Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Maura O'Connell Sings Naked

Maura's New CD "Naked With Friends" to be released June 16
Maura O’Connell to Release Naked With Friends
A Cappella Disc Features Stellar Guest Vocalists

(NASHVILLE, TENN.) April 21, 2009 -- Long known as an expert interpretive singer, Maura O’Connell spent nearly two years working on a project she’s been wanting to do for a very long time. The result is Naked With Friends, O’Connell’s first a cappella album, which will be released by Sugar Hill Records June 16, 2009.

“The idea of doing a record like this has been with me a very long time, “O’Connell says. “I’m always being asked why I don’t play an instrument or why I don’t write songs. I’ve gathered the consciousness that singing should be just fine, that it is a viable talent on its own.”

The Grammy-nominated singer put on a producer’s hat for this project, co-producing with Gary Paczosa. As fans have come to expect, O’Connell has picked powerful songs that blur genre lines. Five traditional songs – in both English and Irish – are paired with works by the likes of Joan Armatrading, Darrell Scott, Cheryl Wheeler, Janis Ian and Holly Near. The County Clare native has been singing Armatrading’s “The Weakness in Me” since starting out in folk clubs years ago; Cheryl Wheeler’s “Arrow” has been a favorite for nearly two decades; and although she could not recall the title of “Hay Una Mujer Desaparecida,” the song’s first line and melody stuck with her since hearing it on the radio many years ago.

When it came time to add guest vocalists to the mix, O’Connell once again showed her diversity of style, inviting Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss, Paul Brady, Mary Black, Tim O’Brien, Darrell Scott, Sarah Dugas (The Duhks), Aoife O’Donovan (Crooked Still), MairĂ©ad Ni Mhaorigh, Moya Brennan, Liam Bradley, Declan O’Rourke, the Settles Connection, Kate Rusby and O’Connell’s younger sister, Aine Derrane. Longtime collaborator and ace Dobro man Jerry Douglas is featured singing in Irish on “Mo Sheamuseen.”

“I’ve learned an awful lot making this record,” O’Connell says. “The experience has taught me so much about the value and the power of a great song. On its own, a good song has power, poetry and tragedy in it.”

Used with permission.

While the following video doesn't feature a song from the new cd, the beginning features Maura's gorgeous voice and magnificent singing... naked. Just a taste of the kind of singing we'll all be enjoying on the new release.

Mary Oliver's Newest Book--Poetry That Speaks To My Heart

FROM "Red Bird Explains Himself" by Mary Oliver
"...and I am both of the earth and I am of the inexplicable
beauty of heaven
where I fly so easily, so welcome, yes,
and this is why I have been sent, to teach this to your heart.”

Mary Oliver is a favourite poet of mine. She speaks of the beauty of nature, of love, of connections to things and people and of the fears and hopes of all mankind (humankind, womankind...take your pick).

I was first introduced to her work by a close friend, through the poem "The Journey". This was instantly one of my favourite poems--love at first sound. The problem for me was that this was my first, and as firsts seem to do, it set the standard for the rest of her work. Until Mary's newest book, "Red Bird", I had not found another poem to live up to the emotions and pull of the first of her poems that I'd fallen in love with.

Now I have a book filled with poems that meet the standard of my first Mary Oliver poem. I hope that you will seek out this new book and I trust that the poems will be as moving for you as they are for me.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


I have grown up in a Greek family and in the traditions of Greece and the Greek Orthodox Church. No matter that I have lived most of my life in Australia and the United States, the cultural traditions which are most meaningful to me have always been those of my family and of the country in which I was born and lived in until I was eight.

One of the most important holy days in the Greek Orthodox church calendar is Easter. There is fasting involved, there is study of the events leading up to Good Friday and the resurrection, there is a turning inward for reflection and there is tradition! There are the beautiful and spiritually uplifting services, prayers and preparations; then there are the traditional foods.

Each family has its own timing for when to bake the Easter breads and cookies, who will host the Easter dinner and who will dye the eggs red. The traditional Easter dinner will include a leg or shoulder of lamb dressed with garlic, oregano, olive oil and lots of fresh lemon juice. The lamb is roasted slowly, with the potatoes added at just the right time. In my family we add fresh artichokes too. This dish is the prize of the Easter table, great care and pride having been invested in the art of cooking the first meat dish since the fasting began.

While I can show you how to roast the lamb, I find that the intricacies of roasting and basting and turning the meat are difficult to pass on to others via words. I offer, instead, for your cooking and dining pleasure, a recipe for grilled leg of lamb that will give you the flavour of the traditional roasted dinner. Instead of roasting, we will use the more familiar method of grilling. Let me know how you do. If you are hungry for more, keep checking my book download page on for new books, featuring recipes and recipes with stories of how food is featured in our lives.

Process for Greek-style grilled lamb:
-Remove plastic cover and discard.
2-Cut off the netting (which is designed to keep the deboned lamb in place during roasting) and discard.
3-With a very sharp knife, cut the deboned leg of lamb into two or three slabs. The objective is to have evenly sized slabs, so that they grill evenly and in the same period of time.
4-Depending on the thickness of each slab, you will also have to cut horizontally through the slabs but not all the way through. This would be similar to slicing though a thick pork chop in preparation for stuffing; the difference here is that you will cut all the way through three of the edges, leaving the fourth. What you will end up with is a slab that is twice as big, but thinner.
5-On the fat side of each slab, slice away any imprinted fat. It is normal to have the fat imprinted with a food-safe dye—this is just text which useful to butchering and packaging at the pre-packaging end of processing the meat and means nothing to the cook.
6-Again, with a very sharp knife, cut through the fat in diagonal lines. This will allow the marinade to penetrate through to the meat and will also assist in cooking the fat a little faster and provide for more even cooking.
7-Combine all listed marinade ingredients using a whisk.
8-Season lamb on all sides with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, place in a large freezer bag, pour in the marinade and seal the bag. Massage the lamb, turning the bag periodically, so that the marinade coats all pieces evenly.
9-Place bag in the refrigerator for 8 hours or longer. I usually do this the night before I plan to grill the lamb and put it on the grill for dinner. This gives me anywhere from 16-20 hours. Be sure to check the bag a couple of times, massaging and turning the bag each time.

Despina’s Greek Grilling Marinade and Dressing Sauce:
There are many variations of this authentic and traditional marinade, the essentials being lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, dry oregano, salt and pepper. I make one batch for marinating and a second batch for dressing the sliced lamb.

1 t. dry oregano 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped 1/2 small yellow or red onion, finely chopped 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice 1 cup extra virgin olive oil

When you’re ready to grill:
Remove the bag of marinating lamb from the refrigerator one hour prior to placing on the grill, to allow the meat to warm up a little. This will help the cooking process go a little faster.

Prepare your grill; when it’s very hot, place each slab of meat directly onto the grill, fat side down. You’ll cook this side longer than the other, to be sure that the fat cooks properly and gets a little crisp. Turn on the other side and cover the grill. This will slow down the cooking, but allow the meat to gather a little more of the smoky flavor. I recommend using a meat thermometer inserted into the middle of the thickest part of the slab for checking to see when the lamb is ready. We like ours medium rare to rare, so we want to be sure it’s rare when it comes off the grill and then we allow it to rest for 5-10 minutes, covered with foil. At this point, I slice each slab diagonally (sometimes referred to as across the grain) and place the lamb slices on a platter. I drizzle with the dressing and serve at once.

Two traditional Greek dishes that I find complementary to the grilled lamb are:

Greek Roasted Potatoes
2-3 lbs of Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed well, skin on (you may substitute other potatoes, but Yukons have a really good flavor)
1 T. dry oregano or 1 cup fresh oregano, chopped
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to suit your taste
4 large cloves of garlic, peeled, crushed with the back of a knife and chopped finely
¼ cup lemon juice
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup water

Cut potatoes lengthwise into quarters and, in a large roasting pan, toss with seasonings. Place in a pre-heated 400F oven on the bottom shelf. Depending on the size of the potatoes, cooking time will be from 1 hour to 1 hour and 30-40 minutes. You will toss the potatoes again once or twice during the cooking. You will know that they are done when a thin sharp knife inserted into the largest potato goes in and out easily and the potatoes have browned well and evenly. Each potato should be a little crisp on the outside and soft and tender on the inside.

Greek Lettuce Slaw
Do not dress this salad until just before serving.
1 head iceberg lettuce (it’s the perfect flavor for this salad, with a sweet and refreshing taste, and it holds up well), sliced thinly. You want to approach this as if you were making a very coarse cabbage slaw.
1 medium yellow onion, peeled, cut in half and sliced very thin
Sea salt to taste
¼ cup white vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil

If you want to be authentic, follow the Greek tradition of serving feta cheese and Kalamata olives on the side, along with slices of a crusty loaf of bread. Locally, our grocery stores offer a nice variety. I slice the loaf almost all the way through and place in a pre-heated 375F oven for 5-10 minutes to get the loaf properly crisped up. I live in a small southern town. If you live in a major metropolis and have access to fresh bread, go hog-wild and serve up your favourite rustic and super-crusty artisan loaf!

You can also follow the Greek Easter tradition of cracking red-dyed eggs.

Other Interesting Sites:

WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THE LEFTOVER LAMB? Serve the sliced meat in pita bread with chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce and a generous dollop or two of tsatsiki sauce.