Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday Brunch - Raspberry Crumble Bars

2 Cups Fresh or Frozen Raspberries
1/4 cup Water (less if you are using frozen)
2 1/2 tbsp Corn Starch
1/2 cup White/Cane Sugar
1 tsp Lemon Juice
2 cups Quick Oats
1 cup Flour
1 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1 cup Brown Sugar
1 1/4 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp All Spice
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 cup Vegan Margarine

In a saucepan, heat berries and water over medium heat until berries break down and get juicy. Strain out berries and keep 1 cup of juice. If you don't have a cup of juice, add water to make it up. Heat juice over medium heat. Meanwhile, stir together sugar and corn starch in a bowl, then whisk in that mixture and the lemon juice. When it thickens, stir the berries back in and then set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, mix together oats, flours, brown sugar, baking powder and spices. Knife in the margarine until crumbly. Press about 2/3 or 3/4 of the mixture into a greased 9x13 pan and cook at 400F until lightly browned. Take out and let cool for 15 minutes. Then spread raspberry mixture and crumble remaining oat mix over top, pressing it into the raspberry lightly with a fork. Return to oven for 20 minutes or until berry mix bubbles and crumble is lightly browned. Let cool and then cut up into bars, store in tupperware or other airtight method.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Record a Week: Chuck Berry's Golden Decade





Chuck Berry was part of the formation of rock and roll throughout the 50's and 60's. His career was helped along by Muddy Waters, who told him to take his music to Chess Records, where he signed on. Taking his influences of southern blues and R&B, he kicked up the tempo and focused on riffing guitar solos over simple blues bass lines. Many of his songs are extremely popular, even iconic. Many of the early rock bands like the Beatles and the Stones were influenced by and covered his music. In fact, the Beach Boys song Surfin' USA is essentially Berry's Sweet Little Sixteen with surfing lyrics sung over top.

Even though this record covers the earlier and perhaps most successful part of his career, he has gone on to write and play music for decades, always sustaining a great popularity.

I love that early rock and roll sound and it makes me sad to see what passes for Rock and Roll today. Besides making you dance, it was a vehicle for change. It helped break down walls between race and gender, as well as being a powerful tool for uniting people to stand up for what they believe in. These days, much of so-called rock music is about getting wasted and 'picking up sluts'. It's almost like a reverse in meaning. Music that stands for something can often feel forced and leave you wondering if it is sincere or if it's meant for making a buck, and that shouldn't be. I'm not saying that Chuck Berry's songs are particularly meaningful or change-inducing on their own, but they were heavily influential to an entire generation of music that saw much of that. It is interesting, though, to chart the changes in rock music and hopefully it can reinvent itself in a way that is less packaged and commercialized in the future.

Listening to this collection provided many opportunity to 'shake it' with my daughter as she held my hands to balance her wobbly stance.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wedding Help From an Unlikely Source

About five years ago around this time, my (now) wife and I set out to find a place to hold our wedding. Many of our guests either lived in Toronto, or were flying in for the occasion. Neither of us had been to any Toronto weddings, so we were coming up short on ideas for venues. With the help of my sister, any other people who had ideas and the internet, we collected a list of 10 or so places to go see.

The first place on our list was the Kortright Centre for Conservation. Set back in the forest, it certainly was a picturesque backdrop for a wedding. As it turned out, it would have been a wonderful day, if a little warm, for an outdoor wedding. However, our concern over rain forcing people into the log cabin room with all of the stuffed owls ultimately won out. Also, it was fairly far from downtown Toronto, which would have forced people to stay in hotels and take cabs. On the plus side, it was maple syrup season while we were there, so we got a bit of education and a tasty treat to boot.

After that, we did a string of places in the city. I don't remember all of the places we went, but I do remember that some were too small, some too expensive and some wouldn't let us bring in our own catering, which we had already decided on. I remember being very disappointed walking into a place thinking it was perfect, only to find out that they tally the drinks throughout the night and charge you $5 a piece at the end. That just wasn't in the budget. Some places we checked out online and because of the price, didn't even bother going to in case we fell in love with them.

The whole experience was daunting and left us feeling much less optimistic than when we started. Drained of both energy and gas from the trip, we stopped at the 7-Eleven on Queen St. I was filling up my trusty GMC Safari with gas when I noticed someone approaching in the reflection of the tinted windows. This is a lucky fact, because had I not seen that, I may have been more likely to turn and punch the man, my sister's boss, Stuart McLean. Instead of hastily spinning and fighting, though, I let him playfully push me up against the van and demand my money. We then said our greetings and I explained to him our troubles in the hunt for a weding venue. He suggested a couple of places we had looked at, but also said he had gone to a wedding at a place called the Cecil Street Community Centre that was really nice. We hadn't heard anything about the place and were unable to get in to see it on that particular day, but I returned shortly after to scope it out.

It turned out to be this neat little multi-purpose building just off Spadina that was a synagogue-turned-Chinese Community Centre. The day I was there, it's purpose was a daycare, which made it a bit hard to take pictures. The price, location and building all came together to be exactly what we were looking for and we booked it. The only problem was that it didn't have air conditioning, which we didn't think would be an issue in early June; but if you were there, you'll remember that it would have been a nice addition to an otherwise wonderful day. So we are thankful that we happened to be filling up with gas as Stuart happened to be strolling by that day, who knows how things would have turned out otherwise.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sunday Brunch - Honey Buns

I wanted to make a replica of those terribly sugary Honey Buns that you buy in stores and fry up. I couldn't find any exact recipes that were what I was going for, but I found one that I thought was close enough and modified it accordingly.

1 1/2 Cups Flour
1 tsp Salt
2 pkg Yeast
2/3 cup Evaporated Soy Milk (take 1 cup soy milk and 1/4 cup soy milk powder and blend together, then measure out 2/3 cup of the resulting liquid)
1/2 cup Water (might have been a bit too much)
1/2 cup Honey
1/2 cup Vegan Margarine, melted
2 Egg Replacers
1/2 cup Whole Wheat Flour

1/4 cup Vegan Margarine
1/2 Cup Honey

In a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups flour, salt and yeast. In a saucepan, combine water, honey, 1/2 cup melted margarine and evaporated soy milk and heat on low until margarine melts. Using a mixer, mix in wet mixture to dry mixture on medium. Gradually add in egg replacers and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour. Set aside mixture and cover for 2 hours or more in refrigerator.

To make the glaze, heat margarine and honey until margarine melts.

Now here's the tricky part. These are supposed to be doughy enough to roll out, but they were the consistency of batter, not dough. If it turns out more like batter, fry them like pancakes. When you flip them, pour the glaze on and flip again to fry on the glaze; repeat process.

If it turns out like dough, roll out dough into ropes and coil them into 3" or 4" diameter wheels, pinching between layers. Put them on a lightly greased cookie sheet and set aside, covered, at room temp for 20 minutes. bake at 375F for 10-14 minutes, golden brown. Glaze right out of the oven and serve warm.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Record a Week: Paul Bernard - Spanish Guitar

CASTILLO DE ESPANA[Castles of Spain] (Federico Moreno Torroba)
i) Turegano
ii) Torija
iii) Manzanares de Real
iv) Romance de los Pinos
v) Siguenza (The Sleeping Child)
vi) Alba de Tormes

PRELUDE NO. I (Heitor Villa-Lobos)
PRELUDE NO. II (Heitor Villa-Lobos)
CAPICHO ARABE (Fransisco Tarrega)

My experience with Spanish guitar music is mainly limited to the music played while you get a massage, some elevator music and a kid in my guitar class that played the chromatic scale in less than 5 seconds.

This is no Muzak though; and it's also not Adrijan Jahjaefendic, formerly of Burlington Central High School, either.

Hailing from PEI, Bernard taught himself guitar at the age of 9. He studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and later at the Royal College of Music in London.

The music on this album is played with a beautiful precision and a great talent. Although the songs are not originals by Bernard, he plays them as if they are an extension of himself. The way his hands flow over the guitar is quite impressive.

There was a moment where one song ended and just as that happened, my furnace turned on and the hiss of the air sounded like cheering, so clearly my house enjoys this record as well.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Murphy's Law Pt.3 - Taking the Band on the Road.

I have played in many bands of various successes over the last 14 years (over half my life!), but only once have I attempted the journey into the USA. It's a tough go for bands to get into the states unless they have attained a certain success here in Canada, are playing a festival or are backed by a record label that will get your way across the border with ease.

Well, one of the bands I was in, Ichor, was none of those things, but we had landed ourselves a show in NYC and one in Baltimore with our friends band, I Spoke, so we decided to hit the road in May of 2003 (I think). We made a 4 day weekend out of it to allow ourselves a day of travel in each direction. Being extremely nervous about the border, we took a very long detour from Toronto to Kingston, to a border crossing we had heard was easier to cross at and brought 2 cars and minimal equipment to try and make it an easier go at the border. Even though we just looked like 4 guys crossing, we still got stopped and questioned. The guy must have been in a good mood, because he bought our story about 'visiting a friend and bringing our instruments so we can jam with him' without pulling us over for more questioning.

Onward we went to New York, feeling a bit lighter leaving the border behind us. Eventually, of course, we had to stop for gas somewhere along the way. If you've ever filled up south of the border, especially in one of the shadier areas, you have encountered the pre-pay rules that they have. I had never encountered this myself, so I went to ask the cashier what the deal was. They guy was this very fat and greasy with super long hair. I asked him, 'How do we fill up the car', to which he replied, 'You give me the money and then fill up'. 'What if we don't use all of the money's worth?' I asked. He then flipped his hair back like he was in a Head and Shoulders ad and said 'If I like you, I'll give you the change. If I don't like you, I'll rape you and then give you the change.' I can't remember if we used up the money's worth of gas, but I can say for sure that I didn't go back for the change.

Eventually we arrived at a hotel north of Manhattan and went to check in. When two of us went to sign in, they were telling us the room rules, which included a maximum of 3 people. Well, we had very little money and 9 people, so we had to find a way to get around that issue. So, armed with the knowledge of their policy and seeing the sign saying that the entrance was under video surveillance, we devised a plan. We took 2 people of similar stature and had them carry in some stuff, then one person would go out and take in another person of similar stature, wearing first persons hat and glasses, and so on, until we were all in. Then we proceeded to spread across the room, littered on beds and the floor.

In the morning we got up and headed for the venue. The show went off without much problem, other than the fact that the headlining band we were to play with didn't show up. The venue was this neat place called ABC No Rio, where some concert promoters squatted in a place and made the power work, and then the city agreed to sell them the spot for $1 if the people involved with the venue would spend the money to bring it up to code. I haven't visited the venue in years, but their site is still up so I assume that they got the work done. Anyhow, after the show, which was a matinee, we decided to make the trip to Baltimore since we had a place to stay for free there. We took off in our separate cars with no specific plans other than getting there. Within an hour or two, we had lost site of each other on the highway. Our car stopped at a service station, hoping the other car might be there, but they weren't and we couldn't get cell service. After an hour or so of waiting and playing this crazy arm wrestling arcade game that had a robotic arm sticking out.

We got to Baltimore at some point around dinner hour and got a hold of my friend Cole and eventually met up with him (hopefully I can one time articulate the interesting coincidence that led to me meeting him in the first place). As the night went on, we got a little worried. Finally at maybe 10 o'clock, we got a hold of the other guys, who told us they were about to get a hotel and head home in the morning. Luckily we avoided that situation and we all went back to Cole's house. We had a great time in Baltimore and Cole is the most hospitable host that a person could hope for. The show was at another community oriented place called Charm City Art Space and was full of great people and fun bands. We stayed another night at Cole's and developed a great bond with the other musicians and Cole's friends. This is an experience I have had many times in my several trips to Baltimore over the years.

Leaving Baltimore was a bittersweet experience. We were sad to leave, but it was such a terrific time that it all evened out. We left feeling pretty good about the experience and were pretty lackadaisical about crossing the border. We were wearing band t-shirts and playing loud music and completely forgetting that the border is just as likely to detain you on the way back into your country as when you are leaving it.

Both cars (crossing at the same time, idiotically) got pulled into the check point simultaneously and they tore apart our cars. They took all the bags and musical instruments out searching for anything that might incriminate us. By some miracle, they didn't open up my bag, which contained all of the flyers and merch we were selling. They finally, in a last ditch effort, asked us outright if we had any drugs; or spiky necklaces, bracelets, anything that can be used as a weapon. When we (truthfully) said we didn't, they were forced to let us return to our home country. The experience was super nerve-racking and left both bands thinking that although the trip was a lot of fun, we didn't think we'd go back into the states until we could do it properly, and so far, I haven't.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday Brunch - Coffee Cake

I made this last weekend while company was here and it disappeared pretty quick.

1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1/4 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Margarine
1 tsp Cinnamon

1 1/2 Cup Flour
2 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
1 Egg Replacer
3/4 cup Sugar
1/3 cup Melted Margarine
1/2 Cup Soy Milk
1 tsp Vanilla

Stir together brown sugar, a/4 cup flour and cinnamon in a medium bowl; knife in 1/4 cup margarine until crumbly.

Mix flour, salt and baking powder together. In a separate bowl, cream the sugar, melted margarine and egg replacer, then add soy milk and vanilla. Add flour mixture to wet mix and combine. Pour cake mix in a 9" square pan, greased. Crumble brown sugar mixture evenly over the top and bake at 375F for 25 minutes, or until the a fork comes out clean.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Record a Week: Tony Bennett - The Good Things in Life



Ah, Tony Bennett. Long before the surprising career of Michael Buble, crooning was incredibly popular. This record was released at the latter part of his 'first career' (he did very little between the mid-70s to the mid-80s. He was another victim of the music-industry colonic that was disco). In fact, it is quite possible that Buble would not have had the ability to have the success he has without the resurgence of Bennett's career throughout the 80's, 90's and onward.

Bennett is a singer of Jazz and Standards, which is a similar style to Sinatra, as well as countless others. Backed by Jazz trios, quartets and big bands alike, the style is focused on a smooth, sultry style of singing over top of smooth jazz or pop music. Along with Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., Bennett was part of the earlier success of the crooning style. To try to remain relevant, Bennett partook in more Jazz music and eventually tried his hand at acting. After failing at acting, he took a hiatus and restarted his career with the help of his son as manager.

When it comes to this style of music, I am not a big fan of the slower, drawn-out songs. I do enjoy the tone of voice in his voice and very much like the 'snap your fingers' songs. 'London By Night' is my favourite song on this album, although 'Cute' and ''Mimi' are also good.