Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Tone Poem Tuesday

 A strange and small subgenre popped up in the middle of the 20th century, called the "Tabloid Concerto". These were entire classical works composed specifically for use in film. Not film music per se, with individual tracks written specifically to hew to the rhythm and length of specific scenes, but entire works to be used in the films themselves. The first, and probably best known example of this, is Richard Addinsell's Warsaw Concerto, written for the 1941 film Dangerous Moonlight, which is about a concert pianist and composer who must fight in World War II. Needing a classical work to tie the film together musically, but wanting to avoid the specific associations of pre-existing (and well known) classical works, the producers decided to have composer Addinsell write a single movement, which has gone on to be known as the Warsaw Concerto (the composer in the film is a Pole) and has made the leap to the concert repertoire.

I'll return to the Warsaw Concerto later on (maybe next week!), but this business of writing concert works for use in a film became a small genre in its own right, and a number of the great composers of the "Golden Age" of film music produced works like this, including Miklos Rozsa's Spellbound Concerto, written for the Hitchcock film Spellbound. Unlike the Addinsell work, the Rozsa Concerto wasn't written for specific use in Spellbound but was crafted from the film's themes and cues later on, but it still falls into that same category: a single-movement work of throbbing romanticism in the great Hollywood style.

This performance is a dated one, but it is thrilling and vibrant, featuring the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by the composer, and with great pianist (and native Buffalonian!) Leonard Pennario as soloist. Enjoy!

Monday, September 13, 2021

How many coffee-brewing methods does one geek need, anyway?!


So, let's talk about coffee!

I was slow to arrive at coffee, though I think I was always going to get there. I've loved the smell of coffee ever since I was very young; I remember making my mother let me take a nice, deep whiff from the Folger's can every time she went to make a pot, even if I didn't like the taste initially. It takes time to come around on a lot of flavors, especially the bitter ones, and I didn't really start shifting toward drinking coffee until college, when the flavor of coffee finally enticed me by way of Coffee Haagen-Dasz ice cream.

And now, years later, I'm a nut about coffee, which means that I have no fewer than four methods of brewing in regular use at Casa Jaquandor, and I'm intrigued enough by several others that I might, just might, look into them someday. But for now, here are the means of coffee prep in my house!

Automatic Drip

Now, I personally don't drink a lot of coffee from this machine (it's the source of The Wife's daily coffee), but it does make a nice cup. Ours is a Cuisinart with reusable gold mesh filter, a programmable timer, and several temperature settings. Lots of coffee partisans look down on the drip machine, but I honestly think they do just fine for day-to-day coffee.


This is the method I use most frequently for my own personal daily coffee. I have two devices for the pourover method: a small brew basket for single cup brewing, and a larger pot for if I need more than a single cup at once. I'll brew the coffee into the big pot and then pour it into a thermal carafe for hotkeeping. (If 'safekeeping' is a word, why not 'hotkeeping'? Anyway….) This is all very simple. You put a filter in place, measure in your ground coffee, and then you pour boiling water over the grounds. It's basically the drip machine method, but executed manually. It also works better than most drip machines because you get to properly control the water temperature; many drip machines just don't get the water hot enough.

If you've heard of a "Chemex pot", my larger pot is pretty much that, only it's not the Chemex brand. You don't need to pay a lot for a specific brand name all the time!

French Press

I don't use this as often, but it makes delicious coffee with quite a different mouthfeel than the pourover. French press coffee isn't filtered, so a lot more of the oils from the bean end up in the final product, and all that direct contact between the water and the grounds makes for a stronger flavored brew. I own two French presses, one for whole pots and one for individual servings. Admittedly, I don't use the smaller one very often at all, but I love the larger one. (And that reminds me: as I write this I need to clean my French press, since I used it yesterday morning and didn't get around to cleaning it! The biggest drawback of the French press is likely that it's harder to clean than the other methods here.)

Moka pot

And then there's this gadget, which uses steam pressure to make very concentrated, strong coffee that's quite similar to espresso in flavor. In fact, some folks refer to this pot as a "stovetop espresso maker", which some other folks claim is inaccurate because of some stuff involving the proper levels of pressure under which the steam is forced through the coffee. I had to do a bit of research before I used this pot (how-to videos on YouTube are great!), and it's not hard at all! The most counterintuitive thing about the Moka pot is that you don't want to put cold water in the boiling chamber; the time it takes to heat the water to boiling ends up heating the grounds, which can make your brew taste burnt. You're actually instructed to boil the water first in a kettle before adding it to the boiling chamber, and then you put the whole kaboodle on the burner! It's neat the watch the coffee bubble up and out of the little tower in the pouring chamber, and I quite like the resulting coffee. (And I do get lazy on the whole 'boiling the water first' thing, sometimes using hot water from the tap.)

I only use the Moka pot for an afternoon cup of coffee during the cooler months. It doesn't make a big enough cup for "morning coffee", at least not for me. But it delivers a nice strong cup of espresso-style coffee!

So that's all I have right now for hot coffee-brewing methods. I do have a countertop espresso brewer someplace, but it's in the garage as it never really made it to my normal-use coffee rotation. I'm also intrigued by a gadget called the "Aero Press", and there's a thing called "Vietnamese coffee" that also intrigues (from what I understand, it's basically a drip filter of a special make). I wouldn't mind trying these, but space for kitchen gadgets is a concern, as is expense. (Not that these things are super expensive, but my desire to try each of these has not yet overridden my "Do I really wanna spend $20 or $30 on another coffee method just now?" thinking.)

I have, to my knowledge, never tried coffee brewed in a percolator. And honestly, from what I've read, I don't particularly plan to. I'm told that you can make good coffee in one, but honestly--I have all these other ways of making good coffee.

"But wait! What about cold brew coffee?"

I'm glad you asked!

I do like cold-brew coffee, which I keep on hand during the warmer months so I can enjoy a cold coffee beverage on occasion. I used to make my cold-brew in a large glass carafe that I have and use for several applications, because it's really easy. You don't need a special contraption for making cold-brew coffee; you just need a vessel for ground coffee and enough water for brewing (recipes containing amounts abound online). The issue that I ran into was draining and filtering the coffee out: this can become a pain that takes a long time, as you run the coffee through a strainer or a coffee filter. I'm not sure if it's a temperature thing or some other factor, but cold-brew coffee does not filter out nearly as quickly as hot coffee will.

So, I bought a cold-brew coffee pot. It's a simple concept, really: it's just a glass carafe with a lid, but there's also a wire-mesh basket that goes inside. You fill the basket with your coffee, put that in the carafe, and then pour in enough water to cover. You do this slowly, giving the coffee basket a quick spin a few times to make sure the water saturates the grounds, and then you just let it sit on the counter for 18-24 hours. (I always go 24.) Then you just lift out the mesh strainer-basket and hold it up to drip out for a minute or two, and what's left in the carafe is your cold-brew coffee concentrate.

I like to mix this stuff with milk and maybe a bit of chocolate syrup. Sometimes I also shake in one scoop of protein powder, but not always.

And finally, a shout-out to the unsung hero of all this: my electric kettle, which I use for boiling water quickly. Stove-top kettles used to be my jam, but not anymore. I am all about the speed and ease of the electric kettle, which makes my coffee and tea adventures an absolute breeze. I used to use a stove-top kettle for boiling water, but it takes way longer than an electric one to get the water to a boil.

So there it is: Coffee at Casa Jaquandor! Note that I do not own a Keurig machine, and nor do I have any intentions of owning one of those. They seem like a wasteful pain to me, a unitasker that just takes up a constant supply of counter space and involves waste in the form of all those little cups. Also, as brewing is cooking, I prefer to have as much control over things as I can.

So that's how I make my coffee. How do I take it? Most of the time, with cream (half-and-half, really) or black. While I used to put quite a bit of sugar into my coffee, I no longer use any sweetener at all. Coffee is one of the few areas of my culinary life where I've pretty much conquered my sweet tooth.

Now...what about mugs? And what about the other great hot beverage, tea?

Those are other posts. For now....

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Twenty Years

 I thought about writing a long remembrance of that horrible day, a walk-through of the weird mix of terror and business-as-usual that played out in the office where I was working at the time. I just...don't want to do that.

I remember that for several days after I tried listening to music, and I just...couldn't. It took, I think, until Friday when I was finally ready to listen to something. I chose one of the most emotional pieces of music I know, a work I played in my freshman year of college. It seemed, in terms of mood and title, appropriate: Elegy, by composer Mark Camphouse.

It was the saddest day I can remember as an American, and it's even sadder now in retrospect as we went forth from that day and proceeded to learn all the wrong lessons and undertake all the wrong responses.

We went to New York City in 2015 for Thanksgiving, and we did go to "Ground Zero". We weren't there long, but we did want to see the place where this thing happened. It was a damp, cloudy, cold day...and for the location, somehow very beautiful.

There is always beauty to be found, eventually. I wish America would remember that more. Americans, myself included, are too quick to respond with anger and rage to the ugliness of the world.

I eventually wrote a short story in response to the emotions I was feeling at the time, called "The City of Dead Works", and I used to post it annually here. I don't do that anymore, but you can read it here. And please do read Sheila O'Malley's post about one life that was lost that day.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Something for Friday (the "Oh crap, I've been busy as hell and a day off all week" edition)

 Sorry, folks, it's just been a busy week.

Anyway, as part of my mood-listening for writing of late, I've been listening to music from Star Trek. Here's a selection from James Horner's score to Star Trek III: The Search For Spock.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Tone Poem Tuesday

 In honor of Labor Day, and therefore of the labor movement and the fact that the single biggest contributor to the America that exists is the American worker, here's a piece that pays tribute to one of the fruits of all that labor: the automobile.

Frederick Shepherd Converse was an American composer who lived from 1871 to 1940, spanning the shift from Romanticism to Modernism. As such, he is known for a handful of works, the best known is the tone poem The Mystic Trumpeter.

The piece before us today is Converse's tone poem Flivver Ten Million. The word "flivver" was a slang term for Ford automobiles back in the days of the Model T and shortly afterward, and Converse gave his piece the subtitle A Joyous Epic Inspired by the Familiar Legend "The Ten Millionth Ford is Now Serving Its Owner. Quite a long title for such a short work (it's only twelve minutes!), but there it is. The work does seem redolent of the enthusiasm of 1930s America for the coming of the automobile, and as we all know, the shift to being an automobile culture shifted America in ways that we are still grappling with to this day.

Even though the work is a single movement, Converse divided Flivver Ten Million into sections:

1. Dawn in Detroit (sunrise over the city)
2. The Call to Labor (the auto workers report to work)
3. The Din of the Builders (factory workers)
4. The Birth of the Hero - He Tries His Metal (the car wanders off into the great world in search of an adventure)
5. May Night by the Roadside - America’s Romance (love music via solo violin)
6. The Joy Rider’s - America’s Frolic (happy have a great time music)
7. The Collision - America’s Tragedy (poignant, sad intonations)
8. Phoenix Americans - The hero, righted and shaken, proceeds on his way with redoubled energy, typical of the indomitable spirit of America (great fun) 

As an added bonus of civic pride, this performance is a recording of the Buffalo Philharmonic, conducted by JoAnn Falletta. Here is Flivver Ten Million by Frederick Shepherd Converse.

Monday, September 06, 2021

A Proposed AMENDMENT, addressing certain ISSUES pertaining to the SUPREME COURT of these UNITED STATES.

Here's something I've been thinking about for quite a while: how I would fix the Supreme Court. Obviously, I'm not an expert and am quite possibly wrong in many ways, but you have to start SOMEWHERE, right? Here's my proposed Amendment which would fix the Court, with interspersed commentary.

This is long, so it's after the fold.

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Something for Thursday

 Here is a selection from John Williams's score to JFK that seems to match my mood regarding the present and future of America.

I don't know, folks. I just don't know. There is no law of nature that says we have to remain on the course we're on, or that we can't change it. I just don't know if we realize the course we're on or if we even want to change it.

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

For the Record

 I support the right to abortion. Moreover, I do not think that anyone who gets an abortion has done anything the least bit morally wrong. I believe that conservatives in America, for all their blather about "freedom", will keep chipping away at real freedoms until there aren't any left.

If this is a problem for you, the "Back" button is to your upper left.

And no, I am not interested in debating this.