Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Dreaded Final Push

There are now no less than five pages between me and freedom (Whoopeeee!!!).

I'm back with old Foucault, this time joined by his friend Habermas, and we're putting our heads together to come up with something about social rationalization. I'm still trying to figure out what social rationalization is, let alone what I think about it. Needless to say, I'll be burning the midnight oil.

Meanwhile, my computer emergency dialogue box just popped up to let me know that my hard drive, which I labeled "Lulu's Brain," is dangerously full and that I should back up my information. This issue could prove disastrous and yet I can't help but smile at the coincidence. Hopefully my brain has enough room for one more paper...

I'm not sure which one is Foucault in this illustration, but supposedly he is tucked in among these gentlemen.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

LA, M83 and YTC

So, is this pretty neat blog run by a couple of LA kids that features fans talking about their favorite bands before or after they see them live. Since one of my favorite bands (electro-shoegaze Frenchies M83) was playing in in LA at the Henry Fonda Theater while I was home in San Diego for Thanksgiving break, I just had to make the trip up to see them. Leaving the show, these guys approached me for my opinion (in addition to a number of other concert-goers, including British DJ Adam Freeland). Check it out:

Maybe I'll do something similar in San Francisco? Everyone knows we have better music here... ; )

Monday, December 01, 2008

Entering the Next Phase

It’s Thanksgiving and I’m sitting on an oversized white couch in my parents’ house, trying in vain to battle the tryptophan overload and get through the final 100 pages of Michel Foucault’s Discipline & Punishment. The day’s dinner guests have already headed home with their tinfoil-wrapped leftovers. My dad is playing loud music in his office with the dog. My mom and sister are in the living room watching the (terrible) movie version of the Sex & the City series. I know I should be doing something similar, but the pulse of my usual obligations is hard to ignore and so I’m here, alone with my studies, as I have often been throughout the better portion of my life.

I told myself – that is, literally noted it on my desk calendar earlier in the semester– that I would not be doing any schoolwork on this particular day. As it turns out, that was easier said than done. As many fellow students will attest, not doing homework during Thanksgiving break is nearly impossible when it falls so close to finals time. Regardless, family and friends have often teased me about the fact that I have a hard time going on vacation. “Don’t work too hard,” my Dad always says, slightly ironically.

For as far back as my memory serves, working hard at school has been my job, my religion and, done well, my joy. I might be criticized as a perfectionist occasionally, but it has been mostly curiosity that drives me to take my studies so seriously. I have consumed the gospels of one teacher after another, culling pieces here and there to add to my own changing doctrine of beliefs. I have pursued new topics, studied countless hours, failed tests, written “A” papers, laughed at the folly of some education and felt frustration in my own occasional stupidity. I have truly fought the good fight where education is concerned.

In theory, this is about to change because my graduation is less than a month away now. I’ve weathered the usual questions about my future for longer than most college seniors because I’ve been a college senior for longer than most college seniors. Having graduated from culinary school before attending USF and then taking an additional semester beyond the traditional four years to wrap things up, I am now about one-and-a-half years older than the usual undergraduate senior (23, if you must know). Occasionally, this fact makes me a bit self-conscious, but I certainly don’t regret the path I’ve chosen. Sometimes I think I would stay longer, but lately I’ve become pretty excited to see what will happen to me once I’m no longer officially a student.

Part of me quietly hopes that my matriculation will reveal some kind of epiphany – a divine revelation – to cap off my long academic struggle. But, exactly what greatness will follow? The hopeful fool in me wants to believe that all the secrets of the universe will be revealed to me the moment I throw my mortarboard up into the air, but the realist in me knows that this is likely far from the truth. Any conversation about the current economy is not likely to raise the recent graduate’s spirits. The reality is that my graduation will probably only raise more questions for me – mostly the same questions I’ve already been asked. What happens next? What will I do with myself? How, now, will I occupy my mind? How will I maintain what’s already there? How will I replace this thing that has provided about 80% of my social life and formed the constant rhythm, the backbone of my schedule?

I cannot yet fear the intellectual, emotional and social absence that awaits me once I step outside the walls of the academic world that has cradled me for so long. It’s still too early to imagine what it will feel like to be free of homework and compulsory essays; I am still working on my final papers and will be right up until I graduate. The weighty questions are therefore still temporarily easy to ignore. Obviously I will “do” something because that’s what humans (especially Americans) are good at. We can be very efficient. But what will I think about? What if not Rousseau and digital literacy and Mandarin Chinese? Thinking about the possibilities, I straddle the line between anxiety and excitement.

Perhaps it will be good to let my mind wander, or rest, as it were. It’s good to let the fields lie fallow every now and then. Hopefully the next crop of ideas will be stronger for it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Performer Magazine

I have been working for Performer Magazine, writing profiles and album reviews, for over a year now! I originally applied for their internship and ended up sticking around as a writer instead. Here is the "300-word review of a band I like" that got me into the job:

The Go Find – Stars on the Wall
Review by Lulu McAllister

Belgian Indie-pop group The Go Find takes a softer turn in their recent Stars on the Wall. Haunting melodies layered over understated electronics and strumming guitar riffs on the second album seem to delve deeper into the lullaby mentality of the group’s 2005 release, Miami.

Stars on the Wall varies slightly from song to song, contributing country guitar solos in some areas and nursery-ready electronic accents in others but remains generally down-tempo from start to finish. The uncomplicated, melancholy vocals of the songs “Beautiful Night” and “New Year” sound like something Ben Gibbard might have produced in the time between his Postal Service rendezvous and latest offerings with Death Cab for Cutie. “Beautiful Night” remains streamlined, building to a rich harmonic vocal breakdown toward the end of the song. “New Year” ripens when similar background vocals come in like a cannon, weaving together the song’s simple message (“This is the new year I’ve been longing for”). “We Don’t Wanna” moves completely into the acoustic end of things while also throwing in some drums where they were previously omitted. The single, “Dictionary,” maintains simple elements of the first few song but opens up when the drum track doubles up over the catchy repeated main theme. “Ice Cold Ice” builds with a tribal Bjork-esque beat but never really takes off. “OK Kid,” the last track, boils the previous songs down to a string of discreet instrumentals that seem to capture the essence of the album as a whole.

The Go Find have honed their downtempo sound in Stars on the Wall, seeming hesitant to break out of this calmer mindset. (Morr Music)

A year later, I still struggle with interesting substitutes for words like "upbeat" or "beautiful" or "moody" and it's hard to be technically specific when I'm not much of a musician myself (excluding, of course, painful piano lessons in the early years and that awkward 7th grade experiment called the euphonium). 

Furthermore, finding that delicate balance between hardcore musicology and abstract description is always a challenge. Is it going too far to inform the reader that a musician is singing in the hexatonic scale or is it better to simply state that the vocals are bluesy? Both would be accurate.

Either way, I keep ploughing my way through various music -- be it jazz, techno, hip-hop or any other genre out of left field. To see some of my other reviews from the past year, click here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Match Mead in Heaven

If you've ever heard of mead -- that ancient alcoholic drink -- and thought instantly of syrup and church pews, then you aren't alone (although perhaps I am).

Gordon Hull

I was intrigued but dubious going into a Slow Food USA workshop on pairing heritage pork (also interesting) with sparkling mead. Lo and behold, despite how much I enjoyed the Ossabaw pork preparations, the Heidrun sparkling mead really stuck with me -- so much, in fact, that I was inspired to purchase some off the Internet following the festival (I'll have you know that, before this transaction, I'd never purchased alcohol online before, so this was kind of a big deal). 

The sparkling mead is like all you hope a champagne would be. Given that it is made with honey rather than grapes, it's surprisingly very dry. It's like sipping a really great sparkling wine while smelling artisanal honey. 

Home-cured pork and Heidrun sparkling mead

I got my Club Mead order in the mail yesterday: California orange blossom, avocado blossom and buckwheat blossom sparkling mead. Now what to serve it with? Pork works pretty well, apparently, but what else could I do? I was thinking it might be fun to throw a medieval dinner party. If only WholeFoods offered fresh mutton, I'd be set.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Music for an Idyll Moment

Both the music and video for this track by Benoit Pioulard are beautiful. Check out "Idyll":

See more excellent offerings in XLR8R's curated music video section here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Disco Never Dies When It Comes with a Side of Fries

It isn’t exactly health food: waffle or steak fries with cheese – usually mozzarella – and more brown sauce than you would find in a gravy boat at Thanksgiving. In addition to this, the dish comes with even more gravy for dipping – if you can manage to lift one of the soggy fries before it goes flaccid under the weight of the primary sauce and cheese.

Cheese Avalanche

Kevin Snow, a weight trainer who has spent all 21 years of his life in the small community of Basking Ridge, New Jersey says the dish makes up “at least your 2,000 calorie limit in one appetizer. If you are trying to maintain any sort of weight or care about the way you look whatsoever, they are the worst possible thing to put in your body.”

This notion doesn’t appear to have hurt the dish’s popularity much over the years. “Disco Fries”, as they are known, have survived prominently in New Jersey for the last couple of decades, after they first made the jump from nearby Quebec.

In Canada, the dish is called poutine. It first popped up on menus around Quebec in the late 1950s as soft cheese curds melted atop fries. Eventually, dark chicken gravy was added to the dish. Now, poutine is a fast food staple there, offered by chains like McDonalds and Burger King on their Canadian menus. By the 1970s the dish made the leap over to the U.S., appearing particularly in New York and New Jersey, initially as an “off-menu” item with slight variations of the original.

Around the same time poutine wandered onto American plates, the kids coming back late from the New York discos had big appetites fired up from a night of drinking and dancing. Diners were, as always, open late and welcomed these hungry patrons in the early hours, serving them the greasiest comfort food on the menu – the messy, salty fat-soaked starch that would come to be known as “disco fries”.

On the Internet there is relatively little authority on “disco fries”, but a definition on describes them simply as “cheese fries with gravy,” with one of the two definitions noting that they are the “perfect end to a night of binge drinking” – a clear nod to the dish’s origins.

The spread of this unhealthy late-night favorite halted and remained isolated to a relatively specific part of the country. Traveling outside of the Mid-Atlantic states, people might raise their eyebrows if you asked for a plate of “disco fries”, but at the Spinning Wheel Diner in East Lebanon, New Jersey, manager Tony Julian smiles and asks, “What kind?” The diner offers the original version as well as other incarnations with various types of cheese. The menu also features a near relative to the disco fries called “pizza fries”, which substitutes gravy for marinara sauce.

Garcia in the Kitchen
Manuel Garcia, one of the fry cooks in back at the Spinning Wheel, is amused by the interest in something that, to him, is as basic as hamburgers and hotdogs. It’s not even halfway through the week and he has already prepared 19 orders of the legendary “disco fries”. Mine will be order number 20.

Garcia tears into a bag of frozen steak fries – the kind that are five inches long and half an inch thick and still have the consistency of a baked potato when you bite into them. He pours these straight into a metal basket and dips them into hot oil, where they remain, sizzling, for three to four minutes.
Into the Oil

Garcia doesn’t use a timer; practice has given him an inherent sense of when the fries are perfectly crisped.
Hot Oil

When he thinks they are ready, he pulls the basket out by the handle, giving it a few shakes to release any excess oil and then quickly dumps the fries in a shallow metal serving platter.
Want a Shake with those Fries?

On top of the fries, Garcia ladles one generous Cup of chicken gravy, made from the pan scrapings of other dishes on the menu.
Pour on the Gravy

He distributes three slices of mozzarella cheese evenly on top of the fries and slides the platter under a broiler. After a minute or two, when the cheese has melted and begins to bubble, Garcia removes the platter and checks it to make sure that it has cooked evenly. He notes that patrons request varying levels of color on their melted cheese: some like it turning deep brown, some like it just barely melted. In this case, the dish is somewhere between.
Placing the CheeseUnder the Broiler

He places the silver platter of cheesy fries on top of another plate and adds a ramekin with more gravy. Sliding the dish under the hot lamps of the service area, he dings a bell to call a waitress, and the “disco fries” embark on the second part of the their short life.
Off They GoView Down the Aisle at the Spinning Wheel Diner

The fries arrive sticking out at random from a pile of gooey cheese.
Disco Fries at the Spinning Wheel

Within minutes, the dish has dissolved into a jumbled mess of indistinguishable wet starch and semi-hardened cheese; to select individual pieces one must inevitably submerge a finger or two into the muddy pile.
Big Mess of Fries

Between figuring out how to deal with the messy factor and finding room in the stomach, finishing a plate of “disco fries” proves challenging.
Clean Plate Club

Eating the dish is a mix of basic comforts: warm starch, gooey cheese, savory drippings; yet, like the disco era that crowned it, the experience of eating these fries is grounded by the creeping guilt that often follows good things in excess. It’s nothing that a root beer float or malted shake can’t fix.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Summer Albums

It's July. Your cruisin' with the car windows rolled down, your best friend in the passenger seat (which might be your Labrador, Lucy, if you're me), and nowhere to be for the rest of the day but the beach or someone's birthday BBQ. What else could you possible need? The ultimate summer soundtrack blaring out your shoddy stereo system, that's what!

In keeping with this, I present to you a list of summer 2008 albums for your consideration and, I hope, enjoyment:

M83 -- Saturdays=Youth
Ultimate Summer Track: "We Own the Sky". Hands down. This song is brimming with airy, multi-layered synths, wide-eyed innocence, romance and a little bit of mystery all against an uncomplicated drum machine. It's like coming of age in five minutes. 

Cut Copy -- In Ghost Colours
Ultimate Summer Track: Pretty much everything on here. This is one of those albums that's solid from start to finish. That said, I literally look for someone to high five whenever I hear "Hearts on Fire"

MGMT -- Oracular Spectacular
Ultimate Summer Track: I might be tempted to say "Time to Pretend" because of how much the beginning of the song makes me think of fireflies; however, the nod goes to "Electric Feel," which has a groovy, summer of love kind of thing going on that I... well, let's just say I dig it.

Does It Offend You, Yeah? -- You Have No Idea What You Are Getting Yourself Into
Ultimate Summer Track: "Let's Make Out". Needless to say, making out is great for summer. I can't emphasize enough how much I dislike the band's name, but I digress. The album is like a solid pass through Blood Brothers and Death from Above 1979 and, alternately, The Killers and The Bravery (their older, better work).

The Presets -- Apocalypso
Ultimate Summer Track: "Anywhere". Didn't make it to Ibiza this summer? No prob. Just pop in this track and you're halfway there -- with some of Australia's finest gentlemen of electronica, no less.

Crystal Castles -- Crystal Castles
Ultimate Summer Track: "Courtship Dating" is space pop with unintelligible lyrics and some well-placed screaming -- it roolz!

Ultimate Summer Track: "Brown Bike". This album is like taking a road trip down the Baja Peninsula. The horn section is especially rock and roll.

There you have it. Enjoy.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Projects Up and Coming

Happy Belated 4th!

I am currently hosting two guests, Russell Bentley and the lovely Sky Madden. 

Russell BentleyIMG_0735
We went downtown to watch the fireworks right next to the S.S. Midway and got stuck in traffic for the next couple of hours following the demonstration. Still not sure if it was worth it.

Here are the things on my plate at the moment:

I am currently helping the Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society put together a cookbook featuring historical recipes, contemporary submissions from current residents and famous recipes from local businesses. I'm hoping to get Chino's Farm, The Inn, Delicious, Thyme in the Ranch, and Milles Fleures on board as well. I'm also helping the society renovate their website and begin a blog to update their members. We'll see how that goes.

When I'm not spending time with Russell and Sky (and Miss Lucille), I'm working on my summer Arts Reporting directed study. I've read some submissions from MFK Fisher and Alex Kapranos' collection of food memoires from his tour with Franz Ferdinand called Sound Bites. Next I will read "Vibration Cooking or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl" by Vertamae Grosvenor in order to write an essay comparing the three as well as my own food memoire. Where to begin? I have so many great memories that involve food.

I'm also working on an essay about the importance of lyrics. Namely, do they matter in music? If so, under what circumstances do they matter? The Professor of Pop (who is currently away from the internet for a month or so to write about Zep) is overseeing this one. Feel free to give me your thoughts on lyrics. I've gotten a mixed bag of answers so far.

More to come. 

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Let Us Discuss Lettuce

This summer I am taking a directed study course on arts reporting with assignments from Professor Teresa Moore and the Professor of Pop, Andrew Goodwin.

One of my first assignments was a food comparison exercise. I was to select and compare nine different types of salad greens, focusing on aspects like softness/crunchiness and sweetness/bitterness, among others. Here is what I found:

Heirloom Freckles Romaine Lettuce (from my own garden)
Heirloom Freckles Romaine Lettuce (from my garden)Freckles romaine lettuce -- an heirloom variety -- is oval, narrowing at the base of the stem. The leaves are smooth, slightly waxy and very thin, tearing easily. Their color is striking – pale green with blood-red freckles and a light pink stem. They taste grassy and nutty with a sweet finish.

FrisseeFrissée has thin pale-yellow branch-like stems off a thicker main stem. The jagged, narrow chartreuse green leaves on these branches curl around each other, adding to the tangle of aggressively bitter greens. The leaves are soft, but the stem is crunchy and rigid – this unusual structure makes it somewhat difficult to eat.

Iceberg lettuceIceberg lettuce has waxy, concave round leaves with a ragged edge. These leaves hug closely to one another, the foremost leaves conforming to the layers beneath it. Iceberg is pale green at the base and lime green around the edges of the leaves. The top of each leaf is soft and floppy and partially crunchy like Styrofoam towards the base. It is watery and sweet with a grassy finish.

SpinachSpinach’s fibrous, dimpled leaves are lobed, almost spade-shaped at times and grow a single leaf to each stem. They are medium green, dull and soft with fine veins. The stems are long, thin and crunchy. Spinach is nutty and slightly salty with a metallic finish. The stem has a greater concentration of this flavor. The smaller leaves seem to be bitterer.

Romaine Lettuce
Romaine LettuceRomaine is large, compared to other salad greens, with a round tip that becomes jagged on the edges near the base. It is leathery and slightly ruffled with many veins and a big stalk-like pale green stem. The leaves are a medium green with a mild flavor and only a hint of bitterness in the stalk. The leaves are soft relative to the crunchy stem.

RadicchioRadicchio is soft and flexible at the edge of the leaf with a stiff, crunchy stem. It has a waxy texture, similar to iceberg lettuce – rounded into a concave “bowl” with many ripples and folds. Radicchio is predominantly a saturated magenta with contrasting white veins and stem. Its taste is equally sweet and bitter.

Arugula (from my garden)
Arugula (from my garden)Arugula has a thin, crunchy stem and soft, flat lobed leaves that increase in size up the stem and end with a round lobe at the top. These leaves are grass green with thin magenta veins and rimmed with the same bright pink color along the edge. Arugula is not overly toothsome, but it is fibrous like spinach. The taste of arugula is nutty and salty initially, followed immediately by intense bitterness and a peppery punch that moves in quickly and recedes slowly from the tongue. The flowers are also edible with a similar taste.

Red Mustard Greens
Red mustard greensMustard Greens are thin and feathery, like a quill, with a pointy leaf and edges that poke out like flattened green fused thorns. The leaves are flat towards the tip and slightly curly where jagged along the edge. The stem is crunchy with tiny prickly hairs that disappear towards the base of the leaf. Most leaves are a medium green with a yellow tone; however, some have a deep pink stem, much like radicchio, while some stems are predominantly yellow with a hint of pink. The flavor of mustard greens is intensely bitter (the magenta-stemmed ones appear to be more bitter than their yellow-stemmed counterparts), then nutty with an acrid finish.

Belgian endive
Belgian endiveBelgian Endive’s leaves are very pale – almost white – yellow with light fuzz (like one finds on a peach). This fuzz is denser on the top of each leaf. The edge of the leaf is soft and tears easily. The stem is thick and crunchy and blends into the thin leafy portion. The leaves fit tightly together like shingles to form a dense core and when pulled apart resemble hollowed out rabbits’ feet. Belgian endive is slightly bitter, although less so than frissée.

These are just a few of the many varieties of lettuce out there. Next on my agenda is to make three recipes using some of these greens. Stay tuned for that.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Oh Doggy Drama

Last night, my beloved Lucy looked like this:

just relaxing...
Not feeling well, perhaps?

I came home from my work to find (after following the smell of rotting curry to the living room) this lovely offering:
How was this even possible?The worst thing Lucy's ever done to me
I'm not sure how Lucy managed to throw up INBETWEEN the throw pillows, but her aim is truly impressive!

With all good things (read: dogs and children) there come, sometimes, equally awful things. This was one such occasion. Take home lesson: life gets messy!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

June in Review

Ok, so a quick game of catch up on my whereabouts:

I have been busy here in San Diego doing a little gardening with Sky...


Taking care of a friend...

Idiot's delight!

Interviewing local bands...


and learning about Life in the Ocean at the University of San Diego.

seastar and a limpet

Next on my agenda is some work on a local cookbook and my arts reporting directed study, taught from afar by Professor Moore, advisor to the San Francisco Foghorn