Duck Tails (Woo-Hoo)!

I have wanted to cook a duck for a very, very long time. In fact last holiday season I found one in the frozen poultry section of my local supermarket and I bought one. And I stuck it in the freezer and it sat there…under frozen pizzas…and frozen taquitos…and popsicles until this weekend, when I gathered the gumption and nerve to cook that bad mallard.

The first thing that surprised me was the nice thick layer of fat that ducks have under their skin. I knew this caused a problem in duck cookery as said fat tended to melt fall and then burn in the cooking process producing much smoke. The suppliers of my duck had been nice enough however to slice the skin open and cut into the duck fat in certain areas enough to allow for fat drainage.

Now I had read of certain applications where you boiled the duck first to rid it of its fat before crisping it in the oven. I thought of this, but then I thought it increased the amount of pans needed and I would hate to lose flavor form boiling my duck. Sounded like an awfully English/Irish way of cooking my fowl. And I thought I could do better.

Due to the outer layer of fat on the duck I knew there wasn’t going to be much need for lubing or basting it also presented limited options for seasoning. I went with a straight forward liberal sprinkling of kosher salt and pepper all other the thing. I decided to keep it simple as this was my first experience.

After prepping, I then placed the duck on a roasting rack in a roasting pan. Set into a preheated 375 degree oven and cook for 20 minutes per pound, in my case two hours.

I was left with a delicious bird with tasty moist meat, and a pan full of drippings.

The fat of the bird literally melted off into the pan, causing some smells of smoke at first, but eventually a lovely pool of fat formed that sizzled away any drips of juice from the bird.

I served the duck with some basmati rice, keeping it simply. A duck is basically all dark meat so the meat from the leg was as tasty as the meat from the breast. And I tried not to overcook as I always heard overcooking duck is bad. The cooking directions on the bag the duck came in said 22 minutes per pound. I shortened it a little bit and just made sure to check with a thermometer before serving. Juices were clear so I was in the clear. After dinner I got as much meat off as I could so that I can make duck tacos later…..should be yummy.

I plant to cook duck again, and hopefully get a little more creative too. Also my big plans a goose, during Christmas!

The Future of Movies at Home

I believe I have seen the future of movies at home and thy name is Netflix streaming.

I have an Xbox 360 at home hooked up to my big television in the family room of the apartment. I also have a Netflix subscription which Amy and I share. A wonderful feature that Netflix offers for free to subscribers, who happen to have an Xbox 360 with an Xbox Live Gold Account, is you can receive free streaming of a pretty good selection of movies.

As long as you have a high speed internet connection you can watch movies for free in quite good resolution right on your TV at no extra cost. Now the picture is not quite as good as regular cable/satellite or DVD but it is pretty darn close. Now I know companies like AT&T and cable companies have been offering on-demand movies for quite a while, but the way Netflix in my opinion has a much better user interface, and a larger selection of movies. What makes me curious is what dictates which movies get to be streamed and which ones don’t? Not all of the biggest movies make it to streaming but some do. But a lot of classic old movies do get out there, which is great.

In particular Amy and I were looking for a move to watch Halloween night. We figured a good Hitchcock thriller would nice. I was going to get one from Netflix, only I come to find out that a good majority of the Hitchcock movies are already available for streaming. So we will have quite a nice selection available come Saturday night.

I guess it all comes down to the fact that digital distribution/streaming is the future of the way we will watch movies at home. I would assume that by 2020, DVD/Blu-Ray may have already become a thing of the past. And everything will be either downloaded or streamed direct to us. The key obstacle will be portability. I have paid for this movie once to download and watch it at home. But now I want to take it with me on a trip, with a DVD that is easy, just take the disc. But with digital content it is not so easy. Supposedly Disney is trying to address this with a system of licenses, but I will believe it when I see it. Till then I have to choose between Marnie, The Trouble with Harry and Frenzy.

{Music Review} Lost At Sea by The Squirrel Nut Zippers

A Great Comeback Album for the Zippers!

It has been over nine years since the Squirrel Nut Zippers (SNZ) have released a new album and seven years since they released their greatest hits compilation. Thankfully I can say that after such a long wait this live album has made the wait worth it.

This CD takes you on a 17 track odyssey of a rollicking live performance by the reformed Zippers in Brooklyn, NY last year (2008). The track list comprises a veritable greatest hits list of the SNZ covering all of the favorites, and the occasional hidden gem.

Jimbo Mathus takes the role of lead vocals and Master of Ceremonies in the majority of the songs. His lead guitar also provides a driving energy for the band. Katharine Whalen also returns with providing her Billie Holiday-esque female vocals to the appropriate songs.

The band sounds just as tight and fun as you would remember them, sadly however former Zipper Tom Maxwell continues to be missing from this iteration of the band and I found his absence noticeable. The lyrics that were originally sung by him just don’t quite seem the same when performed either by Jimbo or Kathleen. I find this my only fault with the album, and it is the one thing that keeps me from giving five stars.

If you have been a fan of the Zippers in the past, and remember them for their fun music and great energy, I am sure this album will not disappoint you.

{Music Review} “Miss Smith To You!’ by Lavay Smith

Lavay Smith is sadly a rarity today. You will be very hard pressed to find another singer of her caliber anywhere. She brings you back to the day of Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald, when clubs and concert halls where filled when a songstress, backed by a big band could take a song and real make it her own and make you feel it, make you want to get up and dance to it, be it slow of fast.

“Miss Smith To You!” is Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet-Lickers third album, and it matches if not surpasses previous the previous efforts with a great selection of songs, superb performances, and quality production. The songs range from slow ballads to medium tempo swings. Through it all Miss Smith is able to show off her voice and personality.

So in conclusion, if this is a style of music you enjoy (Big Band/Vocal Jazz), I do not think this album will disappoint you. It has a great selection of classic songs, the music of a talented group of musicians and the voice of one of the few who can really pull it off. To me this album really is a complete package, and I hope you can enjoy it as much as I have.

{Book Review} Drop Like Stars by Rob Bell

A different book with different ideas

Before getting this book I was really surprised by many of the comments and reviews I had read about it. It seemed like people were completely surprised by what this book was, what it contained and what it was about. It seemed like people didn’t research or read the product description of the book before purchasing it, or that they expected something completely normal from Rob Bell.

For me, this book met my expectations and really presented some ideas that made me think. First, this is not a small little hardback book like Rob’s previous works (Velvet Elvis, Sex God, and Jesus Wants to Save Christians). This is a larger hardback, 12 inch by 10 inch; basically the size of a good coffee table book. True to what others have said the book does not contain a ton of writing but rather is full of colored pages and photos/portraits of objects and scenes. The writing is interspersed in the same parsed style of short sentences and fragments that are Rob Bell’s style. As far as the book and artwork go they are quite nice and do a good job of helping Rob make his points, but everything is in a matte finish, I feel the book could have benefitted from glossy sheets, but I can only guess that would have raised the price of the book significantly. Oh and no, you can’t read through this book in 10 minutes as I have read some people say. If you work your way through this book in ten minutes you miss the point and I recommend you return the book, because you will get nothing more out of it.

As far as content goes, I think Rob came up with the idea of this being an “Art Book” hence the chapter’s titles: “The Art of Disruption”, “The Art of Honesty”, “The Art of the Ache”, “The Art of Solidarity”, “The Art of Elimination” and “The Art of Failure”. And I think by reading those chapter titles you can get an idea of where Rob is taking the reader. And an interesting note the table of contents is at the rear of the book rather than the front, an interesting idea that gets the reader right into the book without any presuppositions.

Overall I found the book to be thought provoking and it made me think about subjects like disruption, ache, and failure in ways I had not before. This book doesn’t delve into deep theology, hermeneutics, or psychology but rather it explores what it means to be human and what we all experience. I benefited from reading this book and I pray you may too.

{Book Review} Pax Romana by Jonathan Hickman

Very Fun & Interesting Read, Disappointingly Short

I took up this graphic novel at the recommendation of Blair Butler. And I am happy to report I was not disappointed. The pages contain an original story, compelling artwork, and a tale filled with interesting characters. My only complaint was that I found it painfully short. I finished it in a few hours and I was left desperately wanting more. But in the grand scheme of things, I suppose that is a good thing. Better to be left wanting more at the end of the story then to be sick of it and just want it to be over.

Most likely you already know the basics of the story, in the future the Catholic Church funds research and discovers time travel and decides to send a force of people back in time to right the wrongs of the church and other. Hilarious high jinks and frivolity ensue….okay not really, but we do get an interesting at an alternate history and how the human condition shapes the destiny of man. In between wonderfully composed panels you have the occasional page or two of written transcript that is used to reveal characters motivations and feelings in long form, but fear not, for even that read is quite fascinating.

So if you are look for a remarkable story that will get you thinking and you don’t mind a concise (If not short) telling of that story then I believe you will thoroughly enjoy this book, as did I. After this introduction to Jonathan Hickman I plan to read his other works very soon.

{Book Review} A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

Feels like It Was Thrown Together

This book that I just finished reading wasn’t originally what Donald Miller had in mind when he started writing his new book. However while in the process of penning his new book things weren’t working out, he went to his publishers told them that and what we got was “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”.

Now don’t get me wrong I really enjoy Donald Miller. I like the fact he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Most of the time his essay style works quite well and makes for easy reading and he can be quite funny. He has good observations and he really can speak to the Millennials of this generation. But, I just feel like this book was thrown together.

This book is organized in Miller’s typical essay form. And centers on few central topics: The writing of script for the movie “Blue Like Jazz”; the idea of story, what makes a good story ,and the fact we are all living stories and should try to live good ones; and the Donald dealing with his issues with his Father who was missing from his life. In between these central topic s he peppers various essays about different topics and relates them to his “Story” and how he is trying to live a great “Story”.

I did like the book, I don’t feel bad that I read it, Don is still a heck of a writer, but I just felt like this book was all over the place and that the theme he used to hold it together “Story” was rather week. Also Miller would jump from one essay where he would be joking and not taking himself seriously at all and then move into a subject that you could tell he really cared about and it just didn’t flow well. So while this is an enjoyable read it is not one of Miller’s best and I really think he can do better, and I just think he kind of had to force this one out, and you can tell he did.

{Product Review} Logitech Wireless Desktop MK 300

The Logitech Wireless Desktop MK 300 appears to be another quality product from Logitech at a relatively good price.

The keyboard has all the basic functions you would need and expect plus a few programmable keys. One thing the keyboard does not have though is lights for things like caps lock or num lock. I realize this is to save battery power, but it is a minor annoyance as most word processors tell you things like this on the screen.

The keyboard is also pretty thin and relatively quiet, both of which are nice. The response to the keyboard is also very fast. Every now and then I think I catch it sleeping and it takes an extra half second to connect to the computer and follow my commands, but other than that it always seems ready to go.

The mouse is optical and feels like any standard mouse, it uses an invisible laser so no worries about children burning out there retinas by staring at the mouse. There is a small switch underneath the mouse to turn it off and on; which makes sense to have, for battery saving issues. Both keyboard and mouse take two battery’s each and have lasted over a month of moderate usage, Logitech I believe says they should last 8 weeks, so that fits.

There is a USB based antenna you do have to plug in. It has a decent length (3+ feet) cord and a little button on the end for when you initially sync everything up to the computer. You do need to install Logitech’s software to make it all work it is not plug and play. I didn’t have any problems with installation or software. And as far as range goes I have gotten up to 25 feet without any problems, but your mileage may vary, do you apartment/house construction materials and what not.

So in conclusion if you are looking for a budget priced wireless keyboard and mouse with decent to good performance then I think you will enjoy this setup.

{Music Review} Here with Me by Holly Williams

Great Voice, Unimpressive songs.

The album “Here with Me” is my first exposure to the country music artist Holly Williams. I was surprised to find out she is the granddaughter of Hank Williams, daughter of Hank Williams Jr, and half sister of Hank III.

On first exposure it is clear she has a really great voice, very similar to Faith Hill, although not quite as bright, but with more depth. In terms of the musical style the album is comprised of typical light country, it could almost pass for pop in most cases if it weren’t for the slide/steel guitars in the background. The music could be similar to a Shania Twain album in that with a different backing band it could pass for regular old pop music.

The songs themselves were nothing special; the two songs that stand out have already been released as country music singles “Mama” and “Keep the Change”. On the whole the songs range from slow ballads to average mid-tempo songs, but nothing stood out to me or had a hook that impressed me and made me want to listen to a song again and again.

Holly Williams obviously has a great voice, an even better pedigree, a good backing band and nice production values, but this album failed to “Wow” or excite me in any way. I finished listening unimpressed, perhaps you will enjoy it more than me?

Honda Fit 2008-2009 R.I.P.