Instant Pot Smoked Hawaiian Pork seasoned with two kinds of guilt

January 2nd, 2018

I’ve jumped on the Instant Pot bandwagon and last night I tried a new recipe. You will find similar recipes online described as Kalua Pork, but when I’ve seen them, I have always assumed it is some kind of coffee-flavored stew, and scrolled past.

It turns out that Kalua Pork is, more traditionally, the result of cooking a whole pig in a pit at a luau in Hawaii. Read about it here – I won’t quite apologize for the fact that I am culturally misappropriated the whole concept, but I will suggest that what I made is a faint shadow of the cultural and historical truth, translated into a midwestern kitchen using a shiny gadget to cook store-bought pork. While you’re at it, read Unfamiliar Fishes, a book by the quirky Sarah Vowell that will teach you a ton about the tragic history of Hawaii.

Farm to Market had a yeast mishap, but the bread was still good for sopping up pork juice.

Back to my kitchen.  I cooked a bastardized version of a food with a proud tradition worthy of tremendous respect. Sometimes, you gotta focus on the eats. At least I acknowledge it.

I bought a 4 pound boneless shoulder roast at the grocery store for $1.48/pound. I’m never going to do that again. Robin and I talked about it yesterday evening – my meat came wrapped in plastic from a Hormel factory. With my modest purchase, I endorsed the entire CAFO system, just like politicians I used to demonize. I would cut myself some slack if I were scraping by meal to meal, but I am fortunate enough to have the financial means to have walked into Broadway Butcher, Local Pig, Curt’s Meats, or McGonigle’s and purchased a better product and a cleaner conscience. I’m turning over a new leaf.

Back to my kitchen. I can do better in the future, but I had people to feed last night.

Now, here’s the recipe:

Smoked Hawaiian Pork seasoned with two kinds of guilt

~ 2/3 pound of bacon

4 pounds pork roast

1/2 TB of liquid smoke (a truly legit ingredient, by the way)

~ 1 TB smoked salt (mine came from a trip to Italy, but you can find it here or make your own)

~ 1 TB minced garlic

~ 1 1/2 cups of water

Brown the bacon using the Saute’ setting on the Instant Pot. Spoon out the bacon then brown the pork roast on all sides. Then add the bacon back in, the garlic, the liquid smoke, the water and then the salt. Put it on high pressure for 1:45, then let the pressure naturally decrease.

Serve with whatever sides sound good to you. We’re doing bread, avocados and cilantro-lime rice. Bon appe’tit!

The meal was wonderful, with fall-apart pork and a deep smoky flavor. Best of all, it was incredibly easy – hardly any prep time required for a big meal that fed 4 adults and one child and made plenty of leftovers.

This, plus some bacon, added smokey flavor

Alright, 2018 is a blank slate

December 31st, 2017

Does this platform still work?

Gone Mild is not dead, nor retired

May 25th, 2015

Due to a few technical difficulties, this blog platform became hard to manage.  I now do my blogging over at Time for Good Behavior, mostly focusing on music and other less inflammatory material.  Of course, I still have strong thoughts about the city blowing millions of dollars on hare-brained projects pushed by wealthy developers, wealthy contractors, and bush-league politicians, but I’ve lost my determination to voice those thoughts to those who don’t want to hear them.  The political thing was good fun, and I’m proud of most of the positions I took, but now I’m focusing more on the positive.

Torch Song, by Radiator Hospital (Album of the Week)

August 24th, 2014

On first, shallow listen, this album reminded me of early-eighties new wave – the fun, mostly thoughtless music that I enthusiastically enjoyed in college. More specifically, it reminded me of Fun at the Zoo, a non-influential band from Colorado College that a friend shared with me via vinyl EP. Such antiquated fun! Back in the day, the music was clever, hooky, upbeat and fun.

Radiator Hospital keeps the hyper drums, the jangly guitars, and the utter danceability, but, damn, who pissed on their cornflakes?

The first hint that something is amiss comes from the front man’s voice, as aggressively flat as a mountain-top strip-mined for coal. Sam Cook-Parrott is no Sam Cooke – he calls to mind the nasal flatness of John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats.

Then you listen to the lyrics, and no wonder he’s not belting them out with energy and pop inflections you would anticipate from the party-band music. “When I walk out my front door, I feel the rain as it hits my face. I see the broken flower vase. I see the leather and the lace. One last bird is flying to the tree; the water’s weighing down its wings. I see the way your body language changes. I see the way you look at me and the pain it brings.” Well, alrighty then, I guess I shouldn’t be expecting to hear those lyrics in the tones of Adam Ant or Thomas Dolby.

Maybe the key contrast is the energetic music and the downer lyrics sung flat. I think the contrast is necessary – the album would be an unbearable slit-your-wrist exercise in moping without it, and it would be dishonest bubble gum if they matched the music with “I just wanna dance” lyrics.

The great thing about this album is that the contrast works brilliantly. The music has your head bobbing like a teenager, but the mind in that head is dealing with broken relationships, the harm you cause to those you love, and the failing idealism of adulthood. Here’s a quotation from the lead singer, reflecting on the difference between this album and their prior album, Something Wild:

This is not a happy or idealistic album. I think the overriding message of Something Wild, even with the sad songs, was that you can still hope and dream. I think this record is the opposite. What happened in the outside world while you were dreaming?

The closing track on the album, Midnight Nothing, encompasses the conflict:

“It was a little after midnight when the first few drops fell. Did you feel them honey, or did you feel nothing? I’m forgetting faster than I ever thought I could. I’m learning I can give up trying to do good. The stars out here shine pretty, they are numerous and pure. I never cry, I never scream, I know I should.

There’s a lot of great writing on this album, and the lyrics are lacerating and sincere. “I could be strong for you. I could be wrong for you. I could be anything you’d like. I’m not fine, but I’m alright.” That’s good stuff. There’s a lot of good stuff in this album.

You can get this album from the band’s website, and name your own price. Since it was something new from a band I had never listened to, I only paid $8. I should have paid more for the enjoyment it has given me!

Next up: Brill Bruisers, by the New Pornographers (out Tuesday)

Voyager, by Jenny Lewis (Album of the Week)

August 10th, 2014

This album is polished, cool, über-professional and well-written. The musical performances are perfect, the background vocals are spot-on, and Jenny Lewis occupies a unique point in the triangle of rock, pop and country. The album is great, really great. Robin agrees, and her review lauds Jenny Lewis’ varied and personal songs.

But . . .

There’s something missing here for me. Everything is so perfectly enunciated, the harmonies exactly perfect that the album lacks a real soul. She covers some rocky, gritty territory – 9/11, her own infidelity, her ambivalence toward maternity, drug use – but nothing shakes her out of her pitch-perfect controlled presentation. She is the anti-Janis Joplin – Jenny Lewis uses pretty much the same calm tone of voice to cover the whole range. I think Jenny Lewis would be my new favorite female artist if she hung out for a while with Chrissie Hynde and loosened up a bit.

So, I’m quibbling with her perfectionist streak. And, really, that is only noticeable if you listen carefully to the entire album. Individually, each of the songs is either very good or great. In fact, this album probably has the highest percentage of really great, interesting songs of any album we’ve reviewed. If my only complaint about an album is that it is too perfect, you’re probably safe to disregard me and go ahead and love it.

One of the highlights on the album is “She’s Not Me”, in which she yearns for a lover who is settling for someone “easy” after she

destroyed it all
When I told you I cheated
And you punched through the drywall
I took you for granted

The murmuring guitar behind the vocals on that one is a highlight, too.

“Just One of the Guys” runs over some emotionally-challenging ground with a jaunty melody. Lewis sings of her ambivalence about having a baby.

No matter how hard I try to be just one of the guys
There’s a little something inside that won’t let me!
No matter how hard I try to have an open mind
There’s a little clock inside that keeps tickin’!

There’s only one difference between you & me:
When I look at myself all I can see
I’m just another lady without a BABY

No matter how hard I try to be just one of the guys
There’s a little something inside that won’t let me!
No matter how hard I try to have an open mind
There’s a little cop inside that prevents me!

The song is a masterwork of ambivalence, and could be one of my top songs of the year.

Lush strings open the last song and title track of the album, The Voyager, and it is a great song, full of yearning and mystery and loss. It’s a beautiful way to end an album full of difficult situations.

Next up: Torch Song, by Radiator Hospital

The Secret Sisters, Put Your Needle Down (Album of the Week)

August 3rd, 2014

The problem with trying to be open-minded about trying different genres of music is that every now and then you collide with something you just can’t like, even though there’s nothing wrong with it at all. “Put Your Needle Down” is a great title for an album – at least for those of us who remember the connection between needles and music – and the critics love it, but it just didn’t grab me.

If you love music by the Everly Brothers and well-wrought harmonies by women singing songs that could have come off the radio in 1960, this album will appeal to you.

There’s nothing really bad I can say about this album – and that’s pretty unusual for me. But, here’s further evidence that I’m not just being a narrow-minded jerk – Robin didn’t like it either! She has a huge bias in favor of pretty-voiced women singing vocal-dominated tracks. You should see her swig chamomile tea when Carole King sings “Boys in the Trees” (oh, wait, was that Carly Simon? – my bad).

I want to assign flaws to this album, but I can’t. It wasn’t monotonous – the Sisters covered a pretty good range of styles with aplomb. It wasn’t self-absorbed crap – the songs were approachable and understandable. It wasn’t anything bad at all – it just didn’t grab me.

There’s something to be learned here, I think, about the limits to my own taste. I don’t like sweet potatoes or pineapple. I can’t argue that those are bad foods – people with good taste love both of those foods, but I don’t. The Secret Sisters are sonic pineapple for me. Go read the positive reviews and if you think you would enjoy cleverly written songs sung well in traditional styles by pretty female voices, you should probably get a copy of this album. But I think I’ll take a pass, if that’s alright.

Next up: Voyager, by Jenny Lewis

Lazaretto, by Jack White (Album of the Week)

July 13th, 2014

This album is like having a serious talk with an old friend who has eaten a pound bag of skittles and slammed a pint of espresso. Touching and meaningful, but out of control and a bit deranged. It’s brilliant, fun stuff, and it gets better each time you listen to it. Robin likes it, too, but that’s partially because she’s fascinated by Lazarettos, which were quarantine areas for people with communicable diseases. She’s a Public Health nerd who appreciates great music, so this is right up her alley.

Everything I have to say about this album ought to come with an asterisk, because as much as I loved it, I only listened to the MP3 version. It wasn’t till this morning that I found out about the Ultra Vinyl edition, which sounds like a complete mind-blower, with one side playing from the inside out, 3 different speeds, dual grooves that give you different intros to a song, tracks on the label, a hologram and more.

Jack White is obsessive about his music, as in, just this side of the nuthouse passionate about what he’s doing. It doesn’t surprise me that some are calling the album unhinged and messy, but they’re saying more about their unwillingness to go there than they are about the album itself. This album throws everything at you, and if you’re not able or willing to catch it all, I wouldn’t blame the pitcher.

The album starts off in classic style with “Three Women”, a funky and fun tribute to infidelity with three (red, blonde hair, and brunette) women, and closes with a bit of common-sense braggadocio –

“Yeah, I know what you’re thinking
What gives you the right?

Well, these women must be getting something
Cause they come and see me every night”

It’s a joyful romp with exuberant guitar work throughout. In the next song, “Lazaretto”, the title track justifies his unwillingness to settle into one groove for the album – “And even God herself has fewer plans than me/But she never helps me out with my scams for free, though/She grabs a stick and then she pokes it at me.” This guy is clearly driven to create. If you’re keeping score, this one goes from rap to rock via a great guitar solo and strains of violin.

The most wonderfully insane song on the album is “Black Bat Licorice”, which starts out with a female vocalist telling him to “Behave yourself”, but he shakes loose from that advice and goes nuts with grinding guitars and jumpy bass work. His lyrics deal with the line of insanity, and he yearns for a more peaceful existence away from the voices in his head – “Don’t you want to lose the part of the brain that has opinions?/To not even know what you are doing, or care about yourself or your species in the billions.”

This album is not pure adrenaline – it has its slower songs, such as the closer, “Want and Able”, a folksy parable that addresses desire and ability as two characters, and ends with an awful lyric that makes you go back and listen again to this manic album of loss and pain:

Now, Want and Able are two different things
One is desire, and the other is the means
Like I wanna hold you, and see you, and feel you in my dreams
But that’s not possible, something simply will not let me

At only 39 minutes, this is a short album, but it’s probably the biggest album I’ve listened to all year. Musically, it features an absoute virtuoso working his hardest at a creative peak. Lyrically, it’s serious but not self-serious, and there’s a lot of fun in it. I know after spending one week with this album that it is going to stay with me as one of the best albums in my collection.

Up next: Put Your Needle Down, by The Secret Sisters

Stockholm, by Chrissie Hynde (Album of the Week)

July 6th, 2014

First, sorry for the extended unexcused absence. Visiting children, insane work schedules, business travel and sheer distraction knocked us off our weekly schedule. But we’re back, and Chrissie Hynde takes us way back.

In reviewing this album, you can go one of two ways. First I should point out that this is simply a dose of Chrissie Hynde as herself. Unlike George Michael calling in a symphony, or Snoop becoming a Lion, or Band of Horses going acoustic, this is Chrissie Hynde sounding a lot like she did when I kind of fell in love with her in the early 80s.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

It’s bad because there’s no progress – no growth – no freshness.

It’s good because it’s music that sounds great and feels even better.

Either view has its merits, but I’m sticking with the good side. It’s Chrissie freaking Hynde, for Pete’s sake, and her voice still has that velvety touch of aching and that snarling toughness. Nobody can argue that this album is anything less than a solid rock and roll effort. It could be argued that there isn’t anything on it that will become a classic like “Back on the Chain Gang” or “Brass in Pocket”, but I’m not so sure that’s true. A few of these songs have stuck with me for the past several weeks, and if you listen to this album, you’ll probably have a few stick in your brain. “Dark Sunglasses”, “Adding the Blue” or “You’re the One” are worthy of prime placement on anyone’s playlist.

This is billed as a solo album, but it’s not one of those self-indulgent “artiste” things where Hynde went off and played hermit alone with a bunch of instruments. This is a collaboration, including excellent instrumentalists and even a cameo from Neil Young in “Down the Wrong Way”.

Even better than bringing in Neil Young was the appearance of John McEnroe. Yes, that John McEnroe! And, if you’re a longtime lover of Hynde and the Pretenders, you’ll remember when she blasted off “Pack it Up” with “You’re the pits of the world!” – a quotation of bad-boy tennis star John McEnroe from Wimbledon in 1981. McEnroe does a creditable job working the guitar in “A Plan to Far”.

Go ahead and point out that John McEnroe is washed up as a tennis player, if you want to be a jerk about it. Meanwhile, I’m going to enjoy the music and be happy that Chrissie Hynde is still having fun with her bass-driven rock songs. I liked her sound in 1980, and I still do.

Maybe Chrissie Hynde could show some growth by taking up the piano and singing about arteriosclerosis, but I’m glad she’s 62 and still rocking. She’s still “special”, if you ask me.

Robin didn’t enjoy this album nearly as much as I did, and she questions the sincerity of a hooky, bouncy Chrissie Hynde. Honestly, she makes some good points, but Robin was always too nice to fully embrace the black leather snarl of someone like Chrissie. Some things never change, and I’m okay with that. (PS: Robin says this makes her sound like a wimp. It’s not a fair characterization, if so. She was listening to Frank Zappa when I was listening to Billy Joel.)

Up next: Lazaretto, by Jack White

Vari-Colored Songs, by Leyla McCalla (Album of the Week)

June 8th, 2014

Vari-Colored Songs is the best example of why I LOVE the fact that half the albums of our weekly series are chosen by Robin. I would never have chosen this album. Even if I had stumbled across it and listened to a few songs, I’m pretty sure I would not have given it a chance to win me over the way it has. Robin has great taste, though, and it is different enough from mine that it brings me places I would never go otherwise. I count myself lucky to have a partner in this project and in all others who helps me see and react to a broader world.

Why would I have been close-minded to this album if left to my own devices? Perhaps because the cynic in me struggles with the earnestness of a project like this. Leyla McCalla is a classically-trained cello player who tours with the Carolina Chocolate Drops. This album comes from a Kickstarter project in which she wrote: “What began several years ago as an inspired idea to set a Langston Hughes poem to music, has since flowered into a very personal exploration of African-American and Haitian history through song. Vari-Colored Songs is an album that has been waiting at least 5 years to be made! The moment is ripe and the momentum is strong!!!”

You’ve got to admit the cynical me has a point. Langston Hughes tends to bring out the worst in people, and a middle-aged white male Irish-Polish-American might not find much flowering in a “very personal exploration of African-American and Haitian history through song.” I mean, the cynical me has no problem at all with Leyla McCalla, born in New York to Haitian parents, doing personal exploration, but I’ll be just fine sticking to my own personal exploration through the Elders and maybe some Flogging Molly. I think there’s a bit of cultural segregationist in each of us at some level. Perhaps not, in which case there’s my confessional.

But Robin signed me up for this “very personal exploration,” like it or not, and sure enough, I wound up enthusiastic about stuff way outside my normal zone. This is a great album with arrangements that are so naked that it feels voyeuristic to listen in on them. She has a tremendous warm voice that she trusts to engage naturally – no histrionics or bogus vibrato. It is personal, as promised, but welcoming.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the album is how well the poetry of Langston Hughes adapts to song form. I have an almost unlistenable CD of WB Yeats’ poetry performed by the Waterboys (see, I told you about that Irish side of me!) where they approach the poems as something separate from themselves. They treat them reverently and, as a result, the album is not much more fun that a dusty seminar. In songs like Songs for a Dark Girl and Too Blue, though, Leyla McCalla just flat out inhabits the poems and makes them her own. Too Blue is downright funny – and McCalla was wise to perceive the humor in the poem and bring it out front and center.

TS Eliot, a fellow Missourian to Langston Hughes, wrote that “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.” (Go read the article if you like that quotation – the author was annoyed by the frequent misquotation attributed to Picasso, and tracked down the truth.) I’m not sure that McCalla really makes Hughes different – I think she enhances him and makes us love his words on a different level.

There’s much more than Langston Hughes on this album – several Haitian folk songs and some great string music. They’re so enjoyable that my mind doesn’t even struggle to decipher the foreign language – I wind up just shutting that part of my brain down and enjoying the sound.

Over at Deliberate Obfuscation, Robin is as pleased as I am with her choice, which she admits was a bit of a lark.

Next up: Stockholm, by Chrissie Hynde (We have a lot going on in the real world this week, and this album won’t be released till Tuesday, so we might wind up taking a week off. Or not. We’ll see!)

Transgender Dysphoria Blues, by Against Me!

June 1st, 2014

In this series of reviews, I’ve often liked an album and bluntly stated to everyone out there that they should go buy it. This isn’t one of those albums, even though I enjoyed it a lot. If punk is not your cup of tea musically or if you’re going to struggle with the subject of transgender life, you’re probably not going to like this album. I enjoyed it a lot, but I won’t be handing it out for Christmas gifts the way I did A Charlie Brown Christmas one year.

The lead singer of Against Me! is Laura Jane Grace, though she used to be Tom Gabel until she began the medical journey necessary to become a woman. Tom Gabel and Against Me! were already a successful punk band – I was confused when I heard tracks off this album, because the only album I knew from this album was The Original Cowboy, from when the lead singer sounded more male.

This music is not for everyone, but if you give it a try, there’s a decent chance you’ll find yourself sing-shouting “They just see a faggot” or crooning “You don’t worry about tomorrow anymore/Because you’re dead”. That’s one of the funny things about punk or hip-hop music – they lead middle-aged, balding, middle-class chubby guys to forget all that for 3 or 4 minutes, and inhabit a completely different space.

The completely different space of Transgender Dysphoria Blues is not a “nice” place to visit, so don’t buy the album if you’re not willing to listen to tales of death-focus, gender-struggle, anger and suicide. I’d be hard-pressed to say why I enjoy the album so much – is it morbid curiosity, empathy, or vague remembrance of the darker thoughts of teenaged years? While shifting from male to female is not something universal, being pissed off at the world to the extent of “I want to piss on the walls of your house” expressed an emotion even this “gone mild” personality can recall.

For me, the most upsetting song is “Two Coffins” – also the prettiest acoustic number on the album. In it, Laura Jane Grace tenderly sings of her little daughter, and how they will both eventually die: “In the dark of our graves/ our bodies will decay/ I wish you’d never change.” Damn! I certainly know the bittersweet feeling of watching my children grow and wishing they could stay young and sheltered longer, but this song takes that universal parental emotion to a much creepier place. I wish the joyous lyric “How lucky I ever was to see/The way that you smiled at me/Your little moon face shining bright at me” weren’t immediately followed by “One day soon there’ll be nothing left of you and me”. This is unsparing music, to say the least.

And that has always been part of the weird attraction of punk rock for me. It smacks you upside the head with your own boundaries of what can be said. That’s a shared trait with good hip-hop, but whereas hip-hop tends to shock you with violence and misogyny, punk tackles politics, death, existence and, in this particular album, gender.

Sometimes the attitude is downright perversely funny. There’s something kind of funny about “Drinking with the Jocks”, even though the song is about alienation. “Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ” is dark, dark humor with its in-your-face shock value.

Yikes, I’m at 550+ words, and I haven’t really talked about the sound, which I love. My recollection of punk is that the musicianship tended to be more energetic than competent, but Against Me! is a tight band with a catchy sound. I mentioned the prettiness of “Two Coffins” – you could rewrite that song with gentle lyrics and have an acoustic alt-country hit. Other songs feature drums that are exuberant, and some really enjoyable guitar work. This may be the best sounding punk album that I’ve ever listened to. Faint praise, indeed, but the music on this album ranks up there as really good rock music. I’m looking forward to seeing them live later this summer.

Over at Deliberate Obfuscation, Robin is happy that she gave this band a listen, and her first paragraph is a delightful self-critique of her typographical blinders in the world of music.

Next up: Vari-Colored Songs: Tribute to Langston Hughes, by Leyla McCalla