Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Allman Brothers/ Santana Concert Comcast Music Theater

When I’m asked what is my favorite concert, I usually reply seeing Santana at Dillon Stadium back in 1973.  I went with my buddy Larry (yes, Larry and Barry) and we were absolutely blown away by the intensity of the music.  Carlos Santana is a master guitar player who fuses Afro-Latin music, rock and jazz.  He tours with a full rhythm section, horns, and a large percussion section including a drummer and two percussionists, which adds to the incredible sound.  When I heard that they were coming to Hartford and headlining with The Allman Brothers Band (more on them later), well I just had to get tickets. 

Concert day arrives and it is pouring. We park in the free parking lot and trudge our way over to the venue in the rain.  Ugh!  It’s hot, humid and rainy.  Our seats were in the center section.  I am really looking forward to sitting in my seat, 666, the sign of the beast so I could really enjoy “that thar devil music,” but alas that wouldn’t be the case.  Some schmuck had pried off the seat number.  It seems several schmucks had pried all the 666 seat numbers off! Oh well, we settle in and wait for the music.  Footage of Woodstock starts on the video screen and Santana opens with Soul Sacrifice.  Go to Youtube and search for the Soul Sacrifice Woodstock 1969 version.  Michael Shrieve performs one of the most amazing drum solos.  He was twenty years old at the time.  Nice!  I’m having a great time while being thankful that the forty-year-old stoned hippy is not dancing in front of me.  I’m air drumming to the music, but I can get away with it because I actually play the drums.  I’m sure most of the air guitar players couldn’t tell the difference between a G-chord  and a G-string.

The crowd is on their feet during Jingo.  The percussionist, Raoul Rekow  is really laying down a heavy groove.  I spot a guy wearing a Max Creek tee shirt.  Really?  We hired that band back in 1973 to play at a house party.  Rock on!  A real treat was Santana’s wife, Cindy Blackman, a fantastic drummer in her own right, sitting in during Corazon Espinado.  She played a drum solo that had the crowd on their feet.  There is a great feel and style to her playing; a lot of energy with a great sense of rhythm.

An hour into the set, two rather large women finally find their seats.  Are you kidding me?  How hard is it to plan your day when you know you have a CONCERT scheduled?  They are bumping into everyone in that row.  Naturally their seats were on the other side of the row.  In addition to not being able to tell time, they had no sense of direction.  Hey, down in front!  The guy next to me is freaking out because people are standing a few rows down.  He stands up to see the show and the people in back of him start yelling.  I know I’m showing my age here, but really people, I didn’t spend 125 dollars to watch your jiggly ass shake; I want to see the band! 

Anyway, they start to play “Oye Como Va,” another favorite of mine.  Up on the video, more footage of Woodstock.  I was fifteen, when it happened and I begged my parents to let me go.  “No freakin’ way!” was essentially the reply.  I had a ride lined up and everything. 
Santana segues into “Maria, Maria,” an absolutely gorgeous song, and wouldn’t you know it, those two ladies are at it again!  As they are trying to get back to their seats, one of them stumbles and dumps her drink on a guy.  “Gee thanks, now I’m really going to enjoy the show sitting in in your beer!” 

An hour later, the show is over.  These guys were just as good as when I saw them thirty some odd years ago.  They brought everything to the stage and delivered an absolutely fantastic show. 

I’ve seen the Allman Brothers three times in the past.  Once at Dillon Stadium,  once at the Boston Garden and again at Watkins Glen.  They are a great southern, bluesy, rock, jam band.  They too have two drummers and a percussionist.  Jai Johanny "Jaimoe" Johanson and Butch Trucks have been playing together since the band’s inception in the late sixties.  Mark QuiƱones, the percussionist has been with them since the early nineties.  I got so inspired I’m starting hand percussion lessons!

The Bros’ take the stage at nine-thirty and open with “One Way Out.”  Truly, one of my favorite songs of all time!  The crowd starts rocking and the place is jumping.  Jaimo and Butch are laying down a heavy double shuffle beat to Statesboro Blues.  They are driving this song hard.  The guitarists, Derek Trucks, (Butch’s son) and Warren Haynes are wailing and trading jams back and forth.  These guys are some of the best guitar players I’ve ever seen!  The rhythm section is adding an amazing amount of depth and texture to the music.  Otiel Burbridge is working it  on the  bass.  Greg Allman is singing “Done Somebody Wrong” with the same grittiness and growl he had when he was younger, despite having a liver transplant and being married to Cher. 

Santana joins the band and they begin to play a nice bluesy, swing beat and slowly break into “All Along the Watchtower.”  They segue into a few other songs trading guitar licks and drum solos.  All of sudden, the group of people who were sitting in front of us, get up to leave. I was very happy that they left.  There was a guy, girl, her mother, and some other assorted people in this group.  The guy was practically having sex with this girl while she is sitting next to her mother.  Oi Vai! 

The set ends and the band leaves the stage.  The audience jumps to their feet, hands clapping, and yelling for more.  The band is taking a long time to return.  They are probably getting a blow of oxygen; remember these guys are not getting any younger.  I call “Whipping Post” for their encore and sure enough it is.  The band kills it with some absolute genius work on the guitars.  See these guys when come around again.  I know I will. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Some Girls Really Know How To Workout

So I’m at the gym the other day, minding my own business as usual, pounding on the treadmill, and wrecking my knees.  I’m listening to the Rolling Stones “Some Girls” album.  A great album for working out, mind you.  Anyway this older, rather overweight woman hobbles in on a cane and sits down on one of the LifeCycles in front of me.  She doesn’t look like the healthiest sort, but hey at least she’s in the gym and is making an attempt to work out. Right?  Not really.  She positions herself on the LifeCycle and proceeds to arrange her cane on the handlebars.  Then she re-arranged the cane, and yes, you guessed it, rearranged it again.  And again.  I’m beginning to think that maybe this is a new workout.  “Dude, I caned for forty-five minutes, I’m toast!”  Finally when the cane is in the optimal position, she then proceeds to re-arrange her butt on the seat.  And re-arrange and, yep, you guessed it again, re-arranged it one more time.  For two whole minutes she is shifting said butt to right, the left, up, down, and then she added some swirling motion. I nearly gagged! After her cane and butt were safely tucked away she began to cycle. But it was some slow-motion, time warp method, because she made one complete turn every 43 seconds.  Amazing.  The digital readout recorded that she expended a total of five calories and cycled a whopping fifteen feet.    She probably could have worked off more calories eating a bag of potato chips.  Then she picked up her cane, oozed off the LifeCycle, and hobbled out of the gym.  I was astounded.  So I’m thinking what in the world is this lady doing in the health club anyway?  Certainly not trying to get healthy that’s for sure.  Maybe she doesn’t have cable so she comes to the health club to catch up on her TV viewing.  But she wasn’t even sitting in front of the TV broadcasting Days of Our Lives. It was a hot day so perhaps she came into the health club to cool off.  But unless her living room smells worse than a gym, that was unlikely too.   Maybe she just likes to brag to her blue haired friends; “Whew, caned some ass at the gym today girls!” 

As the caning lady was walking out another shall we say extremely overweight gal comes in and plops herself on the LifeCycle that the caning lady just vacated.  This gal looked like she just cleaned out The Sports Authority; new Nike kicks, sweatpants, a sweatband and a shirt that read, “Go Hard Or Go Home!”  She looked like she was ready to rumble.  She quickly settles in and begins her workout; which consisted of texting for ten minutes.  She didn’t even bother to actually cycle on the LifeCycle.  After she finished this punishing routine she got up and left.  The sweatband was actually in better shape when she left.  I mean it was in pristine condition; not sullied by anything so horrible as a drop of perspiration.  Well if that that is the new go hard, then I’m going home! 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Man Card, Don't Ever Leave Home Without It

I hate to admit it, but I think I misplaced my man card.  I don’t know what I did with it.  One day I’m hitting and kicking the heavy bag,  and watching UFC on cable. The next thing I know I’m watching “Randy To The Rescue” and actually enjoying it!  Randy Fenoli of “Say Yes To The Dress” is a rather, shall we say, flamboyant, elfin sort of gent who helps women pick out their wedding dress.  I hadn’t realized that it was easier to get the Democrats and the Republicans to pass a bill in Congress than it was to pick out a wedding dress.  When I go looking for a suit it’s either the blue one with grey stripes or the grey one with blue stripes.  The end.  Wedding dresses, on the other hand, require an entire entourage of women who advise, insult, cajole, and finally approve the dress.  Fascinating.  Fascinating in that these dresses can cost thousands of dollars.  A huge sum for something that will be worn once for a few hours and then thrown into the closet.  For that kind of money I could put a down payment on the ’57 Thunderbird I have my eyes on. 

As I’m watching this, I find myself making bets with my wife as to which dress the girl is going to pick.  Before I lost my man card I would have voted for the one that revealed the maximum amount of cleavage and was rather tight around the butt.  But now I’m torn between the silk organza gown and the ivory colored one with classic lace.  Or how about the princess gown?  That one looked good too.  When the girl who was a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader finally made her decision I actually high fived my wife in celebration!  Randy was punching the air and prancing around the set in jubilation.

I must admit that Randy does have pretty good taste.  After all, this is a guy who started sewing when he was nine years old.  He must have very understanding parents.  He also attended The Fashion Institute of Technology.  I’m quite certain he didn’t attend FIT on a football scholarship. 

Enough is enough.  This has gone on way too far.  I need to find my man card.  It’s neither near my barbells nor my stack of Men’s Health magazines.  Oh, there it is, underneath my boxing gloves.  Whew that was close, I almost DVR’d Project Runaway!  Now if I can just find my car keys. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Perfect Homemade Pastrami

As much as I love corned beef, there is another meat that I love even more; pastrami. Pastrami is really nothing more than smoked brisket that has been corned or cured in a salt and spice solution. I had a brisket that’s been brining for three weeks and decided to bust it out and make some pastrami. Unfortunately, my wife doesn’t like pastrami so we compromised. I made both.

I use the Alton Brown corned beef recipe that can be found at foodnetwork.com to cure the brisket. I’ve made a bunch of briskets using that recipe and all have been fantastic. Everyone who has tried says it is some of the best they have tasted. But pastrami, now I’m in unchartered waters. I did a little research and found many methods of cooking it. Fast, slow, on the grill, in the oven, in the smoker etc. Also, the rub recipes varied as much as the cooking methods. I decided to go very basic. Cured brisket with a pepper and coriander rub. Period.
I took the brisket out of the fridge and carefully washed it in cold water to remove any residual salt. I then cut it two making sure to make more corned beef than pastrami as instructed by my wife. I dutifully followed her instructions knowing if I don’t, I’ll never hear the end of it. I also used the “point” part of the brisket.

There are two distinct parts of a brisket. The flat and the point. The point is the fattier part of the brisket. The “flat” is the leaner portion. I wanted the fattier portion because the fat would add more richness to the pastrami. I took three tablespoons of black peppercorns and coarsely ground them in my coffee grinder.

Just make sure that the grinder is absolutely clean and free of any coffee. The rich pungent smell of freshly ground pepper is nearly intoxicating. I took three tablespoons of coriander seeds and coarsely ground them too. Coriander has a very pleasant citrusy smell. I then put them in a small bowl and mixed them together. Really fantastic smell. Some other rub recipes called for garlic power, salt, paprika, pepper flakes etc. I wanted to stick to the basics. I patted the brisket dry and liberally applied the rub.

I decided to go with my trusty combination of apple and cherry wood for the smoke.

I love hickory for barbeque but thought that it would give me too bold a flavor. Oak was out simply because I didn’t have any on hand. Apple and cherry impart a subtle sweetness and I thought that it would be a nice contrast to the bite of the pepper and tartness of the coriander. As for the liquid in the smoker, I used straight apple juice. The liquid in the smoker helps keep the meat moist and control the temperature. I lit the smoker, put the meat in, stabilized the smoker temperature to 220 and waited until the internal temperature of the meat hit 185°.

I tested in a few areas to make sure that is was evenly done. This took about 4 1/2 hours. In that time I mowed the lawn, enjoyed some Harpoon UFO, and began reading the Hunger Games.

I took the pastrami out and covered it with some foil to keep it warm. Finally the moment of truth. I slice a few pieces off and bite into it. Ah, a slight smokey flavor with a big peppery bite. Tender, succulent, and rich. As with the corned beef, it wasn’t overly salty. I am very happy with results. The perfect pastrami.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Barry’s 40 Year Old Whisky BBQ Sauce

BBQ is one of my favorite types of cooking.  BBQ is slowly cooking meat over a wood fire.  The slow cooking tenderizes the meat while imparting a delicious smoky flavor.  Grilling on the other hand is directly cooking the meat over a flame, searing the outside to lock in the flavor. You need to patient with BBQ because if you are not, the meat will be as tough as shoe leather.  If you take your time, you will be rewarded with rich, succulent, tender, flavorful meat.  I also love sauces.  I’m always creating pan sauces out of ingredients I have on hand to “jazz up” an ordinary chicken breast, or a piece of fish. 

I was making ribs yesterday and decided I wanted a new BBQ sauce.  My usual sauce is sweet, tangy and savory.  I wanted something sweeter and hotter.  But, not too hot as my wife, who dislikes hot food, would not eat it.  So, in the interest of harmony, I deferred to her wishes.  After all, you can always add more heat with a few drops of hot sauce.  If you notice in my recipe, I only added ½ TSP of cayenne pepper.  It still gave me a nice warm finish.  You can obviously add more to suit your individual taste. 

I liked the idea of using bourbon whisky as a base.  Bourbon is smooth and flavorful.  It is  sweet, nutty and oaky.  I began to scour the Internet looking for some recipes.  I couldn’t find what I liked.  This one looked too sweet, this one too savory, this one too hot.  Also, I like using certain ingredients in my sauce to make it unique.  To begin with, I love onions and garlic.  They had to go into the sauce.  I also love Worchester sauce.  It has a very rich and complex taste.  I also use Gravy Master.  It too adds a lot of flavor.  They had to go into the sauce as well. Honey went into the pool because it is smooth and mellow.  Lastly, I couldn’t add bourbon because I didn’t have enough on hand!  What I did have was a forty-year-old bottle of Seagram’s.  I had filched this when I moved out of my parents’ house after college.  In all of those years I never cracked it open.  Oh well, nothing like the present.   I also wanted the sauce to have a smooth silky taste.  Hmmm.  Vanilla. The sour of the vinegar contrasted nicely with the sweetness of the sugar, maple syrup and honey insuring the sauce would not be overly sweet.  A few other spices from my spice drawer and I think I came up with a winner.

Barry’s 40 Year Old Whisky BBQ Sauce

I medium onion, fine dice
3 cloves of garlic, minced
pinch of salt
pinch of black pepper
1 TBL butter

Dry Ingredients
2 cups of brown sugar (loosely packed)
2 TSP ground ginger
½ TSP salt
½ TSP dried mustard
½ TSP cayenne pepper
½ TSP of paprika(smoked if possible)

Wet Ingredients
¼ cup of white wine vinegar
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 TBL Worchester sauce
1 TBL Gravy Master
1/3 cup of honey
2/3  cup maple syrup
1 cup ketchup
1 TSP vanilla extract
2/3 cup of whiskey

Combine the wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls. In a medium saucepan heat up the butter.  When butter is hot, add the onions.  Season with salt and pepper. Sweat the onions until they start to turn golden brown.  Add the garlic and stir.  Cook for 30 seconds until the garlic becomes fragrant.   Carefully add the wet ingredients.  Stir to combine.  Add  the dry ingredients.  Stir to combine.  Turn the heat to medium and bring to boil.  Turn heat down to low and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes to thicken.  Stir occasionally to make sure the sauce isn’t burning on the bottom of the pan.  If it is, turn the heat down slightly.  That’s it.