New Blog Alert: The Express

Meet The Express, my new blog.

Basically, The Express is a blog by a New Yorker about New York for New Yorkers – make sense?

I’ll write about places to go, neighborhoods to visit and day trips you can take within the city—and more!

If you’re interested in getting The Express in your inbox, scroll down to the bottom of this page and click on “follow.”

And don’t worry – I’m still going to be writing about food and music here onTaylor’s Ham, for your reading pleasure, of course.

 

 

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I Just Found Kacey Musgraves and I Love Her

“Woke up on the wrong side of rock bottom/ you’re all outta pennies and the well it done run dry” begins Kacey Musgraves’ album Same Trailer Different Park, in the song “Silver Lining.” With this cute aphorism, she had me hooked. Same Trailer is an engaging country album, replete with songs that serve as a corrective of Southern culture.

Musgraves has written or co-written all of the songs on the record, and her lyrics are strongest (and most incisive) when they’re critiquing the way things are. “If you ain’t got two kids by 21/ you’re probably gonna die alone/ least that’s what tradition told you,” she sings on the dark and inspired “Merry Go ‘Round.” In this number, Musgraves uses a play on “merry,” “marry” and “Mary” with known phrases (“Jack and Jill went up a hill” and “Mary, mary, quite contrary”) to convey the silly, yet all too familiar conventions of the South. By tapping into our collective unconscious with the delicate banjo strums and the rhythm and rhymes of the song, Musgraves skillfully uncovers the assumptions and prejudices of the behaviors she sings about.

Though her voice isn’t quite as strong as singers such as Miranda Lambert (whose voice is often compared to Musgraves’), she works it to its utmost potential, using background vocalists to enhance and texturize her lyrics. In this fan’s (and liberal scene’s) favorite “Follow Your Arrow,” a male background singer accompanies Musgraves on the chorus, singing

Make lots of noise

Kiss lots of boys

Or kiss lots of girls if that’s something you’re into

When the straight and narrow

Gets a little too straight

Roll up a joint, or don’t

Just follow your arrow wherever it points

(She had the nerve to sing this song at the Country Music Awards, surely to a wholly negative reception.) According to Wikipedia, “Follow Your Arrow” only hit the mid-twenties on the Billboard “hot country songs” chart and the upper-forties on the Billboard “country airplay” chart. Yet it peaked at number four on the Billboard “bubbling under hot singles” chart. Country radio is a funny thing. When singers lament not having a gun or nurse a broken heart over chords, it’s all the rage. But when a young woman sings about girls kissing girls and uses a pedal steel to slide between verses, it simply won’t achieve Shelton status.

Everything comes together seamlessly on “Stupid,” in which the slithering of fingers on the guitar and banjo presents a jaunty undercurrent to the brace-yourself-for-this song. A minor-inflected first verse is followed by the blaring chorus: “Stupid love is stupid/ don’t know why we always do it/ finally find it just to lose it/ always find us looking stupid/ stupid.” The plucking of the banjo takes center stage after the bridge, and then she launches back into the densely packed chorus.

The only two songs I find myself skipping are “Dandelion” and “Back on the Map,” but this doesn’t take away from the merit and strength of the album for me. There are a handful of Taylor Swift songs I don’t care for, after all.

I, for one, am a fan of Kacey Musgraves, and believe she’s brilliant. I’d love to see her live, but I think she already toured the New York area. Young, smart, hip, savvy – oh, and she whistles darn good, too. Kacey Musgrave is the complete package and I can’t wait to see what’s next for the young country sure-to-be superstar.

Rhett Miller at City Winery

“My name’s Stuart Ransom Miller. I’m a serial lady killer,” sang Rhett Miller last night at City Winery–a cool, sophisticated venue–with the whole of his audience acting as an enthusiastic back up singer. If the crowd seemed older, well, there’s no hiding that Rhett Miller has gotten older, too—and wiser, and better looking, if that was even possible. In fact, Rhett’s handsome looks come across more acutely in person than in these photos (thank me later).

rhett miller1

The front man of the sometimes called “rockabilly” Old 97’s, Rhett wore a white shirt with fine detailing and tight black jeans over his long, lanky legs that he likes to shake around during his performances. He waves his hips around so much, he actually creates a certain rhythm with his gyrations to complement his expert guitar playing. He swings his right arm like a helicopter blade over his guitar and play-play-play-plays the chords. And he bangs his head during instrumental solos, exuding a “lost in the music” vibe.

He started the show with a song off his latest album, The Dreamer, called “Lost Without You,” a beautiful melody. He also played a number of Old 97’s favorites, including “Barrier Reef,” “Timebomb,” “Solame,” “Big Brown Eyes,” “Just Like California,” and, of course, “Question,” taking the songs in quick succession, pausing just a moment or two and cutting off applause to get the next tune started. All of his singing showcased the unique timber of his voice, and, on some songs, he even broke out into a little bit of vibrato. I was impressed, to say the least.

rhett with david wax band

As the show went on, Rhett’s once-pristine shirt became increasingly drenched and his hair likely sent drops of sweat into the front row of patrons as he head-banged away. He shared with the crowd that he sometimes—and rather innocently—lifts lines and melodies from unsuspecting (or sometimes suspecting, in the case of Bob Dylan) writers. His song “Champaign, Illinois” features a Bob Dylan melody, and you probably never knew that—well, now you know.

The show was awesome, and the hostess told me that Rhett plays City Winery pretty often. I guess that won’t be happening any time soon as he mentioned that he’s going to Texas in the coming days to work on a new Old 97’s album. I suppose we’ll just have to see him when he returns.

San Francisco Food Tour

My Dining Partner (MDP) and I decided to take a trip to San Francisco last week. We had a great time! Although the city is gorgeous for its ambitious hills and lovely bay, the architecture left something to be desired. The city literally lacks luster, in stark contrast to shiny New York. But, the food is pretty good, so it’s definitely got something going for it. If you’re visiting any time soon, follow my food guide to learn about what to try and what to avoid.

We started our journey with a trip to the inimitable In-N-Out Burger on Jefferson Street. A trip to California wouldn’t be complete without a stop at this incredible burger joint. I had a Double Double and Animal Style fries. The burger was extraordinary and the creative use of grilled onions on the fries delighted me.

In-N-Out Double Double

Double Double

After In-N-Out, we walked up to Ghirardelli Square and stopped by the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop. We ordered the classic sundae, which came with vanilla ice cream topped with the most decadent chocolate fudge I’ve ever had and delicate whipped cream, and, of course, a cherry. It was incredible. I’ve never had a sundae like this in my life.

ghirardelli ice cream sundae

ice cream sundae

The next day, we took a trip up to wine country and checked out a diner in Sonoma. The Fremont Diner is a hole-in-the-wall place located on highway 121. It’s easy to miss, which, of course, meant it wasn’t extremely busy for a Tuesday morning. We ordered a biscuits basket, which was filled with the most delicious, light, fluffy biscuits I’ve ever had. I opted for the ricotta pancakes, which came with the most delicious cherries I’ve ever had (thanks, California!) and MDP got the brisket hash which was topped with a fried egg and tasted amazing.

Ricotta Pancakes at the Fremont Diner

ricotta pancakes

After checking out Benziger Family Winery (which has a great story and I urge you to visit it if you go out west), we returned to San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge (which doesn’t take cash at its toll, and that’s just crazy talk to an East Coast driver like myself). We went to Chinatown via a streetcar and beelined to the main attraction in this neighborhood: the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. It was AMAZING!!! See below for an image of a woman making fortune cookies. This was truly a highlight of the trip for me.

Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory

making fortune cookies

Afterward, we headed up to Fisherman’s Wharf (again, because it was one of my favorite tourist attractions to explore) and stopped by Alioto’s for some fresh seafood fare. I tried the clam chowder in a sourdough bowl, which was scrumptious. The chowder was thick (though not too thick) and creamy, and the bits of clam were phenomenal. I also got some crab on my salad on the side, very good. MDP ordered the crab cake sliders and they tasted delicious, as well.

Alioto's clam chowder in sourdough bowl

clam chowder in sourdough bowl

On Wednesday, we had breakfast at a diner close to our hotel, and that wasn’t exactly remarkable so I didn’t take any pictures.

For dinner, we went to Brother’s Restaurant in the Richmond neighborhood for Korean barbecue. It was phenomenal! Our table had a barbecue pit sunken in the center. A small man came to our table and placed two receptacles filled with coals into the pit. A kind waitress (the service was very good) brought over some raw meat and we got cookin’. The kalbi was fantastic (!) and the pork bulgogi tasted very good. I enjoyed the banchan muchly, as well, as they gave us a dish with thinly sliced peppers covered in red pepper flakes–in addition to the standard kimchi and seafood cakes–and this was my favorite of the bunch. You must try Brother’s Restaurant for Korean if you’re ever in San Francisco.

Brother's Restaurant Korean Barbecue

barbecue

On Thursday, we stopped by Boudin, something like an Au Bon Pain, for breakfast. I had the lemon poppy seed muffin and MDP ordered the chocolate croissant. They also had bagels there, and I saw many people eating them…but I’m sure they aren’t very good.

Boudin treats

treats

Instead of hanging around the city, we drove to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Big Sur, down highway 1. It was gorgeous. I have never seen views like these in my life. The rocky coast transforms into a beach paradise as you drive along the highway. Stark blue water contrasts to the coarse, white sand, and you feel like you’re in heaven.

beach off highway 1

beach off highway 1

We went to Nepenthe in Big Sur for lunch. We waited for about an hour for our table, and I’m not sure lunch was worth the wait. It was very good–I had the chicken breast sandwich with chipotle mayo–but it was a tad overpriced. I suppose you’re paying for the view, and, when I see it from that perspective, maybe the cost was worth it.

view from nepenthe

view from nepenthe

I had heard that a good Indian place called Shalimar was in the vicinity of our hotel, so we checked it out. What a crazy place that is. I wouldn’t go there if you have any trace of anxiety in your being. First, you might have to wait, like, 20 minutes for a table. Everyone is confused at Shalimar, including the waiters. Second, you’ll have to walk up to the counter and order your food yourself (even though a waiter is walking around the restaurant). Third, it won’t be clear that they’ve heard your order or that they’re going to actually make it. Fourth, you’ll have your food practically thrown onto your table in front of you. Fifth, you’ll finally get the check and you’ll be afraid you’ll never see your credit card again if you pay with that method, so you pay in cash (even though you may be cash poor on this expensive trip).

With that said, the food is decent. It’s a Pakistani-Indian restaurant, so I can’t be sure whether my chicken tikka masala was influenced with Pakistani flavors. It could have been. MDP ordered a special curry and aloo paratha, a potato-infused bread that was excellent–much better than their naan.

shalimar chicken tikka masala

chicken tikka masala

Friday finally rolled around and we were beat. We had traveled all across the city and state and simply wanted to chill out in the Mission district on our final full day of our trip. Well, we weren’t exactly impressed by the Mission. We opted for La Taqueria for lunch, which had received rave reviews in my trusted guide book, and I wasn’t amazed by their offerings. I had a chicken burrito and it was just so-so. The strange thing about La Taqueria is that you have to order your cheese, sour cream, avocado and any other topping separate from the burrito. It looks cheap, but it really isn’t (it’s only about a dollar less than Chipotle).

After lunch, we went to Mission Pie for some dessert. I had high hopes for Mission Pie but was largely disappointed. I had expected incredible pie. What I got was a slice of sad peach pie and a much-better-though-still-only-decent slice of banana cream pie. I don’t know, maybe my expectations are too high. Coming from New York, it’s hard not to expect a lot from your pie purveyor.

mission pie peach pie

peach pie

Originally, we had planned to try the Southern Pacific Brewing Company for dinner, but it was packed, so we went to Super Duper Burgers instead. Now, for those of you who know me, you’re aware of my “one burger per week” rule. I violated this, but I’m so glad I did.

I ordered the “super” burger which comes with two 4 oz patties, onion, lettuce, tomato and special sauce. I opted for the cheese and the avocado as add-ons. Wow, what a burger. Super Duper clearly smashes their patty, instead of making a well-formed circular mass of meat on the griddle. The char is perfect and the combination of toppings invigorated my palate. The only thing that didn’t impress me about the burger was the bun, which simply amounted to too much bread. We also got the garlic fries, which were incredible. Crisp fries were presented to us with gobs of garlic on top–amazing! MDP wanted a milk shake, so we tried the cookies and cream version and it was thickly good.

If you’re like me and you have a “one burger per week” rule, go with Super Duper Burgers. Some of you may be surprised to hear me say this (given my avowed love for In-N-Out), but trust me. You won’t be sorry.

super duper burgers

super burgers

We departed from our hotel on Saturday morning and arrived at the airport to enjoy a nice breakfast at the Lark Creek Grill, whose restaurant group has locations all over California. You might try it.

All in all, San Francisco was one big food festival for me. Remember, it’s not New York, so the food isn’t quite as amazing. But it’s pretty darn good!

Recipe Attempted: Strawberry-Lemon Poppy Seed Shortcakes

The sun is shining and the air is light. Though it’s still brisk in these parts, the weather certainly is shaping up.

It’s the perfect time to bake with fresh fruit. Even though strawberries season is about a month away, they’re definitely in season somewhere. How can I tell? Simply, the flavor. They’re sweet and succulent, and beautifully shaped.

This weekend, I baked strawberry-lemon poppy seed shortcakes. I had most of the ingredients, but purchased the poppy seeds, lemon, heavy whipping cream and strawberries from my local supermarket, Met.

The result?

shortcakes

strawberry-lemon poppy seed shortcakes

The whipped cream is homemade, too. I used some confectioners sugar and a bit of vanilla to flavor the cream.

MDP thought this dessert was out of this world. Good thing I have leftovers!

I got the recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. It was marked as a “favorite” by the editor. I can see why.

Taylor Swift Live!

Last night, I saw Taylor Swift perform at the Newark Prudential Center. She was incredible! Ed Sheeran opened for her, and he was spectacular, as well.

taylor swift and ed sheeran

taylor swift and ed sheeran

They played together on “Everything Has Changed” from the back of arena, near where our seats were located. It was a mind-blowing experience!

I took a video, too, of her performance of “Mean.” Check it out below and enjoy 🙂

In Defense of Taylor Swift

taylor swiftSomeone asked me today what Taylor Swift means to me. An odd question, sure, but I thought about it. Basically, I told her that I perceive Taylor to be a great role model for girls. One that should be admired, and one whom I personally admire. I was surprised that I didn’t have something less generic, more unique to say to her.

It’s articles like this one in the New York Times (in Sunday Styles, no less) that get under my skin. They say she dates too many men, that she’s a cradle robber, that she’s on the decline. Though, my greatest fear is that the article is correct in alleging that there is a robust backlash against Taylor happening as we speak. There is, and I wish it wasn’t so.

I know many of you read this blog to find out what restaurants I’m visiting and what I think about them. But, to me, this blog serves another purpose. It’s a defense of Taylor Swift.

That may alienate some, for certain, but it’s the way I feel. Taylor is an extremely gifted young person, who writes music from the heart. And, in stringing together simple words into memorable phrases, she touches so many lives.

So, the  magazines that she graces the covers of don’t sell as well as those with Lady Gaga plastered upon them? So, CoverGirl didn’t renew her contract? So what, New York Times!

She’s a genuine, grounded individual who has her whole life ahead of her to do great things. An ardent supporter of arts education, she already donates significant chunks of cash to charitable organizations that help young people. And, by virtue of her music alone, she influences the minds and hearts of many.

No matter what happens in the media–whether she dates another 10 famous men and sees each relationship crash and burn–I still believe in her. And I will continue to believe in her, no matter what.

I hope you will continue to support me by reading this blog.

 

Recipe Attempted: French Apple Cobbler

In the mood for peach cobbler, I scoured the local grocery store, in search of ripe peaches. Well, silly me, it’s clearly no longer peach season, so when I finally found them, I wasn’t too surprised to see that these (imported) peaches were about $4 per pound.

So, still angling for a cobbler, I decided on an apple version instead. I selected five perfectly round Granny Smith apples from the grocery store and picked up a box of sugar, and was on my way.

The recipe is fairly straightforward, although I wish they had mentioned up front that the oven needs to be set at 375 (I searched and searched through the recipe to finally find the oven temp.). I chose this recipe, of all the recipes that came up in my Google search, because it treated the apples with cinnamon, flour, water and vanilla–which, I though, would enhance the flavor of the cobbler. And I was right.

french apple cobbler

french apple cobbler

The delicately sliced apples are soft and supple, while the minimal cobbler topping is just enough to thicken out the dessert.

Yum!

 

Background Vocals and Intricate Instrumentals on “Red”

taylor swiftI’ve exercised restraint in posting about Taylor Swift’s new album, Red. Truth be told, it’s one of my favorite albums–ever. The lyrics are intriguing, the music is upbeat and … swift. And the songs just make me want to sing along, all day long.

In my many listens, I’ve noticed that Taylor Swift creatively uses background vocals to enhance the richness of certain songs. On her previous albums, Taylor begins and ends the songs with the same elements throughout–the same vocals, the same instruments, the same chorus. On Red, she ventures into a more complex world of music, rewarding the listener for sticking with her for the entire song.

Case in point: the opening track, “State of Grace,” begins with a drum, a guitar, a bass, and Taylor’s beautiful voice lilting lyrics over the pounding beats. As if the song weren’t intense enough already, she throws in background vocals singing “oh oh oh oh whoa” in the second instance of the chorus, thus making the song pop even more.

In “All Too Well,” possibly my favorite song on the album, Taylor begins the song with an acoustic guitar playing chords and an electric guitar chiming in with a melody. After the first verse, the patter of a snare drum comes in. What’s unique about this song is that Taylor does not use a traditional chorus throughout. Rather, each verse is followed by the same chords for a “chordsus” but not a true “chorus” since the lyrics aren’t the same each time around.

For example, the first instance of the chordsus goes:

Cause there we are again on that little town street

You almost ran the red cause you were lookin’ over at me

Wind in my hair, I was there, I remember it all too well

In the second chordsus, suddenly an influx of music overwhelms the listener–a male background vocalist sings harmony to Taylor’s melody, with the following lyrics:

Cause here we are again in the middle of the night

We dance around the kitchen in the refrigerator light

Down the stairs, I was there, I remember it all too well

From there, the electric guitar really moves and the whole song seems to explode at the bridge. Her vocals elevate in the next verse and, what the listener gets as he or she continues to listen to the song is an exhilarating experience.

On “Holy Ground,” she does something similar as she did on “State of Grace”–building into the song with interesting background vocals. “Holy Ground” has a fast clip and once the listener gets to the second verse, we hear female singers in the background, enhancing the spirit of the song.

A fan favorite, “Everything Has Changed” that features vocals by Ed Sheeran, also rewards the listener. Undeniably catchy and rhythmically beautiful, “Everything Has Changed” features Sheeran’s harmony to Taylor’s melody on the first chorus. Already filled with background vocals from Sheeran’s charming harmony, the song takes on a new dimension in the second chorus with a guitar playing underneath the chorus refrain, doing its own little pretty thing.

Taylor Swift never did this before–this strategic use of background vocals and intricate instrumentals. After a close listen to her previous albums, I realized that the only other time she may have nearly used background vocals in this way was on the song “Enchanted” from Speak Now. “Enchanted” undoubtedly builds and reaches a climax at each chorus, but it’s the same build over and over throughout the song. It isn’t strategic the way Red plays.

This is just an observation I had about this album that clearly demonstrates a new sense of maturity about Taylor Swift.