Thursday, April 17, 2008

From the GuitarGirl industrial kitchens high atop Teaneck, NJ....


My mom's recipe...delicious when warm and will keep for days in a zip-lock bag. You can double/triple up the recipe to make lots for company.

2/3 cup water
1/3 cup oil
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 cup matza meal
3 eggs

Bring oil/water/sugar/salt to a boil in a pot on the stove. Remove and add matza, stirring thoroughly. Let mixture cool. Preheat oven to 375 F.

Once the mixture has cooled, add one egg at a time, stirring through until thickened.

Spoon directly onto cookie sheet or put 1-2 tbsp. per bagel in a muffin pan. Bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes. They are done when nice and brown, and they should be hollow and airy inside.

Suggestion: Serve warm with a teaspoon of strawberry jam inside the popovers.


Preheat oven to 350 F.
Small bowl for frothing the egg whiltes
Larger bowl for yolks and cake mixture (you will be folding the whites into this bowl)
10-inch tube spring-form

7 eggs
1.5 cups sugar, sifted
1.5 tsp. grated lemon (or orange) rind
1.5 tbs. lemon (or orange) juice
3/4 cup potato starch
dash of salt (not more than 1/8 of a tsp)

1. Separate six of the eggs. Beat the whites with a dash of salt until frothy and nearly stiff. It should make a nice peak.

2. Beat the yolks plus the 7th egg until frothy and creamy yellow. Gradually add sugar, juice and rind. Then gradually add the potato starch and be sure to froth it through the mixture.

3. Fold the whites into the mixture gently.

4. Place in ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees F) about 55 minutes or until cake springs back when touched gently with fingers. Invert pan IMMEDIATELY and cool thoroughly before removing cake.
Six degrees of musical separation

Our house in Teaneck, NJ, was built in 1922, and for a significant part of its life it was a church. It is on the historic registry in town, and one can find information about it at our local library. Every so often someone will stop by and tell us that they spent their early childhood in our basement, which was once a daycare centre, or that they recall the years that our house was a church, or that they remember the lovely family from whom we purchased the house.

One summer evening, about a year ago, a lithe, beautiful woman with a long, silver ponytail and a very attractive younger woman with two tots appeared at my door. The elder woman said that she grew up in our house in the days when it housed the church. I invited her inside and wanted to hear everything. We had always had a lot of questions and very few answers. She would open up the walls for us and let them speak their volumes.

As she entered our den, she sighed, "This was the organ room," and, pointing to the TV, "Yep, that's where the organ was."

She saw not the packed bookshelves that adorn the room, my thousands of record albums or my wool stash behind the reupholstered chair that Dad had once rescued from the trash in Toronto. She saw her childhood. It was the first time in at least 40 years since she had been in the house.

In the year that has passed since that encounter, we have learned a lot about each other. She is a talented artist who makes and exhibits dolls from her base in Maine, and she is the mother-in-law of a Russian operatic singer who is appearing this week at Weill Auditorium in New York City.

Here's how The New York Times described his Tuesday performance, which is being repeated tonight:

French Ingredients, Russian Dressing

The baritone Anton Belov accompanied by Steven Blier in “Obsession à la Russe” at Weill Hall.
Photograph by Erin Baiano for The New York Times


April 17, 2008

The mutual attraction between France and Russia, which began in the 18th century when Peter the Great’s daughter the Empress Elizabeth became fascinated with all things French, was a marriage of opposites: musically, the weighty, mournful Russian sound often contrasted with French transparency and spirit. But a program called “Obsession à la Russe,” presented by the New York Festival of Song at Weill Recital Hall on Tuesday and enlivened by the witty commentary of the able accompanist Steven Blier, challenged some of those musical stereotypes. When planning the event, Mr. Blier said, he noted how Russian the French composers could sound — “in their own diaphanous way” — and vice versa.

The first half of the concert, titled “Russia Looks West,” featured songs by Russian composers set to French poetry, beginning with Alexander Dargomyzhsky’s “Au Bal,” a Gallic-flavored parlor piece sung by the young tenor Nicholas Phan. Anton Belov, a baritone with a rich, mellifluous voice, sang two of Tchaikovsky’s “Six French Songs” and “April! A Festive Day in Spring,” an unusually cheery rarity by the teenage Rachmaninoff. Dina Kuznetsova, a soprano with an attractive, bright voice, performed selections including the passionate “Music” by Sergei Taneyev, a student of Tchaikovsky. Ms. Kuznetsova and Mr. Phan combined for three “Vocalises” by Prokofiev, one of a number of Russian artists, including Diaghilev and Stravinsky, who lived in Paris.

The Franco-Russian traffic went both ways. Berlioz, Saint-Saëns and Debussy visited Russia, and many French composers were influenced by their Slavic colleagues. In the second half of the program, “Russia Comes West,” Ms. Kuznetsova sang Stravinsky’s delicate “Two Poems of Konstantin Bal’mont” and Satie’s “Daphénéo,” from a set of three songs dedicated to Stravinsky.
Mr. Phan, whose emotional palette seemed limited, performed songs by Poulenc (the first, “Le Portrait,” an example of the composer sounding like Stravinsky, Mr. Blier said) and Ravel’s “Sainte,” whose chords evoke the Orthodox Church.

The highlight of the evening was Mr. Belov’s powerful renditions of signature songs of the bass Fyodor Chaliapin, another Russian who lived in Paris, including “Trepak” from Mussorgsky’s “Songs and Dances of Death” and the title character’s aria from Rachmaninoff’s “Aleko.” In “Nochen’ka,” a melancholy folk melody, Mr. Belov sounded particularly fine, singing with urgency and soulful pathos.

The program is repeated Thursday night at Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall; (212) 247-7800,

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Separated at Birth?

Something in these two pictures is the same. Can you figure out what it is? I'd love to hear from you when you figure it out. Bonus points if you hit on the the special thing that ties three subjects from these two pictures together.

While you're thinking on that, I would like to give a shout out to Martin Scorsese on his inspirational and electrifying documentary/concert film Shine a Light.

Ain't nothing wrong with vintage, baby.

It was the first time ever that I was able to distinguish the sound of specific equipment onstage -- guitar pickups, amps -- to actually close my eyes and know exactly what I was hearing. After following his record of music documentary making I have a hunch that this was Scorsese's executive creative call.

I don't care what kind of pickups one uses, how jumbo your jumbo frets are, or how kick-ass your groove tubes are: Most of the time you get on the stage and everything turns to mud. A hollow stage, the shape and material of the room, the placement of the equipment, screaming people -- there is nothing that will not contribute to the mud. Sometimes you get so lost in the mix that you just stand there, trying to hear your own amp.

In that case the only solution is to turn it up loud and play it through two amps. Not a bad thing: It actually makes you play more tastefully.

I feel like I've spent my career trying to find my "voice" in a club setting without simply twiddling the volume knob on the guitar and the amp. I learned from Danny Marks a long time ago a simple formula: bass at 3, treble at 7, and reverb never more than 3 (volume is a personal taste-slash-pain-threshhold thing).

To that I add a little analogue echo for the appropriate slap-back and boost the volume into just this side of overdrive for the straight-ahead rockers, some chorus for the ballads, and a super-clean Steve Cropper chunka-chunka sound for the R&B with a mid-speed echo for the reggae and ska whukka-whukka stuff. I have a couple of wah pedals that I dust off for that purpose, too. Great fun. That's mostly for the Fender Telecaster, but also applies to the more diva-ish Gretsch Chet Atkins Nashville with the Bigsby arm that does not like temperature or humidity changes.

But...once you start singing as well as playing, you get distracted by your need to look out into the audience and get into party mode, play Musical Director, and sing on key. Add a big crowd of friendly music lovers and you can forget about it. Mud.

So how nice was it to have an advocate for clean, distinct sound that was so clear I thought I was in my basement, just me and my own equipment, responding to each other's voices. I actually feel guilty for not paying that much attention onstage.

Thank you for your sensitivity, Martin Scorsese. And thanks for understanding and demonstrating how important these things are to the musicians. At the end of the day, it is the listener who is the beneficiary.

So....have you figured out the answer to my quiz yet?