Brining a Turkey, Basting a Song

January 12, 2010

Goofy title, okay, sure.  What else am I supposed to do here?  I’m trying to connect cooking and music…and even though there are many, many correlations, sometimes I have to stretch it.  We brined our Christmas turkey for the first time, and man–that’s the way to go.  (The little red line came up under the word “brined,” so I right-clicked it to see what word it suggested I use instead, and one possibility for a change was “brained.”  No, that’s what happened to the turkey before we brined it).

It was the best Christmas turkey ever for the best Christmas dinner ever to accompany the best Christmas ever.  From that one turkey we made turkey stock, turkey soup, turkey hash, turkey chili (not great–cooked too long), turkey salad (quite good), and turkey brownies.  Just kidding about the brownies.  That was a lot of turkey, though.  I’ll post the recipes soon.

Let’s talk about brining, which kind of goes hand in hand with the idea that you can always add more salt, but it’s hard to take it out once it’s in.  The brine consisted of 2 gallons of water and apple juice, a cup of brown sugar, almost two cups of salt, some torn up bay leaves, a whole head of garlic, thyme, and peppercorns.  I put all of that, plus the turkey, in a five gallon bucket to sit overnight–recommended time was between 12 and 24 hours–we split the difference with 18, and it turned out perfectly.  As Mary Catherine said, “It was the juiciest turkey we ever cooked.”  Well, she ever cooked.  I just brined it…she did all the basting and monitoring while I was slinging out cd’s and records at Sidetracks.  But I tell you what…it was a great turkey.

How do I relate this to music?  Well.  I’m getting to that.  More later.  And remind me to tell you about throwing the opossum.


Scraping Their Way to the Top, 100,000 Miles of Honky-Tonk Heaven

December 10, 2009
The Hackensaw Boys, that lean unit of hillbilly noisemakers loosely based in Charlottesville, VA, are nothing if not boisterous and fired up for their pre-Thanksgiving show at the State Theater in Falls Church.  After eighteen months of touring behind their album “Look Out!” the Hacks have knocked down 100,000 miles throughout the U.S. and Europe, they’ve played shows with a striptease act from Nashville in Bergen, Norway as John Paul Jones and Robyn Hitchcock looked on, and they’ve pondered the implications of having George Bush in the band, dubbed LD Hackensaw—lame duck or learning disabled…you make the call.  I prefer the thought of Kermit the Frog (TLC [tastes like chicken] Hackensaw)’s high lonesome tenor burning up the likes of their blistering cover of “Gospel Plow.”  Long on stories and short on space, Spits Hackensaw expressed their love for their loyal fans, talked about recording demos for their new album in living rooms and closed-on-Sunday restaurants, and their appreciation for what they do.  This rowdy troupe of carpenters and copy editors bring the noise.
Original e-mail from Ward…

howdy stuart.  we have yet to record the cd, though many of us have done rough and not so rough demos of the songs, and have been playing many of them out trying to tweak them here and there.  the end result will be a product of several sessions in several different studios (our living rooms, empty restaurants on sundays, etc) if we do any recording or mixing in a studio, it will be with bryan hoffa at sound of music in richmond VA.  i used to work there, we did the last record there, and it’s just a wonderful, comfortable facility owned and run by wonderful folks.

this record, therefore, will be more of a live record than the last couple.  on lookout, which was engineered by bryan hoffa, we recorded all the instruments live, then overdubbed the vocals, mostly gang style, all around one mic.  listening to it now, it sounds a little studio boxy to me, although i can’t speak for anyone else.  this time around we’re gonna set up the mics and start hacken’ and sawin’ and hollerin’ and see what sticks.  at least that’s the plan.  for the most part we’re a democratic band; however, we try to let whoever wrote the song lead the arrangement.
dream members?  without too much thought, how bout:
george bush – LD (lame duck, or learning disabled) hackensaw – for laughs
bob stinson (replacements)  – shakes hackensaw- also for laughs
kermit the frog – TLC (tastes like chicken) hackensaw – for, you get the idea
songwriting.  well, still kinda all over the map.  i’ve got a few heart-on-my-sleeve numbers this time.  but at least they’re honest.  ferd’s still got the rippin’ fiddle numbers like nobody else.  rob’s inimitable songs are intricate and quirky.  we’ve got a few old time covers that may show up. we’ll know what it is when we can step back and look at it as a whole.  hard to say now.
weirdest show this year?  too many to name, but certainly playing in bergen, norway in between a stripper burlesque troupe from nashville, tennessee 3 nights in a row with robyn hitchcock and john paul jones in the audience.  that was a singular experience.
dirty bird is in retirement.  we’ve put close to 100,000 road miles behind us this year, in our van, rental rvs, and “the lion” in europe (our goto rental in the netherlands)
for fun when we’re not playing music?  we all have jobs ranging from carpentry to restaurant work to copy editing.  see if you can match the monkey with the joe job.  most of us, when we’re not on tour, and not working, are playing in other musical outfits.  too numerous to count.
one thing i have to say on behalf of the band is this.  in an era when entertainment options have increased exponentially, and the economy seems to tanking in the other direction, we all know how lucky we are to be doing this. the folks that come to see us are awesome, fun, loyal folks.  we don’t make enough money to survive solely on the hackensaw boys, but it’s too much goddamn fun to quit now, ya know? {This was my favorite part of the whole e-mail. –SG}
how’d i do?  any thing else you can think of, lemme know.  i wasn’t being lazy in my brevity.  most pieces of this kind have a tendency to be a little fatty and grisly, and the hackensaw boys are nothing if not lean.
Originally printed in Playlist magazine, November 2008

“I like what you’re playing, just play less.”

December 4, 2009

I play drums for a great band called Sarah White and the Pearls.  I have been a fan of Sarah for a long time and I am really happy to be a part of her band.  I am filling the shoes of the great Steve Ingham, who would still be her drummer if he hadn’t moved to Verona, Italy.  He is a great artist.  Check him out here:  He was the perfect drummer for Sarah.  He played a bass drum and a snare drum, and he sang great back-up vocals.  I find Sarah’s music a challenge and deeply moving.

Steve provided such skeletal and muscular support with his bare-bones drumming.   It was perfect for her music, letting the subtleties of her words and guitar playing shimmer above everything.  I love playing the drums–I like the bombastic volume and flurry of whacked-out notes.  And I like cymbals.  I used to have a lot of cymbals.  Some might say too many.  Now I only use two.  Sarah thinks that’s two too many.  Which has become a kind of joke between us.  But she has a point.

Cymbals are loud and can be distracting.  I have learned a lot from Sarah and Steve about being sparse.  Sarah really likes to work a song until she feels it is “totally perfect.”  The other night, after playing a song, “That was perfect.  Let’s do it again so we can work on totally perfect.”  Now, I’m no perfectionist (just ask my wife), but I appreciate the effort.  The more we parse these songs, the better they sound.  One of my favorite sentences that came out of Sarah’s mouth was, “I love what you’re playing, just play less.”

How am I going to tie this to food?  Who knows?  The one thing I can think of is salt.  As my mother says, “You can always add more, but it’s hard to take it out.”  So, play well.  Cook well.  Use salt.  Use cymbals.  And remember, I like what you’re playing, just play less.

“Be a chef.”

November 24, 2009

More on bacon, drumming, and patience.   So Clyde Stubblefield, when I asked him to hip me to some cool drumming ideas, thought a while before replying, “Be a chef.”

“You might have to sizzle-fry something over here.  Then you might have to stir something over there.  And slow cook this thing here.  Yeah, be a chef.”  This was some of the most profound advice about drumming I had ever heard.  Be a chef.  A chef commands his kitchen.  A drummer commands his instrument, and, in turn, the band.  Where does patience fit in?

Some of my favorite drummers are drummers who drum with patience.  They let the song build.  I will catch a rash of hell for this, but think about Neil Peart on “Tom Sawyer” or “YYZ”.  The first fills in the songs are cool, but as the song progresses, the fills get a little loftier, a little more complex.  Think about Simon Phillips on Pete Townshend’s “Give Blood.”  He builds it over the whole song and finally gives us the ultimate tension breaker with that 2:3 catch at the end.  Amazing stuff.  The inimitable Steve Gadd.  Understated.  Understood.  And I think of Dave King of The Bad Plus.  A guy who can drum circles around most of us, but he just lays it down on “1972 Bronze Medal Winner,” a song he wrote, and as his bandmates keep time, he stretches the time wherever he wants it to go and meets them back on the one, when he feels like it.  Patience.
You can’t rush bacon.  You can’t rush drumming.  Patience.  Writing this stuff makes me think of a thousand other things I want to write about…


The Throne.

Just fine vs. perfection.

More later.

Bacon, drumming, and patience

November 23, 2009

Cooking bacon takes patience.  The other night I cooked the perfect batch of bacon…crispy, brown, and delicious.  I like to fry my bacon.  I’ve tried baking it and it just doesn’t do it for me.  For me, there is a meditative quality standing at the stove and nursing strips of raw pork into delectable strips of love.  And I discovered something I always suspected: frying bacon takes patience.  I have burned so many strips of pork in my life due to impatience and high heat.  Not to mention leaving the stove to check on a phone call, look at the mail, or any number of unnecessary distractions.  The bacon needs all of my attention.  The whole time.  And the other night, with my daughter looking on, I cooked 15 pieces of perfectly fried bacon.  And our BLT burritos were some of the best I’ve ever had.  Simple–bacon, lettuce from our garden, and roma tomatoes, mayonnaise, and pepper, wrapped up in a flower tortilla.

So, I use a #10 iron skillet (bought for me by my buddy’s wife at a flea market).  I make sure to have a non-plastic container to pour the grease into (yes, the fact the it’s non-plastic was a learning experience from a while ago), glass or metal container that I keep in the freezer to use later with green beans.  When that container is full, I use a coffee mug and then mix the grease (once it cools) with water–the dog loves it on his food.   I let the skillet heat up on medium.  I place 4 strips at a time, using tongs (or the “clapping spatula” as my son calls them) to flip them every couple of minutes.  I may dance to a rhumba while standing there, much to the delight (or dismay) of innocent bystanders.  But my focus remains on the bacon.  Once the bacon is browned, I move it to a cloth-covered plate next to the skillet.  Repeat until all bacon is cooked.

What does this have to do with drumming?  Not sure.  I once had the privilege of hanging out with Clyde Stubblefield when he was in town with Michael Feldman’s “Whad’Ya Know.”  He needed some drum hardware, and I was lucky enough to get the call to supply him with said hardware.  (Thanks, A.W.).  We ate barbecue and talked about jazz, drumming, and life.  He was the consummate gentleman.  Later that evening, the “Whad’Ya Know” trio played at the old Prism coffeehouse.  He was blistering.  As we drove around Charlottesville, I thought to myself, “I am with Clyde STUBBLEFIELD!  I need to capitalize on this opportunity.”  So I asked him, “Clyde, if you could tell me one thing about playing the drums, what would it be?”  He thought about this for a few minutes and then said,

“Be a chef.”

More later.

The Staunton Grocery

November 5, 2009

Timing and Taste

Since 2007, my wife Mary Catherine and I have wanted to eat at the Staunton Grocery.  We decided that our tenth anniversary was as good a time as any to try this esteemed eatery, located on Beverly Street in downtown Staunton.  A good date:  the four o’clock showing of “Julie and Julia” at the Dixie whetted our appetite for a great meal, followed by a trip to Kline’s Dairy Bar.

We showed up a little after our six-fifteen reservation, greeted with a kind “hello” from Kyle Boatwright, the general manager.  He looked like he was expecting us, recognizing our name, which was nice.  Our table was small and intimate, right in the middle of the room, but it still seemed like we had our own little corner.  The brick walls, wooden wine racks, tin ceiling, and antique armoires created a fine dining atmosphere.  Mary Catherine faced the huge picture window into the kitchen, which gave the illusion of being able to see all the action, but in reality, she couldn’t see much.  It’s still cool.

Our server, Steve, was unobtrusive, but carried on just enough conversation to show that he cared.  I mentioned it was our anniversary and minutes later he brought us two complimentary glasses of an Argentinean sparkling wine.  We split an aperitif, a Doubonnet Rouge, and my ignorance of fine wine showed its ugly head when I popped my eyes at the red wine in a highball glass with ice and a lemon rind…but it sure did taste good, complementing our appetizers perfectly.  And, hey, if it’s good enough for the Queen of England, it certainly worked for us.

And what a meal we ate.  The taste.  The food was sublime.  All the talk about local is boiled down to its essence at the Staunton Grocery.  From the amuse-bouche to the last cup of coffee, I have two words for you: AMA-ZING.  The ingredients to our root vegetable salad found their way to the plate from that morning’s farmer’s market.  The rib-eye I devoured used to eat grass in a field in the valley.  The sous-chefs made Mary Catherine’s fettuccini that afternoon, as well as the Japanese pumpkin tortellini. Chef  Ian Boden creates lasting tastes with few ingredients.  The glass of Cinon 2006 from the Loire Valley we shared was perfect.  Their wine list includes these descriptors: vibrant, expressive, supple, bold, sumptuous, and includes wines as far-flung as Virginia, Austria, Australia, France, California, Italy, Argentina, and New Zealand.  And they make in-house sodas, too—key lime, ginger, lemon, orange, and vanilla.  Crazy.

The chocolate soup with orange zest and cinnamon doughnuts tasted like heaven in a teacup.  Mary Catherine’s peanut and quince crème brulee (the PB & J) was not to our tastes, but that’s our shortcoming, not the dessert’s.  All the other desserts looked great, and Steve even served me a taste of the green apple sorbet that usually accompanies the pecan tart.  We would have tried them all, but we had to save room for our trip to Kline’s Dairy Bar.

Let’s talk about timing, as the tastes blossomed under the timing’s tutelage (Wow. That’s terrible).  The servers at the Grocery work effortlessly, which means they work hard, because we know that if something looks easy, it’s not.  We never had to wait for anything too long.  Courses came out in perfect concert with each other.  If another server walked by and saw that we needed bread or water, they would take care of it.  Same with clearing dishes.  No fuss.  Steve talked with us amiably and casually, but maintained an air of respect for our privacy.  If we needed something, he brought it quickly (even when Mary Catherine asked for salt, of all things—he brought us black sea salt, reassuring her that it was okay to ask.  And when I left for the bathroom, he folded my napkin on the table for me in a neat triangle).  Classy.

Check the restaurant’s website and notice how they resonate with Nelson County, donating to causes from Habitat for Humanity to Wintergreen Performing Arts.  Take a ride over the mountain and enjoy a wonderful afternoon in Staunton, capping it off with a fine dining experience.  The Staunton Grocery lives in my top five meals of all time.  I can’t wait to go back.



November 3, 2009

Stuart Gunter here.

In honor of Johnny Gilmore, I wanted to start a Charlottesville music cooking site.  I don’t know why, necessarily, except that I do know that food and music go hand in hand.  Please send in recipes, road/food stories, cooking in the kitchen stories and tips, restaurant stories good and bad…my hope is to keep alive the idea of helping out the people who are still with us.  I’d love to set up a Cville musician’s fund, but I’m not sure how to go about setting up a non-profit, money issues, etc.   I thought I would start here and see where it leads.  If you have any suggestions, please e-mail me at or facebook.

So, I’ve followed a few avenues on the trail of a recipe for Johnny’s fishcakes.  So far,  here is some idea from Jay Pun, a fine foodie himself, a dear friend, and a friend to Johnny:

I don’t have the actual recipe, he kept it such a secret!
at first I tried a can of Salmon, but this past time we tried tuna, and I think we got the closest we’ve ever gotten. Now, he had it very fine, so he took the can and kept running a fork through it all… then I added breadcrumbs (sometimes store bought, but if I forgot I just toasted some bread and then got it really fine)… I add salt, pepper, maybe about 1-2 eggs… and garlic/onions diced…

then I put them together by hand and then fry them at a high heated oil like canola, though he probably used vegetable oil…

we of course add more sometimes, like italian parsely, sometimes even fishsauce, but the best was the first paragraph I wrote… simple.

he then had it on white bread with ketchup and mustard, that’s it!”

Thanks, Jay.

Here’s to Johnny.  Here’s to smoke detectors.  Here’s to life.  Fishcakes!