The ’80s Pin Project: Katrina and the Waves

For an explanation of the 1980s Pin Project, go here.

There were plenty of female, pop-oriented performers who staked a claim on the 1980s music scene. Madonna is, of course, the biggie, the trailblazer, the trendsetter. Lots of pretty, blonde-ish, mostly forgettable singers danced along in Madge’s footsteps, ones like Stacey Q and Taylor Dayne. There was the sugar-sweet teen bop of Tiffany and Debbie Gibson, and infectious bubble gum from bands like The Go-Gos and The Bangles. Every one of these musicians were fun and dance-friendly, but (with the possible exception of The Bangles, and of course La Madge) suffered for the want of an individual musical fingerprint. 

I hate to sound like I’m being mean to The Go-Gos–God knows I enjoy “Our Lips Are Sealed” as much as the next guy–but they hardly broke new ground. And I feel for Debbie Gibson, because she seems like a nice person and I think she really tries in her music. But. Ahem. I digress.

In the midst of the vast array of ’80s-era, shellacked-hair and fishnets-bedecked chick pop, Katrina and the Waves came on the scene. What? Who? Driving drums? Great guitar hooks? Punchy horns? Where in the hell did this fit in?

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RAWK!

Fronted by American-born Army brat Katrina Leskanich, Katrina and the Waves were a UK-based power pop band whose self-titled US debut album was full of well-crafted songs and Katrina’s soaringly huge voice. Was the album dance-able? Sure. But their music also flat-out rocked. Imagine if you took Joan Jett‘s energy and party-ready attitude and and stuck it in a blender with Southside Johnny, the frontman for New Jersey’s greatest rock & roll bar band ever, and then threw in some serious high-fives for good measure.

That? Hell yeah! That’s what I’m talking about.

I ~~~loved~~~ Katrina and the Waves’s first album. The fact is, I still do. I think it’s strong and holds up against time and changing musical sensibilities. And there wasn’t really anyone else doing pure, good-time rock and roll with a strong female taking the lead. At least, not like Katrina & Co., and not like the rock-pop fusion they put out on their debut album. There was Lone Justice, I suppose, though they were more country-folk-rock. The Pretenders clung to their punk roots; believe me, I’m not saying that’s bad. I’m just saying Katrina’s sound was different. As for performers like Pat Benatar…full disclosure. Pat Benatar has always been a little too strident for my liking. I wish her well, as I appreciate what she’s done, but if I never hear another Pat Benatar song again my life will be just fine.

I saw Katrina and the Waves way back in the day, opening for Don Henley at the Garden State Arts Center. (Yes, I saw an inordinate amount of shows at the GSAC. Moving on.) For those of you who know my reactionary dislike of The Eagles and might be surprised that I would go and see their drummer’s solo concert, let me explain: I had not yet worked in bars enough to have heard everything off The Eagles’ Greatest Hits, over and over again, sung loudly and off-key, late at night, by a thousand different patrons, from New Jersey to Boston, to Texas, and back again. Simply put, I hadn’t been taken to my Eagles limit. And I still stand behind Henley’s solo work. But it’s true, these days, I am like The Dude from The Big Lebowski.

It’s unfortunate that Katrina’s follow-up album bombed and the band sort of disappeared off the US music scene after that. I still have a copy of the second album–I think I kept it out of first-album loyalty–but I haven’t listened to it in years. They are not the first band ever to fall victim to the sophomore slump.

Is it possible that the song “Walking on Sunshine” has been out for thirty years? And that I’ve had this pin for thirty years? And that I’m…and yet, I remain 29, I’m not sure how that works. Good lord, time has a way of moving past a person, doesn’t it?

Anyway. Here is Katrina and the Waves, and the glorious “Walking on Sunshine”. I defy you all not to get up and dance.

See you at the next pin!

 

The ’80s Pin Project: The Alarm

For an explanation of what the Pin Project is, go here.

There was a crop of bands that sprang up in the 1980s that came to public interest because they were sort of like U2-2. Scotland’s Simple Minds was one of those bands, with a similar sort of ethereal guitar sound and moody lyrics. Midnight Oil were U2’s Aussie, equally strident counterpart. And there was Welsh band The Alarm

…oh, The Alarm…

I loved em, spiky hair and all.

I loved them so, spiky hair and all.

They were earnest and had harmonicas and found some great guitar hooks. And hey, they wrote a song about the Stephen King book The Standso they liked to read (because really, that book is enormously long) and that’s cool, dig?

Side note: I have read The Stand twice and thoroughly enjoyed it…mostly. The scene where the band of survivors escapes Manhattan Island, which has had its bridges blown and is cut off from the mainland, via the pitch black Lincoln Tunnel is one of the scariest scenes I’ve ever read. But GOD I hate how that book ends. And I digress.

The Alarm was one of those bands that were always on the edge of being The Next Big Thing. They opened for U2 (further cementing their “one of these things sounds like the other” reputation); they opened for Bob Dylan at the Garden State Arts Center (which is when I saw them). But then they sort of faded away, apparently the victim of creative struggles, lackluster support from their label, and some deeply personal misfortunes. It didn’t take long for The Alarm to end up on the “Where Are They Now?” pile. It’s sad when it happens, but unless you’re The Rolling Stones…it happens.

Note to the good people who administer The Alarm’s web archives: the Garden State Arts Center (now PNC Bank Arts Center) is in Holmdel, not Holmdale. Get on that when you can, ‘k?

Yes, mystified friends who know me, I went to a Bob Dylan concert. But The Alarm was opening! And it was such an odd double-bill that I had to go.

I have a fairly high nostalgia threshhold for The Alarm and their music, which still makes me want to fist-pump my righteous indignation, though I am afraid the music doesn’t hold up as well as I’d hoped. It feels so very…1980s. And a lot of their stuff wants for real dynamic movement. Like, The Alarm only plays at one volume, and that’s loud and ooh-ah-ah jangly. And strident. And not a little bombastic. Which can be exhausting. I mean, U2 cut their teeth on songs of political protest but even Bono and Co. manage to work in a song about a tortured relationship, every now and again.

Here’s The Alarm at their most U2-iest.

Check out those vocals! If Hogwarts [was real and] offered a class in vocally mimicking Bono, Mike Peters and The Alarm would have been at the top of the class. It’s impressive. A little unsettling, maybe, but impressive nonetheless. For reasons like this very song, The Alarm is impossible for me to discuss without invoking U2. Of course, if you’ve got reasons why I should rethink this, I’m willing to learn.

Enjoy the music! I’d love to hear any stories you’ve got about The Alarm.

See you with the next pin. XOXO

Nosh: Salad with Grilled Asparagus, Potatoes, and Lemon-Caper Vinaigrette

I love summertime salads. Great big salads, accented with all sorts of lovely, yummy, seasonal things.

Though I confess, as I sit here eating leftover salad for breakfast, that maybe I am a tad overly fond of the greens. Eh. There are worse things I could do.

So I wanted a salad, and I had a hankering for lemon-caper something. But, I also wanted asparagus and potatoes, because I like to eat those things and I am a simple creature bent on satisfying my wants. Here’s how it all went down.

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1/4 teaspoon of herbes de Provence or tarragon
  • 1.5-2 pounds Yukon Gold (OR red OR new) potatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary (crushed)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh chives, chopped

For the dressing

  • 2 Tablespoons capers
  • 1 Tablespoon shallot (or mild onion), minced
  • Juice and zest from one lemon
  • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1/4-1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar (OR white wine vinegar OR champagne vinegar)
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 (ish) cup olive oil

Salad, prepared however you prefer

A few rounds of thick pita bread, for serving

The hardest ingredient to work with in this recipe is the potatoes because they have to be boiled first. I chose Yukon Golds for this because…well, because I like how they taste, and because I think their waxy texture holds up better to  a double-cooking process than floury russet potatoes. Take smallish whole potatoes, or cut them so they are halved and roughly the same size (but do not slice or dice yet). You can peel them if you’d like. I didn’t bother. Boil them until they are fork-tender. They can be a little underdone when you decide to drain them, as they’re going to cook further on the grill. But they should be at the very least, nearly done. Set aside to cool.

While the potatoes are boiling, prep the asparagus. Snap off the woody ends (no knife required! Just bend a stalk and it will naturally break at the spot where tender stalk meets tougher bottom) and put in a mixing bowl. Toss with oil, salt, pepper, and the seasoning of your choice. I like herbes de Provence, with its mix of herbs and fragrant hint of lavender.

Springtime veggies make me so happy.

Springtime veggies make me so happy.

Set these aside, and make your dressing.

Get a big container–a nice big soup bowl with a lid, or a Ball jar that you can close and shake. Spoon capers into a strainer and rinse. Assemble ingredients.

Fact: I haven't purchased salad dressing for my home in years.

Fact: I haven’t purchased salad dressing for my home in years.

Remember to zest your lemon before you juice it. And the capers are going to get minced, too. Chop everything that needs to be chopped (including parsley, strangely absent from this picture), and dump it all in the mixing container. Add in honey, thyme, mustard, and lemon juice. Add the white balsamic vinegar into the mix. If you want a thicker dressing, add less vinegar. If you’d like it thinner, add a little more. Black pepper goes in now, too, and I use kind of a lot of it in here; using my pepper mill, I probably added ten turns of the grinder. Add according to your taste. But be careful with salt! Even though you’ve rinsed the capers they’ve been pickled in brine and can still be salty. Taste your dressing first before you add any extra salt, and do that at the end, after everything else has been mixed in.

Whisk in oil until it’s fully incorporated. I generally like to have an almost even proportion of oil to vinegar, so if you’ve got a half-cup of vinegar, look to add roughly that much oil. Taste, and adjust. Does it need salt? More pepper? A dash more honey or another hit of mustard? This dressing should be savory and lemony and a little bit sweet, with a refreshing, green bite from the capers. When you’re satisfied, set it aside.

Heat your grill/grill pan. I used the double-griller that stretches across two burners on my stove but of course, this can also go outside. Get it ready to go at a medium/medium-high heat.

Take cooled potatoes and slice them into half-inch (or thicker) slices. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary.

It was hard for me to not eat these as-is. But hold on! They get even better.

It was hard for me to not eat these as-is. But hold on! They get even better.

When the grill is hot, put the asparagus and potatoes on the burners, then let ’em go. The asparagus will cook much more quickly than the potatoes so don’t wander too far off while they’re cooking. Also, I had to cook in batches for purposes of space. That’s the beauty of salads. If the food gets a little cool…so what?

While the potatoes and asparagus are grilling, make your salad. I had feta cheese so we made sort-of a Greek salad, but really. Make whatever kind of salad you’d like. 

Turn the asparagus at least once to ensure even cooking, and if the stalks are thin they should be done in five minutes.  Put on a serving platter and drizzle with some lemon-caper vinaigrette.

Yeah. It was as good as it looks.

Yeah. It was as good as it looks.

The potatoes will take a little longer–flip them when you take the asparagus off the grill. They get all texturally fun, though, as the inside stays soft and potato-y while the outside crisps up from the grill. When they’re done, toss with chives et voila! In a serving bowl.

Does it get better than this?

Does it get better than this?

Grill the pita bread.

Really. You’ll thank me for it. You’ll only need like two minutes per side and the flavor gets beautifully deep and surprising. I mean, it’s pita, right? But oh, what an effect the grill has on it.

Yum. YUM.

Yum. YUM.

Cut the pita into quarters when it’s done.

Gather everything together and bring it out onto your fantastic, aesthetically pleasing back porch, which you have just freed from all its winter grime.

Feast.

Feast.

This? Is the way to eat a summertime salad. But if you don’t have the back porch, don’t let that stop you! This would taste great if you were seated at a little kitchen table with a single candle burning in the middle for a soft glow, or spread out on a blanket on the floor of your living room while the rain fell outside. 

Ha! Now I need to remember to make this again for an indoor picnic. 

Whatever, so long as I get to eat it again.

I hope you enjoy! 

Nosh: Grilled Fennel with Orange and Parsley

Ahhh, the weather is warming up! Birds are singing, flowers are blooming, and spring is springing itself all over the place. This breezy, glorious weather also beckons us outside, making us think of back yard parties and long candle-lit summer nights with friends, after a feast that you’ve grilled outdoors. With this in mind, I’m offering up grilled fennel with orange and parsley. It’s one of my favorite grilled sides, one that’s easy and quick, and takes almost no skill to execute successfully. 

Ironically, I am not an outdoorsy girl (mosquitos love me) and I grill inside. Eh. Whatever works. (And, bonus! I do this all through the winter.) If you love to grill your food then invest in a grill pan; you won’t regret it. To the grilling purists who are apoplectic at the thought of taking it indoors, I apologize if I hurt your heart. But it won’t change me. Moving on.

I love the savory twist that comes from a fresh fennel plant. Yes, the seeds are pungent and taste of licorice. When fennel is raw the sharp licorice taste remains. Once it starts to cook, the flavor mellows into a sort of caramel-crisp-crunchy, mildly-anise-y flavor bomb that moves into your brain as one of those, “Oh, man, I don’t know when I’ve had this but I know I’ve always liked it!” sort of taste memories. There is much to love about a good bulb of fennel. And you can use all of it, bulb, stem and leaf, so none of it goes to waste. Extra-fun!

When you do cook it, bear in mind that one bulb will produce a tremendous amount of food. I’ve never needed more than one bulb when I cook for two people, and we always have leftovers. If you’re cooking for four, you might need to add in another bulb, but if there’s only two people to feed…here’s what I used:

  • 1 fresh fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary (or other favorite herb)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 1 Tablespoon orange zest
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley

Put a grill pan on your stovetop and turn the burners on (or heat your grill) so it will be ready and waiting for the fennel. You’ll want it to get kind of hot, so a medium-to-medium-high heat will do nicely.

If any of the outside leaves of the fennel look gnarly or damaged, peel them off and throw them away. Cut fennel stalks and fronds off the bulb and save them for another use (think garnishes, or soup stocks). Cut the fennel bulb in half. You could cut the core out if you’d prefer. I usually cut the core because it’s a little tougher than the rest of the fennel, but if you don’t feel like it, it’s not a big deal. You’ll be cutting thin slices, it will all cook. Cut fennel into nice narrow strips and toss in a mixing bowl. Then add in rosemary, salt, pepper, and oil. Give it a stir.

Isn't it gorgeous?

Isn’t it gorgeous?

Turn fennel on to your waiting, heated grill pan. If you have a single-burner pan (like the one I used here) you may have to cook the fennel in two batches. Like I said, one bulb can provide an enormous amount of food; and you really need to provide food with adequate room to cook in. It’s OK. The fennel is nice and thin, so even if you have to split the batch it won’t take long.

Give it room. Show it love. Or, use a larger grilling surface if you're in a hurry.

Give it room. Show it love. Or, use a larger grilling surface–an outdoor grill, or a double-burner grill pan– if you’re in a hurry.

Leave the fennel strips alone for a few minutes. While they cook you can zest your orange and clean and chop the parsley. Give the fennel a stir on the grill after they’ve been browning for a few minutes. If they’ve been on your grill for five minutes and haven’t started to brown yet, then turn up the heat because your pan isn’t hot enough. Once they’ve gotten that lovely, grill-specific, brown-in-some-places-kind-of-charred-in-others look, and are soft and mellow (yet savory and still pleasantly crunchy), put it back in the mixing bowl. Add in orange zest and parsley.

Really. All there is to it.

Really. All there is to it.

Combine all ingredients. Taste a piece and decide if you need to adjust for more seasonings. More salt? Pepper? Nothing? Something? Ready? FEAST!

We served this with some ravioli and a side salad, but this could go with anything. With burgers. ON burgers. With grilled chicken, or crepes, or as a fruity and refreshing counter to a rich pulled pork. It’s such a simple side with readily-available ingredients, and it’s so easy to make. 

Plus, it looks great. Helloooo, you sexy dish.

Plus, it looks great. Helloooo, you sexy dish.

Don’t let the licorice-y reputation of fennel turn you off. When cooked, fennel offers an entirely different taste experience. Give it a shot! Explore your produce department. You never know what kind of new favorite thing you might encounter along the way.

Enjoy!

The ’80s Pin Project: Special Guest Mother’s Day Pin

For an explanation of what the Pin Project is, go here.

When I started working on the Pin Project, it jump-started a fun little conversation between me and my friends and family about pins that we had, or have, and what they may have meant to us at the time we bought them. My sister mentioned having a “Shut Up and Dance” pin (which I may also have but you know…I don’t know. Time will tell!), and a friend reminisced about how she, too, used her pins to go up one side of her purse strap and down the other. Because we’re cool like that, right? 

Then my mother–my adorable Mom-o-rama–said, “You know, I have a pin like the ones you’re posting. Your aunt sent it to me while I was in the hospital.” When I visited her recently, she’d already dug this pin out of her memento box and had it sitting front-and-center on the dining room table. Bright yellow pin, dark wood table, bright sunlight. I couldn’t have missed it even if I wanted to.

Truth.

Truth.

There’s an inescapable poignancy to this pin. Because the fact of the matter is: she has survived damn near everything.

Cancer. Survived.

Heart attack. Survived.

Broken neck (what? Really!): Survived. (That’s when this pin came on the scene.)

My father’s long, slow decline thanks to Parkinson’s disease: Survived (and, she even managed his care while healing from said broken neck).

When she was in the rehab facility, early on in her neck recovery, my mother (obviously) wasn’t allowed to smoke. And she had been a smoker for decades. After her release from the hospital, Mom continued with her campaign of not-smoking, which kind of surprised me because nothing else had deterred her before. I said, “I’m glad you quit, but why now? I mean, you had cancer, you didn’t quit smoking. You had a heart attack, you didn’t quit smoking. But a broken neck makes you quit? Why?”

Gesturing into the air, my mother shrugged her shoulders and said, “Eh…I feel like I’m using up too many of my lives.” 

Did I mention, she’s funny?

My mother is an inspiration for what to do when you feel like life is kicking you in the ass. Because what the hell else are you going to do? Give in? Or get back up and keep living?

Me and la Mom.

Me and la Mom.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Thanks for setting the standard.

XOXO

The ’80s Pin Project: Brainstorm

For an explanation of what the Pin Project is, go here.

Despite the idea that punning is the lowest form of wit (attributable to every author ever in the Western literary tradition) I apparently have a long-standing weakness for visual puns. Verbal ones, not as much, but a cartoon? I’m so there.

So my random pull from my bag-o-pins and this week’s entry in my ongoing examination of things I’ve inexplicably kept with me since my youth, is:

Oh, the weather outside is frightful...

Oh, the weather outside is frightful…

I thought it was hilarious then. I still think it’s funny now. What can I say? It’s a crap joke, but oh, how it works. The lightning! The bouncing brains! The fisherman’s cap! And kudos to the star of this pin, for his preparedness in the face of inclement weather. The slight smile shows he’s hardly phased by brains falling at his feet, either. 

I don’t know if that’s a trait that’s scary or worthy of emulating. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

What does this pin say about a person? It says: I want to be smart and glib, and I am cutting my comedy teeth. Check on me in ten years.

I never said my pins made me social.

Of course, I just remembered the 1983 movie Brainstorm, a techno-sci-fi-government-covert-ops thriller starring Natalie Wood and a creepily-laughing Christopher Walken. (Is that sentence redundant?) It was Natalie Wood’s last movie, filmed two years before her untimely and, somehow, still scandalous death.

Adding this baby to my Netflix queue. Bring on the sci-fi cheese!

BONUS! I just discovered that the artist who drew this pin is John Lamb, who is also an animator and film producer, and did the 1979 animated Tom Waits short, “Tom Waits for No One“. Check it out:

Well. There’s an unexpected yet fun fact for the day. Stay tuned! Who knows what next week’s pin will turn up?

Nosh: Super-Garlicky Mashed Potatoes (Sort-Of Skordalia)

Hi all! I know my food writing hasn’t been happening much. So much of my time has been taken up teaching Zumba and getting certified to teach Body Combat…and baking cookies…and blah blah blah…that I haven’t spent nearly as much time in the kitchen as I would have liked. Thank goodness for George. Well, thank goodness for him for many reasons; among those is the fact that he’s a great cook and has picked up my kitchen slack without complaint, keeping me fed and watered and healthy.

Today’s recipe is a take on skordalia, a classic Greek appetizer/dip/sauce made of garlic and potatoes. I can’t remember the first place I’d ever even heard of skordalia, though I suspect it was somewhere in Toronto’s Greektown. (Side note: if you go to Toronto, GO TO GREEKTOWN. Because yum! And fun. And why not? I digress.) What is this thing, I thought to myself, as I looked at the fragrant dish before me. This rich, super-garlicky, potato-tastic thing, that gives me so much joy to eat? Why have I not heard of it before? And why am I not eating more of it?

It’s that sort of moment that forces me to take a situation into my own hands. Now, I readily admit that this is in no way a traditional, dippable, sauce-able skordalia recipe, and I don’t want to infuriate the Greek community by trying to claim otherwise. Rather, I took the ingredients and now enjoy sort-of skordalia as beautiful, smooth, super-garlicky mashed potatoes, ones that are totally vegan.

Vegan? Mashed potatoes? That are rich and creamy and mooshy and delicious? Yes, way! You’ll need:

  • 2-ish pounds of your favorite mashing potato (I favor Yukon golds, but it’s your call)
  • 5 or 6 or 8 cloves of garlic. As much as you can stand, really. Peeled and smashed.
  • A good, flavorful extra-virgin olive oil. Amount is dependent on the texture you want
  • 1/2 tsp (ish) dried rosemary, or thyme, or your favorite herb
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Chopped parsley, or chives, for garnish
  • Note: traditionally, skordalia involves mixing in lemon juice too. I don’t care for it, but if you want to try it, go for it!

Wash and peel your potatoes, and chop them into 1-inch (or so) cubes. Smash and peel garlic. Put them all in a big pot and cover with water.

Notice the big clove of garlic, front and center.

Notice the big clove of garlic, front and center.

Make sure the pot you use is big enough to accommodate everything. Food needs adequate space to cook in. The starch from the potatoes will foam in the pot; if you don’t allow enough room for that then you’ll spend much of your time cleaning up foam overspill on your stove. Let the potatoes and garlic come to a boil and cook for 15 or 20 minutes, until the potatoes are fork tender. Before draining, reserve about a cup’s worth of the starchy, potato-y boiling water. Then drain, and put the potatoes and garlic back in the pot you boiled them in, and have at them with a masher.

Could these ingredients be any simpler?

Could these ingredients be any simpler?

As you begin mashing the potatoes and garlic (yes, all together), start incorporating the other ingredients. Add some salt and pepper and rosemary right away, so the hot potatoes can soak up all that good flavor. Then add in the starchy water and olive oil incrementally. Mash, and test for texture and taste. And mash, and add some more pepper and rosemary if necessary, and test again, until you’re happy with the flavor and have all the lumps out. You’ll be amazed by how successfully the water and oil come together to form a deceptively creamy potato mash.  When you’re ready, give the potatoes a whip.

Whip it good.

Whip it good.

Whip the potatoes until they’re pillowy. They were so soft and pliable I didn’t even need the electric blender, which remained in its box, unopened and forlorn.

Then spoon the potatoes out into a lovely serving bowl and top with a little additional olive oil and your garnish of choice. This dish is ridiculously versatile and goes with anything you’d normally eat with traditional mashed potatoes, whether it’s at a backyard summer party or at the holiday table.

I'm going to go and have some right now.

I’m going to go and have some right now.

Plus, they taste even better the next day.

Now, I know as well as anybody that it’s hard to compete with a buttery, creamy batch of mashed potatoes, and when I was in the throes of my picky-kid eating stage, traditional mashed potatoes were one of the few things I would eat without complaint. I still adore them. But this version, with loads of garlic flavor and zero dairy, is an incredibly satisfying alternative.

Give ’em a shot! Let me know what you think. Happy cooking!

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