Greater Adoration

TAYLOR COUNTDOWN: 2 DAYS

Contrary to your belief, there are people out there who adore Taylor Swift more than I do.

And they’re talented musicians.

Take this one–Mary–singing “You Belong With Me”

My favorite part of Mary’s performance–filled with props that Taylor, no doubt, appropriates in her real life–happens around the 35 second mark.

During the lyrics “She’ll never know your story like I do,” Mary pulls out a Bible, bearing some kind of label (is it from the library?), and holds it in front of her distressed face. Maybe if she selected Swann’s Way, I’d understand the meaningfulness of her literary selection … and facial expression.

But Mary knows the Bible. The cheerleader “she” in the song, who wears short skirts and high heels, clearly does not. Mary sings “You Belong With Me” at Sunday church services, exalting at the alter.

Good for Mary–and Jesus, her subject.

And then there’s BatRomeo, who took it upon himself to rewrite “Love Story” from Romeo’s perspective.

Clad in a vintage Batman T-shirt with 99cent store RayBans, BatRomeo wants to tell his Love Story on his own terms.

You’ll be the princess. I’ll be the prince.
Oh. It’s a love story just say yes.

BatRomeo’s voice is sweet, though. I’ll give him that.

Who knows? BatRomeo could be Taylor’s next muse. He’s almost 1/100th as attractive as Taylor Lautner.

These two, Mary Kate and Ashley, definitely adore Taylor more than I do, and win the covers competition on Taylor’s Ham.

Singing “Our Song,” Mary Kate and Ashley in similarly tweeny outfits (purple and pink, of course) manage to pull off a pretty good harmony. Mary Kate strums the guitar while Ashley keeps the rhythm with her bouncing dance moves.

They are the next Taylor Swifts.

FYI: If I’m ever on YouTube singing a Taylor Swift song, you know you won’t find it here.

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Show Me yr Love Tattoo. I’ll Show you Mine.

IMELDA MAY

Love Tattoo

Imelda May embraces the rhythm.

Imelda May embraces the rhythm.

At first glance, it’s her hair that strikes you. Then, her wardrobe. Intrigued by a sexy blast from the past.

But it’s her voice you want to hear.

She hails from Ireland, yet betrays no accent in her raspy, finite delivery of lyrics. If only Imelda May would cross the Atlantic, she could be the next Taylor Swift of blues-rockabilly-jazz.

OK. Not Taylor Swift. Consider this: a little bit of Michael Buble’s take on “Save the Last Dance for Me,” a tinge of Ella Fitzgerald’s lazy jazz voice, and the full-blown intensity of Christina Aguilera at the height of her anthems. Don’t be misled by my comparison–Imelda May is a much greater sum of these parts (and others). As her MySpace profile describes, her music is unique.

It’s a Love Story

Love Story, indeed–if it comes in the shape of a tattoo. Her album Love Tattoo is a mixture of upbeat hip-shakers crossed with slower blues-y songs. She’s at her best at quicker rhythms where her vocal ferocity blows you away. “Smotherin’ Me,” “Wild About My Lovin'” and “Love Tattoo” are favorites!

In this video, Imelda May and her band perform two tracks from Love Tattoo: a faster-than-recorded version of “Johnny Got a Boom Boom” (hotness) and “Falling in Love With You Again,” a slower, simple romantic song (heart-melting, for sure).


May also has a great musical arrangement across the board. In particular, “Big Bad Handsome Man,” a sultry number, features a trumpet solo and a piano line that acts as a rhythmic skeleton–I’m surprised I’m not dancing across the room with my laptop as I type this. I’m definitely impressed by the quality of instrumental performances on this album.

Another Album to Burn

“Knock 123” and other slower songs drag down the record. Though delicate piano solos delight the ears, the somnolent bass line is too slow, too boring.

You could say the lyrics are predictable. If you know how to rhyme, most songs contain predictable lyrics, right?

Tied Together With (or Without) a Smile

Imelda May is awesome. Check her out on MySpace, Facebook, and in the UK (apparently).

Imelda May
Love Tattoo
Buy it here!

The One and Only ShackField

SHAKE SHACK AT CITI FIELD

shakesh

Oh, Danny Meyer!

I know the Mets season may soon come to an end. Or it should. Put the people out of New York out of their misery, please.

If you happen to intentionally attend a Mets game or take a ride on the 7 toward Flushing on a game day, I highly recommend paying the ticket price at Citi Field and trying the Shake Shack aka ShackField.

The line feels shorter than Madison Square Park. Incentive enough to see the Mets?

I think so.

It’s a Love Story

First of all, the quality at ShackField is as exquisitely perfect as the original Shack’s. I am not a fan of the Upper West Side faux Shack. While the line’s length varies, my burgers have been consistently greasy. And one time they put pickles on my ShackBurger. Get with the program, UWS. ShackField is far, far superior to UWS–an impressive feat considering the fact that ShackField is, you know, at a baseball stadium and the UWS “Shack” is an actual restaurant. Props to ShackField.

Hunger-inducing photograph of Double Shack

Hunger-inducing photograph of Double Shack

Second, the limited menu is, undoubtedly, what speeds up the process. Don’t expect a regular ol’ hamburger or cheeseburger or ‘Shroom (sorry veg-heads!) at ShackField. The classic ShackBurger comes in two speeds: mild heart attack (single) and triple bypasss (double). I opted for the TB–and I’m alive to write about it.

Third, the fries are somehow more delicious than the original Shack’s. Their crusty, crunchy godliness is elevated by extra salt methinks. Thank you, ShackField.

Another Menu to Burn

The biggest problem with ShackField is the price: ShackBurgers cost $5.75; Double Shacks go for a whopping $8.75 (well worth it); and regular fries–that may be slightly less generous in portion–are $5.25.

If you’re into Concretes, don’t get your hopes up. No such thing at ShackField. Shakes, custard–yes, yes. For ice cream, try Carvel. You could take home an adorable helmet cup ($6 and change). I’m eating yogurt out of mine right now.

Tied Together With (or Without) a Smile

Remote interest in baseball? Or Queens? The 7? Check out ShackField. Also, if you’re tired of long lines at Madison Square Park’s Shack, you might prefer the Queens borough version. (I realize it will cost at least $50 for a ShackBurger.)

What’s more important: your money or your time?

And what’s most important?

The Shake Shack
Citi Field
7 train to Mets-Willets Point during game times

Taylor’s “Fearless” Ukulele

TAYLOR COUNTDOWN: 5 Days

Fine. Go ahead. Joke about how this 25 year-old “adult” adores a tweeny country-pop singer. Ha ha.

Sure, like I said, I was a foot taller than all the other Taylor Swift fans in West Virginia. I’m hoping the demographic is slightly more vertically developed this time around. But even if they’re troll-sized again, I’ll stand proud among them. Taylor Swift’s talent has captured my heart.

This week, I’ll write about Taylor as songwriter and consider her/her work in relation to her contemporary peers and our old time faves, like Loretta Lynn.

Today, Taylor’s talented because she plays the ukulele. (And because she’s sweet.)

Check out title track “Fearless” on ukulele below.

Don’t you love her little accent? Her storytelling? Her ability to circumvent legal contracts by playing a uke instead of a guitar*?

Me too. Bring on the trolls.

*Aren’t the other folks up there playing guitar? On the same song? Wily one, that Taylor Swift.

Keste::West Village, Manhattan

salsiccia pizza

KESTÈ PIZZE E VINO

So I guess Monday nights are pizza nights.

That’s the impression I got from Keste anyway. The narrow Bleecker Street restaurant was packed to the gills and hot as hell. You’d think there was a wood-burning oven in there.

New York Magazine swears that Keste beats any Neopolitan pie outside of Naples. I’m not so sure. I really wanted to go to Una Pizza Napoletana, but the eccentric/amply tattooed pizza man, Anthony Mangieri, tells me they’ve closed their location. His hands needed a vacation methinks.

So Goody Bathtub and I chose Keste.

It’s a Love Story

The Italian-speaking host charmed and confused GB and I as he corralled us into a table for two. Handed us our menus and put a carafe of water on the table. Minutes after we ordered, our Salsiccia pizze arrived ($15 apiece). Swift service, perfect. I was impressed.

Everyone around us looked happy about their food–arugula salads with thick shavings of parmigiano reggiano, and mmm, who doesn’t love a caprese platter? It may have been the Neopolitan gentleman eliciting their smiles though. Who can tell?

Ah, what light and thin crust on Keste pies! San Marzano tomatoes = wow. And what beautiful mozzarella! The ingredients–key to creating any fine cuisine–are fresh to taste and easily leave any self-proclaimed “Best in New York” pizzeria in the dust.

Another Menu to Burn

If I return to Keste, I will try a different pie. Yes, the sausage was fine, but its flavor didn’t blend with the delicious fresh mozzarella and acid-y tomato sauce. Two tables over I noticed a pizza with long slices of prosciutto and arugala (Prosciutto e Arugola, $16). That may be the way to go next time.

The chewy, burnt crust satisfied at times, but I found it excessively doughy halfway through. I prefer a crisper crust. You may not.

kesteplateAs you can see, I was able to finish the pie. More notable is the adorable plate Keste serves their pizze on. Check out the cute pizzaiolo tossing his pizza around. Note: The pizzaioli at Keste don’t wear white hats or coats, or have ghostly pale skin tone. (Casper may have Monday’s off.)

Keste cuts the pie into four quadrants. According to New York, I am supposed to know how to fold and eat the pizza using my hands instead of a fork and knife. Well, I couldn’t shape it into the triangle they depict in the magazine, but I did my best. It’s possible that my incorrect approach hindered my ability to fully appreciate the flavor of Keste.

Tied Together With (or Without) a Smile

Keste’s got a lot to offer–mostly in the form of extreme heat and market-fresh ingredients. Avoid a heavy topping like sausage and opt for the Regina Margherita to fully experience the flavor explosion of fresh mozzarella, crushed San Marzano tomatoes, and nearly-transparent crust. Next time I’ll try the caprese plate and a different pizza–and wine.

Keste
271 Bleecker St. (Near Morton St.)
New York, NY
1 train to Christopher St.; ABCDFV to West 4th

PS You’ll see a lot of these on your way to Keste. Beware.

Turn yr radio on, the program is a’startin’

ALEX BATTLES &THE WHISKY REBELLION

Any band that sings a song called “Jesus Wore Flip Flops” is my kind of band.

abwrbyrsb3

Alex Battles & the Whisky Rebellion, photo from whisky rebellion website

So when I first experienced Alex Battles and the Whisky Rebellion on July 4 at the Brooklyn Museum, I knew it was love at first listen.

Self-described as “roof-shaking joyful hodgepodge of honky-tonk, jump blues, and rocknroll,” the Whisky Rebellion plays bittersweet ballads punctuated by irreverence and a familiar old-fashioned feeling that keeps your toes tapping and head nodding.  Their band consists of six mainstay members, but every now and then, other players show up or drop out–depends on what night you see ’em. Lots of guitar, a drum, bass, washboard, fiddle, banjo, harmonica, jug, and even a prosletyzer if you’re lucky. I haven’t seen resident prosletyzer, Shafer Hall, nor do I know what views he wishes to share, but I’m intrigued and eager to listen.

On August 15, Furry and I had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Battles with parts of his band at Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn (Alex Battles has a song about this place). The fiddler wasn’t there, but the music was definitely on.

It’s a Love Story

A band you won’t want to miss live. Upbeat songs such as “It’s Raining in Brooklyn” and “Pennsylvania,” crowd-pleasers at both venues, showcase the harmonica player’s prowess. Shaky Dave is the finest harmonica player … in the five boroughs. (Honestly? I don’t have much to compare to. OK, I can probably speak for NJ.) It’s Shaky Dave’s incredible range and his fun bridge solos that set the tone of each song.

Alex Battles, from his website

Alex Battles, from his website

Alex Battles, guitarist and lead vocalist, delivers lyrics with a deep, charming voice that sounds like smiling. There’s something playful about him: he’s having a good time, so you will too. The man loves the stage almost as much as he loves himself (from the look of his website). With his shit kickers and ten gallon hat, Alex Battles is definitely bringing country back to Brooklyn.

The wiry lead guitarist owns the songs. He’s the one to watch when you see them live. He slinks back and forth in his small area onstage as he dominates the complicated guitar lines. He also plays the washboard and skillfully switches between guitar and washboard (which has to be slung over his head) in seconds.

Another Record to Burn

The only problem I had with the second ABWR performance was the harmonica player. I know, didn’t I just say he was amazing and probably the shining star of the band? He is, but it was too much for me. Before ABWR took stage, another band invited Shaky Dave up to play. By the time he got around to accompanying ABWR, I felt I had heard all his tricks rendering his efforts indistinguishable song to song.

Tied Together With (or Without) a Smile

Totes smiles. Amazing live act and their studio albums are iPod-playlist worthy.

I can’t wait to see ABWR at the three-day Brooklyn Country Music Festival! They’re headlining September 19’s “Giant Saturday” filled with other awesome acts such as the Lonesome Prairie Dogs.

You know you look just like a friend of mine
He’s always drinking two dollar wine
Because he can’t afford the moonshine
Two dollar wine suits him just fine

If you feel you can relate to the above lyrics (you know you can, two buck chuck drinkers), download their albums for free here!

Countdown to Taylor at Penn State

TAYLOR COUNTDOWN: 9 Days*

On August 29, Small Hands and I are going to see Taylor Swift at the Bryce Johnson Theater at Penn State University.

“Isn’t that far from New York, Nicole?” you might ask. “Why not see her locally?”

If you knew anything at all, you’d realize that her Madison Square Garden Show sold out in one minute. Plus, I like states that aren’t New York or New Jersey.

Last month, Small Hands and I saw Taylor at the Civic Center at Charleston, West Virginia. And the show was the best I’ve ever seen.

It’s a Love StoryIMG00173

First of all, the opening acts–Gloriana (a bestseller on iTunes somehow) and Kellie Pickler (of … Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader fame)–exceeded my wildest imaginations. Gloriana’s harmonic styles reminded me of Fleetwood Mac’s flawless tightness. Kellie Pickler, who played for about 40 minutes–man, she has one hell of a voice. If you ever get the chance to see her live, do. If she can’t add or read a map, she can definitely sing.

(Kellie and Taylor are BFFs. In the linked video above, Kellie sings “Best Days of Your Life,” a song Taylor co-wrote with Kellie. Taylor’s in the video, too. Also, Kellie is totes adorable. Watch it!)

Now for Taylor.IMG00181 Two hour set. Everything off Fearless, her latest album, except for “The Best Day,” a song dedicated to her mom. She played the favorites from her debut self-titled smash hit album and saved “Should’ve Said No” for last–an extended performance ending with a rainstorm on stage, leaving Taylor’s long, blond, wavy hair matted to her narrow frame.

I couldn’t count all the costume changes.

Because Small Hands is so generous and wonderful, she bought us tickets on the floor of the venue, granting us easy access to Taylor as she played several songs, “Fifteen” among them, from a rotating elevated platform at the rear of the floor seating area. (Linked video features Miley Cyrus.)  She came down into the audience and hugged the twitching, tweeting (I’m sure) tweens who gathered in the aisle as she made her rounds. I even touched her hair. An electrifying moment.IMG00187

She totally bashed Joe Jonas without saying his name. We knew she meant to say, “He’s incredibly fug and I’m totally not.” She didn’t have to. We were all on the same page.

I can’t tell you what the best part of the show was because every moment was incredible. On second thought, it may have been that blinding glisten from her sparkling guitar.

Another Overpriced Tour T-Shirt to Burn

With Taylor, there were no problems. Only the fans. And it mostly had to do with my inferiority complex about standing at least one foot taller than 90% of the audience (including Small Hands; sorry, dear).

Tied Together With (or Without) a Smile

Way, way smile.

Can’t wait to share with you the next show.

*Note: I don’t really know how to “count” days for countdowns. Does the day of the event count as 0 or 1? Neither seems completely logical to me. I need an informative Mary Roach footnote–or subject matter–instead of my rambling lack of counting accountability.

Bliss Bistro::Sunnyside, Queens

BLISS BISTRO

Gesturing to the street sign–46th Street/Bliss–Furry said, “Places around here get a lot of mileage out of that.”

Bliss, my friend, is the that Furry speaks of.

He’s right. They do. Nail shops, fruit stands, bars, Starbucks even (well, if they could, they would). Businesses assure us of their overwhelming bliss-filled essence. And we believe them. (We shouldn’t.)

Bliss Bistro, located on the corner of 46th and Skillman, capitalizes even more on the euphoric-sounding modifier. The restaurant’s name is written in luxurious script on the cream-and-green facade. On top of it, Bliss Bistro is French. How utterly blissful!

Don’t lose yourself in this Sunnyside reverie. The bliss stops here.

It’s a Love Story

I ordered Filet Saumon ($15?): a generous cut of delicate salmon over a ladleful of indifferently spiced lentils and grilled seasonal vegetables. The salmon nicely complemented my lentils. A light meal–exactly what I was hoping for after a week of heavy, mystery meals.

Furry tried their Coq au vin ($13), a sunken dish filled with a tender stew: red wine chicken, mashed potatoes, bacon, and mushrooms in hearty gravy. He wasn’t impressed; not bliss impressed anyway. I found it interesting. Bacon’s inclusion in any meal always grabs me by the taste buds and forces me to slow down to allow the melting fatness to fill me. (Don’t deny it. You’re hungry right now.)

Waitstaff was total Love Story: attentive, nice, prompt.

Another Menu to Burn

Taking advantage of a dry night, we sat in the restaurant’s garden. Bliss Bistro’s interior is moodily lit by candles and waning sunlight through windows. Round tables with lawn furniture lined the fenced-in patio. The smell of burning Citronella wafted over our table, chairs. This is lovely, I thought, as I raised my Blue Moon to the clear blue sky.

And then the mosquitoes landed. Furry took several hits on his arms, while I walked away with only one bite. “Isn’t Queens supposed to be better about mosquitoes?” Furry asked rhetorically. Agreed. Isn’t it the pigs we have to worry about in Queens?

We rushed out of there. Without dessert. What’s up with the mosquito infestation, Bliss Bistro?

Also, a table behind us featured two older ladies discussing important topics (sounded like health care, could have been knitting club) while slamming back Cosmopolitans and other lady-like drinks. So, I’m not sure who their clientele is, but I’m concerned about joining their regular crowd.

Tied Together With (or Without) a Smile

Should you persuade me to try Bliss Bistro again, I’d opt for indoor seating and brunch, perhaps. I’m always fond of bistro brunches–Balthazar among the very most bliss-filled.

I can handle mediocre food, but I prefer to eat and not be eaten during dinner.

Bliss Bistro
4520 Skillman (at 46th Street)
Sunnyside, Queens
46th Street stop on 7 train

Magnolia Bakery::City wide

MAGNOLIA BAKERY

I know, I know. The cupcake revolution has passed. It’s all about doughnuts. Momofuku soft-serve. Dessert Trucks.

I get it.

If that’s true, why must I step around snaking queues of eager patrons outside of every Magnolia location?

Because the cupcake is still on–whether you like it or not.

Magnolia, the quintessential cupcake purveyor of the city, has had its chance to cultivate a new post-Sex and the City Manhattanite clientele. Instead, they’ve chosen to cater to tourists without discerning palates, who are, more likely than not, cupcake shop virgins. The novelty of it all.

Well, Magnolia is spreading its wings and landing in Grand Central’s Feeding Area. Their new location will overtake the Little Pie Company (overpriced and underwhelming), a few steps from the Two Boots counter. An ideal audience.

That doesn’t mean I’ll go there … even though I love that Two Boots counter.

It’s a Love Story

Goody Bathtub and I visited the original Magnolia on Bleecker Street. It was nearly empty, eerie. The serve-yourself style at Magnolia works well on quiet days, even though I sometimes catch customers groping for chocolate frosted vanilla cakes with their bare fingers. Shudder.

magnoliacupcakeHaving tried all of their cakes, I selected what I consider to be their ultimate creation: the vanilla-vanilla ($2.50 each). Ordinarily, a boring choice, but Magnolia has found their balance in this cupcake. The chocolate frosting boasts a sweetness that pains my face to swallow–too much confectioners sugar? And their chocolate cake tastes dry and stale.

In contrast, the vanilla cake wasn’t too sweet. It didn’t steal from the frosting’s perfection, but finely complemented it. At Magnolia, one cupcake is more than enough.

Also, I like the decorative (and, obviously, edible) sprinkles.

Another Menu to Burn

Goody Bathtub ordered the legendary Banana Pudding ($4.50 for small, $5.50 for large). It’s not what your grandmother makes. Think of the thickest, creamiest pudding parfait you’ve ever had. Add whipped cream, Nilla wafers, and freshly sliced bananas. Sounds good, right?

magnoliabananapudIt is …. but because Magnolia makes vats of the stuff well in advance the bananas change and infuse their sugary ripeness further into the pudding, thus–in my mind, at least–corrupting the velvety pudding mixture. It’s best when fresh. (Try making it here.)

Please take this warning: Do not, under any circumstance, visit the Magnolia in Rockefeller Center. Madness^25. They have three ordering areas: Beverages, Non-cupcake confections, Cupcakes. The space can’t be bigger than my living room and most people are so thrilled to finally experience Magnolia that they’re willing to trample over innocents such as myself.

So they’ve gotten in the line for beverages but want a dozen cupcakes? Why not storm forward and push patient patrons up against the ineffective (and harsh) glass partition at the cupcake area!

Tied Together With (or Without) a Smile

Magnolia’s Magnolia. No denying that. But they’re not the best in the city. Sugar Sweet Sunshine is number one in my book, but there’s cupcake shops I haven’t tried. If you know of any, please tell me. I’m dying to try something new.

You live in the city? Yeah, take your out-of-towners to Magnolia. “This is the one from Sex and the City,” they’ll giggle as they step up to the line on 11th Street. It’s worth $2.50, for sure. I’ll give it that much.

Magnolia Bakery
various locations

Fearless New Blog, y’all

Welcome to Taylor’s Ham!

Delight in musings on music and food from the five boroughs and beyond (meaning, like, New Jersey)!

I’m starting this blog because I need a new writing project and am inspired by Taylor Swift and all-things-New-Jersey, but mostly Taylor Ham–the delicious breakfast meat also known as Pork Roll in public school cafeterias. Taylor Ham is an essential component to a complete New Jersey diner dining experience. Wherever you’re from, if you are one day starved and lost on the New Jersey Turnpike or Garden State Parkway (a more common-than-you-think phenomenon), take an exit and discover a diner. You won’t be sorry.

Anyway, I thought I’d fuse Taylor Swift with Taylor Ham to create a sensational music-food amalgam mostly focused on pop culture and eats. Don’t contain yourself. Be thrilled.

A few things about this blog:

  • You’ll notice Taylor Swift lyrics in the posts. Instead of writing, “Why it’s Good,” “Why it Sucks,” and “The Bottomline” in my reviews, I’m utilizing popular Taylor song titles. If you don’t think they’re “popular,” beef up your pop culture IQ, friend.
  • I love pop music and live music. You’ll see posts about everything from local country bands to Lady Gaga. You’ll love it.
  • I am a discerning critic of hamburgers. But I enjoy all food and consider my entire dining experience when reviewing each restaurant. Translation: Service matters.
  • Yeah, that’s all you need to know.
  • Oh, my name is really Nicole. But the other names aren’t real. Or they’re real but not in a way that you’d understand.

Do you think Taylor Swift will read this and … want a Taylor Ham and Egg Sandwich?

Me too!

As Julia Child once (or many times) said in her songbird (…) trill, bon appetit!*

nicole

*I really mean Meryl Streep’s songbird trill. Her face and voice in Julie and Julia infects my brain.

ps – Don’t forget about makeshift dialect! It’s alive and I’m well, which is why it’s not frequently updated.