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Thursday, November 3, 2011

The King and I...

Bear with me, there is a point to all of this.

H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on December 5, 1927. He is the youngest son of H.R.H. Prince Mahidol and Mom Sangwalya, and is the longest reigning monarch in the world.

Here’s what I find interesting about this king: he is an ardent lover of jazz – especially American jazz music. He is an accomplished saxophonist and composer, and has his own palace jazz band. Kinda like the Bill Clinton of Siam, but classier and better chops.

His Majesty has played his saxophone with jazz legends like Benny Goodman, Stan Getz, Lionel Hampton and Benny Carter. He also jams with local musicians in Thailand, and has composed his own music.

"He is simply the coolest king in the land," the late Hampton said in a 1987 article in the Thai magazine Sawasdee. Here he is with Benny Goodman.

The king’s Birthday in December - sometimes called Father’s Day - is a national holiday and is celebrated nationwide with great enthusiasm. Yellow flags and lights decorate buildings and homes all over Thailand. Bangkok, is decorated with exuberant flower arrangements, religious ceremonies are held countrywide with people praying for the king’s well-being. During the evening there are elaborate fireworks displays in the skies of Bangkok while thousands of people fill the streets wearing yellow t-shits to celebrate the king’s birthday. People travel from all cities around Thailand to catch a glimpse of the monarch. And, of course, there is music, lots of music, including the king’s favorite - American Jazz.

Why a blog on the King of Thailand, you ask? Well, Stef Scaggiari and I were invited to play for him during the weeklong royal birthday festivities next month. To top it off, we were sponsored by the American Embassy in Bangkok to conduct an outreach program in American jazz for disabled children in Bangkok. What an unbelievable honor.

It has been weeks of arrangements, rehearsals, some pre-tour voice coaching and a new gown for the occasion. During this time, we were full of excitement and anticipation.

All the while, the Thai people have been enduring terrible floods – the worst in 60 years. Floods of a magnitude that bring Hurricane Katrina to mind. Floods that last week caused the palace and Ministry of Culture cancel all festivities. It is a most appropriate choice as more than 2.5 million people are displaced, and Thailand is suffering terribly during this tragedy.

I am so honored to have been chosen to play for the King’s celebration and so sad to see this nation devastated. Still, I feel very disappointed about the cancellation and also embarassed that I can form such a selfish thought when so many are in need.

My dear cousin, Jim Davis, is living in Bangkok. Thankfully, he is safe. Here are some of his thoughts about this unimagineable disaster.


10/18/11 Dear Erin,
It is a disaster of major proportions. Over 400 people have died, hundreds of thousands are homeless, the area flooded is huge. The rice growing fields have been washed away, along with the soil. 300,000 factory workers, in an industrial park, in BKK, had to be evacuated, yesterday. So far, the flood walls are holding back the flood from the main shopping, office, tourism, financial districts, and high rent districts, where I live, but there are sandbags and temporary concrete walls in front of most businesses. It rains hard every day, for hours. I have emergency supplies of some water and food and the supermarkets are bare, in that category, now.

Cities not far from BKK are suffering the most; it looks like Venice. The water is 15-20 feet high in the middle of the cities. People there have lost everything. The army has opened their bases for them. The Thai Army is working feverishly building dykes and helping people. They are really dedicated heros.

Hundreds of thousands of chickens and ducks have been drowned in the poultry facilities. Some of the chain restaurants in BKK that have comisaries outside the perimeter have closed.

I had planned to go to China and other places but I'm not leaving for fear the airport may be swamped and I would be stuck outside Thailand.

In terms of flooding, it is worse than Katrina and Irene combined. But life within most of BKK goes on as usual. I go to the gym, shop and hang out with my friends, as usual. It pisses people off, outside of BKK, that the water is shifted to protect the upscale neighborhoods in BKK.

Every business is losing big money and it will be a long time to recoup it. The biggest concert venue, Impact, where I've seen the Eagles and Rod Stewart is in the flood zone. They say it will be months for the water to go down. There won't be much left. I think the celebrations of the King's birthday will be cancelled. The country and all major businesses have lost countless millions.

On the other hand, Thai people are very resilient and resourceful. I've seen news coverage of them and it's heartbreaking but they are coping quite well. I've seen people, on TV news, up to their necks in water with smiles on their faces. They have courage and strength I've never seen. The Thai people have been incredibly strong during this ordeal. Thais are the greatest. They've been put to the test now.

BKK is still in danger of being flooded. My apartment building has a generator. I have bought big flashlights and knee high rubber boots, just in case. There is no end in sight.

By the way, staging, lighting, sound and musicians are first rate. Better than USA. Thirteen year old kids play guitar better than Clapton and Hendrix, at their prime. Little kids play guitar like Dick Dale, who's the best there is. Their fingering technique is quite unusual. I love to watch them play. Love, Jim
10/19/11 Good Morning Erin,
Yesterday was a rain free day but it looks like rain today, unfortunately. The Army and volunteers are still feverishly piling up sandbags. I'm located in one of the safest areas of Bangkok, my building is built as solid as a bunker and, around here, life goes on as usual. I feel perfectly safe and I'm going for my morning swim. Not in the street but in the pool. Love, Jim

10/31/11 Dear Erin,
I learned today that my district in Bangkok won't be flooded. Things are pretty normal around here. It's been called a holiday, because of the flooding, so people who are dry are going to the movies, the malls and eating ice cream sundaes. The folks in the 7 out of the 50 BKK wet districts are suffering a lot. They are so screwed - much worse than Katrina. They have 50,000 Thai Army troops working 24/7 helping people with shelter, transportation and building dykes. Love you, Jim

This is my cousin Jim when he last visited us at "Horses End." I will spare you a photo of my new gown. Please pray for the people of Thailand.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

I think that, as our dogs grow older, we don’t teach them new tricks because we, not our dogs, have tired of the game. My kid Captain learned “roll over” and “gimme five” in a few days’ time at the ripe old age of five.  I chose to teach him at that time because we had just lost my beloved dog Rascal, Captain’s best friend, and I thought the instruction and lessons would help him (and me) through the loss.  He came through with flying colors. Now when I say, “sit”, he does all three tricks with great delight.

Rascal  and Captain "sit."

I am a middle-aged dog and I am still learning new tricks. I used to joke with my friend Eric the computer genius that I am “done learning” and I want to be on a “need to know” basis when it comes to computers. But that is impossible for anyone with even the slightest inkling of intellectual curiosity.  In order to live vibrantly and stay in the game, you need to keep learning new tricks.

Now the problem, as I see it, for us older dogs is basically one of storage. I sometimes feel as if I may have reached critical density, and it is not only my attic that is stuffed to the gills with clutter. I came in equipped with a 30-gig cerebral hard drive, and right now I’ve got about a terabyte of data to store, and more on the way.  It feels like every new lyric I learn has the potential to bounce an old one out. So new endeavors need to be carefully screened and evaluated lest I risk a blue screen crash.

I first took piano lessons at age six, and begged my mother to let me quit when the nun who taught me kept rapping my knuckles with a ruler every time I made a mistake. Guitar was a good solution for the short term, and my dad taught me all the chords I needed to play folk songs.

Early on in my professional music career, I took theory lessons from a wonderful jazz pianist who was very kind and patient with me (especially when I didn’t do my homework). I took sight singing from Helen Jordan and voice lessons from Myron Earnheart, Anne Countryman and David Sorin Collyer. I was working with the best in the business. That was New York, the center of my (hell, everybody’s) artistic world – and studying was a part of life. I can’t remember when I stopped taking lessons in music, but it’s been a long while.

Since then I’ve explored many other disciplines, groups and treatments, both physical and spiritual – A Course in Miracles, The Way of Sufi, Buddhist chanting, and also The New York Restaurant School, Les Amis du Vin, Chinese cooking lessons, tennis lessons, golf lessons, yoga, acupuncture, chiropractic, personal trainers, Feng Shui, vitamins and herbal remedies, meditation, and most recently, jewelry making (look out – you may get a bracelet for Christmas).

All good. All interesting, challenging and enriching.  All part of my personal growth.  But now I as am once again starting down a new path of learning, I must ask myself, “Which of these data and/or skill sets might I be willing to jettison in order to accommodate my new tricks?”  I do not have an answer yet, but sounds like a de-frag is in order.

So, I set out to find a new singing teacher and received a wonderful recommendation from a friend in Amsterdam.  My new teacher’s name is Nancy Marano and she is brilliant. I drive up to New York to see her. This seems reasonable and manageable (barely) and the perfect way to get in shape for my 2012 concert season. Only, guess what?  Nancy also insists that I learn to play the piano well enough to accompany myself properly, not like the hunt-and-peck hacker that I have become.

Nancy is really talented, cool and inspirational and she does not rap my knuckles.  But, she also wants me to brush up on my sight singing and solfege.  This has become a gigantic commitment, but that’s O.K.  I’ll find a way to deal with the one and a half hours of daily practice this will require.  I’ll cut back on my workouts and not clean the cottage. I am on it.

And here’s the corker: During the first lesson, Nancy says to me, “Have you ever heard of the Alexander Technique? You should take some Alexander lessons if you can.” So off I go, down yet another yellow brick road.

They say that the Alexander Technique is very beneficial for musicians and singers for balance, coordination and posture. I am told it will improve my singing and piano playing and all kinds of other things.

I have found a wonderful music professor at West Chester University - only 20 minutes from my house  - and Dr. Bedford has taken me on as his student. I have had four lessons so far and… OMG the work is brilliant! And it’s perfect for me. It requires stillness, a concept that is totally foreign to me. My husband Tony laughed out loud at the thought of seeing me still. I am completely fascinated and already see great improvement in my posture and awareness. Don’t worry; it will only require about 30 minutes daily practice. I’ll cut out watching the morning news and that’ll do it. It’s all good.

Alexander Technique is seriously heady stuff. I am pretty sure my next transformation is in the making and I am down with that. If I forget some lyrics as a result, so be it. Maybe I’ll get a bigger brain for Christmas.

Uh, oh.  “The way you wear your head… the way you sip your…uhm…brie?”
Nope. That’s not it.  Wait, I think I have that lyric on my iPad!

Monday, August 29, 2011

25 Things About Erin

25 Things About Erin

So, back in 2009 when I first joined FaceBook, there was a note going around asking everyone to list 25 things about themselves and send the list on to 25 friends. Clearly, I did not have enough to do at the time, so I filled it out. Actually, I had a good time thinking this stuff up.  It's always a revelation to write about find out the strangest things!  

Anyway, I thought you might enjoy it!  This was just before we went in to the studio to start tracking Nice Girls.  

1. I think Rob Mounsey is one heady dude.

2. My inner circle call me "The Dipster"

3. I like doing bookeeping. Go figure.
4. I sleep with two dogs and a cat. Poor Tony.
[Sadly, only one dog now.]
5. I believe that everything in my life - good and bad - is nothing more that an image created in my mind, and I can create or remove whatever I want anytime I want.

6. I can't write, or even think, when my house is dirty.

7. I thrive on change.

8. I wish I could remember more stuff...I think I may have done some pretty interesting things :)

9. The opposite of love is fear. But what is all-encompassing can have no opposite. (ACIM)

10. Did I mention bookeeping?

11. I am married to a lawyer, and he "gets" me better than any guitar player on the planet.

12. I am a hell of a good cook.

13. My jeans are tight.

14. My favorite songwriter who "can't remember the words" is Jesse Frederick.

15. I am happy, always seem to be, no matter what is going on around me.

16. Both of us are Gemini, and we disagree a lot.

17. Tony is a Libra, and he gets along with everyone.

18. I have amazing friends. They blow my mind.

19. Good fortune is a decision. I wish I had known that in my youth. Could have saved a lot of anguish over nothing.

20. I am afraid to upgrade to Leopard. I think it may be a communist plot to make my studio inoperable.
 [Since then, I've taken the  plunge.]
21. I am not deep, or complicated or mysterious; I am genuine and compassionate.

22. I get off on cursing.
23. I'm a good dancer.

24. I'm an excellent singer.

25. I thank God every morning for everything I can think of.

The End.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Word About Pat Rosalia by Tim Hauser

A Word from Tim Hauser…

I was so saddened to hear of Pat Rosalia's passing last week.  Many things ran through my mind after hearing this sad news.  Pat was a high school and college friend of mine.  At one point, during my college years, we lived around the corner from each other.  At that time, in school, she was the girlfriend of my music partner and close friend Tommy Picardo.  We all spent a lot of time together, mostly listening to music, and singing.  Pat's folks had a basement playroom in their home, and I recall Pat playing Java Jive by the Ink Spots.  It became one of The Manhattan Transfer's first repertoire songs, and to this day, is one of the most popular and requested tunes.  Pat loved that song, and we all used to sing it, along with a lot of other doo wop tunes that were popular at that time.  Pat had this wonderful smile that gave away the kind of person she was - warm and eternally optimistic.  I loved hanging around with her.

Pat and Tommy subsequently got married, but it was a short-lived marriage.  She was living in New York by then, as was I.  I had finally left my straight job, and began trying to form a singing group.  Erin and I, and a potter by the name of Riki Kurtz began singing together, and Pat suggested a guy she knew from home named Marty Nelson. Riki did not stay in the band long, and Pat took her place, and that was the beginning of the real Manhattan Transfer.   Pat began dating Tommy's old singing partner Gene Pistilli.  Those two were a wonderful pair, and really loved each other.  Gene was a great singer/songwriter, and we all teamed up to become The Manhattan Transfer with Gene Pistilli.  We only made one album, "Jukin”.  I am, to this day, very proud of the work we all did.  We were a bunch of hippies having fun singing together, and we were all so much a part of that crazy, and creative time.

Pat and I eventually parted ways because of creative differences.  I saw her on a couple of occasions following our separation.  But after that, we went our separate ways, albeit for both of us, quite musical.

No matter what happens in life, every person that comes across our path is a gift from God.  For me, Pat was certainly a perfect example of that. My sadness today is for several reasons.  I'm very sad at the fact that she is gone, but I'm more saddened at the fact we never resolved our differences. For me, it makes it all too clear that these things are not as important as the love of a friendship.  Pat was my friend, and I loved her.  She is no longer here, but is in my heart as one of God's gifts.  That love will always remain.

Pat, thanks for being my high school and college pal, my singing partner, and for giving me and a hell of a lot of other people Java Jive.  I'll always remember the big smile on your face every time you sang it on Green Grove Road.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Something To Remember You By.

Pat and Erin in 1981
Our Darling, Pat
by Erin Dickins, July 30, 2011

Pat left us. She was my best friend and a co-founder of the Manhattan Transfer.  She was the one with the banana.

Patricia Aurora Olivia Rosalia died on Tuesday, July 19, 2011, at 9:00 a.m. She was 67 years old. She was with her husband, Tim, and her beloved brother and sister-in-law, Giachino and Sandi Rosalia.

Giachino: “Don’t know why the Lord picked her, but it just had to be for something important - I just know. I told her the night before she passed that it was ‘OK to go home now, that mommy and daddy will be waiting for you and give them a kiss from me…and, of course, to save me a seat as it probably won’t be terribly long before I’ll be passing that way myself.’  She understood this and responded, ‘OK, I love you and I will see you later,’ and that was it.”

I met Pat in 1969 when the early Manhattan Transfer was still just a good idea. She was married to a guy named Tommy Picardo at the time. He was also known as Tommy West of Cashman, Pistilli & West, a production/songwriting team that discovered, and later produced, our great friend Jim Croce. Jim and Ingrid were living with Pat in New York. Those were days when we all - literally - put our small change in a hat to scrape together a pasta dinner at Pat’s apartment. Those were some of the happiest times I’ve ever experienced.

The marriage to Tommy didn’t last and that's a story in itself. It is rumoured that when Pat was walking down the isle to marry Tommy, her father whispered to her, "if you want to turn around and run, I'll run with you."  He knew it just wasn’t right.

Different story with Gene Pistilli, who had just written the mega-hit, “Sunday Will Never Be The Same”, for Spanky and Our Gang. I was completely taken with his passion and his gift. So was Pat. And theirs was a match made in heaven. A big, giant love story.  Gene was a handful in those days, and also our pied-piper. He was an irresistible force. And Pat was his rock.

Still, we had to talk her into working with our new singing group. She knew Tim, and had worked with him earlier, but didn’t want to be in a band as she was composing and doing studio work with our friend, songwriter Ellie Greenwich, as well as for Cash-West.  She had just written a chart hit with her song “Red Is Red,” which was recorded by Al Martino.

That first time we met, she had a broken rib and told me that laughing was very painful. I was in a checker cab with her and Marty and Tim; even the bumps were killing her. In spite of it, we found ourselves laughing so hard it hurt – all of us. I was instantly her biggest fan and was elated when we finally convinced her to sing with our group. There was something about her laugh that made everything right in the world.

Tim: "No matter what happens in life, every person that comes across our path is a gift from God.  For me, Pat was certainly a perfect example of that...I'm very sad at the fact that she is gone…Pat was my friend, and I loved her.  She is no longer here, but is in my heart as one of God's gifts.  That love will always remain." To Read Tim's eulogy, CLICK HERE.

Not long after, Tim won the battle of the names for our group with Manhattan Transfer, the title of a popular book by John Dos Passos. Thank goodness! The other two names in the running were Ebbet’s Field and the American Indian name Kawliga (after Charlie Pride’s big hit with the Hank Williams, Sr. classic).

We used to go to Pat’s parents’ home in New Jersey for weekend visits from time to time....and her mom was an amazing cook. There was always a leftover sitting on the kitchen table, and when we finished the first snack, she’d pull out the next. “You'll just taste it, won't hurt you. It’s just a bite.”  When dinner time finally arrived (we were usually stuffed to the gills by now), she would serve course after astounding course of homemade Italian delicacies – sometimes for hours on end - complete with the family’s own wine. And she was right, it did not hurt us. It nourished our souls.

We once stayed at my parents’ home in Annapolis. I remember Gene and my father sitting down on our patio to martinis and a bushel of piss clams and having a big old time. Dad was a dear, and a wonderful musician in his own right. He just loved our harmonies and was very proud of me. My mom wasn’t so sure….we were quite a sight back then. Me in antique dresses and purple suede high-heeled boots, Pat in short-shorts and Indian jewelry.

During and after our stint with the Transfer, the Manhattan brownstone at 155 Prince Street, in all its iterations, was the center of our universe. And Pat was its “Grand High Exhaulted Ruler.”  It was Bobby McKinnon’s apartment before SOHO was hip. When Gene and Pat lived there, it became a favored rehearsal spot. Always a pot of fresh coffee brewing. Always a lot of laughter. We sang for hours on end.  Here is the chorus to one of the songs we sang, written by Gene:

We sang those songs with feeling,
From way down deep inside.
They made us cry until we laughed,
And laugh until we cried.
We sang those songs together,
And no one was alone.
We sang those songs with feeling,
Just like we did back home.

I got my big red cat, Frank Rosalia, from Pat. He was the kitty love of my life.  She named him Frank specifically so that we could call out, “Hey Frankie!” (Imagine the Jersey accent here).

So here’s an inside joke: Later on, she was crazy in love with Harry. And when she first told me about it, I said, “Harry who?” She nearly died laughing. After Harry was over, Pat moved to San Diego - and took my heart with her.

Gene: “It figures that Pat and I found new loves – my Pamela and her Harry – as we were both ready to go our separate ways. But we never fell out of touch because I couldn’t go very long without hearing the best laugh anyone ever had. She shared it with me once more just a few days before she left us. Donna Patrizia, I called her – with her sparklin’ gypsy eyes and that joyful noise that will always be with us. Always.”

Darling Pat wrote me beautiful letters – often - and I still keep her writings in a file drawer. I cherish them. One of my favorites is entitled “What I Did On My Summer Vacation”, by Suzy Cream Cheese.  Suzy was my Pekingese dog, and summer vacation was a couple of weeks visiting with Auntie Pat while I was touring with Gregg Allman.  She likened walking my little dog to having a fuzzy bedroom slipper on a leash.

Here is an excerpt from her (San Diego) Christmas card to me in 1981:

“To tell you that I miss you wouldn’t exactly be true, but to say that I think of you often and mention your name and hope that the time comes easily so

         we can talk about things to come
         things we’ve left undone
         things that grow in the sun
         things that are served on a bun
         things that once weighed a ton but now are tossed
         lightly  aside
         things that no longer hide but flaunt in the
         faces of any who even glance in our direction
         things that will never pass final inspection

Digression is my favorite pastime…

I need to talk to you my sister-friend-love of my life.  I send you love and tropical flames for the Christmas fire.  From my palms to yours, Pat”

Marty: “Fair winds come, rustle the leaves to meet their demands and pleasures, then pass… leaving still silence for the tree to forever remember how it felt to sway for that wonderful moment.”

I can give you the laundry list of all the things we did together as friends and musicians, all the laughs and tears, all the tours we did, our chick group Ethylene and the recordings I made of her wonderful songs, but it all pales in comparison to her inner light, her joy and spirit. She was smart, funny, beautiful, kind, warm, generous, talented. And she made an amazing cup of coffee. But, who cares.

For me, I am just going to picture her, coffee in hand, in her favorite spot - on the stoop at Prince St. I’ll meet you there someday, dear.

“Sweet time spent, where does it go?” Pat Rosalia

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Two Jim's In My Life.....

I vividly recall an early appearance by the Manhattan Transfer at the Main Point in Bryn Mawr, PA in the early 1970’s.  We were very excited about that gig as we had listened to, and loved, James Taylor’s first album – and we were slated to be his opening act.

He was an incredibly warm and kind guy, quiet and pensive though. Our great friends Ingrid and Jim Croce lived nearby, and came to hear us perform.  James lit up upon meeting Jim Croce that night. I don’t remember how it came about, but after that meeting, the band (MT) spent a wonderful afternoon at the Croce’s house, singing and playing music, laughing and soaking in a beautiful warm spring day.

I remember James teaching Marty Nelson from the Transfer how to make a flute from a reed of grass pulled from a nearby pond. And the two of them sat on the bank making up songs while we sang along. James and the Croce’s became good friends – how cool to have witnessed the two jamming into the night with Gene Pistilli from Manhattan Transfer.  We knew it was very cool, but perhaps not how really extraordinary it was to hear these great talents together.

By the end of our run at the Main Point, we were closing James’ show with him singing the old Carter Family classic, “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” complete with four-part harmony, tambourines and plenty of love. It was magical for us all.

A year later, after the release of Manhattan Transfer’s first single, “Winterlude,” we all attended a James Taylor concert at Princeton University, where Tim Hauser’s cousin Curt Gathje was a student. Curt later created the artwork for  “Jukin”,  MT’s first album on Capitol Records. At that concert, we were able to get backstage – you can imagine how early-on in his career this was – and gave him a copy of the single.

That was my last encounter with James Taylor until I attended his concert with Carole King in Philadelphia last spring. Again, I was fortunate to have been invited backstage by my good friend Robbie Kondor who was in the band.  I re-introduced myself to James who was very cordial me, as he was to everyone in  the  huge swarm of admirers waiting for a moment of his time.  

But one thing I said commanded his full attention.  As I recounted the story of our day in the sun with Jim and Ingrid, he looked deeply into my eyes and a big grin came instantly. He took both my hands in his. “Wow,” he said. “I totally remember that day.”  Forty some odd years had passed and we both remembered that magical day as if it were yesterday.

And here’s a funny aside….last New Year’s Eve, my husband and I attended a party at the home of old friends in Birchrunville, PA.  I was introduced  -  as a founding member of the Manhattan Transfer - to a very nice man named David Yaeger. And David said…”wow, you played the Main Point in the 1970’s.” Yep. “You opened for James Taylor.” Yep. Then he said…..wait for it…….”I was your sound man.” 

My mother used to tell me that it is a small world and I should always be kind and nice to everyone I  meet. Glad I was.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Of Course I Eat Healthy!

Of Course I Eat Healthy!
(But only if I can cook it in under 20 minutes)

I was recently invited by Backstage Gourmet Radio ( to contribute a few favorite vegetarian recipes to discuss on-air in on June 6th. Please join us!

This is easy, or so I thought.  Well, the request itself certainly was simple, but it got me thinking about what I eat and how I nourish my physical being.  The good choices, the kinda-sorta good, and the midnight after-gig indulgences.  For years now, I have been engaged in an ongoing discussion – rather negotiation – with myself about who I am - and who I would like to be as defined by diet.  I am still having trouble narrowing it down.  One thing’s for sure….all my best thinking involves an espresso!

 I grew up in a home where food was front and center.  My mother was the ultimate foodie before we even knew what that was.  No TV dinners here!  She could whip up paella, a masterful curry or the most delicate poached sea bass in her sleep.  Holidays were an extravaganza of irresistible delicacies.  Mom regularly treated us to international foods and exposed me to a great variety of flavors, textures and preparations.  Every single meal was fresh, well prepared and celebrated. We ate all our meals in the dining room at a beautifully appointed table.  She carefully chose simple but perfectly paired wines for dinner.   Not that she was stuffy; rather, this was what juiced her and it was clearly an expression of her love – a gift she gave to my father and me three times a day.

So naturally, I learned to share her passion about food and wine and found myself carrying on her traditions, cooking elaborate meals for friends and family, exploring exotic cuisines and even studying for a while.  I cooked in a restaurant for a year, learned charcuterie and attended regular wine tastings.   I felt like a Julia Child wanna-be, spending days and days on a  multi course meal – starting with stocks and demi-glazes, fretting over every detail and nuance, and enjoying the hell out of every minute.  Food preparation is beautiful to me and I like to create little still-life paintings with my ingredients and tools.  Somehow it makes everything taste even better!

Eventually my music career got in the way of all this good fun, and I had to find ways to condense my food-as-art approach to fit my busy schedule.  I was away from home a good deal, and so my goal was to have delicious and healthy food at the ready whenever possible.  While I still enjoy undertaking a full-on food production from time to time, my standard fare now is simple, fresh and put together in minutes.

I try to spend one day a week preparing several meals, and extras to store.  Soups, curries, lasagnas and grilled foods are nutritious and freeze well, so these are my go-to foods. I also keep on hand several varieties of frozen fruits and veggies from Trader Joes – they are delicious and enable me to whip-up something healthy in a pinch.  It is great when I come home exhausted to find something homemade all ready to go.  This is my cabbage veggie soup.

And I always try to cook with a cat!  (On the counter – not in the stew).

This is not to say that I don’t also love junk food. Everybody loves junk food. Mac and cheese and fried chicken are a revelation. I haven’t had a whopper in about twenty years, but man they were good.  So the trick for me is to find ways to hit the spots without actually putting this garbage in my tank.

I am a Gemini, and on any given day of the week you can find me doing yoga, drinking herbal tea and eating tofu, while the next day I’ll be into the mojitos, grilling shrimp tacos and dancing to a Bono concert on Palladium.   And after a gig – well, I’ll have fries with that! 

So, I guess narrowing it down may not be a realistic option for me.   Although I find it seductive, I have not yet found the inspiration to become a full-time vegetarian.  I am a part-time vegetarian, and part-time Frenchman, and part-time Hawaiian, and part-time Thai, and, and, and, and…..   

Thanks, mom, for getting me started!   Here are a few yummy vegetarian ideas!

Erin’s Carrot Curry Soup

Delicious, quick and easy - and it freezes beautifully!

2 Tbsp virgin olive oil
1 Vidalia onion - medium chop
4 stalks celery – medium chop
2 Tbsp Madras curry powder – you can certainly use less, but I like a pronounced curry flavor.
1 Tsp cumin
2 lbs carrots – medium chop
1 Quart Vegetable Stock – Pacific Natural Foods makes a good one, Wegmans does, too.

Salt and Pepper to taste
Additional 2 cups of water, if needed.

Gently sauté onions and celery in olive oil for about 5 minutes, stir in curry, cumin and a pinch of salt, and sauté for an additional 5 minutes. Add carrots and toss to coat. Add stock and simmer until vegetables are tender – about 15 minutes.  Let cool for 10 minutes.  In batches, transfer broth and vegetables to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Return to pan and add additional salt and pepper to taste. Thin with water if desired.  If possible, make this soup a day in advance, as the flavors are even better on the second day! Rachel Ray adds a dollop of sour cream and some chopped chives – a great presentation for a dinner party.

Mom’s Breakfast Fried Rice

My mom served fried rice regularly for breakfast. It is a great way to use up leftovers, and a delicious way to start the day!  This is a no-fail recipe. You can add more or less of anything, and cook longer – or not – as desired!

1 Tbsp Roasted Sesame Oil
4 Garlic Cloves – chopped
1 Tbsp Ginger Paste (fresh ginger is fine, too if available)
3 Cups left over cooked rice (2 or 3 day old is best – brown, jasmine – whatever is on hand)
2 Cups chopped veggies (onions, peppers, ‘shrooms, zucchini, broccoli, peas – whatever you have or love)
3 Whole Eggs
Tamari Soy Sauce to taste (about 2 tbsp for me)
Sprinkle of red pepper flakes

Whisk eggs until well blended, combine with cold rice and mix well.

Heat oil in a well-seasoned saucepan over medium heat; add garlic, veggies and ginger paste and sauté for 3-5 minutes. Add rice/egg mixture and spread evenly over cooking surface. Cook for 3 minutes at least before stirring. The idea here is to get the mixture toasted a bit so that it is a little crunchy. Cook, stirring occasionally for another 6-8 minutes until evenly browned. Remove from heat and toss with Tamari sauce and red pepper flakes to taste. Careful with the pepper!  Serves 4 as a main.

Spinach Pie

This is a riff on a favorite Donna Hay recipe – she is a master at simple, elegant preparation. Serve with a green salad and crusty bread.

1-16 oz package of frozen leaf spinach – well drained
2-15 oz containers of ricotta cheese
5 whole eggs 
4 oz Muir Glen fire roasted organic tomatoes (yum!)
2 Tbsp chopped dill
1 tsp chopped chives
¼ tsp nutmeg
8 oz small Heritage tomatoes, halved
6 oz feta cheese, crumbled roughly
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Squeeze any remaining liquid from defrosted spinach and combine with ricotta cheese, beaten eggs, tomatoes, dill, chives, nutmeg and salt & pepper.   Gently fold until well combined, and spoon into a greased ovenproof baking dish (12 cup).  Top first with the fire-roasted tomatoes, then sprinkle with feta and finally, place the halved tomatoes on top - cut side up.  Bake for about an hour – pie will be lightly browned and “set.”  Let rest 15 minutes.   May be served warm or at room temperature. Serves 6

Haupia – Hawaiian Coconut Pudding

I lived in Hawaii for ten years and am a big fan of traditional Hawaiian food. This very simple dessert is a staple at luau – Hawaiian celebrations. Although, as a rule, haupia is set in a cake pan and cut and served in small squares, I like to use individual ramekins. The whole world has recently discovered the health benefits of coconut – the Hawaiians have known all about it for centuries!

6 Tbsp Cornstarch *(do not substitute arrowroot or agar-agar – they will become slime-y)
4 Tbsp Superfine Sugar (or Stevia)
1Can Thai Coconut Milk 15.5 oz (or fresh - see below)**
1/2 Cup fresh shredded coconut (or packaged unsweetened – available at health food stores)
A few drops Vanilla Extract
Pinch of Salt
A few drops of lemon juice
Butter or nut oil – for greasing ramekins (almond oil, macadamia oil, etc)

 In a medium saucepan, combine cornstarch, sugar or stevia and ½ cup coconut milk.  Add remaining coconut milk and simmer stirring constantly until you have a clear, thick liquid, which will coat a spoon.  Keep heat low to prevent curdling.  Remove from heat and add vanilla.  Pudding may now be poured into a shallow flat bake pan or small ramekins and topped with shredded coconut.   Chill for several hours before serving.  Try serving your haupia with a serving of fresh fruit – mango is my favorite, but pineapple, strawberries or papaya are super, too.  Try chocolate and macadamia nuts for a decadent topping!  Enjoy!

* This makes the traditional and very “hard” pudding, which can be cut into squares like brownies.  If you desire a more custard-like consistency, decrease cornstarch to 3 tbsp.

* *Coconut milk can be easily made at home. Take 3 cups fresh grated coconut and cover with 1 1/2 cups boiling coconut water (both available at health food stores). Let stand 20 minutes, and then puree mixture in a food processor. Strain through cheesecloth, and voila! The flavor is amazing.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My Nice Trainer

 by Erin Dickins                                                                                                                                   
Photo Michael Ramondo

As I embark on round two of my musical career, it occurs to me that once again, I am setting myself up to be in the spotlight.  And this time around, the spotlight has taken on a new meaning – I am not 23, and media is totally out of my control.  Between smart phones and Flip video, Facebook and YouTube, things are likely to get pretty ugly pretty fast.   To think that in the past I was concerned with my teeth looking white!  Hah!  That now seems now ludicrous.  God knows what horrifying poses might be innocently “tagged” for all to see!   What saggy, gray, puffy, bulgy, downright depressing images might be shared – to exist forever in the blogosphere?  As my family, friends and fans snap and upload away, my beloved Photoshop and I sit cringing on the sidelines, unable to pretty things up.  So, I decided I had better take action.

Not being one for surgical procedures, I bought the most expensive goopy skin products I could find, and hired a personal trainer. Over 40 and wrinkle-y is tolerable. Over 40 and out of shape is not.

So, for about a month now, I’ve been working with just the nicest guy.  He is kind, considerate and encouraging.  He’s designed a moderate workout plan and has put together a very manageable not-on-a-diet eating plan that is meant to fit my lifestyle.  Of course, nothing could ever fit the cherished rock-and-roll lifestyle that I so begrudgingly abandoned a while back.  My very nice new trainer tries to make sure that I do not hurt myself by over-doing it.  The last time I hired a trainer I beat the shit out of him on the tennis court.  SIGH.

In any event, even with this kinder, gentler approach, I am making progress.  I’ve lost some weight, my jeans are looser and my energy level is better.  Why, just this morning I commented to my husband that I am beginning to think that I may someday have a waist again.

While this is all well and good, I am not fool enough to believe this is all he has in store for me.  I figure I’ll get to just amble along in this loveliness for a while, and then he’ll lay it on me – the real workout, the real diet.  It’ll be brutal, I just know it.  I figure he’s just getting me sucked-in as deep as he can before he drops the bomb.  So for now, I am trying to appreciate every minute for as long as I can.

Today I received a rather disturbing e-mail from my nice trainer. Along with his usual kind words of encouragement, he sent along a very funny blog (author unknown) about working out.  Yep, this is it - I fear the moment has come.  You may not hear from me for a while, but if I manage to emerge from this experience alive, I will be the one with the ibuprofen – and a waist.  Enjoy.

A Woman’s Week at The Gym  
(Posted by Jennifer Hillier 5/15/10 Author - unknown)

Dear Diary,
For my 40th birthday this year, my husband (such a sweetheart) purchased a week of personal training at the local health club for me.  Although I'm still in great shape since being a high school cheerleader 23 years ago, I decided it would be a good idea to go ahead and give it a try.  I called the club and booked sessions with a personal trainer named Christo, who identified himself as a 26-year-old aerobics instructor and underwear model.  My husband seemed pleased with my enthusiasm to get started.  The club encouraged me to keep a diary to chart my progress.
Started my day at 6:00 a.m.  Tough to get out of bed, but found it was well worth it when I arrived at the health club to find Christo waiting for me.  He is something of a Greek God, with blond hair, dancing eyes, and a dazzling white smile.  Woo hoo!

Christo gave me a tour and showed me the machines.  I enjoyed watching the skillful way in which he conducted his aerobics class after my workout today.  Very inspiring!

Christo was encouraging as I did my sit-ups, although my gut was already aching from holding it in the whole time he was around.  But I know this is going to be a fantastic week!

I drank a whole pot of coffee, but I finally made it out the door.  Christo made me lie on my back and push a heavy iron bar into the air, and then he put weights on it.   My legs were a little wobbly on the treadmill, but I ran the full mile.   Christo's rewarding smile made it all worthwhile.  I feel great!  It’s a whole new life for me.

The only way I can brush my teeth is by laying the toothbrush on the counter and moving my mouth back and forth over it. I believe I have a hernia in both pectorals.  Driving was okay as long as I didn’t try to steer or stop.  I parked on top of a bicycle in the club's parking lot.

Christo was impatient with me, insisting that my screams bothered other club members. His voice is a little too perky for this early in the morning, and when he scolds, he gets this nasally whine which is very annoying.

My chest hurt when I got on the treadmill, so Christo put me on the stair monster.  Why in the hell would anyone invent a machine to simulate an activity rendered obsolete by elevators? Christo told me it would help me get in shape and enjoy my life.  He said some other shit, too.

Asshole was waiting for me with his vampire-like teeth exposed.  His thin, cruel lips were pulled back in a full snarl.  Excuse me, I couldn’t help being a half an hour late – it took me that long to tie my shoes.

He made me work out with dumbbells.  When he wasn't looking, I ran and hid in the restroom.  He sent some skinny bitch to find me.

Then, as punishment, he put me on the rowing machine – which I sank.

I hate that bastard Christo more than any human being has ever hated any other human being in the history of the world.  Stupid, skinny, anorexic little aerobic instructor.  If there was a part of my body I could move without unbearable pain, I would beat him with it.

Christo wanted me to work on my triceps today. I don’t have any triceps!  And if you don’t want dents in the floor, don’t hand me the goddamn barbells or anything else that weighs more than a sandwich.  Asswipe.

Satan just left a message on my answering machine.  He asked me in his grating, shrilly voice why I did not show up today.  Just hearing him speak made me want to smash the machine with my diary; however, I lack the strength to even use the TV remote control. I spent the day watching eleven straight hours of the Weather Channel.

I’m having the Church van pick me up for services today so I can go and thank God that this week is over.   I will also pray that next year my husband will choose a gift for me that is fun – perhaps a root canal, or a hysterectomy.