2010 June at John Mackey's Blog



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  • June 30, 2010

    Photos high and low

    Just a few assorted pictures from the past few days…

    On Thursday, we went to the Fifth Avenue Apple Store to pick up an iPhone 4. It was a hot day, and the line was huge (this must be the busiest Apple Store in the world), but the line moved quickly, and we were in and out in less than 90 minutes. (Compare that to my experience at The Domain Apple Store in Austin, where it took six hours to buy an iPad on launch day. I hate you, The Domain Apple Store.  You are truly the worst Apple Store in the world.  Fifth Avenue Apple Store?  I love you.)

    I was not the only person there with a camera.

    Jeez. See what I mean?

    It was a fun morning — the way a big Apple launch should be. (The iPhone 4, by the way, is very slick.)

    On Sunday, we ventured to Brooklyn to check out Brooklyn Heights and the Brooklyn Promenade. We had brunch at a place called Heights Cafe. I only had my wide-angle lens with me, and I’d never tried shooting food with it.  Looks kinda weird.  (Tasty brunch, though.)

    Tonight, I went up to our building’s huge shared roof deck for the first time.  (It spans the entire building, which spans an entire city block.)  This is looking east.

    The building is on 7th Avenue between 24th & 25th Streets. Here’s a shot looking up 7th Avenue.

    Here’s the same direction an hour later.

    And here’s a shot looking south towards the financial district.  The nearby buildings look small, but they’re not.  (I was up over 20 stories.)  I love being surrounded by buildings and lights as far as you can see.

    Coming up later this week… A haircut on Thursday with my old stylist (need to get this hair fixed), a concert on Friday (a joint performance at Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic and the West Point Band), and dinner at Eleven Madison Park on Saturday.

    I love this city.

    1 Comment

    June 25, 2010


    Our NYC foodie tour continued last night at WD-50, Wylie Dufresne‘s restaurant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

    Dufresne is one of the big American “molecular gastronomy” chefs (along with Grant Achatz, chef at Alinea in Chicago — where I had the best meal ever).  Molecular gastronomy adds a scientific approach to the processes of cooking, leading to fun things like foods that are served as a liquid when they’d normally be a solid.  Or, something might look like bread, but actually be ice cream.  In my limited experience with this kind of food, it seems to be the most successful when the chef is not only creative, but has a sense of humor.  (There were courses at our dinner at Alinea that had us in tears we were laughing so hard.)  Molecular gastronomy is serious cooking, but it ain’t stuffy (and at WD-50, the dress is casual, which I appreciate — especially when it’s 85 degrees outside).

    As we usually do, we started our evening with cocktails. AEJ’s, the pH (rose, lychee, and vodka), was interesting (it tasted like fruit punch), but mine, the Lupita, was bat-shit crazy — a surprising-with-each-sip take on a margarita, with yuzu (the delicious citrus I mentioned in my write-up of Morimoto the other day), tequila, green apple, and — seriously — green tabasco. This was one spicy pucker.

    They also provided sesame flatbread, which was the freakishly flattest flatbread I’ve ever seen.

    We ordered the tasting menu with wine & sake pairings. AEJ is allergic to shellfish, so the first course — normally a scallop dish — was substituted with this dish, featuring an incredible broth, dried seaweed, chickpea cubes (they felt like tofu but were made from chickpeas), and I-don’t-know-what-else.

    Next up: one of WD-50’s most famous dishes, the “everything bagel with smoked salmon threads and crispy cream cheese.” This was a lot of fun. No idea how salmon was transformed into that crazy powder that you see under the “bagel,” and the bagel isn’t a bagel at all, but is actually ice cream.

    This is foie gras, passionfruit, and Chinese celery. Somehow the fois gras was formed into a perfect circle that honestly resembled a Vienna sausage.

    Where’s the passionfruit? Somehow, it was stuffed inside of that sausage-looking fois gras. I’m not normally so big on fois gras, nor passionfruit, but I learned last night that together, they’re amazing, with the intense richness of the fois gras cut by the bright passionfruit flavor.

    This looks like a slab of butter, some sushi, a pickle, and some breadcrumbs. It’s actually scrambled egg ravioli, charred avocado, kindai kampachi, and potato crumbs.

    This is another trademark Dufresne dish: cold fried chicken, buttermilk-ricotta, tabasco, and caviar. Think “fanciest-ever leftovers.”

    This was another shellfish substitution. Normally, this course would be the sweet shrimp. This was perch with potatoes and curry sauce.

    Here is the best course of the night: beef and bearnaise. Traditionally, the beef would be, well, beef, and the bearnaise is a broth. This flips it, with the normally solid beef becoming intense beef broth, and the bearnaise becoming solid, like a gnocchi. We wouldn’t change anything about this dish.

    (I had the new iPhone 4 with me, and I wondered how it would do as a low-light food camera. Here’s what I captured with the iPhone. Not bad for as dim as it was in the room, but it can’t replace the normal camera setup.)

    The final pre-dessert dish was the lamb loin with black garlic romesco, soybean, and pickled garlic chive. The lamb had a nice flavor, but it seemed to have been cooked sous vide and not seared after, resulting in an excessively chewy texture, not unlike lamb gum.

    Did I mention that we had the wine/sake pairing? That results in a lot of, um, drinking. By the time dessert rolled around (which also included dessert wines), we were hammered.

    The people at the next table may have been hammered, too. Broken wine glasses = now it’s a party.

    Dessert time! First up: chewy lychee sorbet with pistachio, lemon, and celery. (The pistachios were underneath that perfect white foam.)

    This is a hazelnut tart with coconut, chocolate, and chicory. Yum.

    Caramelized brioche, apricot, buttercream, and lemon thyme. Nom.

    And lastly, chocolate shortbread with milk ice cream inside, and… cocoa packets. Those things on the left look like little rubber packets, but they’re completely eatable — and delicious.

    The meal took roughly four hours, and it was a blast. Flavor-wise, I think I enjoyed it more than AEJ, who thought the foie gras course was a little large, the dried seaweed was too fishy, the salmon powder was also too fishy, and there was too much caviar with the chicken dish. (She doesn’t like much in the way of fish. I didn’t have any complaint with any of the dishes except the texture of the lamb.) You figure, though, with twelve courses, not everything will be perfect, but even the occasional miss was entertaining. The vibe in the room is comfortable and relaxed, and not remotely stuffy. We got to see the kitchen after dinner, and we met Chef Dufresne, who was very pleasant, and he was awfully forgiving of my then-shitfaced self. (“I love you, man. You know that, right?”) I had a much better time at WD-50 than I’d had at Morimoto the night before. I don’t know that I’ll be back at WD-50 anytime soon (since half the fun of a meal like this is the surprise of each dish), but I’d recommend it to anybody who is looking for an entertaining and memorable four-hour dinner. Oh — and be sure to order the wine/sake pairing, ’cause… damn.


    June 24, 2010

    NYC part 1 – Morimoto

    AEJ and I had dinner at Morimoto last night.  Morimoto is the NYC restaurant of Masaharu Morimoto, better known as Iron Chef Morimoto on the Food Network show “Iron Chef America.”

    We started with cocktails. This one was delicious — the “white lily” — made with yuzu juice, lemon juice, and some other goodies. I love yuzu (it’s a bright citrus flavor), and this was the first time I’d had yuzu in a cocktail. A delicious cocktail, but not very strong.

    The chopsticks at Morimoto are clear acrylic. (I wasn’t trying to make them look like a cross; I’ve just been spending a lot of time driving past enormous crosses along the southern freeways. Must have stuck in my subconscious.)

    We had two appetizers. The first was the best part of the entire evening — a wagyu beef carpaccio with (more) yuzu, soy, ginger, and sweet garlic — but the picture didn’t turn out. (The restaurant was very, very dark. There were halogen spotlights aimed at most tables, but as luck would have it, our light was aimed between our table and the adjacent table. I was tempted to stand on the table and adjust the light.) The other appetizer was this yellowtail “pastrami” with togarashi, gin greme craiche, and candied olive. The yellowtail somehow actually tasted like, well, pastrami. It was delicious (although there was too much dill on top). The candied olives were crazy. They were like the olive equivalent of cat food. I mean that in a good way. My dad once told me that a single cat food kibble tastes like a thousand fish exploding in your mouth. (He used to smoke a lot of pot.) These candied olives were like, well, a thousand delicious olives exploding in your mouth. Crazy, and delicious.

    Here’s our hot appetizer — pork gyoza with garlic chives, tomato, and creme fraiche. (Morimoto seems to like creme fraiche.) Underneath that shell were a half-dozen individual dumplings. Very good, and it was nice to eat an Asian dumpling without worrying at all about the quality of the meat (I’ve had some funky, gristly bits in pork dumplings in the past), but I wished there’d been a more traditional gyoza dipping sauce. The tomato sauce was good, but pork + tomato isn’t my favorite.

    This is our sushi course — (counter-clockwise, from bottom-left): scallops, salmon, eel, yellowtail, and tuna. The fish quality was first rate (as you’d expect, particularly when a single scallop is $7), but the rice wasn’t nearly as good as we’ve had at Jinpachi in Los Angeles. This rice didn’t stick together at all, and it was fairly cold. I prefer lukewarm rice with colder fish on top, and I want the rice to hold together if I bite the sushi in half. Maybe the restaurant just does too large of volume to accomplish that. (Fish on warm rice has to be served pretty damn quickly.)

    We had two entrees. One was “ishi yaki buri bop” : yellowtail on rice, cooked at the table in a hot stone bowl. I thought it was delicious, but AEJ found that the yellowtail took on a fishy note once it had been seared. It wasn’t much to look at, so there’s no picture of this one. The other dish was “angry chicken,” which we had to order based on the name alone. (Plus, who doesn’t love the iPhone game Angry Birds?!) This was a marinated organic half chicken, roasted finger peppers, and spiced chicken jus. It has a nice kick, and a great flavor.

    My dessert was the “apple turban” — apple, pineapple, apple-cider vanilla sauce, and cinnamon ice cream. It was tasty, but felt out-of-place on a hot night in June.

    AEJ’s dessert was the warm chocolate cake with caramel popcorn, rhubarb sauce, and corn ice cream. She loved it, but I don’t recommend tasting corn ice cream after just tasting cinnamon ice cream.

    It was a fun meal, and the setting was pretty slick.

    After dinner, we walked along the west side bike path, back to our apartment. Totally made me want to rent a bike for the summer…

    Tonight, we’re off to wd-50 for dinner. This should be a fun one, too…


    June 23, 2010

    Road trip!

    Summers in Texas are miserable.  The first time we visited Austin two years ago, it was May, and it was hot.  It was in the 90s, and it was humid.  “It never gets humid here.  This is very unusual.”  Oh, that’s good to hear.  “It’s also not normally this hot.  May is usually beautiful here.  This is a weird year.”  Whew!  Okay, if you promise that this isn’t normal, then sign us up.

    Fast forward to May 2009.  By that time, we lived in Austin, and again, it was in the 90s in May — and then it got much, much worse.  The temperature hit 100 shortly into May, and the heat was just getting started.  By the time summer ended (in November), there had been 67 days over 100 degrees — and I’m not talking 101.  I’m talking 113.  “This is a complete fluke,” people told us.  “It’s never this hot here.”  It didn’t matter.  We were done with Texas summers.  (For the record, it didn’t reach 100 degrees in May this year — but it was in the upper 90s several times.  “This is unusual,” people said once again.  I don’t think so.  It’s not a fluke, it’s a climate.  I am too much of a wuss for a climate that hot.)

    I’m fine with cold; I’ll just add more layers.  I’m not fine with hot.  Unless I’m exercising, I shouldn’t be sweating.  I have bangs, for chrissake.  Sweaty bangs are not a good look, people.  So we decided (not just because of my bangs, mind you) that we were too weak to spend another summer in Texas.  We either had to move, or at the very least, we had to make northern summer plans.  (We should have figured this out earlier, when we realized that none of our friends in Austin were anywhere to be seen between June 1 and September 1.)  Our summer 2010 destination: New York City, where we’d lived for 10 years.  Sure, it gets hot and muggy there, but I’ll take 90 degrees over 115 any day.

    Last Thursday, we packed up the car in Austin.  I took the camera out to the garage to get a shot, and this is what I got.  Was it foggy?  No.  It was just humid — and 96 degrees.  That “fog” in the picture is on the lens of the camera.

    Why the hell were we driving instead of flying? Largely because we were bringing a large amount of stuff. (We’re spending nearly two months out of town.) Also, though, we didn’t want to deal with the headache of flying with Loki. The cat is a screamer — even when he isn’t pissed off. The constant screaming on the flight, after trying to get him through security (where you have to remove him from his carrier), all while also dealing with bags — it seemed like too much. It would be stressful for everybody involved, and we figure Loki wouldn’t like flying — and we pretty much do whatever the cat wants.  Plus, road trips are kinda fun (at least for the first 100 miles). Flying is not fun.

    Loki seemed to know it was time for a trip.  While I loaded the car, he got comfy in his carrier.

    The first 30 minutes in the car with Loki is… loud.  There’s a lot of him climbing all over the place, screaming, “LOOK AT ME. I’M IN A CAR. THIS IS A CAR. WE ARE IN THE CAR. LOOK AT ME.”

    But eventually, he calms down.

    And before long, he’s almost too comfortable.

    This shot kind of captures everything you need to know — the outside temperature that we were fleeing, and the shocking amount of fur that a small cat can shed in a very short time.

    Speaking of Tennessee — AEJ is from Memphis, and her mother still lives there. Ya know what else is in Memphis? Completely awesome barbecue. Namely, Corky’s. I’ve tried three types of BBQ — Texas BBQ (which is primarily beef, most often brisket), Memphis BBQ (pork-based, preferably saucy rather than dry-rubbed), and Carolina BBQ (with a vinegar-based sauce). They’re all great, but my favorite is Memphis BBQ — and my favorite of that variety is the pulled pork at Corky’s.  So off to Corky’s we went.  What better way to start than with an onion loaf — with some crazy-good BBQ-based dipping sauce?

    Whenever I go to Corky’s, I get the pulled pork dinner plate. It comes with these amazing, buttery (and salty) rolls.

    But the pork. Oh man, the pork. So, so good. And these are the best baked beans I’ve ever had. If your beans don’t have bacon in them, they’re not real baked beans.

    Corky’s also has some very tasty banana pudding. It was good, but not the highlight of the meal. (I’ve had better banana pudding in Waco, of all places.) Still, yummy (although next time, I’ll get the pecan pie).

    The next morning, we were back on the road. You see all sorts of fun billboards driving through the south.

    I love this combination: an exit with absolutely no attractions (at least they’re honest), next to a billboard for a firework store that offers fireworks on DVD. What’s more exciting than that?

    After more than three solid days of driving, we made it to NYC. Loki was initially a little mental…

    … but has since calmed down.

    Our place is great (more on that in a future entry), and we love this neighborhood — Chelsea.  On our first night, we thought we’d go out for Thai food.  We walked two blocks to a place that I used to love when I lived in NY, but they had the whole restaurant front opened up to the street, and it was a little warm to eat without air conditioning, so we kept walking.  Two blocks later, we found a different Thai restaurant — and it was delicious.  I love a neighborhood where I can find a different Thai restaurant literally every two blocks.

    It’s going to be a good seven weeks. We have reservations at some incredible restaurants, and I guarantee there will be a lot of pictures. First up: dinner tomorrow night at wd-50, Wylie Dufresne’s restaurant on the Lower East Side.  Tasty treats (and molecular gastronomy) ahead!

    You wait here, Loki.


    June 11, 2010

    If I Can Make It There

    A busy week coming up…  Sunday, the University of Texas Conducting & Rehearsing Workshop begins, and I’ll be the guest composer.  I’ll do a little talk about my music on Monday, and on Wednesday, I’ll work with the half-dozen-ish conductors who have picked either “Aurora Awakes” or “Undertow” as their repertoire selection.  It’s going to be fun.

    That wraps up on Thursday, and then AEJ, Loki, and I are packing up the car and beginning our drive to NYC, where we’ll spend the next seven weeks. (Thank you in advance, Liz Love, for housesitting!) AEJ will be taking classes at NYU, and I’ll be spending my days either 1) eating sushi or 2) trying to write one of the several pieces I need to work on this summer.

    I have a few projects in the works. There’s an 8-10 minute Percussion Concertino coming up, but there seem to be some funding issues with that at the moment, so that might be delayed until next spring. At this point, it looks like my next piece will be a commission for Calvin Hofer’s ensemble at Mesa State College.

    I’m looking forward to writing Calvin’s piece, largely because it’ll be a departure from most of my wind pieces. This one will be entirely slow, and (hopefully) lyrical — something along the lines of the first section of “Aurora Awakes” or the “Metal” movement of my Soprano Sax Concerto. I have one slow piece in my catalog — “Turning” — but that one is dark and angry (and requires a waterphone).  For this new piece, the goal is lush & beautiful.  We’ll see how it goes.  I have a very hard time writing slow music, always fearing it’ll tip towards sentimental (and, in my mind, cheesy).

    It’ll be interesting writing a lyrical piece while living in New York — a city that I associate more with Asphalt Cocktail than unabashed lyricism.  If I psychoanalyze it, though, I don’t think I would have written Asphalt Cocktail if I’d lived in NYC when I started that piece.  Asphalt Cocktail is more of a reaction to not currently living in a huge city — with the noise and constant energy that provides —  and wanting to create something that felt extremely urban in order to fill that void.  So maybe being back in the middle of a megalopolis will make me want to write something beautiful.  That’s the hope, at least.

    Speaking of Asphalt Cocktail, AEJ had an idea for a young band piece — and I think I actually want to try writing it.  I consider “Undertow” to be sort of a “playable Turbine.”  The idea for this new piece would be a “playable Asphalt Cocktail,” with extensive use of the percussion section, including found percussion like shakers and maybe — maybe — that good ol’ steel trash can.  But whereas Undertow is a “Grade 4” level, this new piece would be a true Grade 3.

    This would be a fun piece to write, and the huge color options provided by the various found percussion would solve a lot of the problems inherent in writing for young band.  (The greatest difficulty in writing for young band, in my opinion, is the restricted color palette caused by the limited doubling options with young players.  Solos are a risky idea with young players, and part transparency in general is extremely difficult to obtain, because almost everybody has to play almost all the time or the players get bored — and you don’t want bored kids at that age.  “Plus,” as my friend Bruce Richardson pointed out, “if you give the clarinets more than 12 bars of rest, somebody is getting pregnant.”)

    This new grade 3 piece is just an idea at this point; nobody has asked me to write it.  I do kind of want to see if I can convince somebody to do just that, though.  Maybe I’ll take payment in sushi…