Monday, October 26, 2009

My Pan-Roasted Pork Chops and Apples

One of the greatest surprises in learning about myself was the discovery that I love cooking. I'd cooked a little bit out of necessity before but found a serious passion for it a little over five years ago. I've always been a foodie (well before I'd ever heard that term) but used to be very proud of avoiding all domestic arts. Then I grew up and faced reality.

When I moved to my current apartment that has an actual kitchen (if only there was counter space... sigh) I came up with this recipe and it's been a consistent favorite even among the picky eaters I know. It's evolved a bit each time I've made it since this is the first time I've ever attempted to write it down. While apples and pork are a traditional pairing, as far as I know this way of making them is completely original, I never consulted a recipe for inspiration or anything.

Ingredients (scaled to serve 2):
  • 2 thick center-cut pork chops (usually boneless but I've used bone-in)
  • 2 apples, peeled, quartered, and sliced (preferably 2 different sweet varieties)
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced roughly
  • olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary (crushed is better but the regular kind is okay)
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried rubbed sage
  • salt (to taste)
  • pepper (I use about 3 grindings' worth)
  1. Pour just enough olive oil into a pan (preferably one that is not non-stick) to coat the bottom, set over low-medium heat Meanwhile, take out the pork to rise to room temperature
  2. Add onion and turn the heat to medium. When it starts sizzling sautee until onions are just starting to get translucent.
  3. Add apple slices and sautee until just barely turning golden. Cover and reduce heat to low-medium, let cook for 5-10 minutes until apples are soft.
  4. As soon as you cover the pan (or earlier), mix the herbs, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Rub the mixture all over the pork chops and let sit.
  5. Give the apple/onion mixture a good stir and push to the outside of the pan. Place pork chops in the empty space created and let brown for 10 minutes (or until browned to your taste).
  6. Flip the chops and pile the apples and onions on top of the chops. Let brown for about 10 minutes again.
  7. Cover pan and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for 20 minutes without disturbing. If you hear a lot of sizzling just reduce heat a little more.
  8. Turn heat off and leave the pan covered for 5 minutes.
  9. Knock the apples and onions back into the pan, remove chops to rest on a plate/platter, and turn heat back to medium. Stir the apples and onions (scraping up any fond that may be stuck to the pan) until the juice from them has thickened into a nice sauce.
  10. Plate the pork chops and top with lots of apple/onion sauce.
Many side dishes work with this recipe, tonight we had peas and brown rice with garlic pepper and it was a delicious combination. Other big hits included roasted butternut squash, roasted sugar pumpkin, and my favorite, a blend of red and sweet potatoes roasted with baby carrots (I promise I'll post that recipe soon as well).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Worst Question You Can Ask Me

Since I've started playing music and talking about it again I've been getting asked the same question quite a bit, "What are your musical influences?"

It's a very valid question, as it's a way for people to decide if they want to listen to what you do, but it's excruciating for this songwriter, at least. I listen to an incredibly wide variety of music, always have, and I think all of it has had a big influence on me even if you can't directly hear all of it in my stuff. On top of that, much of my inspiration is music that people think of differently than I do.

For example, the Grateful Dead have certainly had a large effect but they are mostly known for their long drawn-out jams, especially to those who have only heard a little bit of them or gone to a show or two. The thing is, what I love best about them is their own diverse influences and how well-written their songs are. They have a much stricter structure than most people realize and the jams, while free-flowing, were always within the context of that structure much like great jazz. Many current jam bands just jam, the songs are more like vehicles for jams than examples of great songwriting, and it's quite a different way to play, one that I don't personally enjoy.

Huge influence? Yes. Do I play music like theirs? Not really. If you like the Dead will you like my music? Maybe.

From folk to jazz to classical to show tunes to good ol' rock and roll from the 50s to today with lots of stops at music from across the globe, every piece of music I've ever heard has informed my style, even the music I don't particularly enjoy has had an effect by teaching what not to do. I've sung in church and secular choirs, performed in many musicals, trained in African percussion, and played with very different bands in my past. What I do now comes from all of it and separating out specific examples just doesn't make any sense.

Honestly, I think if an artist can pinpoint precise influences their music isn't very interesting. It's even worse if the audience can tell exactly where you are coming from. Music is a living beast that evolves just as we have evolved from single-cell critters to the complex species we are today.

If you tend to listen to just one genre, please go get something else and expand your mind, whether you play or write or just enjoy listening.

Friday, October 9, 2009

I <3 #SpaceTweeps

There are many wonderful things about Twitter that have surprised me. I was highly reluctant to join for a long time, with my friend @souphead constantly nudging me (in a very nice way) to try it out. The moment I got on there, though, I started finding NASA's official twitterers, which soon led me to "meeting" some SpaceTweeps. The two subsequent shuttle launches were made much more fun by chatting with some of them and, at other times, I started learning a lot more about the space program by vigilantly reading their links and checking out their behind-the-scenes photography. Such fun!

But nothing can compare to last night. I'd planned to watch LCROSS crash into the moon by myself, as we have NASA TV here and, frankly, it was awfully early in the morning for this night owl. I'd planned to sleep and my partner promised to wake me up early enough to catch the launch. Then I went on Twitter for what was supposed to be one last time and all thoughts of sleep went away very quickly as I found out a bunch of people were planning to stay up all night.

We started a chat room hours before the impact was scheduled and made sport of looking at the NASA, LCROSS, and Moon trending topics and sharing the wackiest comments by the sort we dubbed "the zombie people." I would mention their insane thoughts except they've already given voice to them far too much (and many other blogs have covered them). The point is, here were a bunch of smart, funny, like-minded people who decided that it would be more fun to laugh at these insane notions than to cry over them, even though I think we all had a few choked up moments. Gagging moments may be more like it, come to think of it.

As the hours wound down the conversation slowed while we got sucked into the various broadcasts. When the plume we were told to expect failed to occur we experienced an even more special moment, disappointed there wasn't more of a show to watch but excited we had shared in history, made all the sweeter by sharing it with enthusiasts all over the world.

I haven't had so much fun staying up all night in a long time!

None of it would have happened without Twitter or the Space Tweep Society. They've brought together everyone from professionals to people like me, who love the space program simply as citizens. If you support the space program and astronomy in general, please join up! If I learned anything from last night it's that we need to band together if we have any hope of enlightening others to the value of science and study. I don't know if we can reach the zombie people, but let's at least try to get everyone else!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Trouble with the New American Dream

I love business. I enjoyed being part of the actual business part of the music business (most of my frustrations came from how little of that business has to do with work, talent, or brains. It's pure luck and the odds are far worse than Vegas). Making deals is a thrill and I even enjoy it as a spectator sport, particularly watching small businesses take off.

I'm a firm believer in capitalism as a concept, it is the only way that people can be free and open markets create better global relations as well as opportunities where there never were ANY before.

However, what has happened to American business? When did personal greed completely take over to the point where so many people don't even care about their company or colleagues, let alone anyone or anything else?

I have been a big fan of the BBC show Dragon's Den since it started airing here. While not the most realistic portrayal of pitching (especially since entrepreneurs are not allowed to use notes or Power Point), it's a fun way to watch what people are concocting and what makes a pitch click or not. I also like the "dragons" they've had participating over the years, they clearly are in it to make money but they also seem to genuinely want to build the businesses they choose to invest in. Their decisions and offers make logical sense and their advice is often fantastic. I would be happy to work with any of them.

When I first heard that ABC was rolling out Shark Tank I was rather excited to see our homegrown version. I was familiar with the "sharks" on the show already and thought it would be fun to see them in action even in the strange environment of reality television. My main reaction to the actual show, though, is it makes me even more disappointed in the way Americans think about business.

You have to be tough to succeed but do you have to be ruthless? Kevin O'Leary likes to point out constantly that, "Money has no soul," and yet he views money as a religion, to worship and even listen to. Well, I agree, Mr. O'Leary, that money is soulless but that is the reason to NOT worship it. It's also the reason that we, as the ones with souls, could use a lesson in responsible use of money. Money is a tool, much like a gun. Having some or lots of it enables you to do good or evil, the money itself will never make that choice. You can protect your family, build a legacy, and even help people with it. You can also use it to dominate, oppress, and destroy all kinds of entities.

There always have been and always will be people who are motivated purely by greed but that used to be the exception and these days it seems more like a rule. I firmly believe it is the reason we're in the mess that we are in. Greed promotes bad management practices which undercuts employees' enthusiasm (key to getting good performance) which makes them treat customers poorly. At that point, you either need a near-monopoly or extremely low prices (Wal-Mart, anyone?) to lure in and keep customers. It's bad business, no matter how much money you might personally make in the process.

People who make a lot of money by wrecking people's lives (and livelihoods) and peddling irresponsible garbage should never be proud of themselves. People who build truly great companies (the kind that benefit everyone involved with them from founder to end-customer) should. Think about who you look up to and use your own money, no matter how much or little it is, to support the latter.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bake Sale for NASA

I haven't posted any of my music or lyrics on here because I have been writing anonymously and I have had an issue with people trying to steal my intellectual property in the past. However, when Jen Scheer (@flyingjenny), one of my favorite SpaceTweeps (appropriate, as it turns out she started the group) asked to see the lyrics to the following song I realized that maybe it's not such a bad thing to mix these parts of my life. In fact, I feel like I'm starting to become CraftLass more and more in real life as well as online, since I've been meeting people in person who I first found online for the first time in years. Maybe that should become my new stage name as well as pen name...?

I also am quite proud of this song and think it's timely, so I'd rather have it spreading around regardless of if I ever make a dime on it than keep it to myself. I performed it last night for the first time and the response was very positive, with a few people going so far as to say it made them think about their own feelings about NASA and funding. I tried to make it as accurate as possible, using information from Wayne Hale's blog, NASA's website in general, and posts and tweets by SpaceTweeps as my inspiration. Who am I kidding? The song popped into my head and pretty much wrote itself while I was reading those things and watching the Augustine hearings more than the other way around.

Okay, here goes:

Bake Sale for NASA

We sent men to the moon because of some lines
In a speech that inspires to this day
We learn more about Earth from orbit
Than we can in any other way

Yet we spend and we spend and we spend and we spend
On corporate welfare that will never end
Programs that waste more than they create
Yet we’re happy to let NASA deflate

So let’s hold a bake sale for NASA
Show our love for a program that actually works
The cookies are sure to be out of this world
We could even have astros as clerks

Give folks a chance to learn first-hand
Why we need these adventures in space
How it affects them directly at home
And elevates the whole human race

A very large chunk of what sets us apart
Is our driving need to explore
Humans are best when we’re trying to test
Our limits and find we have more

The more that we learn the less that we know
So further on still we must go
To answer the questions that in the past
We didn’t even know to ask

So let’s hold a bake sale for NASA
Show our love for a program that actually works
The cookies are sure to be out of this world
We could even have astros as clerks

Give folks a chance to learn first-hand
Why we need these adventures in space
How it affects them directly at home
And elevates the whole human race

To turn this whole endeavor over
To private investors and other lands
Would be giving up the greatest power
We have in our nation’s hands

Some skeptics say we should keep funds at bay
Until we have fed everyone
But we produce more food than ever before
Because of what NASA has done

Nearly every invention created for space
On Earth has found a useful place
Saving some lives and improving many more
Like we’ve never seen before

So let’s hold a bake sale for NASA
Show our love for a program that actually works
The cookies are sure to be out of this world
We could even have astros as clerks

Give folks a chance to learn first-hand
Why we need these adventures in space
How it affects them directly at home
And elevates the whole human race

In these days where folks are always trying
To take real science out of schools
We need to step up our efforts
Or become a nation of fools

I could go on for days extolling the ways
Investment in NASA makes sense
But I have only this song to convince those who are wrong
And think it’s a wasteful expense

I will dare to say it’s our greatest success
Less than 1% is hardly excess
In a budget that keeps us all in debt
At least here we can see what we get

So let’s hold a bake sale for NASA
Show our love for a program that actually works
The cookies are sure to be out of this world
We could even have astros as clerks

Give folks a chance to learn first-hand
Why we need these adventures in space
How it affects them directly at home
And elevates the whole human race
Human race
Humans in space!!

(If you like these lyrics, I'm talking to a producer right now about trying to get at least a simple acoustic version recorded quickly and will post it here when it's ready, I promise!)

Also posted at the Space Tweep Society Blog.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Marriage, Timing, and a Dose of Reality

While I'm on the subject of marriage, can I rant about my other pet peeve that pertains to it? Oh, yeah, this is my own blog and I can write what I want, no matter how unpopular it may make me. I don't do this to get fans but to air out my brain, which is why I try to stay anonymous here.

Okay, to the topic at hand now:

My state, New Jersey, has a 3-day waiting period for a marriage license. Wisconsin has the longest in the country at 6 days. Nevada famously has none.

Waiting periods seem to frustrate people who wish to elope immediately, as hilariously portrayed in How I Met Your Mother a few seasons ago (the "Atlantic City" episode, to be specific). I have actually heard that complaint in real life, too.

So, here's my question for the world, why elope? I understand wanting to go do it alone if you have loved ones who might cause trouble if you announced your marriage, but I don't understand the immediacy unless one of you is about to deploy and is worried about survivor benefits (I still think that can easily be a mistake but at least there's practical logic behind it). Come to think of it, if your family or friends could ruin your decision to wed what chance does your marriage have?

Marriage is the second biggest decision you can make (after the choice to have children or not). Even with the option of divorce a marriage will affect the rest of your life. Shouldn't a whole lot of time be dedicated to considering such a leap?

People are amazingly good at hiding their true selves for about one to two years. Those under 30 are especially capable of this as they probably don't know themselves all that well yet (there are likely exceptions but I know that was true of all of the people I've ever come in contact with). According to the CDC, the chance of a marriage surviving goes up dramatically if the woman is over 25 (the highest age group they accounted for was 25 and up and they only surveyed women). I find that incredibly unsurprising despite the fact that I have been with my partner since I was 20. Then again, if we'd married back then we would almost certainly have divorced, there was plenty of turmoil and times where we thought it was over in the early years. Instead, we're a happy couple who are more bonded than I ever dreamed I could be with anyone and I give a lot of credit to the fact that we had the freedom to easily split up. We didn't even live together until just before our 10th anniversary.

An old acquaintance once told me that the main benefit to marriage was that it creates an extra hurdle to leaving each other, which makes trying to work things out more appealing. I disagree. To me, that extra hurdle can leave you feeling trapped and we all know how a wild animal reacts to being cornered. It's not pretty and rational thought is long gone at that point.

To those who say love isn't a rational thing and marriage should be all about love, well, you're right but any time you sign ANY legally-binding document there should be plenty of non-emotional thought put into it. Marriage is, first and foremost, a legal mechanism. Can you be 100% sure of the decision to marry? Of course not, but you can hedge your bets by taking the time to get as objective as possible about your prospects.

Love does NOT conquer all, either. Nor is it something that can happen at first sight, as one of my favorite people used to say, "It's really lust at first sight. Love takes a long time to develop, until then it's all about hormones and brain chemistry and those factors fade." Real love needs to be tested thoroughly as well. I have been through a lot of traumatic experiences and found that they can wreck a relationship or strengthen it. The latter is the kind of relationship that can last, as there is no avoiding a certain amount of catastrophes in life.

If you haven't spent a minimum of two years with someone, how can you have shared the experiences that give clues to how your partner reacts to stressful situations? If you haven't seen those reactions how can you even guess that you have the capability to survive real life together?

If anything, the waiting periods for marriage licenses should be lengthened and maybe we should even take a hint from the Catholics and their pre-cana requirements. I rarely agree with the Catholic Church on anything but my parents were pre-cana volunteers and many of my views were shaped by listening to their sessions with young couples. Quite a few had no idea what they were getting into before pre-cana and taking the time to talk about the reality of marriage not only taught them about what could be expected but they clearly learned a lot more about each other by participating in the process. If pre-marital counseling of any kind makes one or both partners uncomfortable how can you possibly expect to be able to work together effectively once legally bound?

Marriage is the beginning of a journey rather than a goal. You should prepare for the trip just as you would prepare for a long-term safari in a dangerous region without a guide or any other grand adventure.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Same Person, Different Rights

I was just reading a post I'd missed on my new favorite blog, Are We Married?, about the fight for equal parenting rights and it led me down a familiar mental path.

See, I'm in a very long-term committed relationship with a man, but I have a few ex-girlfriends in my past and have been truly in love with a woman in my life. I'm also very sensitive about
rights when it comes to the most important decisions a person can make, to marry and to have children. I'm marriagefree and childfree and proud of it. I haven't 100% written marriage out for some time in the future, I'm realistically flexible and can see some practical advantages to the institution, but I am not having kids under any circumstances other than taking in the children of those I care about if there is no other option but them going to strangers. I knew I didn't want to be a mother for certain when I was 3 and have yet to waver as of 33. To be perfectly honest, the thought of having a kid terrifies me more than jumping out of a plane did! Only one thought is scarier -- pregnancy.

My only problem with my decisions is the conversation I have had oh, so frequently with strangers. acquaintances, some family members, and even a few friends:

Them: "So, are you two married?"
Me: "No."
Them: "How long have you been together?"
Me: "About 12 years [or whatever amount it was at that point]."
Them: "Oh! That's a long time! Well, when are you going to get married?"
Me: "I'm not sure, probably never."
Them: "But what about the kids?"
Me: "We're not planning on having any."

And then, depending on religion or age group, they launch into one of several tirades. The most common is just that if I don't have children I will end up regretting it, which is funny because I refuse to regret things, it's such a waste of time and energy. Another regular is that I will lose my boyfriend if I don't give him a family, which is ridiculous as he doesn't want those things either and we ARE a family as it is, we certainly act more like one than many married people. My personal favorite was the guy who told me I should kill myself because I am not fulfilling my function as God's daughter. I am not joking, he was a cabbie who picked me up at JFK and drove me to Manhattan, a very long and strange taxi trip.

I know I could just lie or try to change the subject but why should I have to do that? I much prefer being proud of myself and my choices, even if it can be painful to hear the reactions.

Then I look back at my life and realize that I could be having such a different conversation if I'd settled down with a woman. The very same people who lambaste me for choosing not to marry or have children would be telling me that those are not even an option for me as long as they have their way. That would hurt a lot more. The concept that a decision I made to go out to the bar where I got to know my boyfriend one spring evening years ago could completely change my rights is mind-blowing.

I think about Guadalupe "Lupita" Benitez and how a clinic refused her access to IVF. I think about the droves of right-wing voters who came out for Prop. 8. I think about how people used to complain about gay couples having more disposable income than them because they didn't have children yet they don't want them to spend that money to become parents or support children.

What worries me more than the serious Christian Coalition-types, though, is the amount of generally rational, tolerant, accepting, and loving people I know who are pro-gay rights in every other way but are also anti-marriage equality. Why? Why does it affect you in any way? It's not like anyone is talking about taking away a heterosexual's right to marry.

People who love each other should be able to marry each other or not as they wish. People who want kids and can care for them properly should have them, people who don't and can't shouldn't. It's that simple. We have an awful lot of control over these things today, the capability for a whole new level of personal freedom and choice.

We need to strip away all the laws that take away anyone's rights and worry about people hurting each other instead of who we can continue to oppress and how to best oppress them. Politically, spiritually, and in our attitudes as well. If that happens it will be the moment America truly becomes The Beautiful.