Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Shep Hits the Fan: 2012 Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

2012. You started out pretty damn well. And then you went goofy. Profoundly goofy. You imploded relationships and friendships for no other discernible reason other than you just wanted to watch us all spiral. You sent half my pals to Los Angeles. You dumped a huge, cold, dark, rainy turd named Sandy on my city. You broke my heart, scared the hell out of me and made my football team suck. A lot.

And then, at the very end, you decided to clean yourself up, get your shit together and stop being such a See You Next Tuesday. Astounding things happened in the world that gave me confidence in my work like I've never had before, and made me feel something like an honest-to-god grownup. My bank account may not have swelled, but it at least plateaued -- and that is an epic ACHIEVEMENT, people. I started writing again, and felt awesome about it. Friendships were mended. Conditions were stabilized. And you gave me a few reasons to rock an evening gown, and that's not nothing.

You were not my favorite year, 2012. Watching you unravel most of the time was like watching a drunk person roller-skate in traffic with a bucket on its head. Why is this happening? What am I seeing? Are we gonna die? Where did you even get roller skates?

But it all seemed to come ambivalently together in the end. It may not be "happily ever after." But it's at least "chill til the next episode." And I can live with that.

It's been real, 2012. Let's never do this again.

1. Generals -- The Mynabirds
2. I Don't Believe You -- Greg Holden
3. Mayday -- Jessi Robertson
4. When Your Mind's Made Up -- Cast of Once: A New Musical
5. Love it When You Call -- The Feeling
6. Drive All Night -- NEEDTOBREATHE
7. Wrecking Ball -- Creeper Lagoon
8. Gold Guns Girls -- Metric
9. Get Used To It -- Ben Lee
10. Battered Apartments -- Luke Wesley
11. Sweetheart of the Music Hall -- Bryan Dunn
12. So Cry -- Shwa Losben (live from Rockwood Music Hall)
13. Gotta Get Up From Here -- Ellie Lawson
14. Something Bigger, Something Better -- Amanda Blank
15. Some Bridges are Good to Burn -- Kelli Rae Powell
16. Philadelphia (the City of Brotherly Love) -- We Are Augustines
17. Hang with Me -- Robyn
18. 45 -- Brian Webb
19. Going Gone -- Abby Ahmad

Past mixes

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Strawberry Jam Bars and the Fine Art of Cheat Cooking

As satisfying and deceptively easy it can be to make stuff from scratch, sometimes you just want some Duncan Hines on your palate. A little Betty Crocker down your gullet. Some Pillsbury knocking on your epiglottis. It's like the difference between Pizza Hut and pizzeria pizza. I KNOW they're different, because I am not stupid. I KNOW what the superior product is. But sometimes I want a little stuffed crust in my life, and that's OKAY.

But just because you're using a mix, it doesn't mean you can't be versatile. Take, for example, this recipe for strawberry jam bars. It's super easy, relatively labor free, and done in an hour start to finish.

First, get a box of yellow cake mix. Today we have opted for Betty Crocker SuperMoist Butter Recipe Yellow, because that is what was on sale.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Then, melt 3/4 cup of butter. This is about a stick and a half. So this is a lot of butter. Anytime we're using more than a stick you can be assured we are not screwing around.

Empty the contents of the cake mix into a large bowl. Then add 2 1/2 cups of oats. Use the old fashioned kind. Not the quick cooking kind. I don't know why for certain, but I'm under the impression it will eff your ess up. And no one likes an effed ess.

Make a well in the middle of the oat/cake mix mixture and pour the butter in. Gradually mix the butter into the cake mix until it's been fairly consistently butter-ified and is crumbly, like this:

Grease a 13x9x2 pan. Really grease it, because the finished product is fairly sticky. Spoon half of the cake mixture into the bottom of the pan. Press it down firmly so it covers the bottom. Like this:

Take a 12 oz jar of strawberry preserves. Dump the whole sucker into a small bowl. Add a tablespoon of water. Mix it up and then carefully spread over the cake mix in the pan. You don't have to go all the way to the edges, but try to cover as much of the surface as possible.

Then take the rest of the cake mix still in the bowl, and spoon it over the preserves. Carefully pat this layer with your fingers so it creates a fairly firm top, but doesn't mush too badly into the fruit layer. It should look like this:

Bake the bars in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the top layer is light brown. It should smell amazeballs. Let it cool completely before you cut them. Then eat the crap out of it:

And there you are! You can even change up the preserves and use blueberry, raspberry, peach, apple...whatever. An original treat, helped along ever so slightly by the good people of Betty Crocker. Because sometimes, cheating is a good thing.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

My Letter To City Council Speaker Christine Quinn About Chickengate 2012

Democracy is a funny thing. What can start out as a minor, inconsequential event can snowball into something with big-time, heavy-duty, constitutional implications. Look through the history of the Supreme Court. Some kid in Iowa wants to wear a black armband in school to protest the Vietnam War? Bam -- historic case law guaranteeing students' right to free speech. A Mexican immigrant is picked out of a police lineup and brought in for questioning and not told about a little thing called the Fifth Amendment? Oh hey! You have the right to remain silent, you guys! Police responding to a false report of a man with a gun in an apartment in Texas arrest two men inside for having sex? Gay sex for everybody! God bless America!

Which brings us to Chickengate 2012. The CEO of a fast-food chain talks about his views on same-sex marriage, and all unholy hell breaks loose. Various mayors say the company is not welcome in their town, even though they haven't, you know, broken any laws, and plenty of other companies support political causes of all stripes with rightful legal impunity. All of this was for a while merely a headache for me in my professional capacity, (which by the way, this blog post is not meant to represent. I am writing it in my bathrobe at my table with my bunny rabbit running around my feet while watching DVR'd Jeopardy episodes on Sunday. So there's that).

And then New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn had to get all up in it, and now I feel some civic duty to speak up about her misguided petition. So here's what I said.

Screw it, you guys. Let's go to Five Guys.

Dear Speaker Quinn:

I am a huge supporter of you and LGBT rights, including the freedom to marry. I even work for an organization that is working tirelessly for the right of all families to have the same protection, security and dignity that only marriage can provide.

Like you, I was troubled by the CEO of Chick-Fil-A's public comments. I do not share his beliefs, and I think that it is unconstitutional for the government to deny loving, committed couples the freedom to marry.

Which is why it's troubling to have to write you regarding your petition concerning Chick-Fil-A. Just as I fervently believe in a country where all families are treated with dignity, I just as strongly believe that it is wrong for political leaders to use their influence to demand that private individuals change and denounce their personal beliefs when they have broken no laws.

As you yourself have stated, there is no evidence that Chick-Fil-A has violated any anti-discrimination laws by refusing to employ or serve anyone based on their sexual orientation, regardless of their CEO's beliefs. And while it may well be true that some of the company's profits go on to support causes that both you and I may not agree with, that is not illegal. It is up to the public -- not the government -- to hold the business accountable by withholding or supporting the business as they see fit.

To do otherwise would open the door to scrutinizing the beliefs and giving practices of all private business owners not because of any suspicion of criminal activity, but because of personal beliefs. These are not the values of a dynamic, pluralistic, democratic society. This is fascism.

I know that's a loaded word. I know you're not a fascist. I know you're only acting out of a deeply held belief that I personally find worthy and admirable. But this kind of action is actually irresponsible to that cause, as it can be rightly held up as the kind of intolerant, discriminatory action that you purport to be condemning.

I would not support a leader that acted to force a pro-LGBT business or entity to change its beliefs. I would be outraged, just as you were outraged when some leaders tried to prevent the establishment of an Islamic center and mosque in lower Manhattan, near Ground Zero. You said then:

"The true way to honor the Americans who died fighting for our country's founding principles is to respond to the proposal of this mosque and cultural center with support, with a deepened commitment to religious freedom, and with a deepened commitment to New York City being the freest, most tolerant, and most accepting place in the world."

Neither you, nor I, nor anyone need to support Mr. Chick-Fil-A's views or his business. And I know it's arguably just a chicken joint, and not a religious institution, so I understand it's not a perfect comparison. But we must allow private individuals to hold their beliefs and protect the ability of those who disagree with us to establish their businesses. That is the true meaning of tolerance and acceptance. Please stop the petition. You're better than this. Our city is better than this. And there are much better and constructive ways to achieve equality for all.

Robyn Shepherd

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Halftime 2012: I Call Do-Over

Oh. Hai.

I'm a big believer in do-overs. Something not quite going the way you planned? Screw it. Stop it. Rewind it. Do it again. Once more with feeling. That's why if you take any five-year period of my life, Point A wouldn't recognize Point B if it punched her in the face. And I like it that way.

I'm also a big believer in the mid-year resolution. So here we are in July 2012. How've you been since New Year's?

For my part, 2012, we could be doing a lot better. You're not my worst year. Not by a longshot. And you've meant well. But MAN have you been quick on the drama button. To be fair, some of that was my fault and completely unnecessary. But some of it has been a genuine bummer on a grand scale.

Like those months I spent driving myself to distraction over a ridiculous series of junior-high level misunderstandings, only to one day suddenly and brutally learn that a friend...a friend who I really should have called a bit more, or sent that email to, or Facebooked once in a while for crissakes...was lost and gone forever thanks to a motherfucker called cancer. Awful, unjust things happening to wonderful people and changes that take others out of your life just as you were getting comfortable letting them into your little circle of trust. Things that make you angry that sometimes stories don't turn out the way you think they should, because the world can be mean and unfair and there's not a whole lot you can do about it except bitch and moan on the Internet.

But it's also those times that make me stop and realize that while there may be a fair amount of bad juju out there, there are also a lot of truly extraordinary people in my life. Jennie Lewis, who we lost last month, was one of them. While I'm angry and sad about how her story ended, I'm also thankful that I had a chance to know her. When something really sad and unfair like this happens, it's good to remember that there are a lot more good guys than bad guys. I can still feel grateful for the folks I have around that make all of the other crap that much more bearable.

So, 2012. We're stuck with each other for another six months. I call do-over. Let's make the most of it.

Happy new year, everyone.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Passover Chocolate Denial Cake

Passover. The holiday in which you can't use flour, eat anything with corn syrup or drink any alcohol. At least, any alcohol that's worth anybody's time. There are a lot of rules. And if you can pull off a recipe that achieves "oh, this really isn't that bad" status, you have succeeded.

Here, I give you a recipe that really isn't that bad.

The trick to baking on Passover is to have the right tools at hand. Mysterious things like "potato starch" and "matzo cake flour." What's the difference between matzo cake flour and regular flour? Why you even gotta go there? Don't be so anti-Semitic. Gawd.

Anyway, to start making your chocolate denial cake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Sift together 1/4 cup cocoa, 3/4 cup magic matzo cake meal, 1/3 cup potato starch and 1/8 tsp salt.

Then, you'll need to separate 10 eggs and set aside both the whites and the yolks. If you don't know how to do this, it's a little hard to articulate, which is why God gave us YouTube. Seriously. He did. It's all in the haggadah. Pinky swear.

So once that's done, beat the yolks with an electric mixer. Add 1 cup of sugar and 1 tsp of orange rind.

Beat until thick and fluffy. That's right. FLUFFY. Then fold in the dry ingredients. Do this slowly, unless you want to re-enact the Dust Bowl in your kitchen.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites and a bit of salt until they're foamy. Like this:

Then, slowly add another cup of sugar and beat the living hell out of it until stiff peaks form. This will take a while. Try counting in another language to pass the time! Or saying the alphabet backwards! Or concentrate on shifting your weight from one foot to the other when your pet rabbit tries to get amorous with your feet! GUESS WHICH ONE I CHOSE.

Anyway, your egg whites should look like this:

Then fold the egg yolk mixture into the egg whites.

Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. WHAT THE HELL IS THAT? IT'S THE HELL THIS:

Make sure the batter is fairly evenly distributed.

Bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Invert the cake on a cooling rack for a few hours before removing from the pan. You may have to run a knife around the sides just to make sure it will come out. Then you have this!

And there you have it! It really isn't that bad! Really! Happy holiday, you guys!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Love Letter to My 90s Radio Mixtapes

There's an art to making a good mix CD. You have to consider the flow of one song into another, the correct ratio of slow songs to fast songs and with male voices to female; how to illustrate the overarching theme of the mix. It's tough.

But once upon a time, boys and girls, such decisions were not necessarily ours to make. There was no iTunes, and buying a single required trips to the mall, and precious drawer space taken up by paltry three-track cassettes with godawful remixes. So what were you to do if it was 1997 and you wanted to hear, say, Meredith Brooks' "Bitch" right the hell now but didn't really want to buy the whole album?

You made a little thing called the radio mixtape. Here's how it worked. You kept your stereo or boombox (don't worry about it) tuned to the station of your choice. And in the tape deck, you kept a blank tape. At all times. And when That Song came know THAT SONG OMIGOD I FREAKIN' LOVE THAT dove across the room, abandoning your algebra homework or your Super Nintendo or whatever the hell was occupying you, and you hit record at JUST THE RIGHT MOMENT. No DJ pre-chatter. No cut-off opening lines. And hopefully you were savvy enough to stop recording before the DJ came back on. And then you would have captured that song for all time, and if you messed up at any point, you suffered the crushing disappointment of an opportunity least until That Song came back on rotation.

But you never knew exactly what you had on the tape or how it all sounded together until it was done, because you would never want to rewind it in medias res and risk screwing everything up by accidentally taping over the songs you'd lovingly preserved. And what you wound up with was a messy, incongruous, poorly edited labor of love and a 90-minute audio snapshot of a moment of time maybe best left forgotten.

But it won't be. Oh, it won't be.

This week I was cleaning out my closet and found this exquisite time capsule:

There is no way in hell this couldn't contain something amazing. And lo, I found several volumes of my radio mixtapes, all titled Robyn's Tape VI, or Robyn's Tape XII or whatever volume it happened to be, with the tracks handwritten in junior high scrawl and often in various colors of ballpoint pen.

And if I needed a brutal, tangible reminder of my musical appreciation evolution, there it was, on yards of magnetic tape. Take for example, an earlier volume: Robyn's Tape II, circa 1994. I show you this to illustrate a point. And because we're friends, Internet. And friends don't judge friends when friends are making a point:

Okay, y'know what? Go ahead and judge. Judge hard. This was when young Robyn was taking her musical cues from the adult contemporary radio stations favored by the Parents Shep (which, it should be noted, is a poor testament to the Parents Shep, who actually had very good musical taste as evidenced by our reel-to-reel collection, but FM radio was what it was, so you took what you could get. Also, I know how to use a reel-to-reel. Deal with THAT).

Sorry, I was making a point, wasn't I?

ANYWAY, as you can see we have more Billy Joel and Amy Grant on here than is really appropriate. I am frankly sobered by the fact that I, indeed, had what seems to be a pretty robust Amy Grant phase. But that's okay. Because we need to confront the person we were if we are to become the person we want to be. Or something. Holy shit, is that a Richard Marx song that ISN'T "Right Here Waiting?" Does that even exist? Chilling.

But things got better. Young Robyn discovered the miracle that was "alternative radio" via Y100 and WDRE, and was largely delivered unscathed from the valley of the shadow of Lite FM. And she went on a big 80s kick. As evidenced by Robyn's Tape XIII, circa 1998.
See? Much better! The Go-Gos, Fastball, Semisonic, Fiona Apple, Peter Gabriel...I stand by this mixtape. I'd crank this ish right now. I just might. I still have a boombox. Because I am old.

There were some other, non-handmade tapes which ran the gamut from portending shockingly good things for my burgeoning tastes:

To the decidedly questionable:

To the Screw You, This Is Still A Great Album And If You Can't Appreciate That Mariah Sings The Living Crap Out Of "If It's Over" You're Dead Inside:

Which is all a long way of saying, you should all really go clean out your closets. You may realize a lot about yourself. And be more organized. And maybe find some Ace of Base. And that can only make the world a better place for all of us.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Valentine's Day 2012 Mix

My V-Day playlist starts with Lita Ford, so my playlist wins. This is what's known as the Lita Ford Postulate.

Valentine's Day Mix 2012

1. Kiss Me Deadly -- Lita Ford
2. Half Light -- Athlete
3. You and Me -- Jessi Robertson
4. Nothing's As Good -- Andy Mac
5. Cassette Tape -- Katie Costello
6. Here Is Your Ballad -- Luke Wesley
7. You, South Dakota -- Bryan Dunn
8. an open door -- illinois
9. Guy What Takes His Time -- Kelli Rae Powell
10. A Good Life -- Jill Sobule
11. Under the Moonlight -- Travis
12. Think of Me -- Rosi Golan
13. The Outlaw Song -- Lara Ewen

Past mixes