Monday, January 17, 2011

Country... Light!

Historically, Z + Country Music = Not So Much. 

In 1992, when Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy Breaky Heart" was "about to blow up and kill this man" - I was hoping it would. 

However, since 1992 my musical taste and appreciation has expanded.  As such, in the spirit of open-mindedness and for blog prep, I attempted to watch Billy Ray perform my previous nemesis - "Achy Breaky Heart".  And folks, I was unable to complete the task. 1:48 seconds into the video, I closed the browser and quickly googled Weird Al's spoof "Achy Breaky Song" for much needed comic relief.  Enjoy the genius that is Sir Weird Al.  

Billy Ray aside, truth is I have grown to like some Country(ish) music...  For example, when the opportunity arises on a Saturday night, I listen to NPR's re-broadcast of the American folk classic "Prairie Home Companion."  You may also catch me humming along to a Country-Pop cross over artist like Lady Antebellum, Taylor Swift, or Carrie Underwood (don't laugh - I like the song where she bashes the hell out of her cheating ex's car).  I recognize all of the above are girly and not pure Country... that's why my taste is for "Country Light" - less calories, but just as filling (for me).  

And now the main event - WILCO - The very best in "Country Light" and one of my fav bands.

Fronted by founding member, Jeff Tweedy, Wilco's sound (considered Alternative Country/Alternative Rock) is infused with elements of country twang, experimental rock, and synthesizer-pop.  Through Wilco's seven album career, their first couple album's were more Country sounding as the band was formed from Uncle Tupelo, also an Alternative Country band.

Although Wilco doesn't quite have the hardcore twang of mainstream Country it still has Country vibe, particularly the band's 1995 debut album "A.M." which utilizes classic Country instruments - pedal steel guitars, fiddles, and mandolins. This is a great album, and I frequently listen to it when futzing around the house cooking, tidying, up and shining my cowboy boots.

Check out Wilco (with Mr. Tweedy in full Country regalia) performing "I MUST BE HIGH" and "PASSENGER SIDE" off "A.M."

By the fourth studio album, YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT, Wilco's sound became less Country and more experimental rock with long, complex, synthesized intros and outros.  After being dropped from Reprise and later picked up by Nonsuch, this album has been Wilco's largest commercial success selling over 600,000 copies.  I picked up YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT in 2005 and played the CD a ton.  I later got all their albums including the two most recent: Grammy nominated "SKY BLUE SKY" and "WILCO (THE ALBUM)".

Check out the playful fan video of HEAVY METAL DRUMMER - floppy haired boys (a guilty Z pleasure).

And below check out I AM TRYING TO BREAK YOUR HEART - a standout from YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT.  Although more rock focused, you can still hear the Alternative Country roots deep in the melody.  And for a great documentary chronicling the public controversy between Wilco and Reprise during the recording of this album, Nettlx "I Am Trying to Break your Heart: A Film About Wilco".

And finally a simply beautiful song -  YOU AND I off Wilco's 2009 most recent album WILCO (THE ALBUM) featuring Feist.  And you gotta love David Letterman - the camel thing is funny!

In honor of Wilco's "Country Light" roots, we are making Chili - a down-home Country classic - but a light, healthy, and easy version.  My good friend, Malena Casteel, passed this recipe on from her Mama that lives in the Midwest.  We later learned that "Cooking Light" magazine featured a similar recipe. Since everyone is trying to lose the holiday overage, this is a great stick-to-your ribs chili, but will keep you svelte - and can be made meatless.


- 3/4 to 1 lb extra lean ground turkey or beef
-2 tsp. oil
-1 cup chopped onion (1 medium onion)
-1 cup chopped bell pepper (1 large bell pepper)
-2 tsp chili powder
-1 tsp ground cumin
-1 tsp dried oregano
-3 garlic cloves chopped
-1 (4.5oz) can chopped green chilies
-2/3 cup barley
-2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
-1 (15oz) can black beans (drained)
-1 (14.5oz) can chopped tomatoes (plain or seasoned)
-Salt and pepper to taste. 
Toppings: Sour cream, cheddar cheese, and cilantro for garnish.

Begin cooking the barley first before chopping the onions, peppers, & garlic because barley needs time to soften.  Pour the vegetable or chicken broth into a small sauce pan.  Add the barley and bring to a simmer.  By the time you are ready to add the barley to the mixture, it will be soft enough to finish cooking with the rest of the ingredients. 

Heat the oil in a dutch oven or a pot over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper and saute for 3 minutes. Add garlic and saute for one minute.  Add meat, season with salt and black pepper, and brown the meat (or skip this step if you want it to be vegetarian). Add chili powder, cumin, oregano, and chilies. Cook together for 1 minute. Add the barley/broth mixture, beans, tomatoes, with a little more salt. Simmer 20 minutes (covered) until the barley and beans are tender.  Stir occasionally so that the chili does not stick to bottom of the pot.  If the chili is too thick for your preference, mix in 1/4 hot water. Top with light sour cream, reduced fat cheddar cheese, and a touch of cilantro for color.  Crumble in a couple saltines for a little extra bite.  Serve with country biscuits and some Wilco on the side.  The chili will keep for a couple days,and in fact only gets better as the flavors meld together.  Plus - your kitchen will smell lovely - just like Laura Ingalls Little House in the Big Woods.

I hope y'all enjoy it!

I leave you with a Country great - Mr. Johnny Cash.

Hugs and Kisses.


  1. I feel the same sentiment about annoying country, I used to say I hated it, but now know that there are yummy flavors of country as well. I love that bash your car in song too ;)

  2. Staring out with Country-light and ending with Country-heavy... that last vid was mmm mmm satisfying. Thanks, for another sublime post.

  3. Chile is my favorite.

  4. Hey Mike - Thanks for stopping in! Hope you try this recipe and enjoy it!

  5. nuff said...i'm changing my name to Chile for the week...