Trust the Gene Genie

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Goodbye Larry

It's been over a week. Man, time flies. And then yesterday, word came down Calvert DeForest died. You may remember Calvert, he, of course, was Larry "Bud" Melman on Late Night. My love of Letterman is no secret here. And so we remember Larry. In honor of the great little man, a few clips from Late Night when he was in his prime.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

On and on and on

Just a quick note to take care of some Rob Report business. The out-of-staters should finally be receiving their Perfect Pop Songs Vol. 2 CDs in the next few days. For those who might not be following the action down in the comments, Janelle quickly figured out how to use the internets and cahnged her name from Anonymous to J-Bell and thus gets the fourth disc. H.L., unfortunately was too late getting there. And despite his logical and reasoned argument that J corrected herself in the wrong comments thread and thus is ineligible to recieve the CD, the judges hastily and emotionally ruled in her favor. But H.L. is smart and his powers of persuasion are legendary, going all the way back to an 8th-grade GT when he successfully argued against some poor, ill prepared classmate in open debate that plastic surgery was morally wrong. H.L. will get his disc.

And, Becky and I watched "The Prestige" over the weekend. Wanting to get back into the review game, I'll post my take on the movie before the end of the week. So there ya go. TTFN, faithful readers.

Outtasite, outtamind

I sometimes forget I have a third child. I know, I know, that sounds terrible. But I swear I'm not a bad father. Really. It's just after having only two kids for four years, I forget we've got that third one. I mean, she hardly makes any noise.

It started shortly after we brought her home from the hospital. Becky and I had the girls and we were going grocery shopping at WinCo. We started walking inside and halfway across the parking lot, Becky realized I wasn't carrying the baby. I had left her in the car.

Look, we take the girls to WinCo a lot. I was used to it only being the four of us.

Then, a month or so later, it was Sunday and we were going to church. Which is always a production, trying to get the girls dressed, ready, in the car, out of the car, across the parking lot and into the chapel. We walk to the front and sit down on our pew when Becky, suddenly near-shouts, "Where's the baby?"

Yes, I had once again left her in the car. So I walk back past the entire congregation, out the doors, across the parking lot to the car and retrieve Elsa, who was as happy as could be sitting in her car seat. That was, like, last fall. I haven't forgotten Elsa in the car since. I'm now used to pulling three kids out of the car when we go somewhere.

But I'm not always used to having her at home.

Last Saturday, Becky had left to go run some errands and the girls were taking naps. The weather was nice and as Claire and Leigh awoke, we decided to go try a little visual science experiement I'd picked up the night before at the County Office of Education. You have a picture of the sun, roughly the size of your face and this tiny image of the earth, roughly the size of a pen tip. You stand 75 feet apart and, to scale, replicate the distance of the earth to the sun (96 million miles, in case you were curious).

Well, to do this, we had to leave the apartment and walk across the parking lot to a patch of lawn near the swimming pool. It was fun. Both girls took turns holding the sun and waving at each other from really far away. We walked back to the apartment and got the bikes out of the garage so the girls could ride. At about this point, Becky comes home and sees us milling around in front of the garage and asked how we were doing. All fine, I say, happy to be outside with the girls. She then asks if Elsa is still sleeping, obviously seeing that she's not with us.

And I realize, Elsa's not with us. She is in fact still upstairs sawing logs. I smile at Becky and slip inside like I know what I'm doing and like I've known what I was doing for the past 20 minutes, to check on Elsa. She of course is fine and slumbering peacefully in her crib. Which she continues to do for, like, the next hour.

I'm telling you, the girl is too quiet for her own good. Anyway, needless to say, I'm now really getting used to having a third child. And I'm sure I'll never forget about Elsa ever again. And did I mention my parents once left my youngest sister home alone as the rest of us drove off in the station wagon to spend a week with some relative in some neighboring state? And Becky's parents once left alone her at a park? I'm just saying.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Sky Blue Sky

It would seem we've gone from laborious U2 posts on the Rob Report to laborious Wilco posts. I guess you can't say I'm single-minded. Or maybe you can. Because we live in America and you can still say whatever you want. For now.

Anyway. On to my point. Wilco's new album "Sky Blue Sky" leaked onto the internets this week and, thinking May all of sudden sounded really far off, I tracked it down and downloaded a copy. And, so far, it's pretty good.

The album kind of follows the natural progression started on "A Ghost Is Born." It's more organic and connected than "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" and it tones down, even more than "Ghost" did, the sonic experimenting and exploring in which they've been engaged since "Being There." And for the most part it works.

One the band's endearing qualities, which I've hit on before on this blog, is their ability to go in a million different directions with their songwriting, their arrangements and their production and still sound like Wilco. I'm guessing that's Jeff Tweedy's influence, but they can stray pretty far afield and still not lose the melody, the lyric, the essential feel that makes Wilco what it is. Elasticity like that is to be commended and I think it's what makes Wilco one of the best American rock bands out there today.

That being said, "Sky" is a little more mellow than what you'd expect from a band that always to seems to crank out two or three loud, disjointed and imaginative tracks on its past albums. Here, Tweedy and Co. just stick to the basics of rock song composition. They take the loud, disjointed and imaginative elements that were whole songs in the past and now just use them to puncuate songs here. For the most part it works, but unchecked, it could get pretty boring pretty quick.

What's interesting is Tweedy takes very noticeable risks with his voice on "Sky." A lot of the songs are in a bit higher range than what he's done in the past, and like the rest of Wilco's experimenting, it works wonderfully here. I mean, Tweedy's vocals are part of what makes the band's sounds so inviting and enjoyable. The guy's just got a great voice.

Semi-new comers Nels Cline's and Mike Jorgenson's influence can definitely be heard here. Which is part of what makes this album sound relatively different than past albums. Jay Bennett, who left the band while they recorded "YHF," was a world-class jerk but he had a great rock sensibililty and great ear for melody. With "Sky" you get a lot more guitar deconstruction and bouncy, R&B inspired rhythms and just plain soul. "Walken" is great example. "Side With Seeds" sounds like a long lost Rev. Al Green song with some Sonic Youth grafted on at the end. Surprisingly, it works. "You Are My Face," "Impossible Germany" and "Hate it Here" are a few other stand out tracks that seem to just get better the more I play them.

The album's title "Sky Blue Sky", which is also the fourth track on the album, is a play on a literary device Tweedy has become enamored with since the "Summerteeth" days when he was singing he needed something in his veins bloodier than blood. So overall, I'm digging it. I'm just not loving it the way I thought I would. So I'll be eager see how it ages.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

School lunch

I visited Claire's school yesterday and had lunch with her in the cafeteria. I don't when you last ate lunch in a school cafeteria, but, let me fill you in on a little secret. At least at the elementary school level, they're still basically serving up nameless, formless and unnatural food concoctions in school cafeterias. We were served chili.

And to be fair, it wasn't as bad as you'd think lunchroom chili could be. But still, there's a deep chasm between edible and enjoyable. And obviously, I wasn't there for the food. I was there to see Claire, you know, before school visits embarass her and I become her geeky old man.

For the time being, I'm Elvis. Young Elvis, I'd like to think. But I'll get to that in a minute. It was fun sitting with Claire and her friends in the cafeteria watching them all interact and be kids. They're first-graders and Claire, three months past her sixth birthday is the youngest. It seems like all they did was laugh and tell incomprehensible knock-knock jokes and bounce around the lunch table. Claire, from time to time would just look up at me and smile. It was very endearing.

We had to wait for the aide to excuse us to go out to recess and Claire showed me how to bus my tray. Walking out, she excitedly showed me the shortcut to the bars (which was more of a longcut) and the whole time we had her little gaggle of friends in tow.

Once we were outside, I put on my sunglasses -- cheap mirrored shades that just barely function as sungalsses. I still haven't gotten over busting my Wayfarers. Anyway, we walked over to tetherball and Claire's friend Sophia looks at me and just starts calling me Elvis. Pretty soon, everyone's calling me Elvis. And they all think it's hysterical. Which it kind of is.

Anyway, we played on the bars, we played tetherball and we played on the swings. It was a lot of fun. And it's just amazing how much energy these kids have. They never stop moving, never stop talking never stop playing. It's incredible. It's also exhausting. Youth is indeed wasted on the young.

So, if you get the chance, I highly recommend sitting down and eating lunch with a first-grader. The food will suck, but it'll be invigorating.

Monday, March 05, 2007


I smoked four pounds of pork this weekend. To middling success. This is news to no one, but I love meat, especially smoked meat. The obsession reached its nadir when my parents were mission president and wife in Independence, Mo. We went to Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City for lunch and I've never tasted anything better in my life. Anway, I recently read an article in the New York Times about smoking food stuffs at home inside. Smoking food inside, you say? That's just crazy. No, no it's not and I'm living proof that it can be done and and done well.

All you need is a big metal roaster -- the kind you'd cook a Sunday roast in -- a meat rack, tin foil and hickory (or whatever) wood shavings. I had the roaster, fashioned a meat rack from an inversted pie tin to fit inside and went on the hunt Saturday for wood shavings. These are different from wood chips. You need the shavings because, to smoke indoors, you're placing the wood at the bottom of your roaster and basically smoldering them on your stovetop.

So how hard is it to find wood shavings in Redding? Surprisingly hard. That may simply be becuase I've never smoked food before so I don't know where to get the proper supplies, but after calling around, the only place I found that had shaving was Kent's Meat Market halfway between Redding and Anderson. And they had shavings because they smoke their own meat there. And as a result they buy the shavings in 90- and 300-pound bags. But the guy I talked to said to come on by and he'd pull a little out for me. So, address in hand, I set out to Kent's. I show up, they take me back behind the butcher's counter and the guy with whom I spoke on the phone, pulls out a brown paper grocery bag full of wood shavings. I only need a handful. The man explained he usually smoked 350- to 400-pounds of meat in one session. Holding up the bag, he said that's about how much wood it took. I explained I had four pounds of pork I was smoking. He smiled and said I could keep the rest in the garage for when I was smoking something else. Indeed.

So I took it home and tried it out. It was surprisingly simple. I placed the handful of shavings in the bottom of my roaster, set a drip pan on top of it and then placed my hand-fashioned meat rack and finally the roast itself. I covered the top with the tin foil, making sure it fit tightly on top so as not to let the smoke escape, set the whole thing on the stovetop and turned the heat to medium. For the next 30 minutes the apartment filled with the wonderful aroma of hickory smoke. And no smoke actually escaped my set-up. So far, so good. After about 35 minutes I turned off the heat and got ready to finish cooking the roast in the oven.

That's where it went downhill. The directions were vague when it came to the question of covering the roast or not. I opted to cover it lightly. It then said to cook the meat 40 minutes per pound or until a meat thermometer read 190 degrees. I cooked it for the requisite time but my meat thermometer only read 160 degrees. It was already getting late, so I decided my thermometer was probably wrong, the roast had cooked the specified time and thus, must be done. Looking back now, I think that was a mistake.

After pulling the roast out, you shred it with a couple forks or your fingers. This proved next to impossible. The meat just would not come apart. My thumbs are still sore from pulling the pork apart. It was amazingly tough. Which was disappointing because it tasted so good. And it wasn't tough to chew. So I keep going. I start to prepare the sauce listed in the recipe. It's a North Carolina-style barbecue sauce, which I mistakenly thought would be a close relative to the Carolina Honey sauce you get with a certain type of ribs at Tony Roma's. Yes, I'm an idiot.

And no, this sauce was nothing like the stuff from Tony Roma's. It was, in essence, two cups of vinegar and a half cup of ketchup, with some pepper and crushed red pepper thrown in for good measure. I like tang, I love vinegar, but when it comes to barbecue, I'm more a fan of the smokey than the tangy. But I soldier on, thinking it will be surprisingly good. And it wasn't bad. It was surprisingly hot and had a strong tang. But after a while, it got to be overwhelming. And by the end, it just wasn't what I had wanted it to be. Eating some more of it for lunch today, the meat was rubbery and difficult to chew, reafirming to me that I probably should have cooked it longer. There's also a question of whether or not I bought the right cut of meat.

Regardless, I've showed myself I can smoke food at home and in my kitchen. Rather easily. So I'm doing it again and and next time I smoke a pork roast, I'm going to cook it longer, we're going to ditch the Carolina sauce and use my mom's barbecue sauce which is the perfect mix of smokey and tangy. And the next time we cook up my mom's brisket, we're going to smoke it first. And if anyone else wants to try it, just give me a call. I've got plenty of wood shavings.

And now I'm salivating.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Perfect Pop Songs Vol. 2

So that it's all in one place, here's the final line-up:

1. "Saving Grace" -- Tom Petty
2. "Sister Jack" -- Spoon
3. "The Late Greats" -- Wilco
4. "Back to the Party" -- The Pushstars
5. "Til Kingdom Come" -- Coldplay
6. "Disappear" -- INXS
7. "Collarbone" -- Fujiya & Miyagi
8. "Talk Amongst Yourselves" -- Grand National
9. "Black Magic" -- Jarvis
10. "Feel Us Shaking" -- The Samples
11. "No Ha Parado de Llover" -- Mana
12. "Satellite" -- Guster
13. "Waiting, Watching, Wishing" -- The Pushstars
14. "The Way We Get By" -- Spoon
15. Bonus Track

Yes, we got our four winners yesterday, but until anonymous sister gives her name, there's still room for one more person to get a CD. H.L., that means you better get moving because I'm calling on all you lurkers to drop a note -- it's free music, what have you got to lose? Anyway, to our three winners already out there, I'll be sending out your discs shortly.

Wilco wonder

Hey, a couple tracks off Wilco's new album have been leaked onto the internets this morning. And, no surprise, they're pretty dang good. So hurry on over to Idolator and check 'em out before they get pulled.

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