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A big night for banjo enthusiasts

In a rare Toronto appearance, Bob Carlin played a great show at the Dakota Tavern tonight with our own Lonesome Ace Stringband.

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Bob is a master clawhammer banjo player. I’ve previously met him and taken some of his workshops at Midwest Banjo Camp. He learned his craft from some of the best old time players including the late Joe Thompson and the late Tommy Jarrell. He is also an old time music historian, and has written an excellent book published last year called Banjo: an illustrated history.

Here’s Bob Carlin from 2014, performing a Chris Coole song called Old Dog. Carlin and Coole performed this one together tonight.

Carlin played a solo set tonight followed by a set with the Lonesome Ace Stringband (Chris Coole, John Showman and Max Heineman). Together they played a set of tunes Carlin used to play during his 6-year tenure with John Hartford’s band.

It was a treat to have Bob Carlin play in Toronto and I was happy to see a really good crowd out for the show.

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In other old time music news, a new recording by April Verch and Joe Newberry was released this week. It’s called Going Home. April Verch and Joe Newberry have played a quite a number of shows together in the past year or so. There are quite a few YouTube videos featuring the pair of them.

Here they are performing a Joe Newberry song called Jericho from the new recording.

I’ve been a fan of both performers for some time and it’s a treat to hear them performing together.

Recommended.

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Earworm

Ever get one of those nagging earworms, tunes that stick in your head and never want to leave? I’ve been playing Big John McNeil quite a bit on the banjo and it’s been rolling around my little brain since yesterday afternoon. Big John McNeil is of Scottish origin, but it is often associated with Canadian fiddling. I’ve read that in Manitoba this tune is sometimes called the Metis National Anthem. It’s a great tune, one of those I could listen to 100 times in a row and never get bored of it.

Here’s a lovely fiddle version by Patrick Ross, a fiddler from Vermont.

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Dinosaur

There was a time a few years ago, when I faithfully checked out a couple dozen blogs on a regular basis. In a way that was a heyday for blogging, and I really enjoyed my daily peek in to the lives of people doing so many interesting things in so many interesting places. Many of those bloggers have either packed in the blog-o-swamp completely in favour of the facebook or another of the social medias or for one reason or another aren’t at it as regularly as they once were. That’s totally understandable of course. People change, their lives and interests change too, and the discipline of keeping up a blog is not for everyone. These days, my little list of places to frequent has dwindled some, but I’m still pretty faithful to the ones I really enjoy.

I like all kinds of different blogs, often written by people who have lives and perspectives much different than my own. That’s part of the fun. I can’t begin to explain why I go back to some and not others.

I’ve even met some blog friends along the way, and though our in-person interactions have been limited, I feel like those folks are really good friends at this point, people I’ve hung with for a long time.

There are still plenty of blogs around, and I suppose I should be more active in discovering new ranges to ride, so to speak. Since those early days, I notice there are a lot more people using their blogs as an income stream, basically getting into the ad business, or selling some product or another. That’s fine, and there are a couple of those I visit from time to time – some are excellent – but I still like the idea of the personal blog, someone’s tiny corner of the grand swamp, something they do just for the helluvit, a place to gather a small community.

Here at 27th Street, I don’t get a huge number of visitors, and it has stayed more or less consistent over the years. I know certain types of posts always draw in more traffic and it’s always fun when that happens. I don’t get many comments either compared to other blogs I visit. I don’t know if that is because my posts are less interesting or because I’ve said it all so comments are unnecessary (you can choose). I have a few regular visitors who have been coming back for more of my nonsense for quite some time and, well, I love those folks!

2014 was my busiest year for this blog. The top posts for that year were both about mushrooms. One was “Preparing lobster mushrooms for the table” and the second most popular was a post I kind of regret creating called “No mushrooms in Southern Ontario”. It was an attempt at humour in which I suggested there are no edible mushrooms outside of grocery stores in Southern Ontario. I was responding to the fact that it was getting increasingly difficult to find spots to forage which weren’t picked through by somebody else first. As it turned out, plenty of people took me seriously, and several people took the opportunity to tell me how wrong I was. It is still one of my more popular posts.

Back when I had the old Mister Anchovy blog, the most popular post by far was one called Johnny Cash finger. I had shared the American Recordings poster featuring Johnny Cash flipping the bird to somebody at one of the prisons he played. Once I had a guest blogger who posted a picture of the Ikea dog the year they published a catalog that had a picture of a dog which appeared to have an extra-large schlong, and her post attracted hundreds more viewers than anything I ever came up with. C’est la Vie, eh.

So these days I feel a bit like an old-school dinosaur keeping up my little personal blog. That’s OK, I don’t mind being a dinosaur. ROAR.

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What the Crow Said

It was chaos up in the spruces out back yesterday. There is a colony of red-winged blackbirds living up there somewhere in the high branches. Mid-afternoon a raiding party of crows showed up, creating havoc. The blackbirds did not take this sitting down. The whole colony sprung into action, harassing the crows, trying to drive them off. The crows were tremendously vocal. Cries of CAW CAW CAW were almost non-stop. As the colony chased one crow off, the others flew back around and landed again in the spruces. The blackbirds would swing back, targeted another crow and drove it from the tree, and again, the other crows came back and perched on a high branch.

The crows were persistent but so were the red-winged blackbirds. This battle went on for about 3 hours. Sometimes the caws stopped for a few minutes and I’d think it was all over, when suddenly the crows reappeared and the blackbird air defense brigade sprung back into action.

By about 4:00 pm the racket stopped. No sign of the crows. I think the red-wing blackbirds won – this time.

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Morel and Ramp Omelet at the Comfort Food Diner

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Morel and ramp omelet

This super-fantastic omelet tastes best if you’ve foraged the morels and ramps yourself (just sayin’). If you find some morels at a farmer’s market, they’ll be fine too, although you may need to take out a small bank loan to buy some. Please do not purchase ramps. They are very slow to spread and commercial picking can wipe out the ramps in a forest really quickly. If you’re out in the forest and you come across a patch of ramps and you want some for dinner, please don’t be greedy. Dig out a small amount, enough for a dinner or two and leave the rest of the patch be so it will be there for you next year and the year after and the year after that. In some areas, where over-harvesting has endangered ramps, harvesting may not be permitted.

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Ramps are Allium tricoccum, a bulb-forming perennial. Around here they are often called wild leeks. They look like a small tulip, with a bulb underground and a bit of reddish colour on the stem. If you aren’t sure, smell them. Ramps have a strong onion-like smell.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have a very modest patch of ramps growing in a woodsy area of my back yard. This morning I dug out just two of them. It doesn’t seem like much but the good thing is that ramps have a strong flavour and it only takes a little bit to enhance the star of the show today, the morels. You can eat the entire ramp, from bulb to leaves. Just clean them and chop them up. If you have morels but no ramps, use a shallot or a bit of onion and garlic.

For this omelet, I also chopped up a one inch piece of quality kielbasa. Vegetarians can ignore this – you’ll still get a great result. For meat eaters, know that a bit of pork enhances the flavour of ramps and the ramps enhance the flavour of the morels. Make sense?

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The ingredients: morels, ramps, kielbasa and 3 eggs

I cook my filling first, remove it from the pan, then cook the omelet in the same pan so any residual flavours are available for the omelet.

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I simply cook the ramps, kielbasa, and morels together. If I wasn’t using the kielbasa, I might add a bit of steak spice or a good bbq spice mix to the filling. The bottom picture shows you how I like them done. The ramps pretty much disappear in the mix and the morels and kielbasa start to brown. I like the mushrooms to have a bit of a crunchy texture in the omelet, but there is no need for you to cook everything down as much as I do. However you prefer it is fine.

Please do not eat morels raw. Morels contain a small amount of hydrozine toxins. Don’t panic though, the toxin is destroyed through cooking. I have met people who are very cavalier about mushroom toxicity, as if the toxins affect you less if you add enough machismo around consuming them. These people are stupid. One day they will eat the wrong mushroom and come to that realization themselves. There are no take-backs.

I also want to note here that there are false morels which are poisonous. If you find some mushrooms and you think they may be morels but you aren’t sure, show them to somebody who knows. In fact never eat any wild mushrooms that you cannot identify with certainty. Just don’t. Ever.

Lecture over….now back to our regular programming……

Cook the omelet as you normally would, using any residual oil left behind by the filling. You may need to add a wee bit more oil to the pan. I didn’t. When your eggs are just about cooked, add the filling right on top.

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Then just fold the omelet over the filling and slide it onto a plate. I grind some pepper on the omelet and sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt. For my omelet, I added a bit of sriracha on the side because I like a bit of heat. You could also garnish with some parsley or perhaps some fresh basil.

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Another unexpected find

After walking The Partners yesterday evening, I thought I’d take out the garbage and the recycling as pick-up is this morning. As I pulled out the garbage bin, I notice something unusual tucked in the corner by the fence….

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Sorry for the picture quality. It was early evening and I should have used a flash. You get the idea though. It’s the first time in all the years we’ve lived on 27th Street a morel has shown up around the house.

I was thinking about how I’m going to cook the morels I found yesterday, and I remembered I have ramps growing in the forested bit of the back yard. These ramps are from a forest which is becoming increasingly surrounded by housing developments. I transplanted a shovelful of them a three years ago so they would not be lost when the forest is finally completely usurped. It seems like everything is being turned into housing developments these days. They have taken to their new spot quite well. Ramps are very slow to spread and my plan has been to just leave them alone, but I’m considering harvesting¬† a very small portion today to go with these morels.

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Unexpected finds….

I went for a drive this morning up to – oh I forget the name of the place – to do a little scouting in anticipation of morel season. I went for a long hike, looking for likely spots, but I didn’t expect to find anything in this area for another week.

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It was a pleasant surprise to find a bunch of small morels in this area.

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Newfs and Gravity

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I took The Partners down to the lake today. I didn’t expect I’d be able to let them go for a swim after all the rain – usually a rainstorm makes the lake pretty gungy for a few days. To my surprise, it was very clear, so it was their lucky day. Our Newfs love the water.

I took them to a spot with a hill that runs down about 50 feet to a gravel beach, and I let them loose at the top of the hill. George and Ruby each let out a yelp and raced one another down the hill toward the beach. A pair of Newfs in a foot-race is a sight to behold. About halfway down, gravity got the better of George. If you haven’t met George before, he is 170 pounds of love. He couldn’t handle the incline at full-tilt-boogie Newf warp-drive and he stumbled, did half a face-plant, followed by a shoulder roll and by some miracle rolled himself back up to a standing position, as if he meant to do it. Then, regaining some dignity, George trotted the rest of the way to the water.

By some miracle, he did not appear to have hurt himself. Now, many hours later, George still seems fine. No limp, no sign of pain anywhere. He and Ruby are settled down together right now, gnawing on chewies. Note to self: Newfs and gravity don’t mix.

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Spicy Squid at the Comfort Food Diner

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Squid make an easy and delicious dinner. Let your local fishmonger clean the squid for you….but buy whole squid not those frozen calamari rings. Slice them, rinse them and pat them dry with paper towels. This was a two-pan dish. In one I caramelized some onions, added some garlic and sliced up peppers along with some of those little red super-hot chilies – along with salt, pepper and oregano. You can add whatever herbs you like. Loads of fresh basil would be wonderful, for instance. I let everything cook together for a few minutes then added some tomatoes. If I had an open bottle of wine, I would have added a splash, but I didn’t so I didn’t.

Meanwhile, I heated up just a wee bit of vegetable oil in my trusty cast iron pan until quite hot, but not smoking. The deal on squid is that you can either cook them for a very short time – 1 or 2 minutes tops, or for a long time – like stewing them in a pasta sauce for an hour. If you choose door number three (any other amount of time), your squid might be good for any number of industrial purposes but not so great for eating. I cooked mine for about 45 seconds, stirred them about and gave them another 45 seconds. Then I just added the squid to the other pan, stirred the whole business together and served. Very tasty.

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Studio Sneak Peak: Switchback

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Switchback 2017 by Eugene Knapik

Here’s a studio sneak peak. This work, called Switchback, is acrylic on masonite. It’s about 2 feet tall, and it floats a little away from the wall.