Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Anxiously engaged in a good cause

I just got back from a charity fundraiser for Arizona Helping Hands at The Boojum Tree in North Phoenix. They raised a bunch of money to do a bunch of good things for kids and teens who need some good things done for them. It was a very nice function with a very moving presentation from a couple of members of the board of directors of the charity and a couple of organizations and individuals that had stories to tell of the changed lives- owing to the assistance provided by the group. It was my pleasure to introduce Alexis DelChiaro from the local FOX News morning show. I've met her before at a broadcast for a big event at a local resort. She's from southern California too and we chatted about how we both arrived in Arizona.

It was a Christmas themed event gearing up for the work they will do for the holiday season. I played Christmas music and there was a Christmas tree. It was a really cold night at an outdoor venue. I got rosy cheeks- the ones on my face AND the ones on my backside!

It was also good to see Angie VanDaele, the publisher of The Wedding Chronicle. She's one of the first people I met in the wedding and event industry when I moved here three years ago and we have become good friends. She publishes the best wedding publication in the state, in my opinion. I advertise in her magazine and write a column on music and entertainment occasionally. She's very supportive and helpful with the networking group that I own for wedding and event professionals. I couldn't pull the meetings off without her help. Thanks Angie.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Day 45. 45 to go. Half way!

If you haven't already done so, scroll down to Day 14 and work your way up.

This has been, unexpectedly, a profound experience overall.

I'm aware of family, neighborhood friends and industry friends and even some of my customers that are reading this and then sharing their personal insights when we cross paths or asking questions when we meet face to face. They are great insights that others reading could benefit from. Leave your comments here too. No lurking!

A few more observations since the last update: Trash output has been substantially reduced in recent weeks. The entire house is less than 1 kitchen trash bag per week now. The convenient processed microwave meals and stove top meals in a box and other such prepared foods are just not happening.

Side note regarding the trash: I bought some new road cases for some DJ equipment. The old cases were in fine working order but they were looking fairly ratty from several years on the road and I was feeling more and more self-conscious going into the nicest hotels and social clubs in Phoenix with my battle scarred equipment. They had earned their money and it was time to replace them. The new cases are tough ROAD CASES mind you, but they were shipped over the ROAD for two days from Kansas or something- A ROAD CASE inside of a cardboard box which was inside of another cardboard box! It was all recyclable but it was a huge pile of packaging- that came from trees- and it has be be dealt with now. Other than the irony of shipping a permanent road case inside of a temporary road case, the amount of trash it created seemed alarming to me relative to the otherwise diminished trash and recyclables in the rest of the house.

The garden is sprouting up nicely. Cilantro, Butterhead lettuce, onions and peas. The spinach didn't come up. I remembered that the seeds I planted from that bag last year also didn't sprout so I discarded the balance. I re-planted another variety of spinach from another seed packet and I'll report on that next week. The Simpson lettuce didn't sprout either. If this were a real crisis, it would have been deepened by these crop failures. I'm going to plant something else in that row tomorrow- another kind of lettuce or some cabbage. I know a few like minded people who also store goods against hard times, including seeds, who mistakenly think that you just go throw them in the ground and Wal-la! Food! It ain't that easy. (I don't need no English lessons either) I think it's good advice to grow a garden all the time. The food is fantastic and the skills may save your family. I've been doing it for several years and learning what works and what doesn't and how to care for things and protect them from fungus and pests etc.

The apples from Santa Fe are phenomenal! I haven't eaten apples in this quantity since I was a kid. Sliced up with some oatmeal in the morning. Dipped in peanut butter for lunch. A whole apple nibbled down to the core for an afternoon snack. Thank God for Red Delicious apples! Used the tomatoes to make some tomato sauce and some tomato soup. They were going to spoil otherwise. I hear some tomato soup with some crackers calling my name for dinner in a few days.

Prepared/processed meals are supposed to add to the convenience of our lives- It's a LIE! I've decided that they actually make it more complicated. Meals are far more simple now and easier to prepare this way. No trips to the store. The food staples that were purchased years ago were for pennies on the dollar relative to the expense of processed/packaged items. No packaging to contend with, no fillers, no modified food starch, which is a by-product of processed wheat and/or corn used to puff up portions or package weights. A bowl of chili con carne or franks and beans (still have about 2 dozen kosher franks in the freezer) or some dried black beans soaked over night and simmered in a crock pot all day streusselled with some good pepper sauce and served with some cornbread for a meal is just fine. Still have frozen chicken and frozen broccoli, frozen corn, dried potato flakes for mashed potatoes with a can of roast beef and gravy over the top. Dried hash browns whipped up and served with maybe a slice of fried spam for breakfast.

The cheese that was delivered by a friend- see earlier post for an explanation of that- is still a welcome treat, grated over a bowl of chili, but that is almost gone. It may last another 10 days or so.

I really miss fresh milk... Did I mention that before? There is a dairy in Southern California called Alta Dena that- for whatever reason- has the best milk EVER! There is nothing like a glass of cold milk and I mean COLD. Brad Pitt likes ice cubes in his milk, like I do, and that's because he is a Epicurean, like I am. I'm doing a DJ job in LA in a couple of weeks and would love to go drink a gallon of Alta Dena milk but it will have to wait until the next time I'm out there in January. Alas, the dried milk is just to weird to drink. There are two brands in storage. Neither is acceptable to me for drinking, but one is OK for cooking and baking, the other is acceptable on a bowl of cold cereal but I notice that it makes the cereal soggy VERY quickly. I guess there is some property in real milk that doesn't penetrate the structure of cold cereal as quickly. The dried milk acts like water on the cereal. I find myself pouring a shallow bowl twice and eating them quickly as opposed to a full bowl that goes soggy before I can eat it all.

It's nice that the weather has cooled. I find solace in a good cup of hot chocolate and marshmallows a couple of times a week for breakfast or a cup in the evening after dinner. Stephen's brand hot chocolate is Deeeee- LISH! I sip it and dream of the day when I can enjoy a glass of milk again.

Since moving to Arizona just over 3 years ago, I have been re-introduced to the concept of drinking plenty of water. I drink a good amount of water anyway, but I'm drinking even more of it lately and enjoying it and feeling generally better. I've always been a Koolaid fan when it's offered, but I just don't need it right now. I prefer water. I DO have lots of sugar and Koolaid stored.

Final observation for this week. The new pace and regard for food and meals is refreshing and meaningful. There is a very real social element to eating food. I wonder how much of the economy can be traced to ideas exchanged over a meal or a cup of coffee ending with a handshake and a new professional relationship that becomes profitable? I've been lingering at the table after dinner lately and shelling peanuts or pistachios and laughing and talking about things and connecting better. Whenever I eat Asian food, I always use chopsticks. I'm pretty adept at the use of chopsticks but even at its best, the bites are slower and smaller. It just slows you down to enjoy the meal. More meals should use chopsticks.

In a similar way, shelling peanuts and pistachios just slows you down. The simple act of eating a simple meal, when done correctly, can BOND you to loved ones.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Persian music ROCKS!

I performed at a wedding last week that rocked my face! The bride was Latina and the groom was Iranian. They had two ceremonies, one traditional Christian type and then a Persian wedding ceremony followed that. A cocktail hour followed with a rockin' Mariachi band and then into the banquet room for dinner and dancing.

Fans of rock music know Led Zeppelin's Kashmir is based in Arabic musical phrasing. The drums go at half speed with triplets on the guitar advancing upward creating tension and the phrasing goes in and out of phase, compared to the drums, with alternating measures. Most western (European) music divides notes by halves, quarters, eighths, sixteenths and so on. Some Persian music divides it in thirds and then puts it into musical phrases in 5/4 time signatures and such. It's incredibly complex. There are lots of 5ths and minor 6th notes that I love.

Traditionally, the Bride and Groom will take the dance floor at the end of dinner for a first dance and then open the dance floor for the guests to celebrate. Guests wanted to dance from the moment they entered the room. I hated to shut it down to get them to sit down and eat the meal that had been prepared.

I had been provided with a few CDs of some Persian music, some of which was of terrible, terrible recording quality. I wish I knew the background of some of those songs. They may have been historic live recordings of highly regarded and loved national artists. Even though the fidelity was poor, the opening notes of some of those songs were met with absolute jubilation and celebrants could NOT keep thier seats. They just HAD to dance to this or that song.

Some of that Persian music mixed with other Latin beats made for a great night of dancing.

Thanks Jazmine and Hessam, you guys ROCK!

Day 37. 53 to go.

In order for this posting to make sense, you should scroll down to Day 14 and read up.

A few dishes on the table recently- Pasta and Alfredo sauce with broccoli, Teriyaki chicken with pineapple and steamed rice. Half of the can of pineapple went in with the chicken and the other half went in with some cherry jello. I've found that I really enjoy just a bowl of black beans with some pepper sauce- very hearty.

I do miss fresh milk. Fresh eggs are gone too. Since I last posted, I made two or three of loaves of bread with powdered milk and also used powdered egg solids. Those came out just fine- no detectable difference in taste or texture. There's still plenty of butter in the fridge and there's nothing like fresh hot bread with real butter melting all over it. Made crescent rolls with a kosher frank rolled up inside and those were pretty fab with some mustard, ketchup, sweet relish and the last of the yellow onion diced up.

Planted my winter garden last week. Earlier than I would have usually, but the failed pumpkins freed up the garden space. I planted cilantro, spinach, peas, Simpson lettuce, onions and butterhead lettuce. The spinach and Simpson lettuce haven't sprouted yet and I'm anxious about it. Everything else is reaching for the sky! It's very gratifying.

During the Mormon exodus of the late 1840's, people planted seeds along the trail for subsequent companies to possibly have some produce along the way. The very first order of business for the advance company that arrived in the Salt Lake valley in July of 1847 was to plant several acres of potatoes so that they would have a fighting chance to survive that first winter there. When Brigham Young arrived a few days later, so sick that he could barely sit up in his wagon, he looked down the mountains into that valley and declared "this is the right place."

I once watched a wonderful science film at an IMAX theater about the U.S. space program and specifically the space shuttle. The filmmaker went to lengths to portray the brilliant minds and technological skill that combined to accomplish the immense feat that it is to get a craft into orbit around Earth. This particular mission was to try to get some produce to grow in zero gravity. They were trying to grow wheat. They used centrifuges to try to trick the seeds into sensing gravity and growing upwards against it. Several other methods were used including planting it in the traditional way. All methods failed. All of that brilliance couldn't do as seemingly a simple thing as sprouting some wheat grass.

I thought of that last week. This experiment has changed my feelings on food and the way it is acquired and consumed. Indulge me to wax spiritual for a moment- I actually stood in my garden last week after I planted those seeds and I prayed to God that those seeds would sprout and be fruitful and that they would be protected from pests and foul weather and that the produce would be to the benefit of my physical body and sustain life! I don't know if you have followed the plight of the honeybees in recent years. They are dying in massive numbers! 70% of the firefly population worldwide died last year too. My prayer included a plea for the safety of the bees. There is a lot of food that wouldn't happen without bees.

A few other closing thoughts for the week: I got a few left over Carmel apples at an industry function and regarded it as a major score! I also made a trip to Santa Fe NM this week to trim the trees and rake leaves and make some repairs at the home of an aging relative, came home with a couple of bags of red delicious and golden delicious apples and a bag of fresh tomatoes off of the ranch property there. That was a MAJOR score! Did eat out a couple of times while there but for the most part, only purchased gasoline per the parameters of the experiment. Took food with me from my pantry for the road.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Day 26. 64 to go.

If you haven't already, read this first and then this.

Made a basket of muffins yesterday from scratch. No fresh ingredients- all dry ingredients from storage- brown sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, oats, cinnamon, honey etc. They were very moist and delicious. I had a bowl of pinto beans and a muffin and a slice of fried spam for breakfast. Water to drink.

For dinner tonight, I had some steamed rice and orange chicken with some sesame seeds sprinkled on it. Complimented it with a can of mandarin orange slices. Some green onions would have been perfect but alas, I don't have any. I ate a carrot with it. Two more carrots and two more potatoes left. Finished off the other half of the jar of peaches that I opened up a couple of days ago to put in the aforementioned bowl of peach jello. I finished that jello off yesterday.

I have a bird feeder on my back porch and a bird bath and a fountain in the back yard. A couple of days ago as I went to put some fresh water in the fountain, a hummingbird, unaware of my standing there, came right up to get a drink out of the dribble that pours out of the top of the fountain. I had the water on low and just was standing still there holding the hose and taking my time filling it up. Lots of birds drink from that fountain every day. Lots of birds also clean up in my bird bath and I wonder what goes on each day in the life of a bird that gets them so dirty. After I put fresh water in it, for about an hour each morning, there is a line of birds on the west wall waiting their turn, two or three birds in the bath at a time, and then they go to the south wall to dry off and re-fluff the feathers and go on their way.

I tell you all of that so that I can tell you this, I discovered another item of note that I'm lacking... I usually put about 2 cups of birdseed out in the feeder each morning. I'm out of seed. There was a row of tough guy birds sitting on the wall this morning giving me the stink-eye. They'll have to wait until Dec 11th or do a better job of keeping the bugs out of my garden! There was enough bugs on my pumpkin vines to have fed them for a month and they didn't eat them.

I have a Mormon Pioneer ancestor that was sent by Brigham Young from Salt Lake to colonize in southern Arizona. His company crossed the Colorado River at Lee's Ferry and his journal told a story that has always moved me. He was a lover of animals and always gave gratitude to God for the burden they bore on his behalf and it always broke his heart to hear of a mistreated animal. A few of his animals drown in the crossing and those that made it got to the other side and just got their front legs and front quarters up on the banks and collapsed with exhaustion. He depended on them so much- and they gave so much. Since they had been domesticated to a great degree, they were no longer able to fend for themselves without his assistance.

I don't have any pets but for those who do have pets, it's something to plan for in a crisis- to make sure that you have enough food and supplies for them as well. I may have created a bit of a micro eco system of sorts in my yard with so many birds depending on a bit of food each day at 730 and now they will have to fend for themselves.

Now that the heat has broken in Arizona, I'm planting a few rows of produce tomorrow morning. Cilantro, cabbage, peas, turnips and a couple of kinds of lettuce. I may have some lettuce in about 5 weeks, cilantro in 3 weeks or so. Peas and turnips by Thanksgiving.

A friend who saw this blog brought over a small brick of cheddar cheese and a small tub of cottage cheese. It is a most welcome gift and was given and received with love and gratitude but such an act will compromise the data of this experiment. It IS an experiment and there is not a real crisis. I'm having the best year I have ever had in my 30 years as an entertainer! There is plenty of money and a choice of 3 or 4 fully stocked grocery stores within walking distance in any direction. There may come a time when the stores aren't there or they aren't stocked because of a labor dispute or political unrest or there is a disease outbreak or a financial crisis or hyper inflation where our money isn't worth anything and can't be used to purchase these things that we take for granted. I just don't want those problems to be my problems. I want to be reasonably comfortable and safe in my own home.

The Dream Team

I did a wedding on Saturday that had some serious problems. I'm sure some heads are rolling today on the subject. The caterer cooked up the wrong meal for 200 people. The food was pretty good, but it didn't match the lovely printed menu cards at each place setting. I wonder if there was another wedding across town that had the food on those menu cards? The flowers were not bad either but they weren't even close to what the bride had ordered. The florist said that they ran out of something or another... (Why did they run out? How is that the problem of the customer? Why wasn't it addressed at some point earlier than at the event?)

I was there with my best buddy Kym Ventola who photographed the wedding and Kathy from Thee Wedding Warehouse who was coordinating the event, and I was DJing myself. It wasn't the "dream team," it was more like the "refreshing afternoon nap" team. Those kinds of major mistakes wouldn't have happened if the rest of our "team" was there. Alas, the bride and groom hired others for whatever reason... Had all of us been at the wedding together, those problems would not have happened.

I spent Sunday with these guys the Phoenix Bridal show at University of Phoenix stadium. We all had a booth together. Kym Ventola wasn't at the bridal show with us, she was photographing a wedding.
On the left, Kathy Baggett from Thee Wedding Warehouse, the most brilliant marketer I have ever known. She has a great bridal boutique out in Goodyear. I'm standing next to her. In the center is Jacque Dearing from Endearing Floral Design, Kathy's partner and in house florist at Thee Wedding Warehouse. For reference, I'm a guy and don't care one way or the other about flowers and I have been around floral designs at weddings for 30 years and you could imagine that flowers all start to look the same to me. Jacque's work will make you perk and up and notice! Next is Ginny Solis from All About Catering. She and Chef Julie (not there yesterday) are a great team. Ginny and her assistant, Sabrina, served up mango cilantro sliders yesterday. There was a line of interested brides snaking across our booth all day. They cooked and assembled and served 600 mini-burgers in 3 hours! On the right is Reverend G. He has had a full life in sound production and recording, as a test driver for new and experimental automobiles and as a minister for 21 years. He has a wry and twisted sense of humor and is a gentleman in every way. It's always a pleasure to be around him.

Usually when we are working together, well, we are working. I couldn't let this opportunity for a photograph get away before we packed up and called it a day. I count myself really blessed to be in the personal and professional company of such fine people!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Day 21. 69 to go.

If you haven't read the previous post, scroll down or click it. Read that one first so that this one makes sense.

21 days in with 69 days to go. The fresh food is virtually gone. I have 3 flour tortillas, one tomato, one yellow onion, and about 6 potatoes. Fresh milk is gone and that is the only thing that I miss so far. The dried milk is more obvious than I thought. I don't care for it on cereal. It has to be a smaller amount as a part of a recipe to be baked or otherwise disquised.

For dinner last night, I made some peach jello with some canned peaches. I boiled a couple of potatoes and mashed them and mixed them about 50/50 with dried potato flakes and a sprinkle of dried chopped onions. I mixed in the last of the sour cream. Complimented that with a can of roast beef with gravy and some homemade biscuits- using the dried milk. I still have lots of butter and strawberry jam. The biscuits were Deeeeeee-LISH!

Tid-bit-o-trivia on the biscuits... I broke my little tin biscuit cutter while cutting out the dough! In the grand scheme of things, it's not the greatest of my worries. One can always use a cup or a knife to cut out circles and squares for biscuits. The trouble is that using a cup to cut biscuit dough doesn't allow the air to escape as you press down and it's hard to get the biscuit out of the cup after since there is no access from the other side. I do have a soldering iron so I'll repair the biscuit cutter today. Worst case scenario, I would use a tin can and cut both ends off.

I heard some wise advice many years ago about situations like this. "If you have two, you have one. If you have one, you might have none." I have a tool to open my emergency water barrels and if I lost or broke that, I would have a tough time opening those barrels. Some basic back up kitchen utensils might be in order. A spare can opener would be crucial.

For breakfast this morning, I broke the last fresh egg over the left over mashed potatoes from last night and added a bit of flour and made potato pancakes. I grated the last of the Monterrey jack cheese and sprinkled a bit of that on the pancakes. When I get out the cheese grater, I usually grate a fair amount of it and put it in a zip lock bag. I was very conscious of the fact that this is the last of the cheese and I picked as much cheese out of the grater and I collected every last bit off of the cutting board and kept it. Normally I would just regard it as a casualty of cheese grating and a bit would be lost on the grater and the cutting board and then down the drain. The remaining cheese may last another 5 days or so.

Another observation: Years ago when I was working two jobs, eating gross amounts of fast food and drinking sodas regularly, I chewed a couple of antacids every night to relieve the heartburn. It's a lifestyle and diet that I no longer live and eat. A mild case of heartburn maybe once a month now is all I have and that's after a major meal with habanero peppers or other spicy food from my garden and I usually just lay on my left side to relieve it without an antacid tablet. I had a case of heartburn last night that may be due to the changing diet this last 3 weeks. I couldn't detect any of the regular triggers. I discovered that I have two antacid tablets in my medicine cabinet and I used one of them last night. I have about 10 more in my van and another 10 in a small emergency kit in one of my DJ road cases.

As a general rule, I don't use drugs of any kind, including over the counter pain medications or cold remedies. Those only manage or mitigate the symptoms but don't actually solve the problem. Given proper nutrition and environment, I believe the body already contains what it needs and can heal itself in most instances. In this DJ emergency kit, I do keep some cold remedies, some antacids, some pain relievers, a couple of bandages, tweezers, a couple of buttons and some needles and thread etc- Things that could get me through an event in a pinch and allow me to be the witty charming and effervescent entertainer even if I didn't feel well. It's probably time to change those out anyway now that I think of it. The equipment and road cases are stored in an unconditioned space and have been there for some time.

I went out to lunch with a client this week and my plate included some cabbage and a radish to garnish the dish with some color. I ate all of it.