Friday, September 4, 2009

Fabio Piccolo Fiore New York Restaurant Review

Fabio Piccolo Fiore

230 East 44th Street New York, NY 10007

(212) 922-0581 Reservations accepted

Executive Chef: Fabio Hakill

My Rating: *****

Check out this review in a New York Food Publication: 

I flew into New York this past week for some press on my new record and I invited several of the crew to go with me to have a nice dinner on our day off.  I'd heard about a relatively new place on the East side that served authentic Italian Cuisine and decided to try it out.  The restaurant has several tables outside on the sidewalk for a nice New York evening, which is nice because East 44th street is not very busy with car or foot traffic.  But the atmosphere inside is worth checking out too. About 10 steps below street level, the restaurant has a modern feel but with definite Italian elements and great artwork.
When I arrived Scott and Josh were at the bar having a drink and carrying on a lively conversation with Eddie the bartender. I decided to join them for a drink and after a bit more gabbing with Eddie, we finished our beverages and Bobby, the Maitre d' led us to our table.  He listed off the specials for the evening and explained that Chef Fabio is always willing to accommodate the guests if they don’t see what they like on the menu - all we had to do was ask. A very cool option: to have the chef make your favorite Italian dish or a combine a few things on the menu.

On the way to our table we passed a piano player playing jazz tunes an old upright piano. During our meal he had asked where we were from so he could play us a tune from our hometown. His selection: "Take Me Home Country Roads" and "Georgia On My Mind" for Georgia (for me) and Virginia (for Josh). (Later that night another song caught my attention. I tired to place it. Jazz standard? Something more contemporary, perhaps? Ah no - it was "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" by Green Day. Apparently the pianto player likes to have tunes so that his younger audiences can relate.)

On To The Food

After being seated, I took care of the libations ordered a bottle of Chianti Classico. It has been said by many people that Chianti is the Italians version of the French Bordeaux for 2 reasons. First every Chianti is from a specific region in Italy with Classico being the Northern area of Florence and every chianti has specific guidelines to the grape blends. Chianti must have at least 75% - 100% Sangiovese, up to 10% Canaiolo, up to 20 % of any other approved red grape such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot or Syrah. This wine tasted very good with a berry and floral smell and taste to it. It was very smooth. The 3 of us finished 2 bottles of it over dinner - needless to say, it was pretty darn good.

Amuse Bouches

Bruschetta - The chef sent out a crouton bruchetta amuse bouche to start. This hit the spot and worked perfectly well with the Chianti we ordered.  The toasted crouton was amazing and the fresh tomatoes, herbs and cheese worked well to give it a bright, fresh flavor. I am glad he only sent 1 for each of us because I could have ruined my dinner eating a ton of those.


Crab Cake - Possibly the best crab cake I have ever tasted  – not a pinch of breadcrumbs in this crab cake.There was not a pinch of bread crumbs in this crab cake. Perfectly seasoned and cooked. I think the chef knows he has a winner here because there is no superfluous sauce to cover up a bad crab cake.

Misto di Nettuno (shrimp, octopus and squid) - This dish was excellent. The octopus and squid were like butter and the shrimp was delicious. It was slightly reminiscent of a ceviche salad. Everything was mixed up in a olive oil, basil, garlic and salt mixture. It was so good that when I finished the fish, I committed the worst of etiquette faux pas: I used my bread to clean up the rest of the olive oil mixture. It was that good. Growing up as a kid in New York I ate calamari that was cooked only in olive oil and garlic or marinara sauce. I can honestly say I don't think I ever had fried calamari in New York. I have missed it greatly and this dish brought back some many great memories.

Cocktail Fabio (shrimp crabmeat and oysters) - Wow this was awesome. I am a sucker for a raw bar spread. Some lemon and cocktail sauce with the right amount of horseradish and I'm sold. Again everything tasted fresh and you could have fed me this plate all night. It was the perfect portion with 3 oysters and some shrimp with a pile of fresh crabmeat.


Classic Caesar Salad - A very good caesar salad. The one thing that I really liked about their caesar salad is that the dressing was not that typical heavy cream dressing. It was more of a oil based dressing that also did not have a strong anchovy taste. It had big pieces of shaved parmesan cheese and had awesome croutons like those from the bruschetta amuse bouche.

Arugula Salad - This was a nice salad. It had arugula, pears, walnuts with a orange vinaigrette. I think if this salad had some goat cheese or crumbled blue cheese it would have taken it over the top. I am a sucker for cheese of all kinds though some people may have liked it as is.


Gnocchi alla Genovese - This might have been my favorite dish all night. I love fresh pasta dishes and this one is special. It was fresh gnocchi tossed in fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and a light pesto sauce. The sauce was so light that you could probably take a gnocchi and put it on your napkin and you would not see much of anything there which to me is awesome. I want to taste the potato and flour and not a sauce. The gnocchi were light and very moist and the tomatoes and mozzarella complimented them without overpowering the dish.

Veal Chop - I actually took the maitre d's advise and combined a few menu items. While the gnocchi is an entree, I asked for a small portion and had the veal chop as my entree. What a treat - perfectly cooked to medium rare and seasoned just right with a moderate dose of salt and pepper. It was garnished with broccoli and carrots but for me it was all about the chop. I don't get to have veal chops too often because not many restaurants serve them. I love to cook myself but veal chops and rack of lamb are so hard to cook right that I don't even try anymore I just wait to order them out. If you have not had a veal chop I would compare it to combining a great ribeye with a thick pork chop. You get all that flavor from the bone being on the meat and you have that taste and texture that melt in your mouth.

Shrimp & Lobster Risotto alla Fabio - This was a huge dish that will definitely fill you up. The lobster was cooked to perfection and like all the shrimp dishes that we had earlier these were seasoned well and tasted great. Risotto is very hard to make especially a good one and it takes a while to cook because you have to keep it on a low burner and slow cook it. It was a beautiful orange color - I suspect the result of shellfish broth, a touch of saffron or a combination of the two.

Seafood Special - This was one of the 2 entree specials. It had clams, crabmeat, lobster and calamari in a light spicy red sauce over linguini. Again the sauce was not thick over heavy and it was more incorporated into the dish for flavoring. Everything worked well with this dish and pasta was very fresh.


Tiramisu - I have to put this desert in with my all time favorite tiramisus. I had one in Rome that blew me away so much so that, even after stuffing ourselves silly, I had to order seconds - Fabio Piccolo Fiore's was a close match to my Rome experience. I loved the plating - an individual round tiramisu and the ingredients were well balanced. I hate when there is either to much mascarpone cheese or too much liquor. Were I not so stuffed I would have ordered a second piece.

Italian Gellato - 2 huge scoops of home made vanilla ice cream. Tasted great and I don't think we left a drop in the bowl.

Creme Caramel - This was the lightest of all 3 deserts but it still packed huge taste on your palette. It reminded of a cross between a creme brulee and a flan. The custard was delicious and it just melted in your mouth. The plate was garnished with strings of whip cream that perfectly complemented the dish.

Final Thoughts

The food at Fabio Piccolo Fiore reminds of my trip to Rome. Everything is so authentic and the recipes have probably been passed down from generations. Fabio is an amazing chef and he knows how to allow the main item of a dish to stand out. All of the ingredients in his recipes are to enhance the pasta, fish, and meat without clouding what you are eating. His dishes are very refined, plated beautifully and the portions will have you leaving very full.

All of the fish and pasta are extremely fresh. The chef wants you to taste the freshness of the pasta and not some heavy sauce that was thrown on it. The shellfish, clams and squid are all great and it is such a treat to have them prepared in a authentic Italian way: less is more.

The wait staff was impeccable and the atmosphere was lively, modern and classy. I would highly recommended this restaurant for a dinner date.

The menu is very diverse and offers something for everyone - especially given the chef's willingness to combine items and cook items that aren't on the menu.

If you are looking for great authentic Italian food that has not been Americanized and a nice quaint place to have dinner then I would highly recommend going to Fabio Piccolo Fiore.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Richard Petty Driving Experience

I had one of the coolest life experiences yesterday. We had just finished morning radio on the Bob and Sheri show in Charlotte and we jumped into a car with our manager. All day we were hearing mentions of this secret lunch that we needed to wear pants and closed toe shoes. I was also told that I needed to bring the flip cam so I knew something was up. I had my suspicions with all these hints and they were 100% right on.

We drove for about 45 minutes and then all of sudden we see the massive Lowe's Motor Speedway in front of us. So we were going to get to go in a NASCAR stock car as part of the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

Our management had set it up for all of us to get a ride in a stock car for 3 laps. If we had more time we could have took the driving school and actually learned how to drive the stock car. I definitely want to go back to the Richard Petty Driving Experience and learn how to drive solo. I don't think I will be going 180 mph like I did as a passenger but it would be fun to drive on the track and shift gears.

The whole experience was just amazing. We got their got signed in and were given little USB key chains that were going to video our 3 lap experience. Every one at the Richard Petty Driving Experience in Charlotte were just so hospitable to us and went the extra mile. They got us fitted into our fire retardant jumps suits and our safety helmets and helped get us into the cars. They hooked us up to a neck brace that connects to the helmet and then strapped us in tight to the 3 point harness inside the racing car.

Getting into a stock car is nothing like jumping into the General Lee especially with that huge helmet on my head (there are no door handles just in case you are wondering) and it takes some wiggling to get your head and body down into the car. I had a second to say hello to driver and thank him for this amazing opportunity and then it was show time.

The driver dropped the hammer down and I felt I was like Cole Trickle in "Days Of Thunder". We started at a dead standstill in the pits and the driver just floored it and started shifting gears as we headed into turn 1. I could not believe that we were accelerating into this massive 24 degree turn. I just held on and took it all in. We hit the back straight away and we were probably a foot off the wall and the driver had it wide open or as fast as he was going to take me which was somewhere between 160-180 mph. Going into the next turn I could see him down shifting but halfway through the the turn he was shifting up again and accelerating. We hit the grandstand straight away and we were probably at top speed racing by the pits. We did this for 3 more laps and then we down shifted into the pits to end this ride.

Oh my god!! You cannot comprehend what those race car drivers go through on a average race. I thought after attending a race in person I had a good perspective but no way. Not until you get in a stock car and go over 150 mph and feel what it is like to hit those high embanked walls and go down the straight ways inches of the walls will you know. I could not do that for 250 laps by myself.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Java Talk - Espresso, Latte And Cappuccino (Part 2)

Starbucks and Caribou cannot compete with the small coffee shop

Ever since Starbucks and Caribou switched all their espresso machines over to fully automatics their drinks have never tasted the same. Both establishments used to use machines where the barista actually needed to know how to make an espresso. The people making the drinks knew how to pull shots of espresso and make the perfect cappuccino. As both companies focused on expansion they made the decision to change all their quality manual machines to automatic ones.

What does this mean?

It means now you put the beans into a hopper and press a button and voila you have an espresso. No more grinding the beans putting them into a portafilter and tamping. Never used an espresso machine and want to work at Starbucks? No big deal because you don't really need to know how to.

What does it mean to you the consumer?

It means you don't get that rich foamy crema on top of your espresso. The drinks also are not as robust as they used to be.

I can guarantee you that if you put a espresso, latte or cappuccino side by side from a small coffee house and one from Starbucks or Caribou there will be a dramatic difference. First the small coffee house will use beans that have been freshly roasted and they will be a lot more oily. All of this will give you a more robust thicker crema. Secondly they are going to pull the perfect shot out of their commercial portafilter machine. Espresso will be strong but smooth and, as for the other drinks - you'll be will wanting seconds and thirds.

I have a lot of coffee friend junkies who now order 4-5 shot drinks at Starbucks because they feel that their lattes are not robust anymore.

Stay tuned my final part of this series will be a video presentation of me making espresso and lattes on my own machine.

Sister Hazel Release Tour Begins - Orlando

We had a good first day on the new record tour.  Our day began at 6:00 am in Orlando Florida.  We had an acoustic performance on the Daily Buzz Television Show.  We have played on the show before and the hosts and staff have always been great to the band.  It was then on to the Mix 105.1 radio station for a webcast performance.  Mixed in between the songs we took questions about the new record and all things Hazel. 

The day finished off with an acoustic performance at Blue Martini hosted by the Mix 105.1.  The place was packed with familiar faces and I think people were excited to hear new music.  We played 3 songs off the new record and it was good to be playing live again.

iTunes Blast

Our new record has been received very well from the online community.  On the first day of its release we have been #1 at Rock and have been up to #8 overall album.  Thanks to everyone who has purchased the new record.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sushi In The ATL (That would be Atlanta)

Just went out tonight and have some great sushi and I thought I would write a post about it.

Atlanta has some good sushi restaurants but to be considered great it has to come down to the fish and how it is served.  In my opinion if you want the best in Atlanta there are only 2 places to go.  

They would be Circle Sushi in Roswell and MF (Magic Fingers) in Midtown.  These 2 places have the best fish in town and their menu is spot on with anything you would see in Japan.  There aren't a bunch of crazy ass fried rolls with gobs of eels sauce in these establishments.  What you will find are California Rolls with real crab meat.  It blows my mind how many sushi restaurants in Atlanta serve California Rolls with imitation crab.  You can't win any awards when you are serving imitation crab.  You will also find Chu Toro which is a mid fatty tuna that is almost impossible to find in the states.  I first got introduce to while I was in Japan and it is my favorite kind of Tuna.  Both of these restaurants get the freshest fish and serve only the best cuts.

I will break them down for you.

Circle Sushi 

It is a little ways outside of town but the drive is worth every minute.  It is located in a strip mall in Roswell but don't let that fool you because this sushi restaurant has the best fish in town.  The atmosphere and decor are very casual and the staff and owner are great people.  They are not trying to wow you over with Pagodas and Dragons but just serve awesome sushi.  The portions of all there fish are the largest that I have experienced in Atlanta.  When you order sashimi a lot of sushi restaurants will make the fish cuts very small but that is not the case at Circle Sushi.  Sometimes you even end up with an extra piece or 2 courtesy of the chef.  They are also very accommodating if you want a roll that is not on the menu they will make it for you.  For all this great sushi the prices are reasonable.

MF (Magic Finger) Sushi

It is located in Midtown Atlanta on Ponce de Leon street.  This is Atlanta's high end sushi restaurant that would be compared to Sushi Roku in LA.  Lots of decor and vibe going on in this restaurant.  They have a solid menu with everything you would expect.  The quality of the fish is superb but the portions are not that large.  This restaurant is probably the most expensive sushi restaurant in Atlanta but you are getting great fish and a very good date place.

Check them out.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Benziger "Tribute" Wine

I opened a 2003 Benziger "Tribute" estate wine this weekend.

I was living in Nashville back in 2001 when a local wine store turned me on to Benziger Wines. Then in 2003 I took my first Napa Valley trip (while I'd say more about that, it could be 10 blog posts so I will save that for another time). On that trip I made a point to visit the Benziger Winery and from that point on it has been one of my favorite places to visit. I have found several wines from Benziger that I just love.

The whole winery is done as an organic operation without the use of pesticides and other chemicals. It is family owned and you can really get a sense that the people who work their truly appreciate wine and the Benziger Family. On the tour you get taken by tractor through the vineyards and get explanations of how they grow the grapes and harvest them. They take you through their large cave and show you how they have all there barrels stored. Outside the caves are their crushing and fermentation tanks as well as their bottling center.

We ended up in the reserve room after the tour and drank several of their wines for about an hour. The reserve rooms of any winery are their hidden gems. You must go and seek these rooms out because this is where you are going to find the wines that you will be drinking for many years to come.

On our next trip to Benziger is when we discovered their "Tribute" estate wine. I personally like very bold red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Bordeaux. The "Tribute" is in the Bordeaux style blend without the Petit Verdot added. It has the 4 other grapes in it and it is a perfect blend. I usually do not like blended Cabernet Sauvignon wines which use 2-3 grapes varieties but there's something about addin the 4th or 5th grape variety that makes it truly special. All the grapes from their "Tribute" are harvested from the same region and vineyard. I love that the "Tribute" is very bold without any tannins.

If you go out to Napa or Sonoma you must go to Benziger, tour their property and indulge in the reserve tasting room. I am a member of their wine club so I get shipments sent to me every other month - a good portion of my wine cellar is now filled with their wine.

Here is a link to the Benziger Winery

Here is a link to the 2006 "Tribute"

Unfortunately I think "Tribute" can only be purchased at the winery or if you happen to live in one of the lucky states to which you can have wine shipped to you directly. Georgia finally can get wine shipped now but we still can't buy wine or beer on Sunday. We will not open that can of worms now because it's a sore spot with me.

Java Talk - Espresso, Latte And Cappuccino (Part 1)

After going to Europe on my honeymoon in 2002 I fully became a java connoisseur and hated the dreaded coffee that I drank for so many years. It was a life turning experience for me because I truly never new what I was missing until I was having cappuccinos and latte's for breakfast and a double espressos after dinner. From France to Rome the java flowed 24/7.

I'd wake up and have like 2 cappuccinos with my croissants and beignets every morning. I could have stayed at the bistro all day long and drank those drinks. In the evening we would have amazing 2-3 hour dinners that we thought would never end. The French and Italians love their multi course dinner extravaganzas. In order to have energy left after these feasts my wife and I would order either 1 or 2 double espressos after dinner. I would usually jack it up another notch with the fancy sugar cubes that they provided with the drinks.

When I arrived home to the States I was done with crappy automatic drip coffee. We had some money left from our wedding gifts and we bought a basic Saeco Espresso machine. It was a good machine that lasted me for several years until it finally needed one to many repairs. It was a good starter machine but as I got more into making coffee drinks I found it had some drawbacks: you could not brew coffee and steam milk at the same time because the boiler could not hold enough hot water. You would also have to wait after brewing coffee for the boiler to heat up again to steam your milk. The portafiler (the piece that attaches to the machine in which you put the coffee) was not a commercial handle but rather a pressurized one. This was good for the beginner because it allowed some leniency when it came to how much coffee and how hard you tamp it down but the downside to the pressurized portafilter handle was that it could not produce the same type of crema (a thick golden brown layer of foam at the top of an espresso) as a manual commercial portafilter.

When the Saeco finally was put to rest I needed to step up my barista and I went with a Expobar Office from Spain which is has a commercial portafilter and a huge boiler that can brew espresso and steam milk at the same time. The Expobar also lets you set brew 4 brew times so your machine will run for a set time then shut off. (I will discuss to this more in a later post on the process of making the perfect espresso.) At the same time I got the Expobar Machine I also purchased a Mazzer Mini Grinder. It allows me to adjust the grind for whatever type of bean I am using.

The Process

Lets talk about how to make the perfect shot of espresso. Espresso is produced by pushing hot water, around 195 degrees F, at 135 pounds per square inch, through a bed of finely ground compacted coffee.

You want to grind up your favorite espresso beans but I would start with grinding only a little bit at first because you might have to alter the fineness of your grind as you will read later.

A single shot is made with about 7 grams of coffee and it should produce around 1- 1.5 ounces of liquid.
A double shot is made with about 14 grams of coffee and it should produce around 1-1.5 ounces of liquid.

First you want to run some hot water through your portafilter to get it nice and hot before you you put the coffee in it.

You want to put your 7 or 14 grams of coffee into your portafilter and then taking your tamper and press down with a good amount of force and give a little turn.

Typically there are guidelines for how long it should take to extract the liquid. These are the typical extraction times.

Single shot of espresso: 1-1.5 ounces: 18-20 seconds
Double shot of espresso: 2-2.5 ounces: 20-25 seconds

The nice thing about my Expobar Office is that once I perfect the grind fineness I can set 4 different brew times. So I can use one for a single shot and one for a double shot. I can program the machine for custom brew times and it will run for either 20 or 25 seconds. So basically I can be on the other side of the kitchen cooking my omelette and not have to run over to shut the espresso machine off after 20 or 25 seconds. Nice feature.

The only way on a commercial portafilter machine to effect the extraction time is to change the pressure that the water exerts on the coffee grounds. The only way to change the pressure is to change the fineness of the coffee grinds or change the tamp pressure on the grinds. This is where you might have to play with the fineness of your grind and how hard you tamp. To further complicate things, as I learned, every bean is quite different and the settings on my grinder for one bean do not work for others. I began sampling many beans and then finally landed on a few I liked and I wrote down my grinder settings for each.

Types Of Coffee Drinks

1. Espress0 - 1 or 2 shots containing 7 or 14 grams of freshly ground coffee. This is brewed to 1-1.5 ounces and 2-2.5 ounces of liquid and extracted within 18-25 seconds. It must have a little crema foam at the top.

2. Macchiato - It is an espresso that has a dash of milk or dense froth added.

3. Cappuccino - It is an espresso that contains steamed milk and foam. The espresso should sit at the bottom then a layer of steamed milk and the top should have a layer of foam from the steam milk.

4. Cafe Latte - It is an espresso that contains steam milk.

5. Cafe Mocha - It is an espresso that has chocolate syrup added to the bottom and then steam milk.

6. American - It is an espresso with hot water added

Be sure to check back later for Part 2 - Starbuck's It Ain't What It Used To Be

And, Part 3 - Video Demonstration of how to make the perfect espresso by me.

Post Surgery 4 Weeks

I have not written a blog post about my knee lately because all has been well and I haven't had any new developments.  This weekend I got on a spinning bike for the first time and actually rode for 35 minutes and broke a sweat.  My knee felt great but even better was to actually feel like I got a cardiovascular workout in.  I have been doing my stretching and trying to loosen up my hamstrings and my Illiotibial band because they have always been tight due to running and playing drums.  I have also been doing leg presses and ball squats to strengthen my quadriceps.  I think I am almost ready to start resuming all leg exercises and get back into yoga as well.  The biggest problem with yoga will be sitting down on my knees.  I don't know when they will want me to start doing that.

I got back on the drums last week for the first time and everything felt fine with using my right leg on the kick drum.  I will be practicing a lot this week and next week getting ready for the tour.  Looking forward to playing shows and playing songs off our new record.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Wine - My First Total Wine & More Experience

I have been hearing for years now how I had to check out the wine store "Total Wine & More". They are located up the East Coast from Florida to New Jersey and have stores in Arizona and California. They carry about 8000 wines plus 2000 spirits and 1000 beers. So while I was down in Tampa I made a stop into one of their stores.

I am big into wines so this was going to be a treat to check out so many different wines under one roof. It was kind of going out to Napa and Sonoma without having the wine tastings. They really need to add store tastings to help us people on the East Coast try some new wines without buying a whole bottle.

They definitely cover everything you would want and more from a variety stand point. You have all of your California wines as well as your South American, Australian and European ones covered. I think the biggest think that they try to offer is good wines for relatively cheap prices. There main demographic would be wines under the $15 price point. They carry more expensive ones but I would say that in general they are focusing on good quality affordable wines. This concept is very close to what Trader Joe's does but "Total Wine & More" has so many more wines.

I started looking around to see what they did carry in some of my favorite wines which would be above their $15 price point. Surprisingly they had quite a few of the wines that I like to drink.

Mark's Favorite Wines At Total Wine & More
ZD - Pinot Noir
Beringer - Alluvium (Bordeaux type blend of 5 Grapes)
Beringer - Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Cakebread - Chardonnay
Benziger - Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Mountain Red
Frank's Family - Cabernet Sauvignon

This was a pretty good selection of my favorites because you will not find to many of these in other wine stores. Many of these wines I had to have shipped directly from the wineries. I think Total Wine & More is a good store to find cheap to mid level priced wines and a huge variety of wines.

I am kind of spoiled by living in Atlanta Georgia because while there is a "Total Wine & More" relatively close by, there is a Sherlock's Wine Merchant in walking distance. Sherlock's stock is nothing compared to Total Wine & More from a volume stand point but you will find those hard to find more expensive wines - they are able to get the wines that you either only see in restaurants or at the wineries. Plus if there is something you like they have the ability to call their vendor and get it for you. For example, I really like the Frank's Family Wines and Sherlock's carried just the Zinfadel. I wanted to try the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Pinot Noir so they were able to get me those wines by calling their vendor. They also carry Del Dotto which is almost impossible to find anywhere other than the winery or a restaurant. There are several Sherlock's locations throughout the Atlanta area so if you are in town I highly recommend checking them out.

Look for some future posts on wine - I look forward to turning you on to some of my favorite wines.

Green Day's New Record Is A Masterpiece

I always like to experience a new record on a long car ride listening from top to bottom. It's the only time where I have no distractions to listen to every song in its entirety. Some of my favorite records I heard for the first time in my car driving somewhere with my wife. I listened to them several times on the drive really getting to focus on the music. Some of these are Chalk Farm "Notwithstanding" - Stroke 9 "Nasty Little Thoughts" - U2 "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb" - Dave Mathews "Under The Table And Dreaming" - Matchbox 20 "Yourself Or Someone Like You".

A couple of years ago I was driving over to Birmingham and my wife bought the the new Green Day record "American Idiot" for our drive. I was a fan of the band and really liked "Dookie" but I hadn't followed them for a while. I had read some great things about their new concept album and wanted to check it out. I was blown away how they made that concept record and had a new found respect for them.

This week when driving back from Tampa and my wife and I had to get the new Green Day CD "21st Century Breakdown". I was excited to hear this record for so many reasons. The band co -produced the new record with Butch Vig. Butch is the drummer for Garbage and he is also a huge record producer who I greatly respect his work. He has produced Nirvana'a "Nevermind" and Smashing Pumpkins "Siamese Dream" so I was expecting a lot from him on this record and I was not let down. I will get more in depth about the production later.

Green Day took their concept record idea to a whole new level. So much thought went into this record I don't know where to begin. The CD is broken down into 3 acts with a general theme for each act. Many of the songs are multi movements with different feels and tempos. The band really stretches out from their comfort zone and covers many musical styles that they are not known for.

"Before The Lobotomy" is one of my favorites because it starts with this 12 string guitar or a nylon string and Billie Joe singing very intimately. The song then goes into a 7/4 time signature with this cool guitar riff sounding like "Rush". I truly love this part of the song and listened to it many times. They then do a huge tempo slow down and work back to the intimate beginning but this time they use big guitars.

The song "21 1st Century Breakdown" starts with something reminiscent of the band "Big Star". It is a classic sounding pop tune with a great retro sound. It then morphs into something that sounds like the Green Day song "Holiday" with a metal edge. The band then breaks down into something that sounds like the rock anthem Free Bird.

"Know Your Enemy" just freakin' rocks. This is a great energetic rock song that will be awesome live. It is right down the middle of the road for Green Day.

"Last Night On Earth" could have been on a Beatles record. The chord changes and the production sound like something McCartney and Lennon would have written. It is great to hear the band really go places that we have not heard before. There is latin sounding song on the record as well as vaudeville sounding song.

"21 Guns" is the big single on this record. It is a great song in the power rock ballad but for me it is hard to follow up their "Wake Me Up When September Ends". I wish I wrote "Wake Me Up When September Ends" because it was perfect in every way so anything else they write in that style I will always compare it to "Wake Me Up When September Ends".

The production on this record is definitely in my top 3 favorite of all time. Butch Vig gets amazing tones on the drums and guitars and Chris Lord-Alge just blows me away with the mixes. I think Butch really worked well with Green Day and I don't know if it was him or the band that decided to push their comfort zone but it works. I like all the squashed compression and the radio sounding intros and endings. Everything is big and crystal clear.

Chris Lord-Alge did a wonderful job at mixing the whole record. It rocks really hard but there are also great moments of intimacy. I cannot say enough about the drum and guitar sounds. I come to expect that from Chris and his brother Tom. They are the masters of allowing you to hear every little instrument on a song without comprising the overall sound of the track. Chris and his brother Tom are probably the best 2 mixers in the world especially when they actually get a chance to mix a whole record. Most of their time is spent mixing every song on the radio but occasionally they get to mix a whole record.

I highly recommend this record so go buy it.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Post Surgery Day 9

I think I will move to a weekly post about my knee recovery unless there is something exciting to talk about.  Right now I am progressing each day and do not have a lot to report on.  Today I went to the gym and got on the exercise bike for 20 minutes.  I felt great and it was not a problem.  The hardest part of this recovery is doing everything at 5%.  I always go 110% at everything I do or I just don't do it.  I have been told to put no resistance on the bike and just turn the pedals at a moderate pace.  This is going to be mentally challenging because to sit on a bike and really not feel like I am doing anything is going to be hard for me.  I would like to get my heart rate up and sweat but I am going to have to use swimming for that right now.  Speaking of I got in the pool today for the first time and it was a great reality check.  One my stamina sucks and I could only do about 10 laps but part of the problem was my shoulder just flat out hurt doing some of the strokes.  I have bone spurns in my shoulder restricting motion in my AC Joint.  I knew I was going to have surgery on this in the Fall because it has been bothering me since October.  The orthopedic surgeon felt like the knee was more serious because I could do further damage to it where the shoulder really can't get any worse because it is bone not ligaments.  So I have more fun to look forward to in October.  Well I will keep you posted on any other developments.

Post Surgery Day 8

My second day of physical therapy got me started on a exercise bike.  I was quite surprised when I got there that my therapist told me to get on a exercise bike for 10 minutes.  She told my range of motion looked good enough to give it a try.  I honestly didn't think I would be on a bike for at least 4-6 weeks so this is really great.  I know they are not going to let me run or get on an elliptical glider for 2-3 months so I was concerned how I was going to stay in shape during this recovery.  I knew I was going to heavily rely on swimming because there is no resistance on the knee.  I can swim okay but I am no Michael Phelps when it comes to my strokes so getting on a bike is very encouraging.  I took up spinning this year because my knee was getting worse so I was already getting into biking before the surgery.  My wife and I have been talking about taking our bikes out on the silver comet trail for a while and I think this is a great excuse to do that.  Just need to build up my strength and stamina and then head out.  Here is the link to the Silver Comet Trail Trail for anyone who is interested. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Post Surgery Day 6 (Physical Therapy)

I had my first session of physical therapy today and they thought I was ahead of the normal recovery.  I can bend my leg a considerable amount and now just have to keep working on the flexibility and my strength.  I think I might even be able to play my kick drum within a few days.  My only concern would be the pounding down on the bass drum pedal.  Most of my playing is heel up which is pretty strong motion but I could easy back in with playing heel down.  I was cleared to drive and go up and down stairs and I can trying swimming.  

They had this really cool ice pack at the physical therapy place.  It is a machine connected to a wrap that goes around your leg.  You put ice cubes in the machine and it then pumps 40 degree water in to the wrap around your knee.  Feel like a blood pressure cuff when they pump it up.  It gets super cold.  Check out the  link -

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Post Surgery Day 4 (Finally A Shower)

I has been 4 days since my arthroscopic surgery and everyday I can bend my knee a little more.  The surgeon wants me to keep the immobilizer cast on for must of the time but when I have it off I have started to gently stretch my range of motion.  I am waiting until Monday when I see my physical therapist to see what I should be doing for exercises.  I am hoping see also clears me for swimming because i think it is the only cardio activity I will be able to do for a few weeks.  I think the bike my be a week or 2 away until a have good rotation of my knee.  It is frustrating not being able to do the things that I take for granted like giving my son a bath, or taking him up to his bedroom.  I should be able to handle stairs relatively soon but kneeling down for baths or yoga dog position my be out of my reach for a month.  I know in the end it will all be worth it because I can already tell that the bump I used to have on the inside of my knee is no longer there as well as it is not sensitive to touch.  Just have to work hard through the rehab and make sure I do everything they tell me too.  

I finally got to take a shower tonight.  I can tell you it was a glorious event that I did not want to end.  My sharpie markings and the iodine from the surgery are still on my skin around the knee because I did not want to scrub to hard.  I have been icing my knee 3-4 times a day trying to get the rest of the swelling down.  

Right now everything is feeling good and I am getting around pretty well.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Post surgery Day 3

I slept pretty well last night and had no pain in my leg or knee.  I have a 9:45 AM appointment with the surgeon to remove the cast, the bandages and the stitches.  He thought everything looked good except I still had some swelling on my knee.  He told me to keep ice on it and the swelling would eventually come down.  The surgeon could have drained it with a needle but wanted to wait for the swelling to go down on its own.  I have included 2 photos from my office visit.  I was quite surprised that I only had 2 incisions below my knee and a needle hole on top where the drain was pit in.  You can see from the photos that my knee is still very swollen and bruised around where they went inside.  You can also see where I had to right YES to denote which leg they were doing surgery on.  What a fail safe system.  The surgeon wants me to keep the immobilizer cast on when I walk and thinks I can start my therapy on Monday.  I can put weight on the leg but the main thing that I need to work on is getting my flexibility back.  He doesn't want me driving until next week and just wants me to take it easy.  I also still have to wait until tomorrow until I can take a shower.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Post Surgery Day 2

Sleeping in my bed last night wasn't to bad but I did wake up a few times feeling like my body was in awkward position.  I normally sleep on my left side and to sleep on my back with a pillow under my leg is very weird.  The leg seemed to be a little more stiff this morning but I think it is because I have not walked yet today nor have I sat down and had it bent a little.  

I have loosened the soft cast and removed it this morning in order to let my leg breathe as well as to put some ice on my knee.  I can hardly feel the ice because from my thigh to my angle they have wrapped me like a mummy in ace bandages.  I was told not to touch those bandages so I will just keep the ice on top of the bandages and make the best of it.

Post Surgery Day 1

I was wide awake until 3:00 am last night probably due to being groggy for most of the day from the anesthesia.  I decided to sleep on the couch last night so I could elevate my leg as well as not wake up my wife if I was uncomfortable.  Got up around 7:00 am and felt pretty good.  I didn't have any pain but my leg was very stiff.  I have a feeling it is going to be stiff until the cast comes off on Friday and I start physical therapy.  I sat on my couch must of the day to keep my leg rested while I was taking calls from Sister Hazel fans across the globe.  

The one challenging thing has been putting on my right shoe and changing my clothes.  I feel a little helpless because I cannot bend my right leg to put my shoe on nor can I reach down to change my shorts.  Its kind of a drag and cannot wait to get this cast off on Friday.  It has also left me to take sponge baths because I cannot get this cast and bandage wet.  All I need is some dread locks, a few hemp necklaces and a pause at 4:20 and I would fit in with the cool crowd.  

I have been able to get around my house without crutches and I try to walk with all my weight on my left foot.  I can put weight on my right foot without pain but I am trying to avoid any extra stress on that leg until I see the surgeon.  

This evening I will sleep in the bed since I have been feeling pretty good.  I have not really needed the pain medication at the moment because most of my uncomfortable feeling is not pain but rather stiffness and itchiness.  

So far I am happy where I am with my  recovery and things are going well.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Arthroscopic Pictures From My Surgery

Picture 1 - What looks like icicles are bone spurs on my knee cap behind my patella.

Picture 2 - Is what the same area looks like after bone spurs have been shaved off.

Picture 3 - On the right hand side between the 2 bones is the meniscus tear.  On the left hand side is the cyst that formed from the tear.

Picture 4 - This is after the meniscus tear and the cyst were removed. No more loose cartilage.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Surgery Day

It was a long day at the hospital today but everything has turned at well so far.  I finally was taken back to the operating room around 1 PM today.  Within minutes of arriving in the operating room I was out cold.  This was a new experience for me because when I had my wisdom teeth taken out and when I had an endoscopy done it was a different type of anesthesia. On those 2 procedures they put you to sleep but you are breathing on your own and it is not a deep sleep.  Today they put something in my throat to help with my breathing and it was a very deep sleep.  

The procedure took only about an hour but I was in recovery for about 2 and half hours.  I was probably a sleep for 1 and half hours in recovery.  When I woke up I was very groggy and was starving since I had not eaten since the night before. Fortunately I was not in a lot of pain and they did a good job of managing it for me.  They had given me the option of a nerve block needle (similar to an epidural) to help with pain but I was hesitant to mess with my legs and nerves so I just took the morphine and percocete.  The pain was not that bad so I felt good with my decision.  I remember the orthopedic surgeon coming in and talking to me but I could not tell you anything he said because I was not not completely awake.  So he had gone in and talked with my Dad and explained what they found and what they did.
The surgeon removed the piece of torn meniscus and took out a cyst that had formed from the torn meniscus.  He gave my knee a thorough inspection and also found bone spurs on the knee cap behind my patella.  We had talked about this prior to the surgery and thought that there may be some there.  So he went in and scraped them off as well.

They put a leg immobilizer cast on my leg from my thigh down to my angle.  It is a neoprene wrap with a 2 inch metal rod on the back to keep my leg straight until Friday.  I am scheduled to go in on Friday to have the stitches removed. Right now I have no idea how many incisions were made and where because I have this cast on.

Overall I have been pleasantly surprised not to have a lot of pain.  I had no idea what to expect after surgery but I am crossing my fingers that the worst has passed and I am moving forward now.  Wearing the immobilizer has been more annoying than any pain that I have because it is cumbersome and itches. I took 1 vicodin this evening at 7 PM and I plan on taking 2 when I go to bed just in case I wake up with pain.  If I don't have any pain in the morning I probably will not take anymore unless I need it.  I do not like to take drugs if I don't have to.

Stayed tuned for my progress and thanks for all your thoughts and prayers today.

Surgery Morning

I was supposed to be getting up at 5:30 am for a 8:30 am surgery.  Well I got a call from the hospital last night saying that they had to move me back until 12:15.  Have I mentioned that I hate hospitals.  So now I get to starve from midnight until somewhere around 4 pm the next day.  That is going to be hard for me since I love my food.   
I am not looking forward to possibly being restricted to crutches for a while and having to take it easy.  I love to be active and that is why I am getting my meniscus fixed in the first place.  If I want to continue to run, play tennis and go snowboarding I needed to get it fixed.  Plus my orthopedic told me it was only going to get worse as I got older.  Hopefully they can fix the tear and clean out the cyst without to much trouble.  If everything goes as plan I am supposed to have the stitches taken out on friday and can start physical therapy on Monday. Probably will be swimming a lot in order to get some type of cardiovascular workout in.  I think I will not be allowed to run for a few months to make sure I have completely healed and that I have built up enough strength in my knee.
I will post again tonight when I get home.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My New York Mets Are Spiraling To The Cellar Again

Ever since I was 7 years old I have been a die hard New York Mets fan.  I have been waiting for another world series title since their 1986 one.  The 2000 loss to the Yankees in the world series hurt and the to get so close to the World Series in 2006 was just not fair.  

Right now to see the current team self destruct year after year is killing me.  Everyone thought replacing Willie Randolph was the problem but here we are again with the team spiraling down in the middle of the season.  The problem with this team is Omar Minyaya the general manager and the cohesiveness of the players he has assembled.  He has brought all these big names in but these guys can't play as a team and there is no leader in the clubhouse.  

Across town there is no denying the leadership role of Derek Jeter but these Mets just don't have that guy. Everyone thinks it should be David Wright but he has just not stepped up.  No one seems accountable on this team nor does there seem to be a tight bond between all the players. Even though this years team is decimated with injuries is time to change direction with the team and general manager.  The owner should let go of Omar at the end of this year and try to find a better guy who can really judge talent in the farm system.  I also think its time to let Beltran and Delgado go.  These guys are just not consistent and I think younger players are the way to go.  This will also help David Wright be that leader.  Personally I think he has lot of the same issues that Tony Romo has had in Dallas.  When there are other players on the team vying for attention and the spotlight it is hard to lead a team and be respected.  At the same time the leader needs to perform on the field and lead by example.  His hitting has not be solid and there have been to many errors in the field.  Maybe because he is trying to hard with all the injuries but they need to get some other young guys in there and start playing like a team.  There doesn't seem to be that hunger to get back to the playoffs and win a World Series.  

Hopefully changes can be made this year after they have another dismal season.

Friday, July 10, 2009

What Makes A Good Salad

I had lunch at Walter Payton's Roundhouse today and had a very good steak salad. It had the perfect amount of ingredients and they all worked well together. Most people think that salads are easy to make and you can just whip one up. But that is not really true if you want a good one.

Of course most salads have greens but after you make that decision, you have to 'top' your salad. But too many ingredients on a salad is exactly like to many toppings on a good New York pizza; it will suck. As the saying goes: there can be too much of a good thing.

I like a lot of the basic vegetables in my salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions), usually with steak or chicken for some protein. After that I usually will allow 1 or 2 odd items to add a different flavor or texture - like avocado, cranberries, mandarin oranges, pecans, pine nuts. But again, too many flavors or textures will ruin the pot.

So you have a salad. Done, right? Wrong. This is the point where everything can go horribly, horribly wrong for some people and restaurants. I personally do not like heavy dressings like ranch or blue cheese with cheese added to the salad - and if you are going to add one, the salad doesn't need to be drowning in the dressing. Heavy dressings turn the greens into something that rivals that quarter pounder and large fries in terms of health benefits and is almost as heavy. I lean towards vinaigrettes and, if I'm going to top my salad with cheese, I prefer a goat cheese or crumbled blue cheese. They work well with the vinaigrettes and I like that they stick to the lettuce and other ingredients like glue. So as you stick your fork in you are able to get lots of the ingredients at once do to the cheese acting like a glue. Shredded mozzarella and cheddar don't achieve that effect.

Lastly make sure you mix it all up before serving it. Who wants a salad with the meat and cheese on top and the dressing on the bottom with the lettuce?

Arthroscopic Meniscus Surgery

I have decided to write a daily post to follow my progress of my arthroscopic knee surgery and recovery.  I have had problems with my knee when I run since 2002.  I saw an orthopedic then and they said I probably tore my meniscus but to lay off running and that it might get better without surgery.  Well  last year it started acting up again and has not stop hurting when I run. After getting an MRI it was confirmed that I had a torn meniscus as well as a possible cyst.  My band was in the middle of recording a record this past year so I have put off the surgery until this Tuesday July 14th.  I am excited that I am finally getting this taken care of and I am looking forward to working hard through the rehab. 

The Beginning

I have decided to jump into the social world of blogging. Hopefully this will give everyone insight into my life with Sister Hazel and my life at home.

Most people think I am a quiet person but I think that is a misconceived notion. You see I have lots to say and many opinions but it really depends on the topics and whom I am talking to. I love to talk about music, sports, food, movies, electronics and I hate to talk about politics. Lots of people think I have no sense of humor and that I am always serious. I think that comes out because I really take a lot of pride in the things I do in my life and that I care about people. A lot of people in my life now are really into that slapstick type of humor and its not really me. I am rudolph and I don't participate in those stupid moments. So I will try to write as much as possible and keep you up on the things that might be interesting to you.