Claire’s 25 Favorite Albums of 2014 (So Far)

I’m thrilled that my favorite album posts have become an annual thing here at NCPR! Not only are these my favorite posts to research and write, they’re my favorite to share with friends and listeners!

As per usual, I took my cue from NPR Music’s 25 Favorite Albums of 2014 (So Far), using their top picks as a springboard for my own breakdown on the albums that have been circulating. This year, I found a lot of hidden gems on their list. As I’ve been keeping better tabs on new releases, I found that some of their picks only skimmed the surface of all the great compilations out there.

But I don’t blame them for missing the boat on this one. New music circulated slowly these last few months and, for a while, even I struggled to conjure up a list representative of what I think this year has the potential to achieve. So I reached out to friends, coworkers and community members and received some amazing recommendations that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. So here’s what I’ve come up with— and be sure to comment and tell me if there’s an album that you think deserves a spot on my list of albums. Don’t worry, the year’s only half over—there’s still time and plenty more albums on the way!

Here’s 10 that I liked from NPR’s list:

1. Angel Olsen- Burn Your Fire For No Witness

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A new artist with an old soul, Angel Olsen is killing it right now. The slight twang in her voice compliments a synergy of child-like cheerfulness with an electric guitar that could put a baby to sleep. She knows it’s not enough to simply be a singer/songwriter anymore; there has to be something else. Either you’re really good at what you do or you need to pay tribute to a feeling so universal that it’ll bring listeners to their knees. And that’s exactly why her breakout album has secured spots on all of the best new music lists. What’s her secret? She makes loneliness feel like a holiday

 

 

2. St. Vincent- St. Vincent

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Annie Clark’s fourth album was one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year, and for good reason. While she’s been relevant for nearly a decade (admittedly this is my real first St. Vincent experience), her new album is mind blowing. It’s sharp, bold, and confident: she powers through with propulsive beats, cricketed guitar beats, toppled with energetic chunky rhythm parts and crackling synthesizers like a cloud of mysticism that’ll send powerful jolts through your speakers. Trust me, her self-titled album is a galactic explosion of serious art.

 

3. Hurray For The Riff Raff- Small Town Heroes

When I first caught word of this band, all that came to mind was Riff Raff, the name of a sometimes funny, often disrespectful rapper who shares that pen name. New Orleans’ based Alynda Lee Segarra, the heart and soul of Hurray For The Riff Raff, gives classic genre-style with a gentle nudge of empowerment. In her third album, she sings about battered women with a voice of perseverance, neighborhoods keeping their pride as crime surges, as well as a band on the road that hasn’t forgotten about where they came from. Segarra sheds some progressive light on the old folk rhythm and blues. Could Segarra be heading the move back to folk? I’ll let you know at the end of the year!

 

 

4. Sylvan Esso- Sylvan Esso

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This is the soulful collaboration of singer/songwriter Amelia Meath (of the indie-a capella-folk trio Mountain Man) and electronic producer Nick Sanborn, known for playing bass in the psychedelic roots-rock band Megafaun. Together, they debuted an unexpectedly delightful batch of intricately crafted, emotionally resonant, strikingly catchy electro-pop songs. NPR Music’s Stephen Thompson writes, “Music this sturdy and remix-ready doesn’t generally come from such a distinct and powerful lyrical point of view.” With playful beats and soothing lyricism atop carefully crafted beats, Sylvan Esso’s seamless collaboration seems by the books unlikely, but the quality work they’ve produced in their debut album is the gold in the pirate’s treasure chest.

 

5. The War On Drugs- Lost In The Dream

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WXPN’s Bruce Warren claims that this album is “the sound of tomorrow’s greatest classic rock today.” At first, I was skeptical. This album seemed like just another indie-rock album that sounded like a lot of other recent indie albums. In other words, it was nice background music. But, over time this album blossoms subtly into something a little more wondrous and profound than what the Philadelphia-based rock band originally served. After a few casual listens, I started to hear the Springsteen-Petty influence that Warren cites in his review. The sound is a progressively-mellow state of zen (not getting this) that builds and teeters on the edge of detonation—but never quite gets there and for those meditating on this, that’s okay. I sincerely hope this album grows on me as the year continues. I’ll be in touch with my final verdict.

 

6. Ana Tijoux- Vengo

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French-Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux’s new album Vengo is so intricate and so on point. She’s lyrically poignant and committed to confronting social injustice and non-violence. Tijoux’s album offers a provocative mix of soulful, horn-heavy, cumbia throwback boom-bap hip-hop. Vengo is culturally confident and fresh, with a unique blend of jazz, funk and Andean folk. “Antipatriarca” sounds exactly like the feminist anthem it is. I recommend that you take a cue from David Sommerstein and check out the English translations—proof that Tijoux’s Vengo is rhythmically and lyrically flawless.

 

 

7. Stromae- Racine Carree

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Belgian artist Stromae’s sophomore album, Racine Carree, is an invitation to dance. Racine Carree tangos with vibrant R&B beats, rumbas, and flavorful hip-hop, with electronic dance music sprinkled throughout. The various genres create a dynamic and unique listening experience. His lyrics genius expertly navigates the turmoils of the today’s reality; the uncertainty that stems from life, love and everything in between. NPR Music’s Anastasia Tsioulcas calls Stromae’s album an “unmitigated, heavy-repeat pleasure,” and I couldn’t agree more!

 

 

 

8. Gordon Voidwell- Bad Etudes

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Bronx musician Gordon Voidwell’s concoction fizzles with funky beats, pop synth, and R&B feels. His thoughtfully constructed modulations sound almost out of this world. But Voidwell’s galactic sounds are so not-what-you-were-expecting that his experimental grooves transcend our level of understanding—it’s all about tackling the unknown, and that’s pretty bold, wouldn’t you say?

 

 

 

9. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib- Pinata

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Freddie Gibbs & Madlib’s creation is filled with retro-soul samples, tightly-wound snares and paranoid piano interplay. Pitchfork’s Jeremy Gordon calls the dynamic duo’s production a “cinematic look at life in the shit.” The pair’s brutally honest conception of gangster music is an easily digestible look at a life some of us can’t even begin to comprehend. The seamless transition between tracks ensures that the songs are more powerful together than solo.

 

 

 

 

10. Owen Pallett- In Conflict

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Owen Pallett, a classically trained singer and violinist from Toronto sounds like an unfamiliar act, but I guarantee you’ve already had a brush with his music. He’s collaborated with a multitude of indie artists, including Jim Guthrie and Arcade Fire, as well as winning an Oscar nomination for scoring last year’s award winning film Her. In Conflict is an poignantly detailed composition of violin plucks and rich arpeggios, lyrical harmony and pulsating rhythms that fuses the classical and the contemporary. This album is eloquent and unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.

 

 

 

And here’s what NPR Music missed:

11. Mac Demarco- Salad Days

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“Always feeling tired/smile when required/write another year off and kindly resign,” are only a few of the lyrics that resonate in this new album from Canadian multi-instrumentalist Mac Demarco. He seems like a prankster; he has a gap-tooth, wears a lot of grungy baseball caps, and gives off a stoner-esque vibe. However, his sophomore album, Salad Days, is definitely not the work of a slacker. Rich with internal struggle, these realistically romantic love songs sound like a mystical daydream. After Salad Day’s instrumental finale in the song Johnny’s Odyssey, he remarks “Thanks for joining me, see you again soon, buh-bye,” as casually as if he were saying “See Ya Later” to a good friend. He seems like a weird, but good-hearted guy and his music is a testimony to that.

 

 

12. Hospitality- Trouble

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If I had pursued my dream of being a front man in a band, Hospitality’s whimsical indie-pop album Trouble is the level of perfection I would aspire to. Singer-guitarist Amber Papini lays her quirky yet forlorn lyrics over distorted bubble gum guitar licks. Papini’s voice is sweet and tender, but determined to power on alongside Brian Betancourt’s thunderous bass line and Nathan Michel’s popping percussion.

 

 

 

13. Real Estate- Atlas

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If you’re at all familiar with this New Jersey indie rock band, you’re probably aware of the mood shift that took place somewhere in between their second and third albums. Martin Courtney’s voice sounds carefree—yet his lyrics are drizzle with dejection all over Matt Mondanile’s bright open chords. Their album is the perfect soundtrack to a rainy day.

 

 

 

 

14. Tune-Yards- nikki nack

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For a tag team duo, the extensive variety of sound produced is impressive as hell. Merrill Garbus brings the drum loops, ukulele and vocals while Nate Brenner throws a touch of electric bass into the mix. Tune-Yards is a wildly eclectic mix of tribal beats, vivacious rhythms and graceful lyricism that fuses indie-pop and global variation to produce music that’s totally vibrant and catchy. And it’s totally awesome.

 

 

 

15. Thee Oh Sees- Drop

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Their lyrics may be almost criminal, but at least they’re expedient? That’s one of the reasons they get away with producing gut-wrenching material. Thee Oh Sees sound is wickedly enticing. Their most recent album, Drop, has only 9 tracks, but each one is psychedelically chaotic, yet skillfully inclined to provoke you. After six years and eight albums, their feel-good fuzz-rock groove has become ever more refined with mischievous melodies and funhouse-mirrored guitar contortions that render Drop, unmistakably, the work of Thee Oh Sees.

 

 

 

16. Wild Beasts- Present Tense

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Hailing from England, Wild Beasts’ fourth studio album offers an inimitable interplay of vocal ranges. Complete with a sleek and supple rhythm section, Present Tense is an immaculately muffled storm of R&B, complete with funky rhythms that offer more precision than you’d expect. These guys make an overwhelming usage of synths, amplifying their quality of sound overall.

 

 

 

 

17.Cloud Nothings- Here and Nowhere Else

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When front man Dylan Baldi sings “I’m not telling you all I’m going through” in their hit single “I’m Not Part of Me,” it sounds like a challenge. Here and Nowhere Else has the same vivacity as the tracks in their 2012 album, Attack On Memory, but this time around their sound is a little brighter and their lyrics are about as distressed as the ivory Chuck Taylor’s I’ve been harboring since freshman year. Surely, we want to understand what Cloud Nothings has been going through. Fortunately, their new album is “Here and Nowhere Else,” so make sure you take a listen.

 

 

 

18. Future Islands- Singles

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When front man Samuel T. Herring sings, he enunciates so carefully, you can tell he takes his work seriously. I mean, you can hear the thought that goes into Herring’s articulation. In a way, he reminds me of a young Morrissey, but with more poppy-synth and less desperation (he kind of looks like him, too). Even his live performances are physically crafted to theatrically correspond with the sturdy wave beats that make Future Islands so enjoyable—just watch his onstage performance on The Tonight Show with David Letterman a few months back. Future Island’s fourth album has the potential to be the soundtrack of the summer.

 

 

19. Sun Kil Moon- Benji

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At the beginning of his gripping sixth album, Mark Kozelek sets out “to find some poetry to make some sense of this/to find a deeper meaning” in the senselessness of death. Benji serves as a case study for the grievances that engulf us as we experience tragedy. Each song is a hauntingly honest tribute to the people Kozelek has known who have passed away. His words are elegiacally resonant and the hum of his acoustic guitar lingers long after the last chord is strummed.

 

 

 

20. Lana Del Rey- Ultraviolence

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A Lake Placid native, Lizzy Grant (a.k.a Lana) took some bold risks in the tracks on her highly anticipated new album. Ultraviolence is atmospheric and orchestral; it showcases her sensuous voice more vividly than Born To Die ever could. In “Shades of Cool,” she demonstrates her dynamic vocal ability, which transcends all of her other work. But as with every Lana song, there’s a hint of sadness that seeps through; a hint of despair that’s so enticing, you wish to get inside her head and figure out what’s going on up there, find the source of her pain and hold onto it yourself so she doesn’t have to anymore.

 

 

21. St. Paul and the Broken Bones- Half the City

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The emergence of St. Paul and the Broken Bones is a much-needed blessing. Hailing from Birmingham, the seven-piece soul band combines gospel-tinged ambiance, vibrant garage rock, and a lively horns section. Their charming lead singer, Paul Janeway (who looks a little like Drew Carey) told NPR Morning Edition’s David Greene that he “learned more from preaching than he did singing in church.” He even trained to be a preacher—that’s where all of that soul comes from. When he sings, the Earth quakes a little under his feet.

 

 

 

22. Isaiah Rashad- Cilvia Demo

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Isaiah Rashad’s debut album earned itself a spot on Pitchfork’s list of Overlooked Records 2014, which tells you that this album is good, but not getting the recognition it rightfully deserves. Rashad dishes out the pain conversationally and honestly. A southern rapper from Chattanooga, TN, Rashad draws on his home and adds a modern hip-hop sound to a classic Southern style. His rap game mirrors that of his predecessors Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q. He’s new on the scene, but, unlike other starters, he doesn’t hold back.

 

 

23. Lykke Li- I Never Learn

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I Never Learn is the Swedish native’s shortest, most explosive album yet. While only 33 minutes in length, the tone carries on long after the tracks cease. Thunderous beats and warm piano heighten the gasping breaths of a tormented artist. But Lykke Li’s voice is stronger than it’s ever been. When she reaches into her upper vocal register, the notes spread their wings and soar. And when she drops back into her lower range, that’s when the pain feels raw and resonant. Although Lykke Li sings about her most sorrowful defeat, I Never Learn is her most powerful album.

 

 

 

24. Saintseneca- Dark Arc

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Indie folk unit Saintseneca melds dimly-lit acoustics and post-modern pop to produce an engaging sound. It’s hard to determine who creates the momentum on this album: vocalist Zac Little sings his verses vigorously, but shares a robust series of harmonies with the charming Maryn Jones. Dark Arc makes valuable use of abstract instruments at the beginning of each song, including the balalaika, mandolin, dulcimer, and Turkish Baglama, as well as traditional acoustic and electric guitars and synths to create an album that gains momentum as it rolls along.

 

 

 

25. Parquet Courts- Sunbathing Animal

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This album has been on my mind since it’s appearance on NPR Music’s First Listen page at the beginning of the summer. At the end of last year, I spoke highly of this Brooklyn-based band’s second album, Light Up Gold, which epitomizes the twenty-something angst of growing up. Just a year later, they have a fresh new album that puts pressure on what defines “punk rock.” Sunbathing Animal is an energetic compilation of songs that describe the mind transcending the body in times of pressure and change. As the album progresses, the sneering intensity of the album ensnares you. This album stopped being “just an album” in the bridge of “Bodies Made Of,” when the bridge drops. Here’s your homework: go outside and, lie out in the sun and start from “Track 1.” Make sure to turn the volume way up and spend the remainder of the summer being the animal you really are.

Delicious drinks, for the North Country summer!

Summery drinks. Photo: Arun Joseph, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Summery drinks. Photo: Arun Joseph, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Well, summer’s in full swing, and while we all know we should drink plenty of water to stay hydrated during this warm part of the year, many of us are looking to drink plenty of…drinks. We asked you last week to send your favorite summer drink recipes (and photos!) to us, and as promised, here’s what we got!

Sarah O’Connell sent us a drink that doesn’t exactly say summer to me, but it does to her: the Chocolatini from the Boathouse Restaurant in Sacket’s Harbor. We don’t know their recipe, but here’s one you can make at home, if you’ve got a pretty sweet (get it?) liquor cabinet. Marcia Clifton Robbins recommends the classic Arnold Palmer (one half lemonade and one half iced tea), which I agree is exceedingly refreshing. Anthony Wentzel’s gone for a classic: “cold beer.”

Chocolatini at The Boathouse in Sackets Harbor. Photo: Sarah O'Connell

Chocolatini at The Boathouse in Sackets Harbor. Photo: Sarah O’Connell

Facebook pal Andrea Fernandes is recommending a drink whose name is perhaps a little risque for this post, but it sounds delightful. Here you go: “1/2 oz. (15ml) Amaretto 1/2 oz. (15ml) Kahlua Coffee Liqueur 1/2 oz. (15ml) Baileys Irish Cream 1/2 oz. (15ml) Creme de Cacao Chocolate Syrup Whipped Cream Chocolate Sprinkles. 1. Garnish the interior of a shot glass with chocolate syrup. 2. Shake amaretto, kahlua, baileys and creme de cacao over ice. Pour inside the chocolate garnished shot glass. 3. Top with whipped cream and sprinkles. Enjoy! Haven’t made one yet But it sure has been on my mind!”

Personally, one of my favorite summer drinks is shandy, an about-equal mix of beer and lemonade (featured on NPR last summer!), and then obviously you have your daiquiris, pina coladas, mojitos, and sangria…

And for in the liquor-optional category, Daisy sent this list of refreshing spritzer drinks via email. They look good!

Ginger: about 1 qt. sliced ginger root, 1/4 c honey…bring to a boil, reduce heat, simmer approx. 45 minutes. Strain. Use about 3T syrup in a pint glass, add spritzer.

You can reuse the ginger slices several times, then candy them by dredging in sugar and drying. You can freeze the ginger slices between uses. Ginger syrup will keep in the fridge for a week or two, certainly as long as it takes ME to drink it up.

Rhubarb… this is really special! About 1 qt. roughly chopped rhubarb, 1/4 c. honey.. simmer about 15 min., strain. Use about 1/4 c. syrup in a pint glass, add spritzer.

The strained pulp can be used as an ice cream topping. Add some raisins if you like, and give them time to plump before using. Rhubarb syrup will keep in the fridge for a few days until you’ve used it all up.

Watermelon! About 1 qt. chopped seeded watermelon, 1/4 c. honey, blend until smooth. Strain. Use about 3T syrup in a pint glass, add spritzer.

There will be about 4T pulp. This can be frozen, then used in a slushie type beverage by blending it with about 1c. water and 1c. white grape or apple juice. Give it a whirl in the blender, enjoy. Watermelon base will separate, so it should be used right away.

Same goes for any juice you canned last fall. All of these can be sweetened to taste by adding honey (sugar syrup, agave, etc.) or white grape or apple juice. Add spritzer!

Finally, as ever, our invaluable book “Stories, Food, Life” offers some great stuff. Recipes for switzel (or switchel!) are among the most interesting! (Wondering what on earth I’m talking about? Here’s a more modern take from a couple years ago. And did you know

Reverend Daisy Allen’s Switzel

1 gal. water
1 cup sugar
¾ cup vinegar
4 tsp. of ginger (depends on your taste)

Mix together in a gallon jug and keep cold.

Switchel
Mary-Ann Cateforis, Potsdam

Old-timers used this drink as a thirst quencher during the hot summer months. Farmers would carry a gallon jug of switchel when they went out to work in the fields. This recipe is from my old farmer friend Stanley Northrop, of Potsdam.

4 tbsp. brown sugar
Ginger, the size of a lima bean
4 tbsp. (cider) vinegar
Water to make a qt.

Wow, that’s serious drinking! How many of you involve a lot of vinegar in your quaff today?

Anyway, moving on (if you haven’t fallen down after that non-alcoholic doozy!), this week is time for fruit pies! We’ve had some great ones in the office recently (including a raspberry pie that couldn’t be beat!) What’s your favorite, with recipe please? Seasonal fruits especially encouraged! Send them over to me at nora@ncpr.org. Happy drinking!

A near perfect gardening month

 

I never saw a tree frog in a lily before a recent NCPR photo of the day...but here's is one I found at my house last night. Who knew? -- Martha Foley

I never saw a tree frog in a lily before a recent NCPR photo of the day…but here’s is one I found at my house last night. Who knew? — Martha Foley. Correction: a commenter below noted that this is a spring peeper, not a tree frog. Our apologies to misidentified amphibians everywhere.

Seems to me the weather has been cooperating nicely with gardening goals: a fairly balanced mix of sun and rain. And, it shows in your photographs of gardens from across the region. The collection today takes us from a school garden in Long Lake to a master gardener in Potsdam, from a scenic location along the shores of Cranberry Lake to Martha Foley’s perennial flower patch outside Canton.

We begin in Rose Rivezza’s charming garden patches.

One of the new hugels (see text) built recently in the Rivezza's Potsdam yard. Photo: Rose Rivezza

One of the new hugels (see text) built recently in the Rivezza’s Potsdam yard. Photo: Rose Rivezza

Here’s what Rose wrote about the hugel (in photos above and at right below):

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Another view of the hugel. Photo: Rose Rivezza

 

 

 

“…something new we did this year (at our son’s urging) that we are so excited about.  It’s a hugel ….a mound planting done by inverting sod, manure, and dirt over buried/mounded wood.  This one is covering a willow tree we took down after we let the logs and bigger branches dry out.  The idea is that the decaying wood will hold more water and begin to add nutrients to the soil.  I just think it looks cool.  This one is planted with zucchini (kind of densely planted at the end so I can harvest the blossoms rather than the fruit), eggplant, peppers, parsley, sorrel, nasturtiums, and some perennials.”

Two more photos from Rose’s gardens. The one on the left below shows herb boxes with petunia accents built into a ramp for Rose’s dad. The photo on the right highlights raised bed planting of chard.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Rose Rivezza

Photo: Rose Rivezza

Photo: Rose Rivezza

Photo: Rose Rivezza

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Becky Bradt has helped make gardeners out of some of the children at Long Lake Central School.

Here are two recent photos.

Youngster weeding school garden. Photo: Becky Bradt

Youngster weeding school garden. Photo: Becky Bradt

 

Trimming rhubarb. Photo: Becky Bradt

Trimming rhubarb. Photo: Becky Bradt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down the road in Blue Mountain Lake, Mary Leach’s garden looks great. Fabulous pepper!

A tidy and nicely fenced patch. Photo: Mary Leach

A tidy and nicely fenced patch. Photo: Mary Leach

Tomatoes coming along nicely. Photo: Mary Leach

Tomatoes coming along nicely. Photo: Mary Leach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Mary Leach

Photo: Mary Leach

Photo: Mary Leach

Photo: Mary Leach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More from the region’s gardens:

 

Cukes running amok. Photo: Jane Sandberg

Cukes running amok. Photo: Jane Sandberg, Jericho, VT

A Schroon Lake garden in July. Photo: Helene Vanderburgh

A Schroon Lake garden in July. Photo: Helene Vanderburgh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ken and Barb Adams sent in this photo of their gorgeous, whimsical garden.

Photo: Ken and Barb Adams

Photo: Ken and Barb Adams, Plattsburgh

 

A different notion of a garden, from Mary Jo Lampart in Cranberry Lake.

Photo: Mary Jo Lampart

Photo: Mary Jo Lampart

We end with lilies…one from Martha Foley’s garden, one from mine.

Lilies and bee balm. Photo: Martha Foley

Lilies and bee balm. Photo: Martha Foley

Lilies in front of my DeKalb house. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Lilies in front of my DeKalb house. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Okay, keep those photos coming. We’re trying to post once a week with a scan of gardens across the region. Send photos to ellen@ncpr.org and remember to include your name and where you live and garden. Happy weeding.

 

 

 

When names offend — food edition

Kaffir lime leaves are used in some South East Asian cuisines such as Indonesian, Lao, Cambodian, and Thailand (มะกรูด). Citrus hystrix leaf (Image by Fatrabbit, Creative Commons, Wikipedia)

Kaffir lime leaves are used in some South East Asian cuisines such as Indonesian, Lao, Cambodian, and Thailand (มะกรูด).
Citrus hystrix leaf (Image by Fatrabbit, Creative Commons, Wikipedia)

Last week I blogged about Ottawa’s newest pro team, the Redblacks. As best I can tell, that name has nothing to do with the type of controversy associated with teams like the Washington Redskins. (Although one reader pointed out on a Facebook comment that I neglected to mention similar arguments about the Redblack’s mascot, “Big Joe” modeled after a real Francophone lumberjack.)

NCPR’s weekend guy Jonathan Brown and I exchanged a few emails on the topic. I admitted much fondness for the (unofficial) UC Santa Cruz mascot, the Banana Slug. And mentioned personal displeasure at how the University of Hawaii caved in on their long-honored insignia of a rainbow. (Emblematic of the many rainbows seen in wet Manoa Valley and for Hawaii’s rainbow of multi-ethnic cultural heritage.)

Just as I was thinking this sort of brouhaha is mostly confined to the world of sport, I read that a key ingredient in Thai cooking is in dire need of a less-racist name.

How many cooks and foodies out there are proud because they know about kaffir limes? (I use the leaves, which impart a quintessential flavor.)

But now I’ve learned the name “kaffir” is basically equivalent to the “n-word” in places like South Africa. Oh dear.

L.V. Anderson, assistant editor for Slate, writes about the whole issue here, including an attempt to track down how “kaffir” might mean different things:

As it happens, the very earliest written instance of kaffir lime yet to be uncovered suggests that the word’s origins have nothing to do with the South African slur. As the Oxford English Dictionary points out, Scottish botanist H.F. Macmillan used the term in his 1910 Handbook of Tropical Gardening and Planting to refer to a lime found in Sri Lanka, the home of the ethnic group that refer to themselves proudly as the Kaffirs. Macmillan lived there for 30 years, and it was there that he wrote his botanical handbook. It is difficult to say how he, and the other people he heard using the term kaffir lime, understood the connotation of the word, but it seems at least possible that the name began innocuously. Given that the earliest evidence of the lime’s name comes from Sri Lanka, lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower told me, “It seems very likely that it comes from that particular strand.”

Citrus hystrix Kabuyao (Cabuyao) fruit (left), used in Southeast Asian cooking, with galangal root. (Image by Fuzheado Creative Commons, Wikipedia)

Citrus hystrix Kabuyao (Cabuyao) fruit (left), used in Southeast Asian cooking, with galangal root. (Image by Fuzheado Creative Commons, Wikipedia)

Anderson says even if the origin of the name is free from malice, it rankles now. So maybe the safest thing to do is use what it’s called in Thailand: makrut.

Of course words mean different things – depending on time, place and the ear of the beholder, as explored in this June article by Geoffrey Nunberg “When Slang becomes a slur” for the Atlantic. Nunberg says it all shifted in the 1960′s:

That was when we collectively acknowledged that every group was entitled to control its own linguistic destiny, and decide what it should and shouldn’t be called—that groups had the right to define themselves.

“Redskin” has simply been the slang word the white man used for the Indian. Like all slang words, it was infused with the attitudes about the thing it names.

The principle had far-reaching consequences. When the decade opened, liberal-minded people referred to Negroes (or to “the Negro,” as LBJ liked to say), while an unreconstructed rear guard still talked about “coloreds.” By the decade’s end, pretty much everybody was using “blacks.” Over the following decades Orientals became Asians, queers became gays, and the new terms “Latino,” “Hispanic,” and “Chicano” were added to the vocabulary. And the old word “slur” acquired a new meaning to refer to a word that conveyed an ethnic or racial insult, one whose use was not just unkind, but as a social thought crime. Not even the vocal reactions against “political correctness” in later decades called the right of self-naming into serious question. Those on the cultural right may ridicule PC ideas about race and gender, but in their public discussions they’re as fastidious as anybody else about avoiding words that are regarded as offensive or simply outmoded.

This debate resonates in Canada too, over teams small and large, as shown by complaints about the Nepean Redskins (they changed the name) and the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos.

A similar back-and-forth exists for the military’s policy of naming helicopters for tribes like Apache or Kiowa – criticized in this June op-ed in the Washington Post by Simon Waxman.

Hold on, says U.S. Army aviator Maj. Crispin Burke in his piece “Everyone Relax – The Army’s Native American Helicopter Names Are Not Racist“. Burke says “there’s a difference between honor and exploitation”:

Although not an official policy, Army officials typically name attack aircraft for tribes that historians have noted for their martial prowess. The RAH-66 Comanche, for instance, honored a tribe of mounted warriors that out-maneuvered, out-rode and out-fought the best-equipped U.S. Cavalry—a feat even more impressive when one considers the Comanche first encountered the horse only in the late 17th century.

So what evidence do we have to suggest that Native Americans aren’t offended by the Army’s tradition? Take, for instance, the fact that Army Material Command actually gets approval from Native American tribes before naming its aircraft. That’s according to the Department of the Army’s Pamphlet 70-3, paragraph 1-11-4-g, for you sadists out there.

Still not convinced? Well, consider that some Native American tribes don’t just approve of the Army’s naming convention, they give their outright blessing—literally.

In 2012, Native American leaders were on hand to bless two brand new LUH-72 Lakota helicopters—named for the nation which handed the Army one of its most notorious defeats at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.

The two helicopters, christened “Eagle” and “Turtle” for prominent Native American symbols, carry honor feathers in their cockpits, gifts from the tribe to the North Dakota National Guard.

Frankly, this tends to be a dangerous conversation. Debate opens up all kinds of name-calling, regardless of how individuals approach the topic.

Case in point: I am often offended by those who seem to want to control this discussion by suggesting anyone who disagrees is a racist. (Bad as racism is, politically correct bigotry is no more attractive.) To some extent I value freedom of expression more than some (utterly impossible) goal of making sure no one ever has hurt feelings.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to learn and remember “makrut lime”, because I see no need to make a freedom of speech issue over the other name. (I had no idea that word came with so much baggage!)

How do you decide which words to drop from your general vocabulary?

Uncommon rainy day flicks

Photo: Marina G, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Photo: Marina G, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

It’s been a rainy summer here in the North Country, and it looks like there’s more to come in the next few days. If you’re like me, you’ve probably already mined your Netflix account for the best shows and movies; you’ve finished “House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black,” “The Walking Dead,” and, heck, you even watched “Frozen” (which, in the Netflix world, is about a Chinese performance artist who stages ritual suicides.) Luckily, Netflix also has a selection of obscure films to enjoy. I’ve searched through the Netflix archives to find to oddest and most underappreciated movies to keep you busy during these rainy days.

1. Rom Com: “While You Were Sleeping,” directed by John Turtellaub. This movie sounds like a horror flick, but is actually a rom com. It’s a creepy cross between Sleeping Beauty, The Taming of the Shrew, and a Stephen King novel that follows Sandra Bullock as she pretends to be the fiancée of a guy in a coma while simultaneously hitting on his brother. The premise is strange, but I don’t think you’ll find anything else quite like it.

2. Documentary: “Too Cute.” This Animal Planet series features a different baby animal each episode. Basically, it’s like watching cute baby animal videos over an extended period of time. It’s listed in the Documentary section of Netflix, alongside films like “I Escaped a Cult” and “Email Order Bride” for your educational pleasure.tc

3. Jungle Adventure: “Romancing the Stone,” directed by Robert Zemeckis. Of course, if you’re in the mood for action, there’s this lesser version of Indiana Jones. Kathleen Turner stars as a (very shrill) writer who finds herself in a jungle with a hero played by Michael Douglas. I mean, if you’ve already seen all of the Indiana Jones movies (except “Indian Jones and the Crystal Skull,” because that one doesn’t count), then this is the adventure flick for you.

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4. World War III: “Iron Sky,” directed by Timo Vuorensola and “Nazis at the Center of the Earth,” directed by Joseph L. Lawson. Maybe you’re in the mood for a Nazi movie. “Iron Sky” is about a group of Nazis that retreated to the moon in 1945 (an obvious choice) and have returned to duke it out with the rest of Earth. “Nazis at the Center of the Earth,” like a good Jules Verne novel (just kidding), is about how the Nazis retreat to a giant underground cavern in Antarctica, where they abduct the only two people they can find up there, who happen to be scientists. Warning; this movie is rated R. Also, it is not a comedy.

5. Space Opera: “Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy,” directed by Roger Vadim. This movie stars Jane Fonda and the words “shapely” and “kinky” are included in the plot summary. I don’t really understand what this movie is about, but there’s a scientist, space, and Jane Fonda, so I’m sure it’s a thriller. Also rated R.

6. Family Friendly: “The Great Mouse Detective,” directed by Ron Clements and Burny Mattinson. A classic adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. After scouring the Family section of Netflix, I determined that most of the films are not “family friendly,” as in everyone in the family would actually enjoy the film, but are just rated PG (ex. “Nacho Libre”). However, this cartoon is actually really great. It has adventure, love, a great plot, and talking mice.

What do find yourself doing when you run out of activities on rainy days? Leave a comment below.

Recipes of the week: keeping it fresh and simple

My garden this week. Garlic scapes, peas just in front of garlic, clematis and cukes. Photo: Ellen Rocco

My garden this week. Garlic scapes, peas just in front of garlic, clematis and cukes. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Thanks to those of you who shared tidbits of recipes and food ideas for this week’s food post about using early garden bounty. Here’s a sampling of some of the themes and standout suggestions.

I want to start with one that was included in NCPR’s book, “Stories, Food, Life.” It’s perfect for this time of year because just about everyone I know is eating fresh salad greens from their own gardens or from farmers markets. It’s Ben Strader’s salad dressing recipe. Ben is the director of the Blue Mountain Center in Blue Mountain Lake. Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to attend a number of Board retreats, conferences and seminars at the Center. Whenever salad is served at a meal, there are big bottles of Ben’s dressing to go with it. Mix up a batch and keep it in the fridge for those summer greens.

Ben’s Blue Mountain Center Salad Dressing, Ben Strader, Blue Mountain Lake

Mix into blender: 1/2 cup water, 1/2 apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup tamari (or good soy sauce), 1-1/2 cups nutritional yeast flakes (use a bit less if powdered), 1-1/2 cups safflower oil, finely chopped garlic to taste. Blend away, then pour on just about anything but ice cream, and enjoy.

Beet and Goat Cheese Salad, Rhonda Butler, Asgaard Farm, Ausable Forks

First, prepare maple vinaigrette by combining 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup maple-flavored vinegar, 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard, salt and pepper to taste and, if you like, some fresh green herbs like chives, basil, oregano and/or thyme.

Wrap 4 medium beets in foil and bake at 350F for 45-60 minutes, or until they can be easily pierced with a fork. Remove the beets from the oven, cool and slide the skins off beets.

Arrange fresh garden greens on individual salad plates or on a large platter and dice the beets on top of the greens. Dot the beets and greens with pieces of fresh chevre. Sprinkle with walnut pieces and drizzle vinaigrette over everything.

Okay, these recipes address the abundance of salad greens and beets at this time of year. How about those peas or chard? Snap peas can be added to every salad and stir fry, of course. I am a personal devotee of shelled sweet peas. I remember my son, from his days as a toddler right up through middle school, plopping down in the pea patch and happily shelling and eating peas. I very briefly blanch peas (a minute or two, until the peas turn bright green), then dip in cold water to stop the cooking. Drain the peas and store in the fridge. I add these to everything: green and potato salads, stir fries, cold soups.

Swiss Chard and Garlic Scapes, Ellen Rocco (this isn’t really a recipe, it’s a way of thinking about using whatever is coming out of the garden at this time of year)

Rinse a big bunch of chard leaves. If it’s small and young, leave whole. If it’s getting large (more than 6-8 inches), chop up the leaves a bit. Trim a batch of garlic scapes (it’s up to you how many you use) and slice up a bit. In a large frying pan or wok, heat some nice oil (sesame is my favorite for this) and toss in the scapes. Soften them up a bit, then throw in the chard. You may want to add a bit of water and/or soy sauce. Cook until chard is tender to the tooth. Salt and pepper to taste.

You can do the same sort of thing with beet greens (which feel like velvet on the palate), kale, young collards, endive…whatever.

Please add your ideas for early summer cooking. These are just a few ideas to prime the pump.

Coming next week: beverages for hot weather sipping…or guzzling. Share your suggestions and favorites with Nora, nora@ncpr.org.

 

 

Three top tips for writing tip top letters

Harry Potter stamps. Image: USPS

Harry Potter stamps. Image: USPS

Perhaps you’re like me and find yourself yearning for a simpler time. A throwback to earlier days, before cell phones and pretentious Starbucks orders existed; when the plague was still a threat, art was found in caves, and Velociraptors roamed the land.

Letter writing is a dying art. While there may be a select few who still compose letters on a regular basis, communication has morphed into a pressing of buttons and emoji selection.

When reading a letter, the writer’s voice echoes through our heads in ways more personal than text or email can accomplish. I, like most, love receiving letters, but am notoriously horrible at responding. That is why this summer, after acquiring a pen pal, I swore I would not mess this up. No letter would go unanswered. I even purchased a collection of Harry Potter stamps as a motivator. How hard could it be?

As it turns out, personal writing is in fact very different from the academic writing I am used to. Despite the epistolary books I have read such as, “Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and my brother’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” the words were not flowing from my usually loquacious hands.

To remedy this, I turned to the internet. After reading a series of how-to guides including choosing exceptional stationery and locating an operating post office, I have come up with three crucial steps to fabulous letter writing that will hopefully get me waxing poetic in no time.

1. Grab attention

Command your reader’s attention from the beginning. My dear Watson, or O Smaug Chiefest and Greatest of All Calamities, are both sound examples. Each offers something endearing and welcoming. Beginning a letter with, “To whom this may concern,” is an absolute no.

2. Be true to yourself

Let your natural voice come out. Don’t hide behind the page. Write about life, but don’t turn the letter into a whining monologue, those are no fun to read. Conversely, don’t make the letter only about the reader. That would be uncomfortable.

3. Keep it clean

Only the finest of penmanship will be accepted. No smudge marks or scribbled out words. As a leftie I understand the struggle, but know you can succeed. But, yes the other kind of “clean” too. You were raised a lady, not by wolves. And if you were raised by wolves, that is no excuse, be a lady.

When was the last time you received a hand written letter? How often do you write letters? Do you have any tips for a novice letter writer like myself? Comment below!

 

Garden check, early July

Monique Cornett, our summer digital and news apprentice, snapped this photo of her father Mark's garden after the wind swept through St. Lawrence County last night. Photo: Monique Cornett

Monique Cornett, our summer digital and news apprentice, shared this photo of her father Mark’s garden after the wind swept through St. Lawrence County last night. Photo: Mark Cornett

This corn was nicely mounded and will recover from the wind. Last summer, a severe storm drove through my garden when the corn was about 10 days out from picking. We lost some but salvaged 75% by building a stick and rope lattice system down each row to which we tied individual stalks. Time consuming, but I love fresh corn!

With the holiday weekend,  fewer submissions of garden photos this past week, but here’s what’s come in. Keep sending those garden pictures to me at ellen@ncpr.org so we can track garden progress through the growing season.

The Rudd garden in Potsdam. Photo: Jim Rudd

The Rudd garden in Potsdam. Photo: Jim Rudd

Jess Prody's lettuce patch in Canton. Photo: Jon Sklaroff

Jess Prody’s lettuce patch in Canton. Photo: Jon Sklaroff

Jess Prody's tomato and nasturtium patch in Canton. Photo: Jon Sklaroff

Jess Prody’s tomato and nasturtium patch in Canton. Photo: Jon Sklaroff

 

 

My American Girl doll: more about having than playing

Display at an American Girl doll store in Chicago. Photo: Ambernectar 13, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Display at an American Girl doll store in Chicago. Photo: Ambernectar 13, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

This morning, in the process of finding really substantive articles for “inspiration,” fellow NCPR intern Natalie Dignam stumbled upon an article called “What your American Girl Doll Says About the Rest of Your Life.” Together, we began to recall fragments of our memories of said dolls. Web guy Dale also chimed in: Apparently the American Girl craze had reached more people than I thought.

Thinking about it, it makes sense. So many little girls’ childhoods were influenced by the trend (Dale’s daughter included). However, looking back, I can’t actually recall ever playing with my doll. I dressed her up, took her places, bought her more accessories than any doll could ever need and lived in a constant state of fear that my dog might eat her.

But having an American Girl doll in elementary school sort of secured your popularity. In other words, when you’re a 7-year-old girl, having an American Girl doll at recess sort of always ensured that you’d always have a friend to play with.

At school, I would watch enviously as the other girls cradled their Bitty Babies during recess and braided their dolls’ hair during story time. As time passed, it seemed harder and harder to get by without having one.

When I (by chance) received my first catalog in the bed of mail, it was magical. It was as if the mailman knew of my dilemma. I would plop the catalog in my mom’s lap and make her read it with me cover to cover. Overall, it took about a year of persistence for Santa (played by both the mailman/my mom) to bring me my own doll.

American Girl doll "Kit Kittredge," with book, offered on eBay with a starting bid of $69.99. Photo: thediaperbaker1

American Girl doll “Kit Kittredge,” with book, offered on eBay with a starting bid of $69.99. Photo: thediaperbaker1

At the time, there wasn’t an American Girl doll that looked “just like me,” so we had to settle for Kit Kittredge, who was the first doll since Pleasant Company sold the company to Mattel. While Kit and I definitely had some good times dressing up in matching outfits for church and figure skating competitions, she turned into more of a liability than any 7-year-old needs. Not only was my mom’s stern voice constantly reminding me of how expensive she was, the doll herself was a liability. I mean, come on! If you pull the string on the back of her neck, her head pops off and she has to go to the American Girl Doll Hospital (and we really couldn’t afford that).

Girls wanted them and parents had to pay for them. Truthfully, that’s what I really remember the dolls for—being overpriced. It was always fairly well-established that American Girl dolls weren’t exactly cheap. Perhaps that’s why I struggle to recall actually doing anything with my doll. I spent more time buying her off-brand accessories from JoAnn Fabrics than actually making lasting memories with the doll.

So how much are the memories of an American Girl doll actually worth?

A quick eBay search shows that the dolls are selling on wide-ranging spectrum from $5-$5,000… the most expensive dolls being the historical dolls from the ‘90s. In May 2013, The Washington Post reported that the historical dolls that the company was founded on have been retired to the Upstate Doll Farm (sounds like a scene from a bad horror movie) and have been replaced with the Girl of the Year or the My American Girl who Looks Just Like You, neither of which possess stories of courage and strength that could compare to Addy’s or Josefina’s.

The remodeling of the American Girl dolls was meant to capture the essence of today’s modern girls. At the time, I probably would have preferred a doll that was a little more like me. But looking back, I think my doll influenced my development: we’re both tomboyish, both perspective journalists, both lived through an economic depression of sorts, and we both love our friends and families. So maybe she had a bigger influence on my childhood than I thought she did.

I guess I’m saying that although these dolls were overpriced, but 14 years later, when I called my mom at work asking for her to clear up the fuzzy details, her response surprised me. She said that having an American Girl doll was a rite of passage for the both of us: as mother and daughter.

Updates on Rick Mercer and Chris Hadfield

Comedian Rick Mercer visits Canadian forces in Afghanistan in 2005. Image by jmbone, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Comedian Rick Mercer visits Canadian forces in Afghanistan in 2005.
Image by jmbone, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

NCPR blogs have discussed Rick Mercer and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield before. Mercer is the long-time host of CBC’s Rick Mercer Report, a reliably funny exploration of life and politics across Canada. Hadfield became an international media darling with his remarkably engaging tweets and photos from the International Space Station.

Those two famous cultural icons are among a longer list of Canadians receiving a national honor called the Order of Canada, typically awarded twice each year. (Actually Hadfield had already been awarded the Order of Canada, he’s getting a promotion to a higher level within that order.)

Mercer’s selection came for “his ability to inspire and challenge Canadians through humour”. The comedian called the award a tremendous honour (using the Canadian spellings). He says he was quite surprised, practically dumbstruck, to get the news in person from Governor General David Johnston.  

Hadfield has retired from a long military career. But the ex-astronaut has become a best-selling author in Canada, with his “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth” (2013). Here’s how one reviewer summarized the work on the book site Good Reads:
Depending on your outlook on things, this book will either make you feel like you have lived a vastly underwhelming and underachieving sort of life, full of these lost opportunities, these missed chances… or it will make you feel infinitely inspired, like you can live more and do more just be more in general, and it will serve as fuel to your rocket, to use a hackneyed analogy.Being what I think of as a jaded sort of optimist, I’m somewhere in-between.But Col. Hadfield is definitely leaning heavily towards the inspiring part, and does so with admirable grace and aplomb.
Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency juggles some tomatoes, which he probably considers to be among the more delicious components of a recent "package" that arrived from Earth on March 3. (2013) Source: NASA

Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency juggles some tomatoes, which he probably considers to be among the more delicious components of a recent “package” that arrived from Earth on March 3. (2013) Source: NASA

(Note: I have that book and it’s true – I feel small reading it, but also fired up with the possibilities of engaged optimism.)

Hadfield continues to garner favorable opinions as a singer. While commanding the International Space Station his version of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” went viral. That song had to come down after a year due to a licensing agreement. Happily, rights were extended and it can still be viewed, as explained in this chronology.

Chris and his brother David Hadfield produced a charming original song and video just in time for Canada Day. They billed it thusly:

Published on Jul 1, 2014

A polite song from two brothers who are just hoping your day is going okay.

“In Canada” may or may not establish itself as a keeper, although it has over a million hits in just a few days. But it’s a nice take on ordinary life in the “true north strong and free” from two middle-aged men who tried to put that to song. Eh?