the outside of the shaker becomes too cold to hold.  Strain into old fashioned glasses over ice.

*Honey syrup: combine equal parts honey and hot water; whisk to incorporate.

Rosemary: I like pork. I like rosemary with pork.  I like apples with pork, too, but sometimes it gets too sweet for a main course.  The rosemary in this recipe cuts the cloying sweetness and lightens up a little bit of the fattiness of this cider-cream sauce (but don't worry, you'll still have to unbutton your pants after the big meal, if that's what you're going for):

Pork and Apples with Cider Cream Sauce

Serves 6

1 pounds pork tenderloin, cut into 12 (2-inch thick) slices
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil

2 tablespoons butter
3 Granny Smith apples, unpeeled and thickly sliced
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced (about ½ cup)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup apple cider
¼ cup low-sodium chicken broth
½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
¼ cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

To prepare pork, place medallions (slices) between sheets of plastic wrap.  Using a meat mallet or a heavy skillet, flatten each piece to an even thickness of about ¼ inch.  Remove plastic wrap and season both side of medallions with salt and pepper.

Heat a 12-inch sauté pan or skillet over high heat.  Add vegetable oil.  When oil starts to smoke, place half the meat into the pan and sauté on both sides until well browned and thoroughly cooked.  Transfer to a plate to keep warm.  Repeat the process with the remaining medallions.

To prepare apples, reheat pan over high heat.  Add butter.  When hot, add apples, shallots, rosemary, sugar, and salt.  Sauté until apples are golden brown and tender, about 8 minutes, shaking pan occasionally. Transfer apples to plate with meat.

To prepare sauce, add cider, broth, and rosemary to pan.  Cook, whisking to scrape any brown bits, over high heat, about 5 minutes.  Add heavy cream; reduce heat to medium and simmer until mixture thickens to sauce consistency, 5-10 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Return apples and pork to the pan with the sauce.  Simmer approx. 7 minutes or until pork seems tender and infiltrated by sauce.

Cranberry: You have to have dessert, and I've already taken away the prospects of pumpkin pie (see below).  How about cornmeal, cranberry, and white chocolate instead?:

Cranberry-Cornmeal Shortbread

Makes about 12 bars

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup fine cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely chopped dried cranberries
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Heat oven to 325°F with a rack in center. Combine room temperature butter, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, flour, cornmeal, and salt in large mixing bowl. Beat with wooden spoon until combined but not too creamy. Stir in dried cranberries and white chocolate chips.

Pat dough into an 8-inc square baking pan to shape the dough into a large square, then to turn it out onto a cutting board. Make parallel cuts to form long 1-inch wide strips, then cut each of those strips in half crosswise to produce sixteen to eighteen cookies approximately 1- by 4-inches. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until just beginning to turn golden on the bottoms, about 20 minutes. Place pan on cooling rack until cool enough to touch, about 20 minutes.

Pumpkin: I thought it would be nice to move pumpkin to the savory category this year, and I also thought it would work with wild rice.  So I searched to see if anyone else had already come up with any brilliant recipes before I tried to reinvent the wheel, and sure enough, Farm Girl Gourmet did it better than I ever could have.  She even got some peas in there: Farm Girl Gourmet's Roasted Pumpkin & Wild Rice Salad

Turkey: I am not a fan of turkey, as those of you loyal to this blog know.  I am also not a fan of Tofurkey, which is a much less controversial statement.  I'm not going to try to replicate either of these flavors because I think they're terrible. Instead, I would like to direct you to the rosemary-tinged pork recipe, above, or to the lovely mushroom and potato pie (isn't that another Thanksgiving Flavor?!), below:

Mushroom and Potato Pie

Serves 6-8

1 pre-made pie crust
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 lb. mixed mushrooms, sliced
1 large Russet potato, peeled and chopped into ½-inch pieces
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar (or other) cheese

Prebake the crust: place in the oven and turn temperature to 425°F (no need to preheat); poke the crust around the edges with a fork and place in the oven for 10 minutes, or until it starts to look dry on the surface.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and potato and cook, stirring often, until potatoes begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook another 10 minutes, or until liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and stir in the garlic, salt, and thyme.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, and mustard. Season with black pepper if desired.

Sprinkle half the cheese in the bottom of the pie crust. Top with mushroom mixture, pour egg mustard over that, and sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese. Lower the oven temperature to 350°F and bake one hour, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

14 November 2014

Inspirations, with links

I may not do the Facebook thing, where I post what I'm grateful for every day until everyone I know and love unfriends me, but I'm plenty grateful. As a writer, blogger, musician, and teacher, I am graced by the presence of many people every day who are kind, generous, thoughtful, hard-working, intelligent, talented, humble...anyway, I know a lot of super cool people. And they are all inspirations to me in one way or another (and often, in many ways!): the flutist who develops new techniques for playing and general wellness after suffering from debilitating injuries; the teacher who insists on creating a nurturing environment in his studio despite the harshness of the "real world" out there; the colleagues who so generously share their advice on getting gigs and taking care of finances; the students who work so damn hard every day and always believe me when I tell them what to do; and even the random fellow blogger who logs on and gives me the thumbs up for a recipe post or restaurant review now and again.

This weekend, I'm celebrating all my professional and social (Platonic) crushes and exploring the great life lessons I can cull from their work.

Heidi Swanson talks about maintaining her blog thoughtfully over the last 12 years on 101 cookbooks. I don't care if you never blog, this poetic essay about deliberately and devotedly practicing your craft should make us all want to be better people.  (It is also great advice for bloggers, BTW.)

When I am home working all day on multiple projects, my head can start to spin.  I'm glad I'm not the only one.  I've been trying to incorporate the Pomodoro Technique into my life, and it's really helping. It's also nice to get online and see how many other people are struggling with the same stupid thing as me--staying focused!

Bullet Proof Musician may sound like a highly specialized blog for music geeks, but with posts about dealing with sleep deprivation, public speaking skills, work-life balance, and performance anxiety, I think Dr. Noa Kageyama is being truly generous in sharing his research, experience, and practical advice with the world to help us all just calm the hell down and enjoy our work.

I've really been digging my new Thug Kitchen cookbook, and their blog is a great place to share and appreciate others' recipes, as well.  I will admit that the insistence on using as many swear words as possible per recipe gets a little tiresome (really guys, we already think you're cool as shit), but the mission to create super delish, easy recipes from vegan ingredients while schooling readers on issues like environmental waste and world hunger is truly awesome.

Serious Eats is such a great food blog.  I learn all kinds of things from it. And maybe this shouldn't go into the "inspirations" category, but I sure do appreciate their article about how to buy affordable Scotch that's worth drinking.  Because I still don't know what I'm doing in that aisle of the liquor store.

Also Scotch eggs.  I love Scotch eggs. 

11 November 2014

Road (and food) trip across Georgia

After a whirlwind 10 days through Georgia (with, impossibly, four stops in Milledgeville, home of "Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo"-?!?) and into South Carolina, I think I could go at least 48 hours without eating or feeling hungry!  But despite the bloat, I wouldn't have skipped any one of the amazing meals I ate on the road:

Strong coffee and a homemade giant cookie, to keep me awake until Athens at Blackbird Coffee, 114 W Hancock St, Milledgeville GA

A veggie and hummus sandwich on homemade marble rye and Louisiana voodoo chips tucked away in an industrial park at Southern Sweets Bakery, 186 Rio Circle, Decatur GA

Poached salmon with pesto and an appetizer of the tenderest escargot on the planet at Circa 1875 Gastro Pub, 48 Whitaker Street, Savannah GA

Penne pasta in red pepper and goat cheese sauce and fried green tomatoes drizzled with Vidalia onion-bacon buttermilk dressing at Last Resort Grill, 184 West Clayton St, Athens GA

Pulled and ground pork sliders and a delicious Moo-Hoo draft brewed locally at Trappeze, 269 North Hull St, Athens GA

Spicy peel-and-eat shrimp and mussels with fennel at Pearlz Oyster Bar, 936 Gervais St, Columbia SC

A pork chop the size of my torso and a mini shepherd's pie made with pulled pork at Manchester Arms Pub, 1705 Virginia Ave, Atlanta GA (College Park neighborhood)

The only delicious banh mi I have every eaten, made with ground pork and served with a side of fish sauce for dipping at Immaculate Consumption, 933 Main St, Columbia SC

True soul food served on the line: fried chicken, butter beans, collared greens, a biscuit, and of course, sweet tea that hurt my teeth at The Bears Den Dine In, 1191 Oglethorpe St, Macon GA

Virginia oysters served with a housemade cucumber dressing, light-as-air gnocchi with octopus and lobster, and fizzy vinho verde at Seven Lamps, 3400 Lenox Rd, Atlanta GA (Buckhead)

A giant tamale made with pork shoulder and served with green chile-mole sauce and inventive bourbon cocktails at Alma Cochina, 191 Peachtree St, Atlanta GA (downtown)