En route to moving to Scotland, I spent a couple weeks at my parents’ house. Most of what I remember from that trip was a very alarming meltdown my last night in town (I couldn’t fit everything into my suitcases). The rest of my visit was pretty uneventful. I grew up in a town where you have to drive everywhere, but I essentially haven’t driven a car in in the past five years. When my parents replaced their automatic with a stick shift, I defaulted back to my fifteen-year-old self, waiting for an adult to ferry me about town.
Earlier this week, my cousin and I took a brief road trip from her home in County Meath, Ireland up to the Derry to visit her sister. As always, I compiled a CD for the occasion.
Five years ago, L and I accidentally studied abroad on the same program. Most people who knew us during our first two years at college would probably not believe this was an accident, as we were fairly inseparable. But indeed, we ended up picking the same program for exactly the opposite reasons and somehow landed ourselves together in Paris for nine months.
For the first time in two years, we were not living in the same room. This was an adjustment, but we were happy to be situated in neighboring arrondissements, her in the 15e, and me across the river in the 16e.
The mid-point between our two apartments was the Eiffel Tower, about ten minutes from either side. The Eiffel Tower became the meeting point for not just us, but for all our friends, and most evenings were passed on the Champ de Mars with a bottle of wine and a tranche of cheese, marking each hour with the lights on the Eiffel Tower going off, a time we dubbed “Sparkly O’Clock.”
Now, for the first time in a long time, L and I are no longer living together. She and her boyfriend moved in together in September. Like in Paris, she’s only in the next neighborhood over, but sometimes it feels like those few blocks stretch across an impassible, infinite distance.
Partly this is because I’m lazy. But mostly, it’s because our lives are diverging onto different paths, or maybe the same path, just at different speeds. It takes a lot more effort to spend time together now, and the dynamic is rarely the same as it once was.
Sometimes, I catch myself wishing things could go back to how things used to be, dancing around our dorm room or arguing over perfume ownership.
I know I don’t really want that. Both of us have grown so much since the first day of college, or those evenings on the Champs de Mars, or even the first couple years in DC. And I wouldn’t want to change any of that.
Mostly, it scares me knowing that someday, probably sooner rather than later, she’ll be more than a bottle of wine, a text message, and a ten minute walk away.
|Happy Belated Christmas, LV. May we always have Sparkly O’Clock.|
But at least for now, she is.
|Hanson fans @ Toad’s|
Sometimes, I get really inspired about a blog piece. I start writing enthusiastically and then… I get distracted. Something else comes up, and the further removed I get from the event, the harder it becomes to write. I have a half dozen such posts sitting unfinished, collecting e-dust in my drafts folder. My friends start harassing me about why it hasn’t been posted, but the more time that passes, the less likely it seems that they will ever be published.
Such is the case with this post, which I started over three months ago now. It would be really convenient to just never finish writing this, but alas, I am going to visit E and F this weekend and I fear that if I don’t publish it, they may bind and gag me save my fingers below the knuckles, toss me in the trunk of a car with a laptop, and not let me out until I’ve produced a worthy post on the matter. So to avoid that inevitability, here it goes…
A long time ago (October), in a galaxy far, far away (Connecticut), I went to a Hanson concert. You may remember from back before I fell of the face of the internet that I prepared for said concert by listening to all of their albums in chronological order and then making the sweetest t-shirts ever, at least until I made these epic Twilight shirts after which I really should have re-evaluated my life-choices.
Anyway, one October afternoon, I found myself climbing on a bus to New York. Six excruciating hours later, I was finally greeted by the scent of 33rd and 7th, a welcoming mix of mediocre pizza, stale urine, and cigarettes. E appeared, already sporting her “I
The beginning of the weekend passed in typical fashion–late night sushi, farmers market, eating, eating, and more eating–but then we got down to business. There were two more in our party so we slapped together shirts for them as well, including my all-time favorite thing I’ve ever made. I don’t have a good picture of the original, but I liked it so much that I’ve screen printed several copies since then:
|I have made myself the companion t-shirt, “Sorry, I was watching Court TV”|
If I ever open my Etsy store for secretly-embarrassing-yet-superficially-cool-looking t-shirts, this will be the first thing I sell. I love this design. Inspired by one of Hanson’s best-worst songs, “Man from Milwaukee,” this shirt is for the Hanson fan that doesn’t want anyone else to know they’re a Hanson fan, but is maybe ok with the world thinking they buy nonsensical graphic tees at Urban.
|Attempting to harness the glow in the dark properties pre-concert. It was a fail.|
After getting all gussied up with our TOMS, t-shirts, and glitter make-up that would have made our thirteen-year-old selves die from envy, we headed out for the concert. On the way, a girl stopped and asked directions to Toad’s in a state of urgent panic. “How did you know we were going to the Hanson concert?!” we asked in mock surprise. “Oh, I saw your shirt,” she replied without a hint of irony. Apparently Hanson fans are not good with the sarcasm.
What Hanson fans are good at is being scary. Once inside, we discovered the venue was already packed. This did not bother me, as I am always one to throw a few elbows and dance my way to the front of the crowd in about three seconds flat. But I only got us about five feet further into the fray before being utterly terrified by the death glares surrounding me and retreated back to our original corner. Alas, actually seeing Hanson in concert was apparently not on the agenda.
|Full zoom, on my tip-toes. Bonus though: the crappy quality makes Zac look topless.|
It didn’t matter, however, because as it turns out, Hanson is AWESOME in concert. Like, really, really good. They are so good that I strongly considered going to Northern Virginia (ew!) a week later to see them again (in the end, Hatred of NoVA > Love of Hanson concerts). I didn’t even mind Taylor’s whiny voice! Although, that’s 90% because it turns out that Taylor is our prettiest man.
|I like your scarves, Tay.|
Even their terrible old songs sound good. I know this because the gimmick of the “Musical Ride Tour” was that for each city, the audience voted online for Hanson to play one of their albums in full. New Haven was given the option of Middle of Nowhere, This Time Around, and Shout It Out. If you will remember from my extensive notes, I loved Shout It Out, hated This Time Around, and thought Middle of Nowhere was hilariously awful. But Middle of Nowhere was going to be my only shot at hearing “Man from Milwaukee” in concert, so I put all my eggs in that basket. Lucky, too, because we only won by four tenths of a percentage point. I was four tenths away from having to listen to this shit in concert.
Instead, I got the great pleasure of hearing all my favorite least favorite Hanson songs. “A Minute without You!” “Mmmbop!” “Yearbook!” Plus, they included some good ones from their current album, and the less noxious songs from the ones in between. And to my delight, they closed the concert with my personal favorite, “Man from Milwaukee.”
The best part about seeing “Man from Milwaukee” live is that, apparently, on the original CD, tracks 13-20 are blank. So in concert, it’s tradition that everyone counts up to the song:
Now, I cannot tell you why the good people of San Diego here are not properly enthused, because in New Haven, the crowd went APESHIT during the countdown. I tried to film it, but all you hear is high pitched shrieking like it’s 1964 and The Beatles just rode into town on a stallion called Ed Sullivan. I was totally party to this, which is why the camera is so shaky that I’m not even going to assault your eyes with the video I recorded.
After singing “With You in Your Dreams” as their encore (a bit of a letdown after the glory of “Man from Milwaukee”) we decided it was imperative that we get our hand-crafted Hanson shirts autographed. I do not have much experience with such matters; the closest I’ve come to getting an autograph from someone not at Disney World is groping Kim at the end of a Matt & Kim concert. Knowing that just a few weeks prior, my penpal had gotten Zac’s autograph on the shirt I’d made her, I sought her advice:
Find the tour bus afterwards. Put your hands on it for good fortune. With luck, a brother emerges.
Let me know if your mission is a success.
|E eagerly awaits a brother’s appearance (Preferably Zac)|
We loitered with at least a hundred other grown-ass women for at least a half an hour, while they tried to clear us out of the street. But Hanson refused to emerge. Finally, we accepted defeat:
Heartbroken, we left and went on with our lives. Normalcy returned with things like eating lots of food and E embarrassing herself horribly at a party. We thought our Hanson weekend was over, but we were so very, very wrong.
The next afternoon, E and I packed up and got a train back to New York. I noticed how incredibly slowly the train was moving when I realized how much I needed to pee and that there are no bathrooms on the MetroNorth to New York. Finally, the train stopped altogether.
After waiting at a standstill for at least a half hour, I checked twitter and discovered that a bridge was out. Finally, they pulled up to a train station in the Middle of Nowhere, Connecticut. This is the point in the story where E and I realized that we were living the lyrics of “Man from Milwaukee,” a song that was written when Hanson’s bus broke down in the middle of nowhere. The Middle of Nowhere.
|This was only the first wave…|
He comes from a place that nobody knows
Letting this big-toed bald man sitting here tell me about the sky
If you asked me now then I couldn’t tell you why
I’ve been sitting here too long by a man from Milwaukee
|E continues her weekend pose of “standing next to buses she can’t get on to”|
There they use more than 10% of the brain
But you couldn’t tell it from they way they behave
They run around in underwear and they never shave
Letting this big-toed bald man sitting here tell me about the sky
Maybe I’m hallucinating, hyperventilating
If you asked me now then I couldn’t tell you why
Baby Bird come in, come in Baby Bird
For the love of Pete come in!
This is Baby Bird…sorry I was watching Court TV
Do you copy? Do you copy?
Of course we copy…24 hours a day…in color
|Never been so happy to be in South Norwalk|
Flew off to Milwaukee or perhaps Albertane
And left me at the bus stop just barely sane
I’ve been talking too long on my yellow walkie talkie
I’m talking to Mars you may think I’m wacky
I know they’ll come get me, come get me someday
I know they’ll come get me and take me away
I know they’ll come get me, come get me someday
If not tomorrow then maybe today
Back in July, I got a hurried call from F asking if I was free the weekend of October 8th. That’s when Hanson would be coming to New Haven. And she needed to buy tickets immediately.
Every six weeks or so, F, E and I get together in one of our respective cities, cook many things, and eat ourselves into oblivion. Excited at the prospect of this epic concert-going experience, we quickly rearranged our visiting schedule to accommodate everyone’s favorite long-haired boy band.
Only problem: F and I are not actually Hanson fans. We both missed that boat entirely when it sailed into town around 6th grade. F lived under a homeschooling rock for most of childhood and rarely gets any musical references past 1890, and I… Well, I am a special case. Unlike nearly all my friends, I am the baby of the family. My sister is five and a half years older than me, and that means I sometimes get confused about which decade I grew up in. Having an older, significantly cooler sister meant that in an effort to also be cool like my sister, I missed a lot of pop culture boats, not just the Hanson one. Boy Bands in general were decreed totally lame, meaning I will never be able to engage in the time-honored debate: N*Sync v. Backstreet Boys (though, when pressed, I say N*Sync because I hate ballads). And it also means that until 3 months ago, my Hanson knowledge started and ended with “Mmmbop.”
Luckily, what F and I lack in enthusiasm, E makes up for 1000 fold. Girl LOVES Hanson. I did not know this about her until a couple years ago, because it’s kind of embarrassing and she kept it well-hidden until adulthood. But she is the reason we’re even going to this concert. Hell, she’s the reason I know that Hanson is still making music (which they apparently have been steadily since their Mmmbopping days).
E insisted that we at least learn their later (better) stuff and provided us with all the relevant albums. But if I was going to become a Hanson fan for this concert, I needed to do it right. That meant I had approximately 13 years of Fansondom to catch up on in just three months. And so, The Hanson Project was born.
The first (and most important) step was tackling the music. Hanson has released 8 studio albums since 1995. That’s a daunting task. But thanks to a friend who probably wishes to have zero association with this project, I had a strategy. You see, this friend likes to experience new bands in chronological order. So let’s say he’s never heard a Beatles song but has decided to listen to the Beatles. He would not be able to skip ahead to Abbey Road without first listening to Meet The Beatles, Hard Days Night, Help!, Rubber Soul etc in chronological order first. Now, my friend has many good reasons for pursuing this strategy, but instead of enumerating them here, let’s just pretend he likes being ridiculed a lot. Which I have done myself, on several occasions! But given the nature of this Hanson Project, I thought it would be good to to have a methodical structure for making it through these albums. This was a perfect way to condense my Hanson fan experience.
To the Music!
Ok, so here’s what I knew from the get-go: back in the early 90s, three brothers in Tulsa thought it would be a good idea to start a band. This was probably not a good idea. At least, not yet, since none of their voices had changed and 8 year olds really shouldn’t be writing songs. They recorded their first studio album in 1994 but didn’t gain success until 1997’s Middle of Nowhere. This is the period of Hanson that everyone remembers, the long-haired, awkward (pre)teen “Mmmbop” years. They got three Grammy nominations, probably because Taylor Swift hadn’t appeared yet to show the world that children can write basic melodies AND have sensical lyrics.
The boys followed Middle of Nowhere with a Christmas album and the resoundingly mediocre This Time Around, got married super young, had a passel of children, and started their own record label. This is when their music supposedly starts getting better, beginning with Underneath. They subsequently released two more albums on their on label. Somewhere along this route, we got from this:
But in terms of musical style, actual songs, etc, I had no idea what I was in for. Which is why listening to 8 albums in a row was a little overwhelming. And it took me… a long time. As in, I just finished last night. That Christmas album slowed me down quite a bit, and I lost the will to continue for a while after This Time Around. But thanks to E’s constant harassing, I finally made it.
Some notes on my reviewing rubric: rather than assigning a letter grade, which I did not feel could appropriately capture the extreme variance of quality in Hanson’s music, I have created a category called “Musical Topography.” For point of reference, let’s assume that Paul Simon’s Graceland represents the peak of Mount Everest on the scale of Musical Topography. All other albums can be compared in general goodness to Graceland by picking an appropriate topographical landmark on the globe. Don’t like Graceland? GTFO. Haha just kidding. Just insert your (inferior) musical opinion here.
Also, I am nothing if not thorough, so I took detailed notes on every track of every album. I was recently telling someone about this project, and they asked if I am obsessive compulsive. “Hahahhahah, no!” I responded. “Well, maybe… yeah, probably a little bit.” You can see all my notes here, along with two Hanson-loving friends’ additional commentary.
Now the moment two or three of you have been waiting for, my opinions on every Hanson studio album, in chronological order:
So what does this all mean? After an extremely grueling process, I can now say without a doubt that I… have listened to all the Hanson albums in chronological order. Sorry, were you waiting for me declare my undying love or passionate hatred for Hanson? Turns out this whole experience taught me less to be a Hanson fan, and more to be a Hanson connoisseur. I can appreciate their musical journey and how much they’ve grown as a band, but it’s kind of hard for me to separate my opinions from the process I created here. Do I legitimately like Shout It Out, or do I just like it given my knowledge of all the rest of Hanson’s music? Does it even matter if I like it based on its own merits or based on its historical context?
I’m not sure, but I definitely don’t feel like a Hanson fan. But though I am hardly going to become one of those overweight Fanson groupies that follows them around the country, fueled by the sustenance that only fast food and sweat sprayed from Zac’s sweaty locks can provide, I’ll at least check out their next album.
Stay tuned to find out how to make some really sweet, glow-in-the-dark Hanson shirts for all your concert-going needs.
|Who is that outrageously adorable little Irish girl? Oh right! It’s me!|
When I was three, my father took a sabbatical and moved my family to his birthplace of Cork, Ireland. For nine months, we lived with my Great Aunt Kal, the sister of my late grandmother. Auntie Kal was a wonderful woman who in many ways served as one half of a surrogate for the grandmother I never met. I don’t remember much from the following year–a game of blind man’s bluff in the greenhouse, playing in light dusting of snow, a particularly foggy day–but the one thing that I will always associate with my great aunt are her scones and homemade raspberry jam.
Sorry to go all Marcel Proust on you, but I don’t think there could be anything more perfect than Kal’s jam and scones. There are entire childhoods wrapped up in those scones; for me, being scolded for cutting my own hair (and then lying about it after very obviously throwing both the hair and the scissors in the kitchen bin) to sitting in a different kitchen a dozen years later, cheating at a crossword puzzle with my cousin by filling in the remaining boxes with whatever words would fit. I know my sister has her own stories tied to those scones, and I’m guessing Kal’s children and grandchildren have theirs as well.
Auntie Kal passed away while I was in college, and for the last few years prior to that, she was not in a state to be baking. The last time I had her scones and raspberry jam was during a trip to Ireland the summer that I was 17. Unfortunately, those final scones will forever be tainted with the realization that her sharp mind was already succumbing to dementia and that they would probably mark the last time I saw my Aunt as I remembered her.
Since her death, her recipes have been passed down to various relations scattered around the Anglo-Irish countryside. My cousins in Northern Ireland took over jam-making duties, while a cousin in Dublin is the keeper of the scone recipe. Both have generously shared the fruits of their labor, but an ocean is a long distance for a pot of jam, and scones do not travel especially well. I harassed both cousins until they handed over their respective recipes and cooking tips, and a year ago made my first attempt during a six-week visit with F and E in New Haven.
F found a nearby u-pick farm where you practically steal the fruit from the vines–something like $5/lb of raspberries. Sadly, we got super lost on the way and only had about ten minutes to pick two pounds of berries and so did not have a huge quantity of jam at the end of the day. I cautiously hoarded my share until my sister’s birthday and Thanksgiving so that my family could approve, and it was at least enough of a success that we tried it again this year.
This month’s six-week visit was scheduled for E’s house on Long Island. After F put the fear of God in her, she called nearly every farm in the surrounding region until she found one with raspberries. Our chauffeur, Matt I (also known as E’s husband) drove us there on Saturday, and we wrestled some bees to collect 6 pints of the best berries. These we supplemented with some frozen ones F had gotten at the u-steal farm in Connecticut, and we got down to making jam! I’m super lazy, though, so I just used pictures from last year.
For every pound of rasberries, use a half a pound of granulated sugar (technically, the recipe we were given calls for equal weights sugar and berries, but we promptly ignored that and it turne out fine). This past time, we had three pounds of raspberries so:
3 lbs raspberies
1.5 lbs sugar
10 8 oz jars and lids for canning
2 large stock pots
To begin with, put the canning jars in the dishwasher. You want these to be extra clean so you don’t get botulism and die. If you don’t have a dishwasher, seriously? It’s 2011, people. Update your kitchen.
Next, wash all your raspberries! If you got them from a farm like us, you will probably find all sorts of new friends living in them and will want to cry as you spend hours trying to drown them all.
Now put all of your raspberries in a large pot. Turn the heat to medium and simmer gently for ten minutes. The rasberries will begin to break up and your wooden spoon will start to turn a pleasing shade of magenta.
Add the sugar. This is where it gets iffy, because the recipe just says, “stir until dissolved and boil rapidly until setting point is reached. Pot and cover in usual way.” That is not… terribly informative. Your guess is as good as mine on what the setting point is. Both times, F and I have just said, “Ok, I think that looks good?” and started canning. My best idea is to treat it like you would a custard–when it starts to thicken and covers the back of a metal spoon, call it a day.
I don’t want to be responsible for you dying from canning incompetence, so you should read about how to “pot and cover in usual way” in this handy-dandy canning guide from Ball.
You can put any leftover jam in a covered bowl in the fridge for your immediate eating needs.
Auntie Kal’s Scones
After some trial and error, I’ve come up with these Americanized measurements:
3 2/3 (3 lbs) cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of Salt
1 t baking soda
2 t cream of tartar
1 T sugar
Stick (4 oz) of unsalted butter
1 cup (ish) buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425 F.
In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients. Cut butter into dry ingredients and incorporate with a fork.
Crack egg into a liquid measuring cup. Add buttermilk on top of egg until you have 1 1/5 cups (half an imperial pint) of liquid. Whisk together lightly.
Add liquid to dry ingredients. Mix together with wooden spoon, and then turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead gently, just until dough forms a soft ball. Flatten into a circle about a half an inch thick. Cut scones* and lay on greased (or parchment papered) cookie sheet. Brush tops with egg/buttermilk wash.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until tops begin to turn golden brown. Serve warm with butter and Kal’s raspberry jam.
|Tastes like childhood.|
*In my memory, the scones were round with a fluted edge (this could be inaccurate), so I normally use a fluted biscuit cutter. But sometimes I also use a fluted heart-shaped cutter because it’s extra cute that way!
Dark Chocolate Raspberry Truffles:
While we were at it, we also experimented with raspberry truffles. They were pretty epic, especially considering that we made up the recipe as we went along:
1 cup raspberries
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 1/2 cups dark chocolate, chopped (Do not use chocolate chips or I will come after you!!)
Set aside 1 cup of the dark chocolate. Put the remaining chocolate in a medium bowl.
Cook the raspberries and sugar in a small saucepan on medium high heat until all the sugar is dissolved and the raspberries start to disintegrate: about 10ish minutes. Or not 10ish minutes–I wasn’t looking at a clock and have a bad sense of time.
Add the cream to the mixture and bring to a vigorous boil, until the mixture is relatively unlumpy. Turn off the heat and carefully pour the mixture over the 1 1/2 cups of chocolate. Wait about 30 seconds, and then stir till all the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
Cool on the counter until room temperature. Chill in the fridge for about an hour.
Set parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Remove ganache from fridge. It should be solid enough that you can roll into balls, about 1″-1.5″ thick. Place on the cookie sheet and chill for another hour.
Melt the remaining chocolate over a double boiler. If you want to get fancy, learn how to temper chocolate. But I’m guessing you either already know how or can’t be bothered. Break the center two tines of the plastic fork and use this to dip the truffles in the melted chocolate. Place them back on the cookie sheet and cool at room-temperature until chocolate hardens, or if you’re lazy and impatient, in the fridge.
Makes 12 truffles which won’t last long enough for you to take a picture.