Bringing it All Back Home

August 9th, 2012 · 13 Comments · Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Posts by Andy

Every time we visit my parents, my mom begs me to go through the boxes of my old junk that are cluttering up her (immaculate) basement. She’s entering that phase of life, I guess, when things are cast off and simplified, when you have to get a little brutal about all your stuff — what’s essential and what’s not. ”What am I going to do with this?” is the question she keeps asking and for which I have no good answer. Last time we visited, in July, I finally gave in. I took an hour and sifted through the old books, making piles of what could be tossed, what could be donated to the library, and what would come back home with me, to molder in my own (not immaculate) basement until the cycle repeated itself somewhere down the line. One thing, however, became clear as I went: my mom wasn’t quite as ready to let go as she’d led me to believe. Turns out, stuff is more than just stuff, and it’s not so easy to kiss it goodbye. A sample exchange:

Giants in the Earth?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

“You don’t want that one?”

“Nope.”

“Awwwww, really? You loved that book.”

“Yeah, but — ”

Actually removing the book from of the donate bag, and setting it aside: “Maybe I’ll keep it, just in case. You’ll want it one day.”

After the books, I moved on to the other pile she wanted me to deal with: records. At one point, my mulleted and guitar-playing older brother and I had a fairly massive amount of records but, gradually, as we purged over the years, that collection had been boiled down to the 100 or so albums that now sat on her plastic shelving unit, to the right of the sump pump and just behind the treadmill. I started digging through. Books are great and all, and they served me well, but this is the stuff that will kill you dead. Lot of memories come swirling up out of this mess, wow. Some Girls. Free to Be You and Me. Harvest. Live at Leeds. Greetings from Asbury Park. Loudon Wainwright III. The Smiths. The Muppet Movie. Songs in the Key of Life. Blonde on Blonde. The Police. Pleased to Meet Me. Briging it All Back Home. Simon and (Ugh) Garfunkel. The Cars. The Del Fuegos (?). Loverboy (!). The White Album. The Clash. Judas F’n Priest (who, by the way, I saw live at the Capital Center in 1985). And Elton John. God, so much Elton John. Yeah, yeah, go ahead and laugh: To this day, I will argue the greatness of early Elton John — Tumbleweed Connection, Madman Across the Water, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Honkey Chateau, Captain Fantastic. It was all there, in extremely poor condition, scarred by the hasty needle drops of impatient eleven year old boys. I’m not the first one to say it, but these days — when music is a literal abstraction, hovering somewhere above our house within a cloud I can never figure out how to access without Jenny’s help – there’s something deeply pleasing about vinyl. Most of these albums, I hadn’t seen in twenty-five years. It’s enough to make a man nostalgic, and to make a nostalgic man even more nostalgic than his usual nostalgic self. I set aside a stack of about twenty I wanted for myself, and left the rest for my brother to grapple with later.

There was a problem: The last time I owned a turntable, I hadn’t shaved yet. In fact, my buddy Todd (he of the minty pea dip, a DALS classic) had been on me for months to man up and buy one already, as he’d bought one for himself and had been touting its restorative powers. And it was true, one had to admit: it did sound good. It took you back. When we got home from my parents’ — our trunk loaded with our new-old stuff – I went on amazon and bought a beautiful little portable turntable, which arrived three days later, and which has spent the last month perched on the edge of our kitchen counter, rocking us through our dinner preparations. The kids have picked up right where I left off — doing wince-inducing damage with their horrific needlework — and we’ve torn through all the old favorites. And, yes, Abby has fallen for “Crocodile Rock,” just like I did when I was her age. Not my favorite, but just for the sound of that crackle when the needle hits the vinyl, it’s worth it. That’s a pain I can endure. – Andy

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The Mix

June 20th, 2012 · 12 Comments · Dinner, Grilling, Travel

Along with gum wrappers and a zillion pennies, there is a pile of about twenty CDs in the armrest compartment of our family car.  Each one has been labeled by Andy with a black Sharpie using maddeningly unrevealing titles, like “November 2011″ or “Maine” or “Chatham” or “July 08″ so I never know exactly what I’m going to get when I slip one in the CD player. But they’re always curated with listeners big and small in mind, which is why we can go from the Drive-by Truckers’ Zip City (we have been strategically coughing over the s-bomb in the first stanza for almost two years now) right after a Miley Cyrus cover by Lauren Alaina, last year’s American Idol runner-up.  Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Lauren Alaina (I’m still mad she didn’t beat Scotty McCreery) and the kids have no problem with the Truckers (they know their dad would disown them if they did), but when I was road-tripping yesterday to my reading in Boston, trying to figure out what I was going to talk about, it occurred to me that our mixes are a lot like our dinners. As I mentioned to the nice people of Brookline (thank you again Sara, Amy, Ingrid, Essie, Katharine, Sharon, Kelly, Carrie!), we made the most rockin’ dinner last weekend. I brought home a Hudson Valley duck breast from the farmer’s market which Andy grilled to perfection (see above photo). By chance, I had dried cherries macerating in red wine (I know, who writes a sentence like that with a straight face?) which I boiled down with peaches to serve on top of the duck; then we broke out the mandoline for our stand-by apple-fennel slaw. It was the first time we had ever served duck at our dinner table — though definitely not the first time the girls had eaten it; Devika, their first babysitter made a mean duck curry which they’d inhale — but when presented this simply, it wasn’t a hard sell. (Plus we had dinner rolls: The Great Equalizer.) Anyway, if that was our Drive-by Truckers dinner, the next night was our LMFAO dinner: Baked beans on toast, from the can. And just like with the “kids’” Adele song, I went back for seconds.

Grilled Duck Breast with Cherry-Peach Relish

Salt and pepper both sides of a 1 1/2 pound duck breast.

Make your fire. Put coals on one side of the grill and let them burn down to medium heat. Then cook the duck, skin side up for first 10 minutes, not directly over the coals, so you render some of the fat and it drips right off. (There is so much fat on the skin that you have to be careful it doesn’t start a fire and burn the duck to a crisp.) Then grill it skin-side down (again, not over the coals — over indirect heat, right next to the fire. You have to really stand over it and watch it. You do not want big flames) then keep flipping it, skin-side down, skin-side up, until it has a nice burnished (not burned) color on skin side. A total of 15 minutes. Let sit 10 minutes.

I soaked a half cup of dried pitted cherries (such as Montmorency cherries which they sell at Trader Joe’s for about half the price at Whole Foods) in just enough red wine to cover for a few days, but I don’t think you need to do it for more than 8 to 10 hours. Then I simmered the cherries in their wine with 2 peaches (peeled and chopped up), a little more than 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar, 2 teaspoons sugar, a squeeze of lemon juice, 1/4 cup water over low heat until liquid was thick and mostly gone. In total, it took about 12-15 minutes.

Fennel-Apple Slaw, please see page 243, Dinner: A Love Story.  The bread is Trader Joe’s par-baked dinner rolls, which Andy baked on a covered grill for about 8 minutes.

Summer Road Trip Mix
If I were to make a mix culled from Andy’s mixes, this is what it would look like. A little something for everybody.

It Ain’t Me Babe, Johnny Cash
Zip City, Drive-by Truckers (remember: he uses the word s#@t in first stanza)
Passenger Side, Jeff Tweedy
Someone Like You, Adele (cannot believe how fun this is to sing)
Edge of Glory, Lady Gaga
Wonderful World, Sam Cooke
You and I, Lady Gaga
Frankie’s Gun, Felice Brothers
Parted Ways, Heartless Bastards
Outta My System, My Morning Jacket
Boy Named Sue, Johnny Cash
The Waiting, Tom Petty
I Think I Lost it, Lucinda Williams
Long May You Run, Neil Young

Reminder: Tell me your favorite part of the book (not on the comment field of this post, but through the official contest survey) and be eligible to win some pretty awesome prizes. You have until July 9 to enter so get reading!

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