Sunday, July 31, 2011

Music Diaries: Happy Birthday to Me

My old SPS acoustic guitar does not sound good. It's not really its fault; I bought it for a about $100 back in 1989 or so. Although I've taken pretty good care of it, it's simply a bottom of the line guitar. Since my birthday is coming up, I thought I'd treat myself to a new one. My requirements were that it sounded at least as good as Donna's Yamaha and that it be electric.

So I headed out to a couple of music stores in town. I sensed a pattern early on; if it was really cool looking it was really cheap and sounded like it. The best sounding guitars I could find were all pretty standard looking natural finish bodies. In the end I paid a little more than I was planning but I found one that sounds amazing. It's a Breedlove Passport Plus C250/SBe. I got it for $599 at Schmidt Music in Fargo. You'll notice, if you click that link, that I got it for $200 under MSRP. Finally, the recession pays off!

Anyway, it sounds incredible -- it's amazing how much better a $600 guitar sounds than a $300 guitar; I don't understand the hows and whys, but it's true -- and is even a bit easier to play than the old SPS. I'm not going to get rid of my old one, by the way. I still like the way it looks, and hey, nostalgia and all that. I think if we can ever get this house fixed up enough to sell it, the SPS would make an awesome piece of wall art.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Dinner and Drinks: Chicken Marengo

Chicken Marengo is one of those dishes that takes a little while to make, though it's mostly simmering this and baking that, so it's not actually hard, per se. It's really fun to make though, as you can drink lots of wine during the process and it makes the house smell incredible.

It is was supposedly one of Napoleon's favorite dishes, so it may stunt your growth. Studies are inconclusive.

Chicken Marengo

6 chicken breasts (or a whole chicken, skinned and cut up)
1 medium onion (sliced thin)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
2 cloves of garlic (chopped)
1/2 tsp thyme (dried, double if using fresh)
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup diced tomatoes
1 cup mushrooms (sliced thin)
1/2 cup black olives (sliced)
1/4 cup butter
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 oz brandy
salt and pepper

Sautè the onions in the olive oil over medium-high heat until soft. Remove and set aside. Brown the chicken on all sides in the same pan. Add the wine, chicken stock, tomatoes, garlic and thyme and simmer, covered, for about a half hour. Make sure the chicken is done, as it won't spend too much time in the oven later. I turn the chicken halfway through but that's not law or anything.

You've got an hour to kill now, so drink some wine. I'm sipping on some Clos du Bois chardonnay, which is a dry white wine that I think goes well with chicken. I used it in the recipe as well, though you can use cooking wine if you prefer the extra sodium. I don't think this recipe needs it though.

When you've got about fifteen minutes left, preheat your oven to 350°, top off your wine glass and get a sautè pan going with the butter and lemon juice. Soften the mushrooms in it. After that, remove the chicken and set aside. Strain the sauce out of the pan, discarding the solids. Add the liquid back to the pan and reduce it for about 5 minutes on high heat.

Put the chicken, mushrooms, onions, olives in a casserole dish. Sprinkle a shot of brandy over the whole thing and add the sauce. Heat in the oven until everything is nice and heated. That's it: you're done!

I like to keep this meal light, so I make a little spaghetti-type pasta, tossing it with a little butter and salt, then spooning some of the sauce over the top. Ridiculously good.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Music Diaries: Muscle Shoals It Ain't

I've got an amp; the netbook is for
reading tabs; the atlas is for killing
spiders. No, really.
I have been plugging away at the guitar for about, what, ten weeks now. I am definitely making some progress. The next logical step after learning some chords and working on the transitions is to find some songs you want to learn -- some simpler ones -- and start practicing. Basically I find tabs on the internet, print them off and go down to my makeshift studio in the basement. I listen to the song on my mp3 player and play along until I get the feel for it. I ignore the solos, because well, I'm learning to walk. Flying comes later.

About my "studio": it's really a couple of chairs and a table in the basement (which is in the middle of repairs). It's far from clean, or comfortable, or, you know, nice. Oh well. It'll do for now. As for the playing, I'm not ready to headline Red Rocks yet, but I could probably make enough coin for a beer or two if I set up shop in a subway somewhere.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Trends In Federal Spending

There is no area of the federal budget that couldn't use a little trimming. This includes the sacred cows of the Left (entitlements like welfare benefits and Social Security) and the Right (Defense). The easiest thing would be an across-the-board cut to the budget. Pick a number, something sensible. Five percent, say. That seems to be off the table though, and instead there's a lot of infighting and charges of wanting old people to die and children to go hungry, and so on. Meanwhile, nothing gets cut. Where does all this money go? Well, looked at one way, the biggest chunk goes to Defense ($925.2B). Of course, that includes all defense spending. Entitlements get broken up into subgroups like "Welfare" ($431.5B), "Pensions" ($805.6M), and "Healthcare" ($866.1B). Put together, entitlement spending far outstrips defense spending. That said, there's still room to cut defense spending. Perhaps we could stop building ships that never sail, for example.

But when you look at the historical data around government spending, some interesting trends emerge. First, take a look at Defense spending through the years. Note that I picked 1950 as the cutoff. I picked it because it's a round number and because the immense amount of spending on WWII skewed the chart's y-axis, making it a bit more difficult to read. Suffice to say that at the peak of WWII, defense spending accounted for over 40% of GDP.

The trend over the last 60 years is clearly a downward one. Even with the "massive" buildup in the 1980's, we're talking about 7% at the peak of the Reagan era. Fiscal Year 2010 projects around 5.8%.

Now look at the trends in Healthcare:

And Pensions:

These trends are not sustainable. They just aren't.

(Crossposted at Say Anything)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

2011 Schwan's USA Cup

MJ's traveling soccer team is finishing up their season in Blaine, Minnesota at the Schwan's USA Cup. After severe storms postponed their first game, the team had to play three times on Saturday. The dropped the first game 3-0. In the second game, they won 5-2 behind a hat trick by #59 (aka MJ). Clearly exhausted, they lost a heartbreaker in the third match 3-1.

MJ making a save.

And another.

Celebrating the first of her three (!) goals.

Dribbling in traffic.

Waiting for a corner kick.

MJ taking a shot.

The team (MJ in goal) waiting for a corner.

For all the pictures, visit the online album.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

An Evening With Kinect

7:12 pm: Hey, let's play Kinect Adventures!

7:23 pm: This is fun! We should do this every night. It's great exercise.

7:28 pm: Hold on a second. I need to get a towel.

7:37 pm: *Wondering how Wild Turkey improves my reflexes*

7:41 pm: Please, no more jumping. (whimper)

7:48 pm: Pause to execute Bing search for "fastest recorded human heartbeat."

7:55 pm: ----^----^----^----^----^-----------------------------------------------