Thai Basil Pork

This weekend, with one confirmed case of strep in the house and everybody generally worn out from a big week, I made some family comfort food.  Thai Basil Pork is supposedly Thai street food.  I’ve never been to Thailand so all I know is, it’s absolutely delicious.

Mrs. NH recommended that instead of pairing it with rice or rice noodles, we whip up some carrot “zoodles” instead.  What we got was an absolutely flavorful dish that scratches an Asian food itch while seeming sorta healthy.

I tweak the recipe a bit each time.  This time, we couldn’t find “Golden Mountain Sauce” so I just added more lime and oyster sauce.  I also tend to add two eggs to the mix, partially to bulk it up some because of my ravenous family and partially just because I love the eggs in there.  Fresh lime is key in this recipe.

It takes a bit of time to make with all of the prep work but once you’re done it is worth the effort.

Now comes the fight for the leftovers.

 

 

Gorillaz – ‘Demon Days’ Vinyl Review

The news of all of the recent deaths of rock ‘n rollers has had me examining my own mortality lately.  It’s also made me try to not get too caught up in the daily badness that confronts me at the office.  Of course, my favorite way to sort things out at the end of the day is to sit down with a pair of headphones and just get lost in a beloved chunk of vinyl. Last night’s piece was a long-coveted copy of Gorillaz 2005 effort, Demon Days.

I asked Santa for that very record this year.  Little NH was even sweet enough to put it on her note to Santa for me.  I told her that he’d probably not have any luck finding it.  It was a limited run in 2005 and copies now fetch at least $200.  Santa apparently couldn’t find it but a couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to snag a copy on Ebay.  The vinyl in my set is brand new but a corner of the front cover looks like a cat or puppy had about 10 solid seconds to use it as a chew toy. Otherwise, it’s in great shape.  It was listed on Ebay as having “never been played” and I have no reason to doubt this.  It was clean and shiny.  Because of its less than perfect cover, I got this copy at well below the going price.  It’s still the most expensive record in my collection but I’m satisfied with the deal.

I’m not one to sit on “collection piece” copies of vinyl in my stash.  I have a couple that are unopened but the majority I buy to play and enjoy.  So, like driving a new car off the lot, my copy of Demon Days depreciated last night as the needle first hit the groove.

So, how did it sound, you ask?

It sounded like a top-notch, second hand, 10-year-old record.  There was a tiny bit of surface noise but all in all, it’s a quiet pressing.

The one gripe I had was that side A seemed to be lacking a bit in bass.  It was big and bold sounding but the low end just wasn’t as big as I had hoped it might be.  But that was just side A.  From side B on, things picked up considerably in the bass department.  This makes me think that either the first side was pressed with less bass to save room or my ears just got attuned to this as the record played on.  I had been listening to Atoms For Peace today on my commute through in-ear headphones so that may have distorted my idea of what to expect bass-wise.

Listening through headphones, I heard a lot on these records that I had never heard on digital copies before.  Lots of little production flourishes and squiggles of sound really popped out.  It’s a record mixed with a very wide stereo mix which is really pleasant to the ear.  The other thing that I noticed was what I thought at some points was surface noise, was actually analog artifacts from the Danger Mouse-procured beats and samples that litter the record.  “Kids with Guns” has such a sample and as soon as it finishes, the noise disappears.  Cool to be able to hear that in such detail and it really points out the meticulous production that went into this album.

The part of the album that floored me was the one-two punch of “White Light,” the last track on side C and “Dare,” the first track on side D.  I have heard “White Light” before but I have never actually heard it until now.  What a great track.  It’s just as crazy as anything Albarn has ever written, seemingly based on a sample he sang into his phone on the walk home after a night out at the pub.  And it absolutely slays.

“Dare” is just the single it’s always been but it sounds fresh in this context – like the first chip out of a newly opened bag.

There’s really nothing I love more than sitting down with a quality record, putting on my headphones and rediscovering an album that I know and love.  Demon Days did not disappoint and I’ll be excited to buy a copy of the inevitable reissue to compare it with this one.  However, if for some reason that never happens, I’m glad to have this copy and see myself coming back to it again and again.

Footnote:

After I finished “Demon Days” there was a little time left on the clock before my normal bedtime so I decided to pull out the Doors’ The Soft Parade and listen to the title track.  I have some weird repress that shows up as this on Discogs but man, it sounds great.  Often maligned as one of the Doors’ weaker releases, The Soft Parade, has been given short shrift in my opinion.  It’s a hazy, boozy, flipped out record of its era and is still brilliant. Especially the title track.

On Bowie

I’ll preface this by saying that somehow, I don’t consider myself a huge David Bowie fan even though I still have nearly all of his albums on vinyl and find myself coming back to his catalog regularly.

I don’t consider myself a huge David Bowie fan but I vividly remember practicing my trombone, probably between 5th and 6th grade, with my boombox quietly tuned to KQKY 105.9FM, hoping against hope that “Modern Love” would come on the station and I could hit record.  I can’t remember if it ever did but I got Let’s Dance on cassette from my brother that summer.  “Cat People” weirded me out then and still does today.

I don’t consider myself a huge Bowie fan but when he played in Prague back in 2004, I happily bought a ticket to my first concert in the city that has been my home for the last nearly 12 years.  He got hit in the eye with a projectile lollipop and suffered heart problems during that show and it was cut short.  My seats were in the nosebleed section and I didn’t know several of the songs because, well, I didn’t consider myself a huge Bowie fan at the time.  I didn’t have all of his albums back then.

It’s also strange that I usually end late night music sessions with friends with the 1972 performance of Bowie on the BBC doing “Oh, You Pretty Things.”  It’s Bowie in full Ziggy mode and it defines glam for me.

So, for not being much of a fan, it’s odd that I cranked Station to Station in my headphones at the office on Friday in order to write a report I had procrastinated writing all week.  It was done in record time.

It’s also peculiar that his brand new album, Blackstar, was the soundtrack to my morning commute this morning.  As I look down at my phone, I see that I’ve only made it through to the song “Girl Loves Me.”  I got the news after I got to the office.

Granted, I’m not a huge fan but I’m pretty sure I’ll finish the album on the way home.

Just like a huge fan.

R.I.P., Ziggy.

Albums of the Year – 2015 – Part 3

These are probably not in any real order except for number one below: Foals – What Went Down.  It’s a solid top seven list, I think.  They all move between ranks but all have stayed pretty high in the top eschelon.
Besides these new-this-year albums, I’ve also forgotten to mention that I’ve been on a tear buying up classic albums throughout the year.  Lots of old Stones, Beatles, Bowie, Dylan, Iggy Pop, Stooges, Zep, Who, etc., etc., etc.  But lots of great new albums as well.  Here’s the cream of the crop. Top to bottom.  Happy listening.

Foals – What Went Down

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From the first woozy organ chord, you know you’re in for a ride.  One of the most melodic, violent songs to ever open a record.  It almost threatens violence.  Heck, it may even deliver.  The rest of the album hosts a great rundown of songs that get better with each listen and reveal a little more with each spin.  This band just keeps getting bigger and growing incrementally in their sound.  Keep your eyes and ears peeled for where they go from here.

My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall

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I never expected this to be in the top 10.  In fact, I was pretty much over this band after the weirdo Evil Urges.  Their next one, Circuital, offered a little bit of redemption but it didn’t exactly bring me back into the fold.  This one hit on a road trip some time this fall.  I actually regretted not getting into an album in the spring.  “Spring (Among the Living)” did it.  Oh, well.  At least there’s something to look forward a few months from now.  In the meantime, there’s the rest of the album.  100% solid.

Wilco – Star Wars

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A surprise album is one thing.  A surprise album from a band that hasn’t had a surprise since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is a big deal.  When this one dropped I distractedly listened to it once and then forgot about it.  Then, after months of waiting, the vinyl came in the mail and I toured thought it on headphones.  I think I listened to it twice that night.  It’s a firecracker.  Easily their best in recent memory.  No twang, all bang.  Whatever that means.

Gaz Coombes – Matador

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The solo album Thom Yorke wishes he could make.  Or, is it the Radiohead Album Gaz Coombes just made?  Either way, it’s a great listen.  Brooding and elastic all at the same time.  If this blog had a top singles of 2015 list, this album would spawn at least three.  For those of you interested: “20/20,” “Detroit,” and “The Girl Who Fell To Earth.”  (Also, I think the cover is a Bowie tribute.  Right?)

Ryan Adams – Live At Carnegie Hall

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I had the pleasure of seeing this guy play at the RAH during his fallow period a couple of years back.  This album is as close as you’re going to get to being there.  Beautifully pressed over 6 LPs, this offers two nights during his time at Carnegie.  It’s amazing when you listen to this guy and realize just how many great songs he’s written.  Even ones you’ve forgotten about creep up on you in this set and leave you scrambling to remember which album they came from.  If you can’t get the box, get the Ten Songs From… version.  Then go buy that Taylor Swift cover versions album.  Then, and only then.

Jamie xx – In Colour

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Oh, My Gosh.  These three words will never mean the same to my family.  I heard this for the first time doing 85 mph on the Italian motorway.  Everybody in the family asked at the same time, “What is this?”  That’s when you can tell it’s either going to be love or hate.  Love.  This one.  All love.

Kurt Vile – B’lieve I’m Goin Down…

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Kurt Vile conquered the indie world a couple of years back.  This year, he’s toning down the feedback, scaled it down to a single album, and gotten a bit more insular.  With the exception of “Pretty Pimpin'”, this one is a slow burner.  But man, what an interesting listen.  I equate this one to sitting with a close friend after too many beers, listening to him ramble, stutter and bemoan every bad call and perplexing thing in life.  And relating to every word.

Breakfast in Bressanone

Yes, we’re in the road again. This time in  the Italian town of Bressanone. We’re surrounded by mountains nestled in the Tirolean countryside. Breakfast just consisted of prosciutto, salami, mozzarella balls and a delicious soft boiled egg.

Mrs. NH has a stop planned for Trento today and we’re both confident in the prospect of pasta and red wine in our future. It’s my first time in Italy in the winter. This country never disappoints no matter the season.
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Snowshoeing in Luosto

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We’re still in Finland getting our winter activities on. Today was snowshoeing in the forest around the town of Luosto. The whole family did it for a couple hours and it was beautiful. Nothing gets more zen than standing in the middle of a silent, snowy forest having the peace broken by your four-year-old singing the Frozen theme.

The girls were actually total champs. We went up some fairly big hills with only a few granola bar breaks. Little NH2 also got to eat her first handfuls of fresh fallen snow.

Looks like Prague is in the 50s so it’ll be a shock to the system tomorrow.

Rovaniemi, Finland

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This place is bonkers. I just spent an a hour in and out of the sauna. No snow for me, just the shower.  I have German roots. I’m practical.

But look at those temps and the sunrise/sunset. Going to some sort of a show tonight and we’ll all be packing hot hands!

Albums of the Year – 2015 – Part 2

Here it is.  Part deux.  Big year.  This is the part of the list where it gets real.  Do people still say that?  Well, they do here.  Or, as I’d say in a work e-mail, “Please see below:”

Craig Finn – Faith In The Future

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The studio sent a car to collect me
When the driver dropped me off at the lot
He said he’d never forget me
The publicist picked up lunch again
I had Pabst and some pemmican.”

You can’t really write an review of a Craig Finn album without quoting some lyrics.  It’s like talking about Shakespeare without doing the same. It’s the whole point.  Don’t get me wrong.  The band backing Finn on his second solo outing is solid as well.  But the lyrics to his songs are always the exciting part.  By the time you get to “Sandra from Scranton,” you know you’re in the middle of a great album.  Still more to dig through with this one.  Looking forward to repeat listens.

Guy Garvey – Courting The Squall

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I never saw a Guy Garvey solo album coming.  I’m not sure why.  I thought the last Elbow album was sort of a return to form, albeit a quieter one.  But Garvey changes it up a bit on his first solo effort.  The only way I can think to describe it is the well-worn descriptor, eclectic.  From the moment “Angela’s Eyes” hits the speakers, this is something different.  It’s Garvey doing what’s in his head and not through the democracy of his band, Elbow.  The second real gut punch of a song for me is “Belly of the Whale.” It sounds to me like a tale of house ownership gone wrong.  I’m not sure why it connects but it does.  And I’m not a homeowner.  A solid first step as a solo artist.

El Vy – Return to the Moon

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Matt Berninger is the consummate hipster.  Look at those glasses, hair and white jeans.  His other band, the National, cosied up to the President back in the day and now he’s gone off and made another album with some guy who I don’t know and am too lazy to look up.  (Berninger, that is.  Not Obama.)
While not as solid as the Britt Daniel side project, Divine Fits, this album leaves the same sort of taste on the palate.  It’s the sound of the frontman of a lauded band whose sound has grown sameish reaching out to find a new muse.  He finds it here.  Just his description of his green collared shirt sounds like nothing the National would have ever put to tape.  It suits the hipster vibe well.  I assume they wear a lot of shirts like that.

Tame Impala – Currents

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Where to begin with this one?  It was so hyped that just about everything that can be said about it has been said.  I’ve seen it described as the same magnitude of stylistic change that U2 made between Rattle and Hum and Achtung Baby.  While that may be overstating it a bit, it kind of works.
But the thing is, the album cover looks exactly like how the album sounds. Like the cover?  You might just like the record.  Oh, and if you want to see a bit live, have a look at this link.  “Let it Happen” is probably the song of the year for me.  Just writing it in this post ensures that I’ll have it in my head for the rest of the day.

Metric – Pagans In Vegas

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Oh, Emily Haines and Co., you are my guilty pleasure.  A synth-pop band fronted by a female singer.  You don’t get any less macho.  But I love this album.  I haven’t given much thought as to why but something tells me it’s sound profile lies somewhere in the same range as a long-time 80’s favorite, XTC.  It sounds nothing like that band though, save for a synth or two.  The band deliver a earworm of a single in the form of “The Shade.” (Oops, “Let it Happen.”  You’ve been replaced.)  It’s a crime that this tune doesn’t sit along the current day offerings on pop radio.
There’s one other thing about this album.  I might not have listened to it quite as much without my 8-year-old daughter proclaiming them “her favorite band” from the back seat.  Kid’s got taste.

Blur – The Magic Whip

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Blur’s back together.  They recorded this one in Hong Kong.  Damon Albarn could touch dog poop and it would turn to gold.  This one serves as an excellent warm-up to the supposed new Gorillaz record next year. Bring. It. On.

Josh Rouse – The Embers Of Time

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I listen to this album late at night, usually after my wife has gone to bed. It’s nice to hear the musings of another dad who travels too much, worries about day-to-day family stuff and sees the passage of time as something that goes by at jaw-dropping velocity.  It also helps that when I met him at Alexandria, VA’s Birchmere a couple of years ago, he signed albums for my girls and was just as quiet, reserved and polite as he sounds on his records. A long time underdog of the Alt-Country scene, Rouse turns in a great latter day record. A close cousin of 1972 with some warmer undertones.

Honorable Mentions (Albums I Haven’t Gotten To Yet):

Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

Calexico – Edge of the Sun

RAMONES

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For some reason I’m buying up Stooges and Ramones records like nobody’s business. I don’t know what happens when you’re a 42 year-old punk rock fan but I get the feeling that I’m about to find out.

Ironically, I’m writing this during an intermission in the Nutcracker ballet.

BBQ Brisket, Creamed Corn and SaSo Sweet Potatoes

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Here’s how my morning started:

Me: Hey, how’d you sleep?

Mrs. NH: Oh, crud.  You forgot to season the brisket.

Me: Crap. You handle the girls’ breakfast and I’ll do it now.

You see, we take our brisket pretty seriously in the NH household.  It’s a rare, expensive delicacy in the Czech Republic.  It’s even more special when it’s accompanied by homemade creamed sweet corn – flash frozen in the waning days of the summer.  To top it off, Mrs. NH “invented” her own SaSo seasoned sweet potatoes the last time we had this and I could have eaten the whole damn batch.  Twice.

The girls like it, too (not the sweet potatoes – too much of a kick in SaSo). But to be completely honest, we have to fill them partially full of “appetizers” before dinner or I swear my 8-year-old daughter would eat 2 lbs of brisket all by herself.  But honestly, who can blame her? (Coincidentally, I came home to the smell of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies this evening. Stop judging.)

We’ll freeze some of this batch of meat for barbacoa tacos to be enjoyed on some crappy-weather January Sunday.  It lightens my mood just thinking about it.

Istanbul Panorama

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Here’s a cool panorama I took off the balcony of my hotel room at the Hilton Bosphorus in Istanbul last month.  (I don’t have any idea how to make it bigger in the post.  Hints?)  I’ve sort of warmed to Istanbul over the past few visits and learned to embrace the chaos and sheer breadth of humanity in that town.  It helps that the food absolutely rocks and there are about a million places to explore.

Albums of the Year – 2015 – Part 1

I haven’t done an album of the year post in a couple of years.  In fact, I’ve mostly given up blogging for the last couple of years.  However, a recent road trip to Germany compelled me to compile a list this year.  The fact is, it was an exceptionally good year for music.  Lots of my favorite bands and artists turned out some great albums.

It’s also worth noting that I’ve got most, if not all, of these on vinyl.  Yes, my record collecting fetish is alive and well.  It’s returned the fun to my music listening habits.  After a long day at the office, there’s simply no better way to unwind after putting the kids to be than setting down with a tumbler of something and a record on the headphones.  Bliss.

I’ll likely do this in three sections.  Here’s the bottom set of the list.  Good but just not as good as the great ones.  I’ve also thrown in some honorable mentions that have just come out on vinyl this year so they made the cut.

James McMurtry – Complicated Game71ed6bjsp4l-_sl1247_

“Honey, don’t you be yelling at me when I’m cleaning my gun
I’ll wash the blood off the tailgate when deer season’s done”

Pretty classic McMurtry lyrics open the album on “Copper Canteen”.  The same pattern flows through most all of the record making this a personal addition to his discography.  For me it’s kind of a return to form after a bitter, curmudgeon streak during the Bush/Cheney years.  This one seems warmer, more reflective and is full of sharp lyrical twists and turns. Complicated Game also is home to “How’m I Gonna Find You Now?”  The song was apparently written on the rhythm of a car motor rattle and traces the thoughts of a meth addict as he goes around town looking for someone or something.  Nobody writes about meth heads like McMurtry.  This one is no exception.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Chasing Yesterday

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I’ve struggled to write this review.  A buddy of mine is such a huge Noel Gallagher/Oasis that he refers to the aforementioned singer just as “Noel”.  Funny thing is, I think I got him into that whole Oasis thing and he’s turned into a huge fan. I like Oasis but I don’t love Oasis most of the time.  But I’ll be danged if this isn’t one of the best post Morning Glory efforts by anyone that was ever in that band.

“Ballad of the Mighty I” in and of itself justifies this album being on this year end list.  Gallagher turns out pretty convincing grooves from top to bottom on this album, in fact.   Some of his balladry leaves the album flagging but they’re not fatal blows. A solid effort that keeps me coming back.

Beirut – No, No, No

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This is supposed to be a post-divorce album.  I don’t hear that.  What I do hear is something akin to a hipsterish travel blog with a whole lot of instagram-type photos.  In those photos are people in exotic places with well-trimmed beards wearing those ironic straw summer hats.  The thing is, these people don’t come off as smug.  You don’t want to punch them.  The pictures are pretty nicely framed after all and why should you fault a bunch of people for capturing moments that are so evocative?

There, a review of No, No, No in the form of a blog critique.  Damning with faint praise?  [Insert album title here.]

Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?

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I have a love/hate relationship with this album.  It’s so dancey and disco-biscuitish that I sometimes have to turn it off before it’s over.  It’s synth mania.  On the other hand, I put it on last weekend while driving home from Germany in dense fog at night and it sound-tracked the crap out of the drive.  So I feel like I owe it a debt of gratitude.  That and the beginning of “Huarache Lights” is a lot of fun.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

The Replacements – The Twin Tone Years

This is a box set, reissue, of the ‘Mats first 4 albums and the “Stink” EP.  I already have original presses of each of those albums and a 2nd run of the “Stink” EP but this is just so obvious.  Of course I bought it.  In fact, I bought two of these.  Sort of by mistake.  I bought one (supposedly they’re limited) and then saw it at another place online for cheaper so I did that, too.  I tried to cancel the order on the first one but it had already shipped.  So, I now have two sealed box sets of the Replacements in my collection along with all of the originals on vinyl and CD.  That is so stupid but so right all at the same time.

The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses

I bought this on vinyl a couple years ago and was really disappointed with the sound.  This reissue really brings the album up to the level it deserves.  It’s also pressed on yellow wax which is always cool.  Great, classic record by a band that paved the way for Blur and Oasis.

Matthew Ryan – Boxers

This technically came out last year but the vinyl didn’t get released until early in 2015.  It’s classic Matthew Ryan in his more rocking persona.  There’s all the heartbreak and longing in his voice and the crunch of a solid backing band to add some heft and conviction to the proceedings.  I also bought this on vinyl and I’m absolutely stunned at the quality of this pressing.  With this, a set of headphones and a cold beer in your hand, you’re front row at this match.

Christmas Market Time

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Here is a picture NH2 and I co-drew after hitting the Christmas markets in Krakow, Poland. It’s a depiction of an ornament stand. Buying the red skull decoration was my idea. Hey, I live in a house full of girls.  I have to exert my influence when I can.