Exploring ramps

Wilson Farm ramps, photo courtesy Sista Felicia at GoodMorningGloucester.

I’ve been experimenting with ramps lately. For those initiated, ramps are a wild allium (leek/garlic type vegetable) with an unforgettably sharp flavor and aroma. They aren’t cultivated so only appear for a few weeks in the sprint, and this year I noticed that our local farm stand was carrying them (picture above shamelessly ganked from someone’s blog).

So I started looking for things to do with them, and so far my impression is the simpler the better. I started with a variation on this spring green risotto from the New York Times. I didn’t have any spring greens so I substituted some fresh English peas. It was… just OK. The flavor was subdued and, while tasty, the risotto didn’t capture the excitement of the ingredient.

On Sunday I went much, much simpler, tossing ramps (and some bok choy) in olive oil and grilling it over low heat in a basket until I started to get black edges on the greens. This was much, much better — the bulb of the ramp was sweet and the green was smoky with a little bite.

But the best recipe of all may be the family recipe that my uncle makes: fry some streaky lean bacon, fry potatoes in the bacon fat, then add the ramps at the end. Looking forward to trying this weekend if any ramps are left at the stand.

Pixies, House of Blues Boston, May 20, 2017

It’s been almost thirteen years since the last time I saw the Pixies live. In that time they’ve released two new albums, toured a whole lot, and replaced Kim Deal — twice. I was thrilled to get tickets to see them at the House of Blues — I mean, the last time I was there it was the Avalon, and it’s been the HoB since 2009. With so much time passing, I wondered what I’d see from the floor.

First, let’s acknowledge that the opening act, Cymbals Eat Guitars, is no Mission of Burma. But it’s no Bennies either (though Jeremy Dubs’ band did rock). Cymbals did a perfectly respectable set that wandered around …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead territory for a while and had me feeling pretty psychedelic by the end. We waited for a while while they set up the next band, and my friends Chris and Fred got into a conversation with the girls behind us. “You can’t possibly have been alive when the Pixies released their first albums. When were you born?” “1989.” Between that and the lengthy drunken monologue from one of the women, things were looking a little sketchy.

And then the band showed up. So how were they? In a word, tight.

Time was that I could have remembered the setlist, song by song. Thank goodness someone else has done that for me. All I can say is: 36 songs (35 if you subtract the false start of “Wave of Mutilation”). The opening, “Ana,” has been one of my favorites since I picked up Bossanova in my first year of college, but wasn’t in the setlist at the Tsongas Arena in 2004.

And when “Head On” started I was transported. Totally in another place.

My hometown POW camps

For every use of Facebook that is lamentable or just plain awful, there’s something like the Newport News group that I’m a member of. Filled with people whose memories of the Peninsula predate mine, it’s regularly full of surprises. None so big, though, as the pointer to a discussion forum on a Newport News High School site about World War II POW camps in my home town.

I think I had been vaguely aware that some prisoners of war had been housed in Newport News, particularly at Camp Patrick Henry (in my childhood Patrick Henry Airport, today known as Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport or “New Willie”). But I wasn’t aware of the scope: over 134,000 German and Italian POWs were housed in the camps at Camp Patrick Henry, Fort Eustis, a POW camp near the Port of Embarkation, Camp Hill, and other locations. According to one article, a major purpose of the camps was the “re-education” of former Nazis who were drafted into the German army unwillingly.

To my surprise, I also learned that there were enemy alien interment camps (like the ones in California that held a young George Takei) in New Market, Staunton, and Bath; these held German, Italian and Japanese natives.

History isn’t distant; sometimes it’s right where you’ve been all along.

Redding up

It was a busy weekend, the kind that began with a clean and purge of the basement (four more boxes unpacked! more floor space opened up!) and ended with a trip to IKEA to build a desk for The Boy. The Girl spent most of the weekend with Lisa working on cleaning out her room and bagging up enormous amounts of trash, books to donate, and so on.

I said in passing to someone that they were “redding up” and I got a look of utter confusion. It occurred to me that the use of “redd” as a verb is not one that I hear much outside of my Lancaster County relatives, so I went hunting.

To my utter delight, it turns out that “to redd” is not a Pennsylvania Dutch utterance—it actually comes from Scots/Irish/northern English dialect and appears to be related to the Middle English verb riddan “to clear (an area, a way).”

So now I can continue to use my word in perfect satisfaction that it’s good English… just slightly older than most people use.

Back to the Cathedral, and the Cheeselords

I’ve been in my old home grounds this week for a conference, and ended up with some spare time and in the Glover Park neighborhood. So on Monday I walked up the hill to Washington National Cathedral, just in time to join in the first half of the Cathedral Choral Society‘s rehearsal.

I was amazed at the number of familiar faces that I recognized, and who recognized me. I was astonished at how familiar everything was, to the extent of pushing the same talk button to enter the handicapped door for rehearsal and the chairs that everyone sat in—and how different it was. The passing of Reilly Lewis has left a hole in the organization that they are still working to fill.

And for me, having just passed through the conductor revolving door as the Tanglewood Festival Chorus sought to replace its founding conductor John Oliver, it felt very familiar—the uncertainty of the future direction of the group, the dislocation with each new guest conductor, the determination to make music despite all the ambiguity of the future and the organizational distractions. I look forward especially to hearing the Nico Muhly commission, “Looking Up,” that I rehearsed with the group and that was one of Reilly’s last programming choices.

Branford Marsalis Quartet, Cary Memorial Hall, April 28, 2017

I saw Branford live for the first time with Sting, on January 29, 1988, and with his band in 1989 (if my notes are correct). Because of Branford, I started listening to jazz in earnest, first finding John Coltrane, then Miles Davis, Monk, and others. Last Friday I finally got to hear him live again.

What struck me about the performance by the Branford Marsalis Quartet with Kurt Elling was the high level of talent in all the musicians on stage, and the high level of generosity from the leader. Joey Calderazzo in particular stood out for his range, going from high volume warfare with Justin Faulkner to atmospheric washes generated by plucking the strings of the piano to some moments of Bill Evans/Erik Satié inspired playing. Faulkner himself was a force of nature, dropping bombs left and right over the stage and performing incredibly complex fills. And Eric Revis was a solid pivot who proved in the encore of “St. James Infirmary” that he could play a solo of high complexity and sensitivity. Branford himself blew my socks off in a few moments, but mostly stood out for how well he accompanied Elling.

Elling is an astonishing vocalist who was not on my radar before his collaboration with this quartet, but whose other work I’ll be seeking out.

Presidency of an “archaic” system

Salon: Donald Trump doesn’t like the “archaic” Constitution: “It’s really a bad thing for the country.”

Money quote:

Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told ABC on Sunday that the president is thinking about amending or even abolishing the First Amendment to stifle what they consider to be unfair media criticism. When asked by Jonathan Karl whether they had considered a constitutional amendment so that the president can sue his critics, Priebus responded: “I think it’s something that we’ve looked at. How that gets executed or whether that goes anywhere is a different story.”

Never mind that the White House will stumble around figuring out how to amend the Constitution because none of them paid attention in civics class. Eventually they’ll figure it out.

And then we should impeach whoever moves that idea forward. Because that’s a long way from preserving, protecting, and defending the basic framework of our democracy.

S. Harris and the March for Science

This weekend’s March for Science felt familiar, but not because of its similarity to the Women’s March. A lot of the placards felt like S. Harris cartoons.

Sidney Harris, who generally signs his cartoons with his first initial, is one of those guys I read religiously when I was in physics and then subsequently forgot about. But there’s a real resonance in his cartoons about climate change.

Happy 100th birthday, Ella

New York Times: An Ella Fitzgerald Centennial.

It’s nice to see some love for the First Lady of Song. Her contributions to popular song are eternal, due largely to the Songbook series, but for me I’ll remember her as a fellow child of Newport News (aside: what was it with that city in the early 20th century and jazz vocalists? Pearl Bailey also spent her childhood there) and as a great interpreter of song, period. For proof, have a listen to her version of the Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life.”

Back from vacation

Just got done driving my family around Washington, DC for a few days. Slowly trying to reenter working life, but it’s challenging to focus for more than a few minutes at a time, which is about the length of time my kids will let me focus on anything.

But there were some cool things along the way, including what may now be my favorite room in the Smithsonian, the exhibit room inside the Castle (above and below). Note the Concorde model below and the flock of birds above.

The Colors of My Rainbow

When I was a little kid—I mean, probably seven or eight years old—we were visiting my grandparents in Paradise, PA. My Pop-Pop liked to play music for us, generally the radio but often a tape that he had gotten from his work at Spectrum Fidelity Magnetics. And this time he had a kid’s album, “The Colors of My Rainbow.”

That album, by a kid’s musician named Joe Wayman, squirmed its way into my psyche through repeated listenings in cassette players at home, Pop-Pop’s, and in our car on long trips between Newport News and Paradise. Having grown up on a diet of my mom’s kid’s music, much of which dated to her days as a music teacher in the 1950s and 1960s (think “Tubby the Tuba”), the smart-assery around the edges of “Recipe for Red” and “Mellow Yellow Coot” appealed to me. But maybe most of all, the melancholy in “Brown’s the Saddest Color” hit the bullseye of my soul. I still remember the lyrics to many of the songs.

Other than half remembered snatches of the songs floating through my head, I wasn’t able to find the music. But then this morning I decided to Google the lyrics I remembered. And there was a full playlist of the album on YouTube (misattributed to “Joe Hayman”). And a Creative Commons archive of the album on the Internet Archive. And now I’m happily listening to the dated production and less-good-than-remembered singing and refreshing my memory.

Heading to DC

We have a rare family vacation next week. We’ll be taking the kids to visit some family and then to spend a few days exploring our nation’s capitol. There’s a part of me that will always be excited to visit the seat of our government and of so much of America’s identity, and to expose my kids to our history as well as all the riches of the American Museum of Natural History.

That’s not to say that I don’t feel any uneasiness about the trip. My feelings toward our government are definitely tarnished by the current occupant of our nation’s highest office and the horrific car wreck of an administration he’s surrounded himself with. But this will be, I hope, a good opportunity to push reset on some of those feelings and just take in the reminder that we can be better than we are.

Hacking

Today was the first day (the “unclosing”) of Veracode’s semiannual Hackathon. In ordinal numbers, this is the eleventh one we’ve done, though the actual name is Hackathon 10 5/7. (It’s ok; we’re all mad here.)

I am looking back at all the hacks I’ve done over the last few years and it’s fascinating what they reveal. Programming hacks, though I haven’t been a professional developer in 17 years. Musical hacks, though I’m usually neither a bluegrass musician (though I am when our CFO is leading the band) nor a theremin player. Presentation hacks. Writing hacks. 

I think what’s fascinating about the way that Veracode does Hackathons is that it’s an opportunity for us all to reach deep and explore some under-exercised facet of our true selves. Or failing that, to sew one on and see if we can make it thrive. 

Seeking the inhabitants of the Cabell House

Yesterday’s post on the Cabell House is a fiber in an ongoing thread of an investigation to understand the earliest members who took part in the Virginia Glee Club. We know from the January 1871 issue of the Virginia University Magazine that “those gentlemen rooming at the Cabell House, and in that neighborhood, have made great efforts, and we understand tolerably successful ones, to form a Glee Club.” We seek now to understand who “those gentlemen” are.

But it’s hard going. The year 1871 predates Corks and Curls, and the 1870-1871 catalog doesn’t list student addresses. I’m still trying to figure out who was the proprietor of 852 West Main Street during that year; Ansel(e)m Brock died in the late 1850s and Pattie J. Daffan isn’t identified through the city directory there until 1902. But with luck we’ll turn up more evidence.

The (real) location of the Cabell House

The Virginia Glee Club was founded in 1871 by highly motivated singers who lived in the Cabell House, according to the Virginia University Magazine. For several years, we have assumed that the Cabell House, a boarding-house in which famed Confederate “Gray Ghost” John Singleton Mosby shot a fellow UVA student, was located between 9th and 10th Street, based on the finding note attached to the only known photograph of the house in the University of Virginia Library.

More fools, we. As one digs deeper into the history of the house, one turns up a handful (only) of references to it in official University and Charlottesville publications. One of those identified a Miss Pattie J. Daffan as the proprietor of the Cabell House. Another publication placed her as the proprietor of a boarding house at 852 West Main Street, only a block from where the Cabell House was supposed to be. It seems pretty clear that this was the actual address of the Cabell House.

Why, one may ask, is this exciting? Well, partly because it’s important to know where to pay homage to our as-yet-unknown founding fathers. But also because the property between 9th and 10th on West Main Street is a Hampton Inn, but the property at 852 West Main Street is World of Beer (as well as apartments). Surely a World of Beer is a better location for our Glee Club than a motel.