Nickel Creek - 9:30 Club 5/4/2014

It has been a long time since this blog has seen an update.  Instagram is seductive.  A single photo quickly pushed to multiple social media networks with only a line or two of text.  Very easy.  No thought to formatting, no writing to speak of, and no effort choosing photos.  

On the other hand, Instagram is only a fleeting glimpse.  Photos lack context and don't provide a full view of an event.  Minimal text means there is no opportunity to provide narrative description or critique.  

I have a backlog of photos and experiences that deserve longer form treatment and I will be trying to get back to more regular blogging.  Hopefully improvements in Squarespace over the last year will make this easy.

Back in February of 2013, I went to 9:30 Club to see Sarah Jarosz open for some band I had never heard of, the Punch Brothers.  More on that show here.  Unfortunately on that night Sarah was sick, but I came away a new fan of Chris Thile and the Punch Brothers.  I have since seen them again in Richmond, as well as some members of the band solo.  In getting to know the Punch Brothers better, I of course wanted to understand their history.  When I saw a Nickel Creek show pop up on the calendar at 9:30 Club, I had to go.  

The show was sold out, and the audience knew the music well.  Nickel Creek turned out to be fantastic.  Bands play their best when they have a passionate audience, and the chemistry on Sunday night was excellent.  Washington is a bluegrass passionate city, and the audience was in sing along mode.  Chris, Sara and Sean all seemed to draw on the enthusiasm of the audience, and played a fabulous show.  

The opening band, The Secret Sisters, were also amazing.  "Naturals" would probably be an understatement.  Lydia and Laura were amazing.  Both of their albums are fantastic.  

Enjoy the pics.

August Aquaponic Update

At the end of July we had a major debacle with the aquaponic system.  I was topping off the water in the system, and left the water running. Tap water has lots of chemicals that are poisonous to fish, and unfortunately I woke up to a whole lot of dead tilapia.  It is a testament to the overall resilience of these systems that not only is the system back on track, it is healthier than ever.   

I ordered forty new tilapia from  White Brook Tilapia Farm, and within a couple of days had closer to fifty new fish.  They have thrived, and are eating voraciously.  My impression is that they have doubled in size (at least) in the past three weeks.  

All of our plants are growing very quickly.  Foliage is still doing better than fruit, and my Curry Leaf plant is still at death's door, but herbs, cucumbers and lemon grass are going crazy.  I culled three tomato plants, and the remaining plants have already filled the free space.  I still have more tomato foliage than fruit, but there are a few small tomatoes which I am hoping will grow. 

The standout plants right now are my two cucumber vines.


Cucumber Jungle

The cucumber plants seem to be growing faster and faster as the vine gets bigger.  They have many flowers, and are starting to set fruit. 

  Baby Cucumber

Baby Cucumber

The little tiny cucumbers are popping up all over the vine, and I am expecting them to continue to grow quickly.  In addition to the cucumbers, the basil is thriving and like the other herbs is one of the crops we are already using regularly in our cooking.   

Italian Basil

We picked a big bunch of basil today and made roast salmon with pesto for dinner.  It was essentially just salmon filet with pesto spread on top and baked at 350 to a 135 degree internal temperature.   The baked pesto does not end up the prettiest shade of green, but the taste is fantastic.  Eva wolfed her portion and went back for seconds.  Not often we have such an enthusiastic reaction to such healthy food.  

July Aquaponic Update

Those people who follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram know I started an aquaponic system earlier this year.  An aquaponic system is a closed ecosystem where fish and plants are raised together.  The system is self sustaining, and after it gets going it will accelerate as the fish grow, nitrogen fixing bacteria become better established, etc.  If you are interested in learning more about these systems, The Aquaponic Source hosts a large discussion forum and provides many other resources. 

I set my aquaponic system up in January, but it did not successfully "cycle" until mid-May due to some errors I made in maintaining the system chemistry.  Cycling is the process of getting the nitrogen fixing bacteria established to convert fish urine to nitrites and nitrates.  Without it, no fertilizer is created to support plant growth and ammonia builds up, eventually killing the fish.   

The results of successfully cycling my system have been dramatic.  After having about ten fish die as a result of excess ammonia, the remaining 25-30 tilapia are thriving, and have roughly quadrupled in size.  The plants are mostly thriving, growing quickly and appearing healthy and vigorous.   

  Kaffir Lime

Kaffir Lime

The two biggest exceptions to my comment about the plants thriving are two culinary perennials I planted before the system cycled, kaffir lime and curry leaf plant.  Both of these are used in Asian cooking, and the curry leaf is critical to South Indian cuisine.  The kaffir lime is surviving, but not thriving (above).  The leaves have yellow speckles and it has only put out a few new leaves (which seem to appear an entire branch at a time).   

The curry leaf plant (not pictured) I think is almost dead.  It puts out a few new leaves, but they have been curling up and falling off.  Now that the system has cycled I am going to try starting with a fresh plant. 

My tomatoes are a mixed story.  The plants and foliage are growing vey well, and the few fruit are juicy and delicious.  However, few new fruit are setting.  My theory is I planted too many plants, and the system is too recently established to provide the nutrient density to support active fruit production.  I am going to try pulling out most or all of the current plants, and seeing if a few plants of small tomato varieties can produce better.  Photos below show the few fruit produced, and the dense tomato foliage with few fruit. 

Herbs have been my biggest success so far.  We now use basil from the aquaponic system, including Italian, red and Thai for cooking and garnish.  It is absolutely thriving.  Our thyme is more vibrant than any thyme I have grown outside, and we also have Mexican oregano and tarragon that are doing well.  The only exceptions on the herb front are cilantro and parsley.  They have just not done well.  I am not sure the problem, and I am going to try these again starting myself from seed rather than buying plants.  

Italian Basil

Thyme and Mexican Oregano

I also have two other plants that so far are doing well.  I have a recently planted jalapeno that has started to flower and put our new leaves.  I will be interested to see if it suffers the same problem as the tomatoes, all leaves and no fruit.  I also planted lemon grass, and it loves its new environment.  I have a suspicion that within a few months it may take over more space than I want to give it.  Fortunately it is a versatile plant and I am sure I can find ways to use however much I can produce.  If nothing else it makes great gin & tonics.   


Lemon Grass

Joe Robinson - Jammin Java, July 12, 2013

Joe Robinson and his band mates delivered an amazing show at Jammin Java on Friday evening.  It was evident from the first few notes coming off his guitar that Joe is already (he is only 22) an accomplished talent able to deliver incredible music.

After deciding to see him based on nothing more than a suggestion on Twitter, I now own two Joe Robinson albums, Let Me Introduce You and Toe Jam (EP).  The recordings are good, but nothing like the live performance.    

Joe's vocals are good, but very understated.  The live show acknowledged this, and his guitar and his excellent bandmates were front and center.  His recordings contain a lot more singing, and in my view do not show him at his best.  Without having seen a live show, I would not be gushing to all my friends what a talent he is.   

The contrast that keeps hitting me is Gary Clark Jr.  Joe Robinson may be a better guitar player than Gary.  He is that good.  But he does not have a song like Bright Lights (and he has not played with Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger).  

It feels to me like Joe or someone advising him is trying to fit his recorded music into a "pop" mold, while his guitar playing screams rock & roll.  I am listening to Hurricane from Let Me Introduce You right now, and it sounds like very well crafted jazzy pop.  Very pleasant, but it sells Joe's talent short, or at least it compromises his popular appeal. 

I think Joe should get some advice from Gary Clark Jr on personal image management.  Gary has done a great job in this regard, and has established a well deserved reputation as "the next big thing" .  

Honestly, part of me wants Joe to remain undiscovered so I can see him again in an intimate setting like JamminJava in Vienna, Virginia where Joe can walk off the stage into the crowd and pose with his fan girls.  However he deserves to be selling out the 930 Club in DC.