Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas In Connecticut

just in: The Fleshtones will indeed be playing on New Year's EVE at The Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center! ( )
See you there!!!!

It's the third day of Christmas, a cold rain washed away the snow over night and I can't get 'Christmas In Killarney' out of my head. I had never heard this odiously catchy tune, or at least I managed to ignore it, until this holiday season -when suddenly it was everywhere. We must have heard three or four different artists tackle the song on the Sirius Holiday Radio Channel on our DirectTV and even were regaled by some neo-Brit/Celtic folk revivalists reeling it out over Mid-Hudson NPR on our past-midnight drive up to Connecticut on Christmas Eve. Maybe it's a publishing thing, like when Michael Jackson died the catalogue of Beatle's songs that he was jealously sitting on was suddenly all over the place, adding class to Billy May infomercials and God knows what else. Perhaps when cutting the publishing deal Manager Klein had (in his kindness) judiciously padded out the song-writing efforts of Lennon /McCartney and Harrison with filler like 'Christmas In Killarnery'? I'll leave that to those better equipped to research the connections, but I will say that Bing Crosby's version was the best version I heard, as much as it would have infuriated me (along with everything else Der Bingle did) as an intemperate youth. He certainly sounds natural enough singing it. If it exists, I'd like to hear how Dean Martin would have tossed off the song -don't laugh, Dino Crocetti's breezy 'don't give a f**k' approach is just the thing for such holiday-time blarney.
Anyway, with the Holiday rush and all it's been a while since I've posted to The BusyBuddy. So thank 'Christmas In Killarney and all of the the folks back home' for shaking me out of my Christmas daze long enough to offer you all my Holiday Greetings, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and all the best in the coming year (we'll be needing it) -something I should have done long BEFORE the 25th. Then I could have included Chanukah Greetings to my friends as well as slipping in a plug for The Fleshtones's 2008 Christmas album 'Stocking Stuffer' (YEP -2184; in time for someone to buy it, but that would be too practical and 'smack of self-promotion', wouldn't it?
So it's Christmas in Connecticut -minus Barbara Stanwick, but with the electronic 'Yule Log' gayly burning away on the flat-screen by request of son Sergei (surely this two-hundred year-old house originally had several fireplaces, all removed in an over-zealous modernization drive by the former owners several generations ago). We enjoyed, as always, DVDs of McGoo's Christmas Carol (great Jim Backus and songs by top Broadway tunesmiths Merill & Styne) , a Harry Potter feature and a very strange Russian version of Gogol's strange 'Night Before Christmas' kindly lent to us by Olga Lausch of Rehobeth, DEL, which prompted me to read the original story (translation of course) this morning. No 'Christmas Carol' of course, but then Gogol wasn't that type of moralizer.

Here's our Christmas dinner -on which we are still dining:
Roast Duck with hot Bilberry sauce*,
Mashed potatoes
Root vegetables (turnips, beets and parsnips) brushed with duck fat and roasted with fresh rosemary, pepper and salt)
Spinach with garlic
Mixed salad with feta.
Prosecco Santero -San Stefano Belbo
Before I'm hauled up before a Congressional Committee for high-hatting extravagance in these hard times (but Holiday, eh, Christmas Mr. Scrooge, Christmas...) I will plead that I got the duck for $12.95 with the help of my 'Stop & Shop' card (shades of Jonathan Richman's immortal 'Roadrunner' -but I not only drive past the Stop & Shop, I stop to shop at the Stop & Shop). As exotic as the bilberry sounds, a jar of the jam can be purchased at one of the Polish food shops in Greenpoint (along with somewhat harder to find cranberry, lingonberry and occasionally even whortleberry jams) for about $2.29. I'm sure that's exactly how the chef prepared our magret de canard with bilberry sauce (using jam) that the band enjoyed so much before our Paris show two years ago (I'll get the address of the cafe for you). The prosecco was $10.99 a pop (even less when when you get the 20% discount by buying three bottles at our local dealer on Manhattan Ave in Greenpoint) - not too sweet at all -just right and certainly festive. To sum it all up the spinach was thawed from frozen blocks (99¢ a box -anywhere) and the potatoes and roots -well they speak for themselves (hmmm, let me think about that...). We didn't even bother eating the salad until the next day -the feast of St. Stephen as mentioned in Good King Wenceslaus -Boxing Day as Ken Fox and our friends in The Commonwealth would have it -that is, the second day of Christmas. I like Christmas having twelve days. If that's too much for you, once while in Tobago, I recall hearing a woman on the radio putting forth the argument that Christmas actually had thirteen days. I guess that's counting Epithany, which we called 'Little Christmas' when I was a child. The Tobagonians, however, are content to celebrate only 12 days (with music, drinking and constantly setting off explosions by pouring gasoline into a hollow of bamboo and lighting it) -even if they did seem to run out of steam after New Year's Day. Anyway, the old tradition softens the let down after the big build up, you know that feeling of it all being over in one day. Some say good riddance, but people wouldn't feel that way if Christmas wasn't celebrated (pushed, actually) so early and heavily weeks before it even arrives all during Advent or even before that. That might also save us some of the unseemly grousing about Yuletide commercialization, although the observation of desperate merchants this year might have been the lack of it.

We're about to drive up to The Red Lion Inn ( in picture-perfect Stockbridge, Mass (of Norman Rockwell and yes, Alice's Restaurant /Arlo Guthrie fame) to admire the Christmas display and have some hot cocoa or mulled cider with rum, a yearly tradition.
Writer John Buckley tells me he labored there as a lad. Probably at the same time an enraged Viennese dessert chef named Horst was screaming at me at the top of his lungs in the kitchens of the venerable Hotel Sagamore in the Adironacks. I'll have to thank Horst for unintentionally (?...) helping me decide -or at least not decide, what I was incapable of deciding for many years to come. I wound up letting that decide itself. That was in the early 70's - I remember well because the first Black Sabbath album was being played, maddeningly, non-stop by some Mexican maniacs on the only turntable in the dilapidated barracks where the grand old hotel's staff of transients, ex-cons and Anders Goldfarb (who had gotten me the gig there), were housed. Oddly enough, just a couple of years ago I was doing a 'site inspection' for a leading bridal magazine at Caneel Bay, St. John's USVI (a gorgeously low-key resort founded many years ago by Lawrence Rockefeller with the idea of providing a means of employment for the islanders -I couldn't help asking if 'Larry' still dropped in) when I was introduced to the assistant dessert chef, who couldn't have been any older than I was when I was back at the Sagamore. She told me she was just recovering from the farewell party they had given the night before for their retiring (and long-serving) pastry chef -an ill-tempered Viennese fellow named Horst. Life is indeed very strange and wondrous. So once again I'll wish you all Happy Holidays and hope to see you all at Southpaw ( Brooklyn for our audacious Hangover Helper with Roky Ericsson on New Year Day -that's day, not eve, if you can stand it.

Peter Zaremba

* Roasting the duck wasn't as awful as you might think. We scored the skin, rending off a bunch of the fat while browning the skin in an iron skillet, then roasted the bird on a rack with a DEEP pan underneath to catch the rest of the fat in a hot oven (about 400ยบ) for a little under 2 hours for the 5 1/2 lb. duck. I had taken the precaution of lining the inside of the oven with foil, which wasn't really necessary, but of course we managed to fill the house with smoke anyway.