Friday, October 30, 2009

A Fight to the Death Recording Studio

So I've got this friend George Wallace. I know him through Phil -- he was one of Phil's roommates. George is one of those maddeningly intelligent people who genuinely enjoys reading Thomas Pynchon novels and can, without particularly exerting himself, play your guitar way better than you can.

It would be more than a little tragic if George weren't in a band, but luckily for all of us, he's in A Fight to the Death, which is in fact a band. Specifically, they're an Atlanta-based band who wear classy suits and think you'll like some accordion, ukulele, banjo, keyboard, and pedal steel with your rock'n'roll. Guys, I am here to tell you that, even accounting for your individualized taste in music, A Fight to the Death is totally correct in this opinion.

Now, it's possible that I'm biased because Mark, CJ, Nathan, Daniel, and George are all awesome guys who are my friends on Facebook and sometimes even in three dimensions, or because they've occasionally used their band tab to keep me in the concert-venue lifestyle to which I have become accustomed (ie, full of whisky&cokes), or because George always says nice things about my snickerdoodles. But mostly they just rock out. Allow me to demonstrate via the use of a bullet list and several Internet hyperlinks.

Audio & video evidence of rocking out (which is important for a music band, am i rite?):
Pictorial evidence of rocking out, captured by Kevin Griggs and with quasi-interactive mouse-over captions by me:

George Wallace playing a pedal steel guitar

I told you, classy suits.

Now, If you've enjoyed these examples of rocking and are aurally hungry for more, you could purchase their current CD, and/or you could come out to one of their upcoming shows, and/or you could fund the creation of their new album in return for logical & badass thank-you gifts such as a download/physical copy of the currently hypothetical album once it's finished, behind-the-scenes footage of the recording process, previews of new songs, a cover song of your choice performed at a show, or even a private performance from the band (which sounds dirty to me but probably won't be unless you provide them with a great deal of alcohol, and maybe some fancy pasties to match their ties).

They're using as a home-base for their fundraiser, and it seems like a pretty hip site! As of right now they're only four hundred and sixty American-Earth dollars away from reaching their goal of $2,000, and they only have 11 more days to raise it! And I want to hear their new album soon, so you should really drop them a couple bucks if a couple bucks is something you've got sitting around.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Stays Crunchy in 3-D!

HEY so I guess I never mentioned it, but check out what I've got in three-dimensional, solid, opaque, paper & ink & binding-glue format?


Smart Shoppers Secrets (a book blog with a funny name), who gave Stays Crunchy an excellent, thoughtful review, interviewed Mr. Knave about writing it. And asked him about me 'cause I have obnoxiously been making my editorial presence known, and he said nice things that you can read here.

Also, hey, if you're an independent book store -- well, congratulations on your sentience and ability to surf the Internet, I hope you're enjoying them as much as I'm enjoying mine. If you're an independent book store employee, manager, owner, other associate, or friend, hark! Adam has 10 copies of Stays Crunchy that he's giving away to independents to read and/or give away themselves and/or sell for retail price & keep the full profits, with the hope that they'll enjoy it and want to stock a few copies. 'Cause he likes independent book stores and wants his readers to support them. Just drop Adam an e-mail (adampknave @ or poke his blog.

Secret: If you're an independent book store person in the Atlanta area, e-mail me or leave a comment here, and I'll drop by your store with a copy of Stays Crunchy, like, today. Bonus points if you're in/near Decatur, but I'm enthusiastic about traveling short distances if you're enthusiastic about the book.

Friday, October 16, 2009

shine on, Philip Clippinger

One of my close friends in town, Phil Clippinger, died in a car accident on the evening of Saturday, September 26th. He was probably on a Target run, getting reading to drive to a Decemberists concert in Athens, but had only gotten a mile away from his house when he was caught in a downpour on a tricky curve of highway on-ramp, hydroplaned, and ran off the road.

That guy dressed as the Joker in the picture of me as Harley from last Halloween? That's Phil.

I'm so glad I have this silly picture.

We're a tight group, my friends here in Atlanta. [We have a group name (the Nexus) and a battle cry (call: "Dekalb living!" response: "WHAT WHAT!"). Yeah, we're those people.] The amount of support that everyone has given and received has been quintissential of how a family acts. We are a crazy, dysfunctional, kinda incestuous family, and I don't know how I would've gotten through the past few weeks without every one of these marvelous bastards I call my friends.

It still doesn't make any sense to me that Phil isn't a present, local part of that family anymore. That he's not going to call me about coming out to Fellini's on his dinner break, that he's not going to keep me on the phone for an hour describing details from his new Joker Batman video game, that he's not going to try to convince me how much fun I'd have at Bonnaroo, that he's not going to show up late to whoever's party with a case each of Sweetwater 420 and diet Coke.

I love him, all his faults and mine included, and I'm not sure that I ever expressed to him how much I do.

A thing that everyone seems to have been saying is that there isn't enough time, that we need to make more of an effort. To be with each other, to celebrate the things we share, to find joy where we can.

Phil was such a joyful person. When I think of him, the first thing I think of is his laugh, frequent, free, deep, and a little bit sly. Despite being disappointed by the (many) things in his life that didn't go quite as he wished, he found a way to laugh about pretty much everything, and I don't think I ever heard him say anything negative about anyone. (With the exception of Shia LaBeouf, who, to be fair, costarred in three films that stomped all over some of Phil's favorite things.)

Phil's Facebook page has a lot of lovely stories and pictures that've been posted by friends and family. His obituary was in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday the 29th, and they're currently keeping a guestbook online.

A few friends have posted memorials on their own webspaces: Merlin, Matt Anderson, and CJ. If anyone else posted one or knows of another one, post a comment with the link and I'll publish it, too.

In lieu of flowers, Phil’s family has asked that donations be made in Phil’s name to Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, The Faustman Lab of Massachusetts General Hospital, or the charity of your choice.

I’d recommend a donation to Child’s Play, the gamers’ fund & toy drive for children’s hospitals. Phil loved playing games, especially ones that involved messing with his friends’ minds, and he didn't get the chance to teach the next generation the simple, Machiavellian joy of screwing their friends over hardcore within the context of a game, where said friends can’t be too pissed about it. (Hypothetically. I’ll tell you a story sometime about a game of Munchkin). A donation in Phil’s name to Child’s Play is a small assurance that sick kids will a) have fun distractions, and b) learn to be clever dicks. He would've appreciated that.

Phil's flickr -- myspace -- facebook -- livejournal

Thursday, October 15, 2009

recipe: snickerdoodles

I visited my mother's parents every summer when I was growing up. My Grandma Lou baked every day: loaves of butter bread, cinnamon rolls with walnuts and maple icing, fruit pies, angel food cakes, oatmeal raisin cookies, snickerdoodles. My memories of her bright, busy kitchen are a huge part of why I find baking and baked goods such a comfort.

A good friend of mine, Phil Clippinger, died in a car accident on Saturday, September 26th. (I've had a memorial post in the works for weeks, but haven't been ready to talk publicly about everything yet.) The week after his death, I spent a lot of time baking -- it kept me busy and fed my friends -- but on the morning of his funeral, I found myself with a kinda hilariously Jewish need to bake. The funeral was a huge Catholic mass, with a choir, and kneeling, and billows of incense smoke pouring through the thick slant of sunset that fell over his coffin. It's not like his family was sitting shiva. And it's not like I'm really that Jewish -- only half my family is, on my father's side, and I don't even observe the high holy days unless someone else does the planning. But when I woke up on the morning of Phil's funeral, I had to make something to bring to his family. And snickerdoodles were the most comforting thing I could think of.

This recipe makes ~3 dozen chewy, buttery, cinnamon-spiced cookies, and can easily be doubled if you need to feed everyone.

Adapted, as usual, from smittenkitchen.


1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (use a full 2 3/4 cups if you're doubling)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar (If you don't have this, omit the baking soda and use 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder to substitute for both)
1/8 teaspoon salt

8 tbps (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup white sugar
1 egg, room temperature

1/8 cup sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon


A half hour before you get started, set out your butter and egg to allow them to approach room temperature.

When you're ready to start, preheat your oven to 400° F, and prepare a cookie sheet with butter, parchment paper, or a silicone baking mat if you're into that kind of thing. (I've got a nonstick sheet that things come off of pretty well all by itself -- I've found that greasing it just makes the bottoms of cookies burn, and putting down parchment or a silicone mat prevents cookies from getting good & crispy on the bottom, so I leave mine alone.)

Measure out your dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt) and whisk them to combine.

In a larger bowl, measure out your butter and sugar. Beat them with an electric mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes, or until they've begun to lighten in color and increase in volume (this is called creaming and it's how air gets into the batter, and thus what gives cookies their awesome chewy-tender texture -- if you creamed the mixture for a couple minutes more, you'd end up with a more airy, cakelike texture in your cookies). Scrape down the bowl then add your egg, and beat the mixture on low until the egg is fully incorporated (1 minute or so).

Pour your dry mixture into your wet mixture and stir manually until everything's incorporated. If the dough seems too sticky to work with, add an extra tablespoon or two of flour.

Combine your cinnamon and 1/8th cup of sugar in a small dish, bowl, or ramekin -- something you'll be able to roll balls of dough around in. Stir to combine.

Use a table spoon (like, a thing you'd eat with) to scoop out a bit of dough -- think something maybe 1 inch to 1.5 inches in diameter, or a bit smaller than a ping pong ball. Roll it between your palms gently to shape it into a ball, and then drop it into the cinnamon sugar mixture. Roll it around to coat it with awesome, and then place it on the baking sheet. Flatten it into a disc maybe half an inch thick and ~2.5 inches in diameter. Repeat with a bunch more cookies! They shouldn't spread too much, so you can place them ~2 inches apart or so on the sheet.

Pop the sheet in the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes (or until ~1 minute after your kitchen starts to smell like awesome, or until the cookies have puffed up and then deflated, or until poking one gently on the top yields slightly springy resistance). Allow the sheet to cool for ~5 minutes once it's out of the oven, and then transfer the cookies to a cooling rack until they're just cool enough to serve.

To mix ahead: This dough freezes better if you don't coat it in cinnamon sugar first (the sugar coating may melt when the cookies defrost). So if you're mixing ahead, just roll the dough into balls and freeze them: Either wrap them in plastic so they aren't touching and seal them in a baggie/container, or freeze them on a sheet pan for ~1 hour before tossing them in a baggie/container. Defrost them in your fridge for ~1 hour, roll them in cinnamon sugar, and bake more or less as usual (you might need to add a minute or so to the cooking time).

Monday, October 12, 2009

it's always sunny in Lobsterdelphia

Hey, so what's shakin' in Philadelphia next week that I should check out? Or, what's generally shakin' in Philadelphia that I should check out? [Note: By "check out", I mostly mean "eat", but I'm certainly interested in arts & sciences other than the culinary ones.] I'm gonna be in town on a business trip for a few days, and have never been there before! So if you are a person in the know about Philly, you should tell me what I should see and do. And eat.

In return I offer you a photo of what I will not look like while I'm there 'cause the foam rubber lobster suit was a single-time bad idea for rheumatology convention promotion. NEVER AGAIN THE BUTTER SAUCE.

(My organization, for which I generally edit medical journal articles, throws a big convention for practitioners every year in a different city. The first year that I went to help run it, we were promoting for the next year's convention, which was going to be in Boston, and all of the promotional material featured these cute little cartoon lobsters. And one of the higher-ups decided to give away a free pass to the Boston convention each day via giant costumed lobster. And when the First-Chair Lobster Girl backed out one day, I took up the lobster mantle.

I made this photo into a Christmas card that year. On the inside it said, "And you thought I'd never do anything with my English degree.")

But yeah, so make with the recommendations, folks. And the first person who compiles a list of places that serve surf & turf gets a claw upside the head.

Monday, October 5, 2009

recipe: chocolate chip pecan brown-butter cookies

These cookies were inspired by a brown-butter cookie that Maria (MommyMelee) makes, my personal quest for the Ultimate chocolate chip cookie, and a random craving for pecans. They bake up thick and soft, with a crisp-crunchy edge and a nutty richness from the pecans and browned butter.

For anyone who's never done it, browning butter is magical, and something I think I want to do for all my recipes that call for melted butter from now on. Similar to how toasting nuts or searing meats brings out their full flavors, gently cooking butter before using it in a recipe deepens the taste and color of the final product. The outcome in these cookies is a decadent and craveable comfort food.

Chocolate Chip Pecan Brown-Butter Cookies
Adapted from Deb @ smittenkitchen, who adapted it from


3/4 cup (a stick and a half) unsalted butter

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup packed dark brown sugar (light would be fine too)
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped


First, get your butter browning: Cut your butter in chunks into a small, shallow pan, and set it over low heat. Really low. Just above "warm", and certainly not as high as medium. The idea here is to just toast the butter -- you want it to melt & separate, and then get just hot enough so that all the milk solid bits sink to the bottom, and then cook just long enough so that those milk bits caramelize, becoming fragrant and turning a lovely warm shade of golden brown. The whole process should take maybe 5 to 10 minutes, and your butter should bubble but never go above a simmer. Stir it frequently to keep all the milk bits from sticking to the sides or bottom of the pan. When the color has deepened and the butter smells like maybe you want to stick your face in it, take the pan off the heat and set it aside.

Meanwhile, or afterwards if you don't like multitasking, preheat your oven to 325°F. Take your chopped pecans (I like them to be pretty much minced with a few slightly larger chunks 'cause I don't like too much crunchy texture in my cookies, but you can adjust to taste -- I'd say anything up to pea-sized chunks would work), spread them onto a baking sheet, and pop them in the warming oven for 5-10 minutes or until they're fragrant and have slightly deepened in color. Set them aside.

Measure out your dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, and salt) and whisk them to combine.

In a separate, larger bowl, measure out your sugars and add in the browned butter. Beat them together with an electric mixer for about 2 minutes on medium. You're looking for the mixture to increase a bit in volume and lighten a bit in color. Add the vanilla and eggs, and beat for about a minute until the mixture is creamy and well incorporated.

Put down the beater, and mix in the dry ingredients by hand (well, by spoon/spatula, unless you really want to use your hands). Then gently fold in the chocolate chips and the toasted pecans. The dough will be soft and sticky, and at this point, you could refrigerate it for up to 24 hours before baking. (David Leite, who I trust in all things, researched & recommends refrigerating cookie dough for about this long to allow everything to combine & settle into itself. Guys, I don't have 24 hours' worth of cookie foresight. If you happen to, though, let me know how the refrigeration thing works for you.) If you find the dough too sticky to work with, cover the bowl with foil/plastic wrap/a large plate and pop it in the fridge for 10-20 minutes.

Next, use a spoon to scoop up a ping-pong ball sized or slightly smaller bit of dough, and roll it gently between your palms to form a ball. Drop it on a cookie sheet (greased or covered with parchment paper if you like) and flatten it out a little so that it'll cook more evenly. Leaving about 3 inches between cookies, fill your cookie sheet and bake for 8-12 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies and whether the dough has been chilled. (You're looking for the cookies to puff up and then deflate a bit -- an undone cookie will yield easily if you gently poke the top of it, and leave a sort of darkened, bruised-looking indentation, and will feel very soft. Gently poking the top of a done cookie will offer slight, springy resistance, and won't leave an indentation. Erm, relatedly, please use caution if you're going to go reaching into ovens to poke at cookies. Honestly, erring on the side of underdone is okay. They'll continue to cook a bit once they're out of the oven anyway.)

Once they're out, let the cookies cool for a couple minutes on the baking sheet, then remove them to a wire rack to finish cooling enough to shove in your mouth serve.

If you're going to put another sheet of cookies in to bake immediately, wipe down your cookie sheet with a clean, damp cloth or paper towel first (this gets the crud off the sheet and also cools it down enough so that it won't par-bake the new round of dough before it even hits the oven).

If you'd like, you could freeze the dough for baking later -- I just roll the dough into cookie-sized balls and wrap them in plastic wrap so that none of them are touching, then stick the whole caboodle into a ziplock bag or Tupperware and shove it in the freezer. Alternately, if you have the space in your freezer, you could place the dough balls on a baking sheet and let them harden in the freezer for an hour or so, after which they shouldn't stick to each other and could be placed directly into a ziplock bag/Tupperware. They'll keep in there for at least a week. Just remember to either let them defrost in the fridge for a few hours before baking, or to adjust your baking time (maybe 12-18 minutes) if you're doing them straight from the freezer.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

zombie symposium video +ODST

For anyone who missed it (or who wants to create a greatest hits edit or fan music video*), the entirety of the Atlanta Zombie Symposium is available for watching on the vast and multitudinous Intarwebs! Laszlo posted nice links to all of the video bits on one of his online soapboxes, SRF Heavy Industries, which you should be reading anyway.

Aaaand now back to Halo: ODST. Most hilarious voice cast ever. No I won't tell you who, you have to play the game. I'm digging the audio backstory pieces -- they remind me of ilovebees, which was a promotional alternate-reality game for Halo 2 with a component of audio drama and which I have huge nostalgia for. Also, the pistol has a scope like in the first Halo! Oh how I missed being cheap with the pistol.


Saturday, October 3, 2009

recipe: banana-pecan-date bread

Baking is one of my coping mechanisms. It keeps me busy, and then I get to eat/feed other people comfort food. My project for the evening was a riff on my friend's family banana nut bread recipe. The dates add a tangy sort of contrast to this sweet, homey quick bread, and the pecans are sweeter than the traditionally used walnuts.

The only real secret to any quick bread recipe (y'know, anything you can put in a muffin tin/get to rise without yeast) is to not work the batter much at all after you add in the flour. You really only need to get the flour wet -- mixing it too hard will create too much gluten and make your bread/muffins tough. And nobody likes tough muffins.

Banana-Pecan-Date Bread


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted
2 eggs
3 ripe bananas, sliced
1 tbsp vanilla

1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
1/3 cup dried dates, pitted and chopped small


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Spread your pecan bits out in a pan and stick them in the oven until they begin to get fragrant -- 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how fast your oven heats up. (You want them to get a little deeper in color, but be careful not to burn them!)

Meanwhile, butter & flour a bread loaf pan. Yes, even if it's nonstick!

Measure out your dry ingredients (flours, baking powder, salt) into a bowl and combine them by stirring with a whisk. (You could sift them together if you're more motivated than I am.)

In a separate bowl, combine the butter and sugars. Hit 'em with an electric beater on low-to-medium speed for ~2 minutes, or until the mixture increases in volume and lightens in color a bit. Add the eggs, vanilla, and bananas, and beat for another minute or so on low-to-medium, or until the bananas are pretty well mashed up and mixed in -- smallish, pea-sized chunks are okay, but you don't want pieces much larger than that.

Now, my friends, it is time for the dry ingredients, so put that mixer down. Gently stir your dry mixture into your wet mixture, juuust until it's incorporated. A couple dry spots are okay, 'cause after you gently stir in the toasted pecan bits and the chopped dates, you're gonna leave the batter alone for five whole minutes. Five! Just set the bowl down and walk away. (I know this because Alton Brown knows this.) While you're checking your Twitter page, the flour will be busy soaking up some extra moisture without creating any of that nasty tough-muffin gluten.

When you come back, pour the batter into the prepared pan (you'll notice that most any flour pockets will have disappeared, and the batter will have some air pockets in it -- this is a good thing) and pop that sucker into the oven! It'll take an hour or so to bake -- check it at 60 minutes, and leave it for another 5-10 if it's not a deep golden brown yet. Let it cool in the pan for a few minutes (to let it finish cooking & solidify a bit), then turn it out onto a cooling rack and let it sit for another few minutes (for the same reason) before slicing and devouring.