Thursday, December 29, 2011

I am a Renaissance Man, mon!

 A colleague of mine once accused me of being a Renaissance Man.  I was amused that she would have used the term to refer to me.  If you are unfamiliar with the term, a renaissance man is someone who “does not have only broad interests or a superficial knowledge of several fields, but rather that their knowledge is profound and often that they also have proficiency or accomplishments in at least some of these fields and in some cases even at a level comparable to the proficiency or the accomplishments of an expert.” ( 

This knowledge comes from having, in my opinion, many hobbies and interests.  I don’t usually toot my own horn, but I am a pretty good cabinetmaker, a good photographer, and an excellent shot.  Two recent hobbies that I have unfortunately given the short shrift to are writing and drumming. Just the other day my drum teacher remarked that my writing pieces have started to become few and far between.  So I thought I would kill two birds with one stone and write a piece about drumming. 

I was brought up in a house that appreciated music.  My parents, who never spent money on anything frivolous, one day came home with a new, RCA console record player.  It was finished in gorgeous mahogany veneer with gold fabric covering the speakers.  It became the centerpiece of the house.  Then, in an act that I can only describe as sheer madness, two weeks later they came home with the matching stereo speaker.  Whoa!  As they were hooking it, up no mean feat, because my father was clueless as to how stuff works, they were laughing about the speaker terms: woofers and tweeters (bass and treble).  They got a lot of mileage out of that joke.  At parties they would act it out with my father saying woofer in his deep bass and my mother saying tweeter in a falsetto.  It was hysterical. That stereo played all day.  I listened to Sinatra, Martin, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Vaughn Monroe to name a few. However, Elvis and the Beatles never made it to the top ten hit list.  Last year I asked my mom about Elvis and she said, “He was disgusting, shaking his ass like that!  Did you know that on the Ed Sullivan show they had to...”  Yeah okay, I get it. 

When I was twelve years old, my mother asked me if I would like to play an instrument.  Without hesitation I said, “The drums!”  I was always tapping my feet, pulling out pots and pans and playing them with pencils.  When all of the other kids were discussing whether John was cooler than Paul, I chimed and said,  “Ringo is my man.”  Well maybe not those exact words, but you get the point.   

Anyway, I thought that drums would be a logical choice.  “Too noisy!” said my mother.  I tried explaining to her that the kids playing drums in school practice on rubber pads.  She would not listen and the next thing I knew I was the not so proud owner, or to be more specific renter, of an alto saxophone.   Big, heavy, loud and impossible to figure out.  Yep, that was my new instrument.  Complete with Mr. Amato, my private instructor.  I hated this thing. It hung around my neck like an albatross. Also, not many bands that were coming out in 1964-65 had a saxophone player.  Beatles, no, Rolling Stones, not until later, Kinks, nope, The Animals, uh-uh, and so on.  Oh sure there were some bands that had a sax player, but drums and guitars ruled the air-waves. 

When I practiced, which wasn’t often enough according to Mr. Amato, it sounded as if I was slaughtering animals in my basement. It squeaked, bleated, squealed and howled. The ASPCA once staged a protest outside our house. We never even owned an animal. Mr. Amato was always telling me I had to “bone up” on my practice.  I remember thinking how can I smash this thing over his head AND get away with it?  He would complain to my mother that I wasn’t doing my work, so I got punished by having to practice more. 

A couple of my friends and I formed a “band.”  We had a guitar, organ and, you guessed it, me sitting in on sax.  Our only piece of sheet music was, of all things, Wooley Bully, by Sam The Sham and the Pharaohs. ( We worked on that song for weeks.  At the end of those weeks we sounded so bad that one of our parents said we should name our band the Discords.  It never sounded right because the sheet music was written for the sax part.  That was my last foray into being in a band.  I completely stopped practicing the sax and much to my relief, my mother took the instrument back to the music store, so it could torture some other unsuspecting child. 

Fast forward forty years.  I was looking for a new hobby and thought, how about the drums?  My wife was agreeable, I had the means, so I bought a cheap kit on the Internet and searched for a drum teacher.  I hooked up with Gus, who at the time, was teaching at Music and Arts in East Hartford.  It has been a very rewarding ride. I’ve learned music theory, different styles, and I can even tune a timpani. What I like about Gus is that even when I mess something up while I’m playing, he finds something good to say. I bring him recordings of my sessions and he gives me honest, insightful comments and criticisms. He is a patient guy, with a lot of knowledge.  

I’ve gotten together with two other cats who play guitar, and every couple of weeks we get together to jam in my basement.  At first it sounded like noise, but for the past year, my wife never fails to mention that is sounds like music.  Very good music.  And that is music to my ears. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Latkes and the story of Hanukah

Hanukah, or the Festival of Light, is a holiday that commemorates the re-dedication of the Second Temple in 165 BCE.  Interestingly enough, Hanukah is not mentioned in the Torah, the Jewish Bible.  Rather, it is the book of the Maccabees. The Maccabees were a band of Hebrew fighters who liberated the land of Israel from the occupying Syrian Greeks.  Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a nasty sort if there ever was one, forbade the Hebrews from practicing their religion and forced them to worship the Greek gods.  If that wasn’t enough, he also defiled the Second Temple in Jerusalem.  That was the final straw.  The Maccabees, under the leadership of Judah Maccabee, led a small army, which waged a guerrilla war against the Syrians.  When they finally took control of the Temple, the Hebrews wanted to burn ritual oil to purify it.  However, they were only able to find enough oil for one day.  The miracle of Hanukah was that the oil lasted a total of eight days. We celebrate it today by lighting a menorah.  The menorah contains nine branches; eight to symbolize the eight days that the oil lasted and one as the Shamash.  The Shamash is the candle used to light the others. Hanukah is a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar.  We eat ritual foods, say prayers, sing songs, spin dreidels and give gifts. 

Eating fried foods on Hanukah reminds us of the miracle of the oil.  Latkes and sufganiyot (fried donuts) are traditional foods most often associated with the Jewish holiday of Hanukah.  We are having a Hanukah party at my temple so we are going to make potato latkes. The recipe that we are going to use is...

Kathi and Harriet’s Luscious Latke Recipe
2 eggs
½ small onion, chopped
2 Tbl vegetable oil for the latkes
1 tsp salt
2 Tbl flour
¼ tsp baking powder
3 cups shredded raw potatoes

Vegetable oil for frying

Assemble the troops

 Old School
Graduate School

I am making fifteen pounds of potatoes, so I modified the recipe slightly to go for high production.  Soak the shredded potatoes for about 15 minutes in cold water. 
 This will remove some of the starch.  Heat enough oil in a large skillet to cover about 1/8 inch to medium-high heat.  When it starts to shimmer it is ready.  Remove the potatoes from the water and put them on a kitchen towel.  Roll up the towel and then squeeze the excess water from the potatoes. 

Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl. 

  Form the latkes into three-inch diameter mounds.  Drop in the hot oil, press gently with the back of a spoon, and fry until golden brown on both sides.  

Remove from heat and drain on a paper towel.

Serve with applesauce or sour cream or both! L’Chaim.   I'm actually serving this with Duck Sauce.  You know Jews and Chinese food, but that's another story.  

Wishing all of you a very Happy Hanukah and/or a Merry Christmas! 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I Moved Like Jagger And Ended Up In Physical Therapy

I'm not a big Maroon Five fan, but the song “Moves Like Jagger” has been rattling around my head for some time, and I can't seem to shake it. I actually saw them six years ago when they were the warm up act for, you guessed it, the Rolling Stones.  I don’t recall Adam Levine moving like Jagger when he was on the stage.  But then again, I just had major knee surgery, and was taking Vicodin for the pain, so I don’t recall a whole lot from the concert anyway.

 In any case, the Stones are going to be celebrating their 50th anniversary. Hard to believe.  Mick Jagger is 68 years old. I'm not so certain that he even can move like Jagger anymore.   I’m ten years younger than he is and to be honest, I don’t move like Jagger either.  I know that on some days when I get up, I don’t even move like Barry.  I move more like grandpa.   The last time I tried to move like Jagger, something twisted and I had to apply ice to my shoulder.

Every day brings a new ache or pain. I lovingly refer to it as the Ache du Jour.  Where will it strike? My wife says that I probably slept funny. But I don’t remember being amused at three in the morning. I most certainly didn’t wake up, laughing hysterically at the ache/shooting pain in my _____(insert body part here). 

I’ve been going to physical therapy lately for some routine maintenance on my neck.  I’m not sure if I slept funny or moved like Jagger, but I need a bit of a tune up.  It’s an eye opener walking into the physical therapy room.  The only people that are moving are the therapists.  Everyone else is moving like, well, actually, they are not moving at all.  Broken feet, bad knees, bum elbows, and sore necks. The therapists push, pull, kneed and bend the broken parts.  I have been hooked up to a traction machine that “gently” pulls my head in an attempt to separate it from the rest of me.  Ten minutes of that and I have actually grown.  I can move without an ache, a pain, a throb or a twinge.  Maybe I cannot move like Jagger anymore, but I bet I can still move like Keith Richards!  

Friday, November 25, 2011

Buttermilk soaked, apple and cherry smoked turkey

Well, it seem that only five months ago we were celebrating Thanksgiving In July.  Now Thanksgiving morning is finally here.  My two sons are safely tucked away in their beds, the house is quiet, a fire is burning brightly.  We are preparing the usual feast of turkey, stuffing, breads, and pies.  I decided to add a new dish to the mix this year; smoked turkey breast.  I’ve been smoking meats for nearly two years.  I’ve smoked briskets, ribs, pork loins and chickens, but never a turkey.  So, why not smoke one for Thanksgiving. 

By chance, a recipe for buttermilk brined, smoked turkey arrived in my in-box a week ago.  The turkey is soaked in buttermilk, slathered with herbed butter, and then smoked.  I’m in.  I start to assemble the troops.  My wife buys a 6 pound turkey breast.  I check my spice drawer.  I’m ready to rock.  

The night before I start making the poultry rub.  There are many recipes for poultry rubs, but I choose the Simon and Garfunkel found at  

This recipe has no salt.  Next step is to make the herbed butter.  While softening two sticks of butter, I sliced the top off of a head of garlic, added a dash of olive oil, placed it in some foil, and roasted it in the oven for about an hour at 350.  After it was done, I squeezed the garlicky goodness into a bowl, added the softened butter, and about three heaping tablespoons of the poultry seasoning. 

When all mixed, I placed the butter on some waxed paper, wrapped it up and placed it back into the fridge to cool. Sweet dreams, herbed butter, sweet dreams.

The original recipe called for buttermilk and salt. Most of the birds in my area are self-basting.  They are injected with broth, salt, and flavorings.  If you brine it, it may be too salty.    I decided to just soak it in buttermilk and the leave the salt out of it.  The acid in the buttermilk will break down the muscle just a tad, and the buttermilk itself will add another layer of flavor.  I took the breast, dropped it into a pot, dumped in a quart of buttermilk, added a tablespoon of the Simon and Garfunkel, and filled the rest with water.  This needs to be kept cool, otherwise bacteria can form, and who wants to get sick at Thanksgiving?  Not me.  I put the turkey in the fridge overnight.  

I take the bird out of the buttermilk, pat it dry, and cut out the backbone to butterfly it.  I cut up the herbed butter into small pieces and gently push it under the skin.  I finish by rubbing the herbed butter on the outside of the skin as well.  Dust it with some more Simon and Garfunkel, and its ready to smoke.  

Since this is a wet smoker, I’m going to fill the liquid pan with apple juice.  This will add even another layer of flavor.  I’ll also be using a combination of cherry and apple wood chips. 

I like chunks rather than chips, but I didn’t have any on hand.  I was too lazy to go to the store.  I don’t to soak the chips in water.  Some people do, but I don’t see too much of a benefit.  This will smoke at 220 degrees for about 3 to 4 hours.  I always take the temperature using an instant read thermometer.  At 165 degrees, we’re done.  See you in a few hours. 

I have some herbed butter left over.  Hmmm.  I think I’ll  put some on the mashed potatoes later. 

Keeping the smoker at a constant 220 degrees is a bit of a chore.  I’m watching the Lions-Packers game with one eye, and keeping a watch on the temperature.  Finally I take it out and let it rest.  This one took three and a half hours to cook.  The turkey smells amazing. 



I let it rest for twenty minutes, and then  I carve it up.  The meat is moist and tender.  The garlic, herbs and butter flavor arrives with a bit hit.  Very savory.  It has a very smooth, smoky finish that lingers awhile.  It is very, very tasty.  Twenty minutes later, the timer goes off and the main turkey is done.  Time for dinner.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Storm Alfred, There's No Business, Like Snow Business

Well this has certainly been one of the most frustrating weeks that I can remember, and it’s not over for a lot of people.  My heart goes out to those of you who haven’t gotten their power restored.  Mine was restored on Thursday, just three hours after I got my new generator.  My neighbors on either side of me are now the proud owners of a new generator too!  They will sit in the garage eagerly awaiting the next natural disaster.  We mistakenly believed the Connecticut Light and Power projections of 99% of all customers would have their power back on by 11:59 PM Sunday.  So who is going to be the 1% left?  Maybe it will be the 1% that “Occupy Wall Street” is protesting.  Would serve them right.  Speaking of that, as I drove past the Northeast Utilities Headquarters, there was one protester, three if you count his two toddlers, holding up an Occupy CL&P sign.  I didn’t know whether to laugh, or cry, or call DCF, because the two kids were playing at a dangerous intersection in the cold.  I think that most people just wanted to Occupy Their Own Dwelling that was warm, dry and powered. 

Like it or not, we are inextricably tied to electricity.  You can long for the good old days, but how great did we feel after a few days of darkness and no hot water? How much fun would be to go to the well, pump a bucket of water and then set it over a fire for a few hours to warm up?  Not much.  My idea of “roughing it” is the Holiday Inn.  Not having a computer was a drag for me, but being able to use my phone to keep in touch using Facebook and Twitter was invaluable.  Who has power? What streets were closed? What gas stations were open?  It did wonders keeping up my morale.

It seems that everyone knew this storm was coming except for the President of CL&P.  Perhaps next time, if he is still president, he should consult the weathermen/women on TV.  They were positively wetting their pants about this storm.  “Massive outages!”  “This is the big one!”  “In all of my years in this business, I have never seen...” This time they got it right.  I hope they dried out their drawers.  Jeff Butler, the president of CL&P said this storm was unprecedented.  I beg to differ.  The precedent or practice run was Irene, which also knocked out power for most Connecticut residents.  And it was only two months ago.  Perhaps a little reshuffle in the management area might be appropriate at this time. 

The storm did reaffirm my faith in my fellow man.  I was pumping gas into a can and a total stranger walked up to me and gave me a new plastic bag to hold the dirty can so it wouldn’t damage the upholstery in my car.  My neighbor let me borrow their borrowed generator so I could pump out my quickly filling basement.  My niece and nephew let us come over and get a hot shower and a hot meal.  People waited patiently on line at the donut shop. 

I read that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I must have turned on the bathroom light a hundred times this week and the light still didn’t go on.  You can draw your own conclusions. 


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I ate at Carrabba's Italian Grill, and survived, just barely

I’m not a big fan of chain restaurants because, as I see it, you are playing to the lowest common denominator.  It has to taste the same in Alabama as well as Connecticut. It also doesn’t allow for regional tastes or the creativity of the chefs.  You are locked into a finite set of ingredients and menu items.  The “specials” are whatever the corporate office deems special.  So it was with much trepidation that my wife and I went to Carrabba’s Italian Grill   Well Barr, why did you go in the first place?  Good question.  My wonderful niece and nephew gave us a restaurant gift card.  It had a fish place, The Salty Bonefish or some such nonsense that didn’t have a place near us.  The Outback and Fleming Steakhouse were out because I had made an amazing T-Bone with Bleu Cheese sauce two nights before.  That left Italian. 

I Googled Carrabba’s for some reviews and they were written by a bunch of crybabies!  Too salty(boo-hoo!), raw garlic in my pasta (wah!) and my favorite, not a good vegetarian place.   Really, pasta is not vegetarian?  What world do you live in?   I found a half-dozen veggie dishes without even breaking a sweat.  Anyway, off we went. 

We got there late-ish and the place was packed.  They seem to be set up for larger parties, as the booths for two were limited.  The décor was what you would expect of Tuscany.  Tuscany, New Jersey that is.  Faux plaster accented with shades of soft orange and ochre along with dark accented wood beams.  After waiting about twenty minutes we were seated in the bar area.  Not ideal, because there was this VERY shrill, VERY drunk girl loudly laughing at the next table.  Mercifully they soon left.  More annoying than that was that neither TV had the Bruins game on.  I was checking the score throughout the night much to the displeasure of my wife.  Anyway on to the food.

The waiter introduced himself and asked us if we had ever been here, NO, what the specials are, NOT INTERESTED, and they had a scratch kitchen.  That piqued my interest. Fresh, local food versus frozen corporate pap.  I’m in!  He took our drink orders and returned with some fresh bread.  He took about a tablespoon of mixed herbs and spices, dropped them on a dish and added some olive oil.  The bread was to die for, hot, crusty and fresh.  The herb mixture was excellent.   Lots of garlic, basil, oregano and I might have caught a whiff of lavender to boot.  So far so good.  For appetizers we ordered the Fried Calamari with both the marinara and spicy Italian pepper and lemon butter sauces.  For entrees my wife ordered the Mezzaluna; which is half moon shaped ravioli with chicken, ricotta and spinach in tomato cream sauce.  I go for the Seafood Cannelloni; which is lobster, shrimp and scallops, blended with roasted garlic and chives, topped with a light tomato cream sauce and crabmeat (taken word for word from the menu). We both ordered the Caesar salad.

After crushing the bread and dip, and having a nice conversation with my wife, while checking on the Bruins game, the appetizer arrives.  Big disappointment.  The coating was excellent, the sauces were good but the calamari itself was too chewy.  Way too overcooked. All right, maybe they can make it up on the entrees.   A few minutes later our salads arrive.  Good creamy dressing, freshly shaved Parmigianino, and fresh croutons atop crisp lettuce.  Very good.

We are waiting and waiting and finally the waiter comes to our table and apologizes that the kitchen is backed up and our meals will be out in a couple of minutes.  Not a problem because I cannot stand when you are not even finished with one course and the other one is put on your table.  I like to wait a while between courses.  But I am puzzled by the fact that if the kitchen is too busy, how in the world can they OVERCOOK the calamari?  Hold that thought.

Finally our meals arrive.  By current American standards of the food falling off of the plate, these entrees were a little on the skimpy side.  I took one look at mine and knew I was in trouble.  There were burn marks on the pasta and crabmeat.  Mine was overcooked, in a kitchen that was busy.  Go figure.  I couldn’t detect the individual pieces of seafood, it more of a puree.  The sauce was pretty good, but nothing that would stand out.  There also wasn’t that much; perhaps the light cream sauce referred to the amount.  I would have sent it back, but it was getting late and I was very hungry.  I gazed longingly at my wife’s entrée. She kindly gave me a few pieces, which I eagerly ate.  It was delicious.  The pasta was cooked perfectly.  The filling was delicious.  A ton of flavor.

The bill wasn’t that bad, more so because I had a gift card.  I made the waiter’s night by accidentally over tipping him.   That’s okay, he was just a kid trying to make a buck.  On the way home we were toying with the idea of going back.  We decided not to.  There are way too many good Italian places in the area to waste our money on a standardized, one size fits all restaurant.  

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Simchat Torah, yet another Jewish holiday, May the force be with you

Last night at our synagogue we celebrated the holiday of Simchat Torah.  This holiday marks the end of the annual cycle of reading the Torah (Old Testament) and begins a new one. It is a happy holiday marked with joy and celebration, unlike the solemn Yom Kippur, which is a day of prayer, fasting and reflection. Trained scribes using special ink and quills carefully handwrite the Torahs, which are scrolls made of parchment. They are checked and double-checked for their accuracy.  Finally, the panels are sewn together with sinew and rolled onto staves called etz hayyim, or tree of life.  The Torah is covered with elaborate dressings, crowns and breastplates.  It is the foundation of Jewish life and law. 

We paraded the Torahs around the synagogue and sang songs.  The culmination of this celebration was to completely unroll the Torah and display it in the sanctuary.  That job fell to yours truly.  I had to hold the Torah and carefully unfurl it while people stationed strategically around the schul (Yiddish for synagogue) held it.  The Torah weighed about thirty pounds. It took about ten minutes to completely unfurl.  I estimate that is was well over one hundred feet long.  Then, we had to carefully roll it back up, again conducted by yours truly, with the congregation shouting encouragements such as, tighter, looser, this way, more slack, less slack, left, up!  I’ve always said that if you have two Jews in a room, you get three opinions.  The Torah is not something that you want to mess around with.  Even though my shoulder was screaming in pain, I had to make sure that it never touched the ground.  The penalty for dropping a Torah is fasting for forty days.  Yeah.  That’s right, forty.  I call it the Disgraced Jew Diet.  In some synagogues the entire congregation has to fast because of your clumsiness.  Not an effective way of keeping friends. 

How did this honor happen to be bestowed upon yours truly?  You probably know that I have a lot of hobbies and interests.  Drumming, photography, cooking, attempting to write and blog, pretending to garden, mountain biking, and target shooting are among my many interests.   My latest undertaking is, along with my wife, president of a synagogue.  What? Slow down there sport.  Did you just say president of a synagogue? Yes I did.  Here is the story.

A few years ago, my former synagogue refused to renew the Rabbi’s contract. This was nothing new because this schul (Yiddish for synagogue in case you didn’t get it he first time) went through Rabbis constantly. In the twenty years that I attended the old synagogue, we had four.  Some years we had substitute rabbis.  Just when you started getting comfortable with the Rabbi, BAM, Gone. Rabbi Seth is very different. He is very smart, insightful, articulate, friendly and makes going to services actually tolerable. I don’t know how it is going to church, but I’m sure that some of you wish you were doing something, anything, other than spending a perfectly good morning being one with the Supreme Being. 

So we said, Gai tren zich (Yiddish for well, a certain word in the English language that can be a noun, verb, adjective, and adverb, sometimes simultaneously) left the schul, and followed him to a new one. This was particularly painful because we had great seats. It was like giving up season tickets on the fifty-yard line to the Giants.

Anyway, this little schul is located in the heart of downtown Old Wethersfield. The building is a charming, well over a hundred-year-old converted church. But, here is the kicker; filled with some of the most wonderful people I have ever met. Friendly, warm, tolerant, literate, accepting, I mean, what else can you ask of people?

Here is an example; In the twenty years that I had gone to my other schul, I was never once asked to come up on the bima (stage) to open or close the ark where the Torahs are kept. In the Jewish religion, this is considered a big honor.  The first day I was there, I was asked if I would be willing to carry the Torah around the schul during the Rosh Hashanah (New Year) services.  I’m not sure what a Christian equivalent is but, in my neck of the woods, it’s like carrying around the Stanley Cup.

One Saturday as we were leaving the Bat Mitzvah reception of the Rabbi’s daughter, just as we were about to leave, a member of the Executive Committee approached us.  She has the unusual ability; some call it a Jedi mind trick, to make your mouth say yes to something when your brain says no.  She asked if my wife and I would like to join the Membership Committee.  As my wife was vigorously shaking her head no, I heard myself say, “Of course, we would be honored.”  With a broad smile, and twinkle in her eye she said, “I knew you would!”  Jedi mind trick! 

After spending some time on the Executive Board, we heard rumors that, the current co-presidents, were about to give up the position.  They had done a wonderful job of keeping our little congregation thriving.  Money is always scarce; the building always needs work, bills need to be paid.  They managed to keep it all together with wisdom, grace, and aplomb.  Tough shoes to fill, but that was someone else’s problem.  Until, I heard rumors about my wife and I being considered for the role of Co-Vice Presidents.  Then it turned to us being the Presidents.  Talk about a fast career track.  One day I’m a simple congregant, next thing I’m running the joint.  Oi Vai iz mir! (Yiddish for Woe is me!)

As I nurse this sore shoulder with an ice bag, I think about my life’s journey.  A rabbi moves to a new synagogue and my wife and I become responsible for a small family of remarkable people. I can’t wait to see what happens next! 

 L’shana  Tovah  Tikatevu   – May all your names be inscribed and sealed for a joyous new year.

Yehi  hako'ah  imahem  —May the Force Be With You!