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!