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Banjo Practice – Lady on the Green into Devilish Mary

This is me trying to play two ‘A’ tunes strung together: Lady (or is it Ladies) on the Green and Devilish Mary. I learned them both recently at Midwest Banjo Camp from Cathy Barton Para. One of the things that happens after banjo camp is I have all kinds of new tunes and new approaches to work on and I want to get as much of it crammed into my wee brain as I can before I forget it, so I end up playing a lot of banjo.

The other evening I was sitting out on the bench in front of our house, frailing away. I was working on Ladies on the Green but somehow or another I got mixed up and found myself playing Devilish Mary. They sounded like they belonged together so I started playing them that way, since there are no rules.

I’m playing my Dogwood banjo tuned up to A.

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Chicken and Rice, oh so nice


It seems that most cultures  have some kind of super-delicious chicken and rice dish. I enjoy making one-pot dinners and I like braises in general, so from time to time I make some version of chicken and rice.

The photo actually shows a day 2 left-over lunch. I made this one with chicken thighs and drumsticks with the bones in, but for leftovers, I removed the chicken from the bone for quick and easy re-heating in a fry pan (just add a splash of water, turn on the heat and stir it around until it’s perfect).

I often don’t follow recipes and cook with what I have on-hand. The other day I did purchase some shiitake mushrooms and green olives, actually planning ahead a wee bit. I also used sweet and hot peppers, carrots, cumin, sweet paprika and dried oregano. I guess with the olives it kind of approximates an Arroz con Pollo type dinner.

I make most braises in a Dutch oven, but sometimes I use a tagine instead. I know there are lots of folks who prefer to use a slow cooker for convenience but not me. In fact we had one at some point but I think we re-homed it at a garage sale a few years ago. In a Dutch oven, I can brown my chicken (or whatever), remove it, sautee up some onions until they start to caramelize, deglaze the pan, then add everything together with some cooking liquid. I then pop it in a 300F oven for cooking.

One of the things I like about making chicken and rice dishes compared to most braises is the shorter cooking time. After I add the rice (ordinary long grained rice is fine for this), some tomato paste and the cooking liquid, it’s ready in about 40 minutes.

For chicken and rice, I usually use a handy box of grocery store chicken stock as cooking liquid. Water is ok but not the best. Wine is fine. Beer is really good too. I’ve even used a shot of whiskey or liqueur. I’m all for trying some different things to see what works.

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Tomato update

As I’ve mentioned here before, our back yard simply doesn’t get enough sun for successful tomatoes. The front, however, looks more promising. This year, I have 5 plants growing in containers there, thanks to our friend Jennifer (The Fabulous Garden), who kindly gave me the young plants, which she started indoors.


It looks like the plants approve of the spot I have them in because they’ve been growing at an alarming rate and there are loads of blossoms. I had created some pyramid shaped wood structures to support the plants, especially once they are full of fruit and soon they will be enveloped.

Today, using the school of shaky carpentry no measurement system and some branches from some old shrubs out back, I extended the structure another couple feet up. These are indeterminate tomatoes and they will just keep on growing and fruiting. If the new and improved structure disappears in a sea of tomatoes, it will be quite a sight. I’m not sure what to do if that happens.

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King of the 9-String

How many guitar pickers seriously mess with their instrument? Normally I’d be safe in saying banjo players do a lot more of that kind of thing than guitar pickers. On a banjo you can adjust or change the head, adjust or change the tailpiece, try a different bridge, stuff the back of your instrument, or even put tape over the strings behind the bridge in an effort to modify the sound.

Big Joe Williams is one guitar player who wasn’t afraid to change things on his guitar. In fact he doubled up 3 strings and became known as the “king of the 9-string”. He was also known to add stuff to his amp to make a more percussive and rattling sound.

Williams was born in 1903 and passed in 1982, age 79. He was very well recorded with a career which spanned 4 decades. Many of his early sides were recorded with John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson on harmonica (that’s the first of the two Sonny Boy Williamsons…it was the second one who called himself the original). At one time I listened to most of those recordings and as I recall they were all excellent.

There was a time I listened to a lot of blues and Big Joe Willliams was among my faves. I love his rough and ready guitar attack.

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Life and Death over the board

The game of Go is all about surrounding territory and surrounding your opponent but sometimes the result of a whole game hinges on the status of a single group. Is it alive or is it dead?


In this game, I harassed a weak white group – the one in the bottom right quadrant of the board – poking at its eye shape. White ran his stones toward the centre, hoping to connect up with distant friends, but sadly for him, I was able to block any connection, leaving white with just one of the two eyes necessary to survive. My opponent could not achieve a living shape, connect to friends, nor launch a counter-attack. 19 stones were dead in the water and white had no alternative but to resign the game.

We played 7 games the other night. I won 3 and Vox won 4. Even though I was behind in wins, this kill was the highlight of the evening for me. Many times, when you attack an opponent’s group, there is profit to be made by forcing your opponent to live. Killing a group on a large scale can be very difficult and so attacking for profit is often the better strategy. In this case, everything fell into place for the huge kill.

Filed under: Go
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Adventures with Ruby and George

Today we visited the leash free park along Etobicoke Creek. For those wondering how to access it, go in from South Creek Rd, which runs south from Dundas St west of West Mall. It’s a great spot for dogs because they have lots of room to romp and swim and splash about in the water and chase other dogs. We had a great time.

The creek was high from all the rains but that didn’t stop the dogs from enjoying the water. They ran and played themselves silly.


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Tostones and Eggs at the Comfort Food Diner

WARNING: contains ridiculously delicious fried food.

I haven’t had fried plantain (tostones) in years, which is crazy because they’re fantastic. Today I was in the No Frills buying cat litter and a few other things, and when I swung by the veggies, they had some good looking plantains there. These ones had turned from green to yellow but didn’t yet have all the black sugar spots. The green ones are starchier and the super-ripe ones are sweeter. The ones at the No Frills were right in the middle of the scale. I bought one and decided to make myself tostones and eggs for lunch. Retired guys do that.


There are two things I can tell you about frying plantains. One is that even though many people deep fry the hell out of them in half an inch of oil, you don’t have to do that. I used about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. That’s it. The other thing I can tell you is that to make them super-fantastic, you fry them once, press them, then fry them again.

You can slice your plantain however you like. I cut mine on diagonals about half inch thick. You want your oil hot enough that when you touch a piece of plantain to the pan, you can see oil bubbles. Fry them for 30 seconds on each side, then take them out and put them on a paper towel covered plate.

If you made these things every day, you might want to have a tostone press in your kitchen, but I used a small pot and it worked just fine. One at a time, put a piece of once-fried plantain on a cutting board, cover it with the pot and press down. You don’t have to be Superman or Wonder Woman to do this. The pieces flatten out nicely with a little pressure.

Once you’ve got them all pressed (and this is no big deal, it took me under a minute), put the pressed pieces back into a hot pan. I think I cooked mine for maybe a minute more on each side, just enough to make them crispy. I think some folks cook them to a potato chip level of crispiness, but that wasn’t what I was after. I wanted them nice and crispy on the outside but still soft on the inside. When they’re ready, put them back on the plate on some fresh paper towel. Add some salt right away. If you’re thinking, oh man, I don’t want to add salt, that’s bad for you, consider you’ve just fried your breakfast.

Same pan, I fried two eggs, over easy. Sunny side up would have been fine too. The joy here is in mopping up the runny eggy goodness with a tostone. Let me make a confession here and now: I squirted sriracha all over the whole business before eating, just because.



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Business development?

Just now….land line rings

Hi this is Alice from Fitser (?…lots of noise from other telemarketers in the background)
My name is Alice from Fitser.
And why are you calling me this morning, Alice, and what is a Fitser exactly?
We do online promotion and marketing and I’m calling to help you promote your business.
My business?
Yes we can promote your business.
Well, lately I’ve been playing a lot of old time clawhammer banjo. Can you help me promote that?
Oh yes.
And button accordion too?
Oh yes.
So Alice, how exactly are you going to promote my business?
We can promote your business by building you a website to increase your online presence and everything.
Wow that sounds exciting Alice but here is the thing. You are trying to get business by calling people at home who may or may not actually have businesses. That doesn’t seem like a very smart way to promote your business, does it?
I’m not trying to promote our business, I’m trying to promote your business.
Oh I see. Well Alice, I don’t have a budget for promoting my banjo playing just now so I won’t be hiring you. It would be really great if you didn’t call me at home anymore. Think you might be able to take my name off your list?
Thank you Alice and have a nice day.
OK bye.


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A new garden sculpture

Over the years gardening on 27th Street, our ideas about how to approach a garden have changed somewhat. It’s no longer just about a flower bed and some plants. What is the shape of the garden – and the shape of the space around it? How do you walk through it? Are there low plants that hug the soil and rocks? What about trees and vines and other plants that love to grow high? Each garden has its own character and that character changes over time.

In the past couple years I’ve considered architectural elements – garden sculpture, a gate, pillars, birdhouses, the book box and let’s not forget benches – places you can sit and enjoy the garden. Architectural elements are one way to achieve height in the garden and an unexpected focus.


Today I added a new garden sculpture to the goose garden out back. The raw materials for this project were simple – a pillar and a target-like industrial mold of some kind. After capping the pillar, I cut a couple pieces of re-bar and used them to attach the target to the pillar. With the help of some cement, I planted the completed unit in the garden. Later, we have the option of painting it or perhaps adding some mosaic.