20 January 2021

A Song Parody About Barbecue


Think about it, there must be barbecue
Down in the pit or hidden in Cambros above
Without it, life is wasted time
Look inside your fridge, and I'll look inside mine

Things taste so bad everywhere
In this food world, what is fair?
We cook the line and try to see
Brining behind in what could be, oh

Bring me some barbecue
Bring me some barbecue, oh
Bring me some barbecue
Where's that barbecue I keep thinking of?

15 July 2019

A song parody about Mexican food

Born to Eat Tacos

Get your comal runnin'
Make the chile purée
Cookin' for familia
And whoever comes our way
Yeah darlin' go roast poblanos
Take tortillas in a love embrace
Eat all of the things until they
Explode in your face.

I like smoke and charcoal
Barbacoa thunder
Grilling in the wind
And that feeling when I eat another.
Yeah darlin' go roast poblanos
Take tortillas in a love embrace
Eat all of the things until they
Explode in your face.

Like a true taqueros child
We were born, born to eat wild
With tamale pie
I never wanna die
Born to eat tacos!
Born to eat tacos!

I remain,


03 June 2019

Making the Cut: Deliberate Practice with Julienne Brunoise, Chiffonade Mirepoix, et al.

This started out as a New Year's resolution and its back story. The New Year is now 5 months old so this is just about the back story and its underlying theme, the relationship between motivation and creativity. In the final 4.5 months of finishing and defending my dissertation I lost 45 pounds by significantly changing my diet and adding resistance training to my existing exercise routine (OK, it was only playing basketball twice a week with 20-somethings). Over the next couple of years 20 more pounds came off and they have not returned. This change took some practice and there were periods of frustration, despair, and whining. The new eating and cooking habits amazingly helped my clarity of thought (no more carbo brain fog; this is not the space to discuss the nutritional and medical research that confirms my impressions), and I had more energy and very little in the way of cravings for items which fall into the realm of dietary folly. And when such gastronomic indiscretion occurred there was no floundering in despair or self-deprecation.

This was not a short-term change. Why did I decide to do this? In my research on
“How to Write Your Dissertation” I came across an online article that began by saying something like “If you can't control what you put in your mouth, how can you expect to write a dissertation?” Or do anything else except get fat and perpetually fatigued? It was not a resolution. It was a determination; a commitment; a mission; an epiphany.  I was tired of underachieving. Yes, I had made commercial recordings, published a few small articles (in peer-reviewed publications), and had been asked to submit a book proposal. And people were still hiring me to play concerts in different places around the country. I have always seen myself as a creative person but have often wondered what motivates me. With this discovery I felt things could be better, more efficient, creative, and enjoyable.

In the past 10 months I have gone from obese to overweight to within normal limits. This happened through mindful eating and an increase in exercise (aerobics added to the weight training). Dietary folly occurs, to be sure, but in controlled and planned circumstances. The overall mindfulness and continued clarity has helped me in my meal planning and preparation and I don't punish myself for the occasional lapse in gastronomic judgment. “OK,” you ask, “but how is this related to music?”

For our purposes here this post is related to musicology and academic writing than the performance of music. I have discussed the benefits of deliberate practice here.This essay is about clearing your mind, removing inadvertent road blocks (the Carbo Brain Fog), and using the same creative, organized, and methodical techniques used in cooking, flute playing, and academic writing as motivation and how to enjoy it in the process. Yes, believe it or not, some professional musicians do not enjoy playing music. Some people do not like cooking dinner every night. For me, the jury is still out on whether or not musicologists actively enjoy writing or is it something they have to do. At this point in my life I do not have to do it. I want to do it. The dissertation was something that I had to do but it was not an onerous task and I received a lot of encouragement in the process. The book proposal was a validating process (when it got accepted for publication) and when I turned in the first complete draft of the manuscript I experienced euphoria (briefly; to be my own buzz kill I am now waiting on the second peer reviewer to send comments to the publisher/editor who will then pass them on to me and then I’ll do what they ask; thus, my excitement was tempered). But, as noted above, I do enjoy the process, especially now that the goal in my revisions is/will be to engage more of a story-telling narrative. To turn my propensity for writing in a mind-numbing laconic style into an interesting, florid, and captivating style, void of clichés, repetitive sentence structure and syntax, run-on sentences, and with little in the way of bovine discharge.

How do you get to this point? In cooking, if you want to eat something other than white rice or pre-packaged microwave meals you need to acquire some knowledge and skills; you need to step outside of your comfort zone (that’s not a cliché, is it?), expand the horizons of your taste buds, and commit to leaving behind the feeling of underachieving. You may not know how to prepare vegetables with the julienne, brunoise, chiffonade, mirepoix, macedoine, jardinière, chiffonade, or concasse cuts, but as you start to immerse yourself in your own inspiration and creativity you will probably want to do more than just pulverize produce with a cleaver. But you need to be motivated.

As with musicological writing the more you do something the better you get. “How do I become a better writer?” “Write more,” “write every day,” and “emulate writers you enjoy reading”. Same with cooking: more; frequently; copy recipes from cookbooks. After chopping a metric ton of onions, there is no way you won’t get better, and, hopefully you’ll be inspired to do more than dice them. The same with writing: If you call yourself a musicologist then you are already an expert in some area of music and music history. As you write about your subject try refining your mirepoix phrase with the writing parallel of the chiffonade. In conversation people are known to say, “Don’t mince words.” Well, sometimes you might have to give more detail than presented with the literary equivalent of a macedoine cut and dissect it into smaller parts, literally mincing your words to give more detail. And the only way to get better at all this is to do it more. Do it often. Do it in imitation of a well-known chef. Cooking, practicing, musicology; what’s the diff?

18 December 2018

Tacos are like ogres: they're complicated (étude or essay: what's the diff?)

UPDATE 28.xii.18: Recipe links added at the end.

Dear Colleague,

It has been too long since we've had a discussion about food and music. The circumstances behind the hiatus are not important; it will suffice to say that I have been thinking about many posts and the connections between food and my own music practice for the past few years. I have recently been contracted to write a monograph on American music history which has helped in rededicating myself to the practice of music, as well as redefine what I want to work on as a scholar-performer. 

In an earlier post about the multi-ethnic identity of tacos I mentioned that a post about tacos would be forthcoming. Consider this that post. After reading Gustavo Arellano's book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, I now have a greater awareness of the backstory behind each and every taco I make or eat. This backstory includes recognizing the difference between Mexican, Tex-Mex, and New Mexican styles of food.

Speaking of awareness, no matter how many times you do something a benefit can be had from revisiting the history and processes that got you to where you are now. I've been making tacos for decades, reading about and cooking Mexican food for the same amount of time, and in the past ten years or so have been seriously working on improving not just my Mexican food chops but my culinary skills in general. Thus, after my cooking of chicken improved immensely after receiving a Craftsy course on cooking chicken from my wife (and believe me, up to that point I had cooked a LOT of chicken), I was excited when she brought home The Best Mexican Recipes: Kitchen Tested Recipes that put the Real Flavors of Mexico within Reach  from America's Test Kitchen. America's Test Kitchen does exactly that: test things in the kitchen until they are as efficient as they can be. Techniques refined, ingredients measured, and temperatures and cooking times confirmed and now laid out in a clean format with a list of ingredients and clear procedures that make each recipe accessible even for the novice home cook. 

So what did I do? Made more Mexican food, used different ingredients for different types of tacos (based, in part, from reading Mr. Arrellano's book which discusses, among many things, regional differences), and expanded my repertoire to include tortas and molletes. For these latter two gustatory pleasures I dragged a cookbook off the shelf that I had not used since the day bought it, Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales: Flavors from the Griddles, Pots, and Streetside Kitchens of Mexico, by Roberto Santibañez. Now, with refined skills and more knowledge, I merely had to look at the dish and the basic ingredients and I could make my own versions of a torta and mollete. And, well, no excursion into the realm of binge-eating Mexican food would be complete, at least for me, without cranking out some enchiladas. Not just any enchiladas. I used my special, private stock of Chimayo chile powder (medium; sun dried) to make the sauce, thus combining Mexican and New Mexican cuisine in one dish. If you say, "So what, they are just chile peppers?" then we have to have a serious conversation about attention to detail, subtle differences in taste, texture, heat, and context.  

Where does music fit in here? If you have been practicing similar exercises for years, or have moved away from technical work and have been just practicing repertoire (even using a deliberate practice), then you could likely benefit from reconsidering the processes and techniques that got you to this point in your musical endeavors. I have reevaluated my deliberate practice techniques, the etudes, caprices, scales, and specific pieces that present particular challenges and have re-engaged myself with particular components that I had set aside or had not played for a while. The musical equivalent of putting something on the top shelf where a step stool or stepladder is required to get the item off the shelf and use in a recipe.

Now that my practice has taken those ingredients off of the top shelf and put them back into the regularly-used items, I am refreshed, reinvigorated, revitalized, and other words that start with "re-" in my playing of music. In the words of the legendary Joe Bob Briggs, "check it out."

I remain, 

UPDATE 28.xii.18
After posting this I received some feedback from friends and family who wanted some of my recipes. I can't do that because I just wing it every time I make tacos. Or enchiladas. Or tortas. Or mollettes. However, here are some links to different types of tacos. Beef, pork, fish, and vegetarian/vegan options. I chose them because of how they look on my computer screen, the pictures, one even has a video, and the apparent ease in following the recipe. Some of them come with back stories, others just talk about how to make tacos. Enjoy!

Carne asada tacos
Fish tacos
Chicken tacos
Salmon tacos
More fish tacos
Carnitas tacos
More carnitas tacos
Vegan mushroom tacos
Mushroom, corn, poblano tacos
More mushroom tacos
And even more mushroom tacos (OK, so I like mushrooms)

11 February 2015

How to Cook A Wolf - Part Deux

Dear Colleague,

The cold weather has finally left us, unlike the rest of the country, Houston is headed into spring.
Although I see in our future some colder temperatures. Ah, but what is cold to southern Texas.

I continue on my mission to work my way slowly through MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf. It really is a delightful book and if you want humor and a touch of sass with your recipes, I recommend. But as my colleague before mentioned to you about less, Fisher touches on that topic over and over again. And it has sunk into my head so deep that I have begun to infuse into my daily life, my house, my writing, practicing.

And speaking of simple, I recently purchased the CD (yes I bought a real CD) Another Day, AnotherTime Celebrating the music of Llewyn Davis. It is a collection of folk songs from as far back as 100 years to just a few years back. Sung by various groups of folk artists, pop stars and the like it is a collection of simple songs. One of my favorites is Auld Triangle. The harmonies linger in the ear and make your head buzz. I share it with you hear, just for fun. 

Okay, back to food.

How to boil water – the fourth chapter in Fisher’s book is all about soup. And it starts with telling you how to boil water. And she says the best water to cook a wolf is from a spring or well.  
She believes you can actually over cook water, over doing it makes it flat, tasteless and my favorite description – exhausted. No one wants tired water it will ruin your cup of tea. And the best way to make your flat water taste good is to add a little bone, carrot, herbs.

As this is a book about conserving time and energy, she says we

do not have the resources to let a pot simmer all day long on the back of the stove. It is a waste of energy. Of course now-a-days, we can simmer all day and think nothing of a gas or electric bill being a little high.

And just a reminder - Soup-pots should be made fresh now and then, like people’s minds at the New Year. (p. 30) So remember that pot sitting on the back of the stove, must be cleaned and started fresh!

The thing about soup is it really is the simplest thing in the world to make, besides toast and butter. Water, vegetables, maybe meat, some salt, herbs, this, that and you’ve got a dinner, lunch or even breakfast if you break an egg in it. A soup can feed many or one -  taste overwhelming to quite bland. I love to put my mind to work, digging out things in the fridge and pantry and throwing them in a pot, stirring it, watching it bubble, tasting, and finessing to match my tastes.

Fisher says to eat to your tastes. I agree. If you don’t like it, then why are you cooking it? Why in the world are you eating it? What good is food if you are not enjoying it? The body knows what it needs and it knows what it likes, put those things in it and I bet your body will be happy and healthy.

I made a version of her recipe for minestrone and this is what she says of the soup:
“Probably the most satisfying soup in the world for people who are hungry, as well as for those who
are tired or worried or cross or in debt or in a moderate amount of pain or in love or in robust health or in any kind of business huggermuggery, is minestrone.” (p. 38)

Here is my version of MFK Fisher’s:
Couple tablespoons of bacon fat (she uses bacon, salt pork or ham); Warmed in a pot - add finely

chopped onion, celery and carrot (she doesn’t add carrot). Cook till soft – add dried parsley, oregano, sweet basil. Add finely chopped tomatoes. (I used tinned ones with a touch of sauce added to them); Add chicken stock and water; (Fisher only uses water); She then says to add five of a choice of onion, potato, garlic, cabbage, carrots, celery, spinach, green beans, etc., etc. I went with carrots, potatoes, onions and celery. I missed a fifth! Bring the entire thing to a boil and cook until veggies
are soft. I cooked my pasta separate. Added it to a bowl and topped with the soup. Served with crusty bread and a white cheddar and glass of red wine. It was fantastic.

I hope, dear friend, you will spend some time soon in your kitchen with a pot of boiling water.

I remain,
The Mad Listmaker

02 February 2015

Les éléments (or, less is more)

Dear Colleague,

As usual, I am always looking for ways in which to streamline processes and achieve maximum benefits or results with minimum effort and material (work lazy, not harder, or something like that). About 15 years ago I came up with an efficient way to practice flute and recorder, wherein I work on fundamentals (tone development and technical exercises without looking at music) for 20 minutes, sight reading for 5 minutes, and work on concert repertoire from 5-10 minutes, for a grand total of approximately 30 minutes per practice session. This may extend to 45 minutes in the month or so before a concert, and in the two weeks prior to the event I do this two to three times per day.

My point (yes, I have one) is that this practice is focused, intense, without distractions, carefully timed, and designed to build stamina, concentration, accuracy, and to gain control of your instrument without any excess physical stress. This method of practice is not without a downside. When preparing for a concert and my wife is in the house and can hear the practice, she has been known to say, “Are you going to practice more than those 3 bars?” or “I guess I’ll have to go to the concert to hear the entire piece in context.“ After doing this for several years I started dumping this efficient practice on to my students. A few years ago one student came to me and gave me a book, Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin, and told me that I should read this book because it validates a lot of what I was asking my students to do. It seems I was asking my students to commit to deliberate practice, or, as pointed out by Colvin and others, practicing the things that are not fun and, for musicians of all types, reaping the benefits of being able to enjoy playing music for fun with, well, more fun. This type of efficiency, essentially the 80/20 rule (briefly mentioned in my post on The Right Tool for the Job), has been further solidified and embedded in my attitude about flute practice and cooking by Tim Ferris in his 4-Hour books (4-Hour Body, 4-Hour Chef; I’ve not read the 4-Hour Work Week).

“Well, yes,” you ask, “how does this help your cooking? Do you practice chopping onions to refine your technique?”

OK . . . no, actually. I have, however, watched some videos of different chefs chopping onions and other edibles and then tried to emulate that in my own cooking. This deliberate practice in cooking manifests itself in the types of dishes I prepare, as well as their frequency, and number. By making the same few dishes several times I learn how to improve my efficiency and rely less on recipes and written procedures and more on my ability to conceive a project, its ingredients, and procedures. Now with a set of ingredients (and over time these same several dishes get their ingredients reduced; if you can make something that is as good or better as the original with fewer ingredients and procedures, why would you do otherwise?) I can essentially create my own recipes. Mark Bittman, in his invaluable How to Cook Everything, states that you should have five dishes that you can create without using a written recipe. For me this number is somewhere between 10-15 meals.

Another beneficial byproduct of this 80/20-deliberate practice-use-less-to-get-more-results is that now I can take a set number of ingredients (between three-five; herbs and spices do not count as ingredients and an herbs and spices essay is forthcoming) and create several different dishes. Think of it as a ground bass with its repeated harmonic pattern and how creative you can be within those guidelines. One of my recent meals contained just two ingredients and required a hands-on time of about 10 minutes and a total cooking time of 60 minutes (grilled salmon and baked spaghetti squash and a light drizzle of truffle honey). And the homemade sauerkraut has two ingredients, shredded cabbage and sea salt (and if herbs and spices do not count, then it has only one). 

Now when I hit my recently reorganized kitchen to make something, I want to spend as little time as possible messing around with stuff and with as few ingredients as possible. And if the unattended cooking time is 20 or more minutes, I can either get in my efficient strength training workout or practice tone development and chromatic scales on the flute. What say you?

Here is a live performance of a group performing a piece with minimal harmonic material (and a lot of words): Conde Claros

I remain,



01 February 2015

The right tool for the job: accordions over knives

Dear Colleague,

I began a small-scale reorganization of the kitchen in order to put the tools I use most frequently in one place and closer to where the action is. During this process I realized that I have many more tools than I really need. It reminded me of the hiking – backpacking – outdoor survivalist philosophy of only take what is necessary and not what you think you might need. The same thing applies to playing music and going on a gig; pack only what you need for the number of days you are gone and only the tools and music that you need for the performance.

Before this little reorg I had my knives organized by ethnicity, that is, on one side I had all of the Asian style knives (santoku, nakiri, and cleaver), and on the other side the European/French style knives (the standard chef, pairing, and boning knives). As you know I am continually striving to improve my skills as a musician, researcher, and cook. For Christmas I was given an online course on cooking chicken.

“What?" you say, "Why do you need a course on cooking chicken?”

My response is that everyone should take this course on cooking chicken, no matter how well you think you can make it because it is always beneficial to periodically revisit something you have been doing, using, or teaching for some time. Get refreshed and energized. Part of my mission, goal, and enthusiasm for the things that I love in this life is to try to take what I do and make it more efficient, streamlined, or just easier to do and thus make it more enjoyable.

Following the 80/20 idea for work and creativity, that is, 20% of the effort will get 80% of the results; I embraced the chicken course, watched all of the episodes, and immediately set about trying to improve my chicken-cooking skills. Part of the online cooking class includes, of course, advertisements for other cooking courses but also other skills related to textiles, woodworking, and more things than I can list here easily. Part of these ads included some free skills courses. Whoa! A free course? A quick browse of the available free skills courses (in the food section) revealed that there was one of particular interest to me: knife skills. I downloaded the course, and began watching immediately. The first thing in the course was an overview of knives, and also how the different knives function for different types of food. In the course of this first discussion, the chef pointed out that for many nights in one of his restaurants he could get away with just two knives, sometimes three, but to be covered for everything he might have to do in the course of the day working as a chef or just a cook on the line, he only needed four knives.

Using this model, I took a look at all of our knives and determined that for all of the things I do a combination of the European- and Asian-style knives was the way to go. My santoku knife, a chef’s knife, the big cleaver, the boning knife, and, for really thin cuts of fruits and vegetables, the nakiri knife (a luxury item, I know, but once you use it you will fall in love). All of these knives are now on one side of the knife block while the rest are all crammed on to the other side. Now that the knives are organized, the next step in my kitchen mini-reorg was to work on the spoons, whisks, spatulas, and ladles. My previous way of organizing them was buy material type into separate crocks. In one crock rested all of the tools that were made of wood (with the two metal whisks in as an exception), and in the other were all of the metal tools or anything made out of a combination of metal, plastic, or silicone. Now the crocks are separated into the tools that I use most frequently and those that I need occasionally. Tools that I rarely use live in a drawer. I have also started a reorg of the herbs and spices, moving some that were in a drawer to the rotating rack on the countertop. Stay tuned for that story.

Now that my tools are in order I can perform my journeyman cooking skills more efficiently.

“Yes, well, this is all well and good, but how is this relevant to music?” you ask.

An excellent question, to be sure, and one that I will now answer. I suppose my main point, or, thesis statement is that whatever your task or job, it will be executed more efficiently if you have not only the right tools for the job but also have your toolkit properly outfitted and ready to go. In music as in cooking, a tool is a tool, unless, of course, you are referring to a colleague as a “tool,” but that is a different discussion for different time. Now, with my fab five of knives ready to go (and really, I could do almost everything with just three, the chef, santoku, and pairing knives), I have the right tools for the job, the essential knives, the tools that are necessary, and can deal with any culinary situation in which I might find myself. Why do I have fifteen knives running around when three will do (80/20) and five will get me to the 90-95% level of what I’ll call kitchen efficiency?

This reorg was inspired, in part—OK, a large part—by a discussion I overheard at a national convention that people who play a particular instrument (for our purposes here we’ll say it is the accordion) attend every August. Here is a paraphrase of the inspiring statement, “I don’t play on accordions pitched at 415 Hz because I can’t find one that does what I want; I will only play accordions at 400 Hz.”

Giving a stranger a well-deserved Dope Slap in a public place is never a good idea, nor would giving this person a verbal dressing down on their gross arrogance (also in publc), so I just went about my business and thought to myself, “and you never will.” Just as one knife will not do everything for you, no single accordion will do exactly what you want. Each knife has, in essence, its own personality and skill set, just as each accordion does.

Of course you cannot play Argentine tango on a single-row Cajun accordion (and why would you try?), and do not even think about playing “Jole blon” (Joli blon, Jolie blonde) on a 120 bass button piano accordion (unless, of course, you are Clifton Chenier; but you get my point).

And there is no way you can spatchcock a chicken using a nakiri knife, and it might take weeks to do this with a pairing knife. And I dare you to try to julienne anything but your pinky with a cleaver. The basic precept for being a professional musician is: Show up at the right place at the right time with the right tool for the job prepared to do a good job. Same goes for cooks. By limiting yourself to one knife or one accordion (or, dare I say, one flute?), you are missing out on a lot of food or accordion music. Why would anyone want to do that?

I remain,