Monthly Archives: January 2014

Every Little Thing We Do

Confession: For an embarrassing number of years, I had it in my head – I have no idea why, I totally should have known better – that all bands recorded their music live to tape in the studio. In my brain, there were no overdubs. Vocalists tracked right alongside the band. No one played a solo over and over (and over and over). It was all fun! And games! And… fun! Like a live show right there in the recording studio! Like this video:

I wound up spending some time in recording situations and studios and immediately realized I was in serious error. Recording, duh Lisa, is the middle process (idea generation & writing & arranging come first and mixing/mastering come later); raw material is getting committed to whatever format (I was going to say “tape”) and it’s coming in pieces and a lot of it ends up not getting used and sometimes there are meltdowns, since not everyone involved has the same creative vision, and it can get really boring. Like anything can, you know?

Post_interview_1252104Me “taking direction” from Tim Meyers, our DP. Photo by Jack Brighton

When I started writing little bits for radio, I learned very quickly how the best pieces are a compelling balance between natural sound, sound bites, and narrative – and how 5 minutes can get eaten up in a hurry. They also took much longer to put together than I had envisioned, and I was working without much of a plan. As a result, I kind of sucked at putting the damn things together back in 2010. They sounded OK, but I had no idea what I was doing. I’m better at it now, but part of the reason I started this blog was so I could write thousands of words if I damn well pleased. I will say I now have a much better understanding now of how the process works, and how templating and having a general idea of what you’re doing is not creatively stifling, but just the opposite. Without going into a lot of detail, it’s never been easy for me to be visionary with my own work, to fight for what I want, and to not get discouraged. I’m FINALLY learning how to be critiqued without feeling afraid or attacked – an absolute necessity – while also standing up for things that I think are essential to a piece.

My latest challenge is twofold: Working with more partners and working in video. Tim Meyers (above) and I work together every day for our regular jobs, and collaborated on Course Work: Dinner Season at Prairie Fruits Farm last year. We also made a video short last summer that served as the proof-of-concept for the stuff we’re doing now with BYI. Here it is. Hope you’re thirsty:

Tim and I are working together on the BYI videos – the photo above is from a shoot we did yesterday afternoon at the Ramen Shaman’s house – along with a project manager (Jack Brighton) and, occasionally, a still photographer (Travis Stansel). They’re all awesome guys who are pumped to be working on a project like this. It was our first time working as a group, and on location to boot. I had prepped for much of the morning and talked to Tim a couple of hours before we got started, but we still made adjustments once we got to the location. It helped SO MUCH to have a plan. I thought the interview went well, everyone did their thing, there were beautiful snacks (thanks, Mark), we were done by 5. However, we shot an hour + of video, and way (way!) more will be shot on Tuesday… and all of it will need to be edited down to something awesome for PBS Digital Studios that is absolutely no more than 10 minutes long and preferably under 8 minutes. Getting to the finished product of any kind – an elaborate dish, a short story or novel, a song, an album, a 5-minute radio piece or an 8-minute video short or whatever – is always CRAZYPANTS. Why I’m continually surprised by the time and effort it all requires baffles me… but is not a deterrent. On the contrary.

*****

In other news, we found out yesterday that Child the Elder got a promotion at his job, which is awesome. Also: it’s going to be negative 12 degrees here tonight (it’s currently 36 degrees and the temperature is rising); like everyone else around here, I have Serious Winter Fatigue and will never take 40 degrees two days in a row for granted ever again. Finally: I’m making Red Stew from one of the Canal House cookbooks for dinner. I think it’s me shaking a fist at January. You can throw whatever you want at us this week, January 2014, but we’re having Red Stew. So there.

(Not) One Direction

DucksI took this at Caveny Farm in Monticello, IL, back in early October 2013. I was there to see the turkeys, and they were impressive, but I was quite enamored with these geese living behind the barn. Connie Caveny gave me a bunch of heirloom tomatoes to bring home that day, too. She had too many – the plants were super-prolific into early fall. There was no hint, really, of what the winter would be like.

It is the midwest, and we know cold (and there is nothing colder than a big, swooping wind coming down through the prairie in January). But winters have been quite warm in our part of the midwest for several years, and the brutal cold (as I type, it’s 0.0 degrees and falling, and this is the second round of very cold weather we’ve had this month) has taken almost everyone aback. The windows here at 909 are the originals, so we’ve plasticked some of them and hung heavy quilts in others in an effort to limit the amount of cold seeping in.  Quilts! It’s like a freaking Laura Ingalls Wilder cave up in here! There is nothing like a super-cold winter to keep one inside, making a mental list of all the crap that really needs to be done to one’s house, slightly mortified about putting it off all this time. My list includes windows and a furnace. I have to stop there before I get the vapors.

The planning for “Ramen Shamen” is going nicely. We shoot Saturday and Tuesday. I’m working on Jim to help me with some graphic elements for the videos, for the site, for… whatever. Baseball hats? T shirts? Pint glasses? MASON JARS? Ooooh.

Not Ketchup, Catch Up

tomatoes2

It’s a long weekend, more cold weather is coming, and I feel like making things, so I planned meals for the upcoming week today (you may be surprised to know it’s something I’ve been out of the habit of doing for YEARS), went shopping for the food for those meals, roasted some grape tomatoes in the vein of Nom Nom Paleo and Smitten Kitchen (same basic  principle, slightly different methods), and now I’m patiently (?) waiting for Jim to come home from refereeing soccer matches so he can get started on his chorizo chili so I can just sit here and inhale while he cooks. The chorizo is from Triple S Farms in Stewardson, and – god. Our family has a RELATIONSHIP with this chorizo, an affair. It’s great in fajitas or as nachos, but chili is what is needed tonight. Acceptance-yet-defiance of winter in a bowl, that’s what this chili is.

Post-holidays (is it just me, or do the holidays seem like they happened MONTHS AGO?), I think it’s good to get creative with your comfort food. We’re past everything-pumpkin, we’re past the family traditions that dictate the holidays – now, January/February, before fresh food is truly available here in the midwest, that’s when we get down to the business of really figuring out what we want to eat. For, you know, strength when spring comes. My favorite winter foods come in bowls. How about you?

reading

I am utterly, woefully behind in my reading. I found myself at the bookstore this afternoon (very much a “How did I get here?” moment), looking for more magazines, another cookbook. Never mind that I have the above to read, plus two more cookbooks arriving Tuesday. And I still have two cookbooks I received for Christmas from one of my dear sisters-in-law that I can’t wait to read. It’s a sickness. I LOVE ALL OF THEM and occasionally fantasize about literally building a fort out of all these books and magazines, the better to surround myself with culinary and food (and life) wisdom. I haven’t done it. Yet.

I did, however, finish Provence, 1970 this afternoon. I adored the first 2/3 of the book, and was really excited to find out what happened, but after that first 2/3, I thought it just sort of ground to a halt just when I thought something explosive, some a-ha & super-influential moment that I’d never heard of before, would happen, which it… didn’t. That doesn’t mean I didn’t love it. I did. I cannot get enough of good, evocative writing about the food and farming and conviviality surrounding food in France, especially from that time period. Author Luke Barr had access to all kinds of correspondence between the principals (MFK Fisher [his great-aunt], Julia Child, James Beard, Richard Olney) as well as Fisher’s notebook from her time in France at that particular juncture. Anyway, if you have a thing for France and French food and The Days of Yore, I do recommend it.

I’m thinking ahead to next weekend, when we begin shooting “Ramen Shaman”. We’ll be interviewing the Shaman himself at his place, surrounded by his cookbooks and tchotchkes (the guy has a hundred times the cookbooks/food books I do… he could build a palace), and then filming the preparation for his next ramen event, and then filming the event. I’m a little nervous; I made a drastic change to my appearance ahead of all this filming, because I was feeling very what-the-hell about it, but now I’m more like, what the hell? Oops.

Anyway. The ramen is the story, but Mark is the story, too. I can’t wait to hear it, to help tell it. Right now, though, I’m all about swooning over this chili; Jim’s home.

That One Stones Song

Snow Globe

A long time ago, back when I lived in MPLS and leaving town for CHGO wasn’t on my radar (in retrospect, it’s amazing how quickly that got ON my radar, but that’s a story for another time), so it must have been early 1991, Golden Smog got together and played one of their then-rare shows at the Cabooze. GS at that time was a total novelty act made up of local musicians (somewhat-original lineup featured 2 Jayhawks, 2 Soul Asylums, a Replacement, and a Run Westy); they had put out one small EP of covers and if someone had suggested anything more than that to them, at that moment in time, they would have thought that person was crazy; the whole idea behind GS was for these guys to get together and play covers for their friends and some fans and to get  intoxicated and be silly about it. Some of their memorable attempts: Roxy Music’s “Love is the Drug” (sung by Marc Perlman, bass player for the Jayhawks and not a frontman by trade), Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”, Billy Squier’s “Lonely is the Night” (my suggestion and guest-vocaled by someone named Heather whose last name I’ve forgotten), The Stones’ “She’s A Rainbow” (with toy piano)… there were so many more, and maybe people out there reading with better memories than I will post others from that time period.

But one cover from the early 1991 date I reference above was of a Stones song I’d never heard before, even as a record store employee, and every time I get depressed about the winter landscape and  the snow and the fact that it’s January, TWENTY-THREE YEARS LATER, I default to “Winter” and fuzzily recall how their version of that song (quite true to the original, as I remember it, and sung by Kraig Johnson of Run Westy Run) really struck me and was a bit of a turning point in my musical education, one of many during that time. Five months later, I left the town I thought I’d live in forever and moved to CHGO, where I eventually learned so much more about music, but few songs have had the long-term impact on me in terms of inner soundtracking that “Winter” has.

In other news, we start shooting Backyard Industry in a week, I cut my hair, and I’m looking for fun, whimsical, food-related T-shirts I can wear while we film. Hit me with your best shot.

Prairie Lyfe

snowscape

Gulf Coast beachscape/prairie snowscape/beautiful either way

It was a lovely day in Central Illinois today, a bright and breezy 40+ degrees, and perfect for a walk at Meadowbrook Park, the prairie preserve just south of town where I go all year long (weather permitting) to get some exercise, clear my head, gawp at other people’s vegetable gardens, look for deer, birdwatch, look at art and just generally find some balance. The prairie is an amazing place, wholly itself but able to assume a disguise from time to time, as it did today. I listened to the new Damien Jurado record as I walked, and you can too, whether you’re walking a prairie or a beach or downtown or wherever.

Last night, I went to Prairie Fruits Farm to screen Course Work: Dinner Season at Prairie Fruits Farm, the short film I co-produced for Illinois Public Media, with about 30 other people. I love going to the farm for any reason at all, even no reason; I pull into the drive and look up at the windmill and park my car, and, if it’s at night, I look for the moon. If I arrive during the day I look for the farm’s dog, Blue. As it happened, I opened the car door and looked for the moon and Blue did his best to jump in with me. It’s one of my favorite places in the world.

wes harvesting
I never thought I’d make something suitable for television. (I never thought I’d make something unsuitable for television, either). It was incredibly difficult and super-fun and I learned a lot about what I need help with and what I’m good at and also about working with another person creatively. I learned that I need to be direct with interviewees and ask what I want to ask so I get what I need (a good prescription for life in general, not just work), I learned to be flexible, and I learned how to write and voice narration. As soon as it was in the can, I said to my creative partner, Tim, I’d like another shot at that, because I knew I could have done better.

Until last night, though, I’d never seen the film all at once, nor had I seen what I had seen with other people. The film was being screened in the farm’s barn, site of breakfasts in early spring and the farm’s dinners in inclement weather. Wes, Leslie (the owners), and Alisa (the chef and my good friend) had snacks and cider ready for everyone, people brought their own booze, and as the socializing wound down a little, we got everyone to have a seat. They waited. I stood. The film began. The audience laughed at the right times and were quiet and watching/listening during the other times and the farm looked as beautiful as I remembered it and I saw the piece through their eyes, as opposed to through my own often hyper-critical eyes, by myself, in my office, watching on the computer and stopping and rewinding and stopping and rewinding.

The film is viewable here. Tell me what you think, if you’re so inclined. This version has pledge breaks for our station in it – these include me and Wes and Leslie, so if you want some awkward with your pretty farm scenes, don’t skip ’em.

The radio series returns February 6, and we’re working up a plan for 6-8 Backyard Industry videos to spread out throughout the year. I’m reading Provence, 1970 to get in the mood. I’m not sure it’s working, but the writing is captivating – people were so bitchy and hilarious. I think I would have loved hanging out with Paul and Julia Child, though. I love how she started her major career ascent in her late forties. It gives me hope.

No Reason to the Season

January Rain

 

A week ago, we braced for a snowstorm and the polar vortex – and got it. Our lowest reading at home was -16 degrees Monday night; we covered all our windows with heavy quilts and hoped for the best. Yesterday, rain fell and was watched from many a home, office, and car window. Fog rose from disappearing snowdrifts. This winter’s weather, which started (ironically) with unseasonably warm temperatures and tornadoes in November, continues unpredictably on. I wonder what spring’s weather will be like. The idea of planting in this frozen much does not appeal, but, really, we’re just 10 weeks away, more or less, from planting spinach, 8 from planting peas, and starting seeds indoors in a month.

Unless something weird happens with the weather.