Archive for January, 2014

A post full of a lot of nothing. Not quite mailing it in, but close.

Posted in Uncategorized on January 28, 2014 by cueball

This is one of those days that thing I tried to write for the blog actually got written.  Then I thought about it and then I read it and I came to the conclusion that it was crap.  Not that I don’t believe in the subject matter, but that I may have overstated my thesis and in retrospect I detest my own approach to it.

What I was trying to write about is how many of the cultural elites in today’s Internet/Twitter age speak to each other and to us in an echo chamber.  They not only all seem to live in the same metropolitan areas (the DC to Boston corridor or Los Angeles) they also all talk to each other and to us via Twitter and blog posts.  Name a controversial/popular subject and within two days of each other at least five separate writers will post slightly similar takes on the subject with each seemingly building on something the previous posts said.

Don’t get me wrong.  I know what those things say because I read them.  I read most of them.  However, there are moments when I’m reading something and it dawns on me that this writer and I, despite agreeing on many things, see the world in totally different ways.  That is not a problem.  The problem is that the next four articles I read on the same subject make me think the same thing.  Why is that?

I don’t know.  How about that?  I’ve been trying to write this thing for five hours over two days and all I can say is that, I don’t know.  (Imagine that.  A blog post that doesn’t come to a definite conclusion.)

I cannot be education.  I have a similar education to most of the writers I read.  Is it the things that we like?  Possibly.  The depth of knowledge of one subject is the coin of the realm for pop culture geeks.  It creates a myopia that could color how you think or what you write.  Again though, I think the same way so that doesn’t really hold water as to why I sometimes feel out of touch with the premise of the articles.  Could it be geography both physical and through social media?  Again, I don’t know.  I think the echo chamber of the Internet/blogs/Twitter maybe the biggest contributing factor, but again I am a participant in that echo chamber.  Why do I still see things completely different?

So what am I getting at?  Nothing really.  This was a tale told by an idiot, full of (some) sound and (very little) fury, signifying nothing.

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Beer/Food Pairing Attempts: Creole Hoppin’ Jean and People’s Porter

Posted in beer, food with tags , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2014 by cueball

Creole Hoppin’ Jean from Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry paired with People’s Porter by Foothills Brewing.

Question you never hear asked:  What will pair well with this Bud Light?

What you probably have heard is the old joke, how is American beer like having sex in a canoe?  They’re both fucking close to water.

Trying to figure out beer and food pairings is an example of why I love craft beer.  Craft beers are more than just slightly fizzy alcohol delivery devices.  They also, for the most part, aren’t just product to be made and sold by the unit.  Craft beer when made well has character that can be celebrated on its own or in tandem with food.

Periodically, this year (I’m hoping once a week) I’ll be making a recipe out of one of my many cookbooks (almost all vegetarian) and pairing them with a beer.

Pairings usually work best when you choose the beer first.  I am going to do that from now on and I will explain why in a moment.

I love People’s Porter.  It is a great example of a British-style porter.  The hop presence is more herbaceous and less citrusy and piney and it has a wonderfully dry maltiness with chocolaty taste and espresso finish.  For a beer that dark with a light caramel head it is very light and easy to drink with just enough bitterness to make you take another sip.

This Hoppin’ Jean recipe is also very good.  It has wonderful layers of flavors built on the base of the black-eyed peas and the brown rice.  The use of homemade vegetable stock instead of water adds even more depth with and earthy quality.  It was a bit too spicy and I’ll adjust that on future versions.  It has that warming feel of home that good soul/southern food always provides.

Did the pairing work?  Not so much, and it was precisely because I picked the food before I picked the beer.  I had never made this hoppin’ john recipe before.  I had no idea what its flavor profile would be.  My beer selection was a guess.  It was a somewhat educated guess, but it was still a guess.

The Hoppin’ Jean was too spicy and overpowered the porter.  That is rather surprising because I chose a porter instead of a brown ale because I believed it would stand up to the spiciness.  The other problem was I thought the tomatoes would be a bigger presence and provide a little more sweetness to balance out the heat from the spices.

The next pairing for this dish will have to be something hoppier or something leaning towards a sweeter malt profile.  The first thing that comes to mind is an American-style brown ale (Duck Rabbit Brown Ale or Lonerider Sweet Josie).  That would provide a bigger hop profile to fight through the spiciness and still keep the darker malt flavors which did work.  Maybe an American pale ale which would be hoppier then the brown ale, and give malt flavors closer to biscuits and bread.  An IPA might be too much hops for this.  Or, better yet, go with a Belgian style dubbel or tripel.  The sweetness in the beer would hopefully bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes and the high alcohol content would cut through the spiciness.  The same could go for an imperial Russian stout.

I almost did not write about this initial tasting because it did not work.  Then it dawned on me that I learned so much from this precisely because it did not work.  If it had worked, I literally would have just been fat and happy.  I would have enjoyed the meal, cleaned up and went on about my day.  I would be jotting down notes on how great wonderful the experience was.  Instead, it didn’t come off exactly like I wanted it and I spent a good amount of time trying to figure out why. 

What did I learn?  First, choose the beer first or choose the food first, but choose the one whose taste you understand best.  Second, spiciness and heat can overpower a beer unless it is really hoppy or is high ABV with lots of alcohol to cut through that spiciness.

I will revisit this recipe later to find the right pairing.  Stay tuned.  In the meantime, I’m going to try something else next week.  I don’t know what yet, but I’ll have fun figuring it out.

Optimal Potentialities

Posted in life with tags , , , , , , on January 25, 2014 by cueball

If you follow me on Twitter (and why should you), you know that I recently finished reading Alan Watts’ book The Wisdom Of Insecurity.  My main takeaway from the book is people should not let the past or the future dictate their lives because the past is unchangeable and the future is unknowable.

To me that does not mean you should ignore the lessons the past can teach you or that you should not have goals for your life.  It means you should not allow yourself to live in the past or the future to avoid the unpleasantness of the present.  You should embrace the present in all its good and bad to live a more content life.  I use content instead of happy because contentment is a more stable state of being instead of happiness or sadness both of which are fleeting emotions.

I have also gotten from Watts and other readings of Zen teachings that you should only worry about the things you can control.  You cannot control outcomes; you can only control your actions.

In grant writing you have to create SMART outcomes.  Those are outcomes which are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.  Here is a SMART goal people make all the time:  Lose XX pounds in X weeks.  Then they shape their behavior to meet this future goal.

The correct way to create a grant funded program is figure out the change in behavior you want to elicit (the goal), how you plan to elicit that change (the outputs/the program you’re creating), and then what specific measures will prove that change (the outcomes).

People too often mistake outcomes for the goals.  Outcomes are the results of achieving your goals and should naturally occur over the course of the program, but you cannot control the outcomes.

Zen Buddhism teaches us, you cannot control whether you lose the weight.  That is the outcome.  You can only control your actions of eating healthier and exercising (what should be your goals).  Concentrating solely on the outcome of losing the specific weight in a specific time leads many people to A)feel like a failure if they don’t hit this specific number in this specific amount of time or B)distort their behavior in an unhealthy way to hit this specific number in this specific amount of time.

This is why I have started to think of outcomes as the optimal potentiality.  If you concentrate on living day to day and moment to moment, the potential outcome will be very close to your optimal outcome.  If you eat better every day and exercise every day you will probably get very close to the weight you set as your outcome.  Then again you may not, but you will be healthier, and by not distorting your life to attain this future, you are probably more content with your life.

Every day, I do certain things.  Not because I have a specific goal in mind.  I do have optimal potentialities, but no specific goals.  I read and I write every day because those things give me joy and I would like to get better at writing and learn more about beer.  Now, would I like to do these things and have them be my main source of income?  Yes.  That is the optimal potentiality.  However, I cannot control that outcome.  All I can do is read and write every day and keep my eye out for opportunities that may appear.  Then again, maybe they won’t.

It’s like finding a new job.  One will not fall into your lap, however, if you look in the right places every day and you prepare yourself every day eventually you will find a new job that you like.

That is what I get from Watts.  Not the literal idea of not worrying about the future, but the understanding that we can only control our actions in the present.  Be mindful and present in every moment of your life, and you will be more content.  Do not ignore the future, but understand you cannot control it and that it will sort itself out without your meddling.

The Present over The Past and The Future

Posted in life with tags , , , , , on January 22, 2014 by cueball

The present.  It would seem obvious that we all live in the present.  Without the aid of time travel it is impossible for us to live in the past or the future.  However, many people try.

The past provides a warm comfortable blanket.  It is known.  The comfort the past provides assuages the discomfort of the present where things are changing to things we don’t want and frankly scare us.  People are able to pick the things from the past that they want to not only remember but relive.

People look back at the past and at history as the good old days because they choose to remember only the good things from the past.  Those things that make them feel safe and comfortable.  They run from the present because the bad things, the things they fear, the things that cause pain cannot be avoided in the present.  They can avoid those things in the past by choosing the past to remember selectively.

Where the past provides warm comfort, the future provides bright hope.  Because the future is unknown and it obviously has not occurred, it can be whatever it is we want it to be.  You can be anything or anyone in the future.

We bathe in the light of the hope of the future because our present is too hard and too full of pain.  People hope for a better day, a better time, a point when all the pain is gone and the end result shows the reason for all the suffering that came before.   It shows the reasons for the present pain.

Looking to the past or the future are not bad things in and of themselves.  As long as one learns from history and takes comfort in hope in order to experience and enjoy the present, they are not bad.  Our problems come when we let the past and the future take precedence over the now.

I have been reading Alan Watts recently and that is a great deal of what he wrote about.  He believed that one of our greatest modern problems was the fear of pain and how that keeps us from living in the present.  People retreat into the known past or flee towards the unknown future to avoid pain and find happiness.  Watts wrote that in order to find true happiness one must stay present even in the face of great pain and fear.  To almost embrace the pain and fear as part of yourself and move through them, only then can you find true happiness.

The present is what the artist and the critic both strive for in their work.  The artist struggles to create something that will speak to the present moment the work is being enjoyed in whether it be today, tomorrow, or a hundred years from now.  He is trying to construct something that has resonance as long as it exists.  Hamlet is not important simply because Shakespeare wrote it.  Hamlet is important because the core messages and issues it deals with still resonate with people.  It is timeless.

Critics also seek the timeless.  Critics try to do two things.  First, they try to capture that initial moment of joy or disgust in their writing like a fly being caught in amber.  They are trying to capture that thing that makes the work important to their time.  Second, they must then pivot and try express why that thing that makes it important in their time also makes a work timeless.

I found Watts’ books and writings at a point when my this year’s New Year’s resolution was simple:  Be more present.  I found his work and the works of others thanks to the website brainpickings.org which has quickly become one of my favorite sites and certainly my most welcome tweets during the day.  If you like smart, literate, and interesting you should really check it out.

Bar Tour: Olde Hickory Tap Room

Posted in beer, food with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2014 by cueball

Occasional Dispatches by Cueball and Eightball from bars around NC/SC.

Olde Hickory Tap Room, Hickory, NC

This is hopefully the first of occasional bar reviews from our journeys around North and South Carolina.

This first dispatch is from an impromptu Martin Luther King, Jr. Day visit to Olde Hickory Tap Room in Hickory, NC.

First off, it was an insanely beautiful and unseasonably warm January day.  If you have never been to Olde Hickory it is in a great spot in downtown (or is it uptown?) Hickory.  For a holiday at a business district restaurant there was a pretty good crowd, but we were able to find two good spots at the bar.

The place has a good dark oak beer inspired décor.  We did not have to wait too long for our bartender to find us and get us started with a menu and some beer suggestions.  We both started off with the Stone Brewing Double Bastard.  It is a nice big American Strong Ale weighing in at 11.2% ABV.  Luckily for Mr. Lankford (Eightball), who was driving, they properly serve such a big beer in a smaller Belgian Goblet.

We started the food off with the Pub Chips with Beer Cheese Sauce as an appetizer.  The chips were seasoned nicely and the cheese sauce was good.  I will say I prefer that sauce to ranch.

Once we finished our first round and were waiting for our sandwiches to arrive we had a cool discussion with our bartender and she went through a few of the beers we might like.  She offered us a taste of among others the Olde Hickory Brewery (OHB) Death By Hops.  I tasted it, and loved it.  Lankford on the other hand doesn’t like IPAs or the taste of really hoppy beers.  The bartender did point him into another direction and he settled on the OHB Hickory Stick Stout.  I loved the Death By Hops, but I thought it would overmatch my sandwich and selected the OHB Table Rock Pale Ale.

I ordered the Black Bean Burger with fries and Lankford got The Martin, a jerk chicken sandwich on sourdough bread, with fries.  The food did come pretty quickly and my sandwich was pretty good.  Maybe the patty was a little over cooked, but I actually like my vegetarian patties a little past well-done.  Lankford seemed to enjoy his since it went quickly.  The fries were not really hot, but it was during a bit of the lunch rush and they were probably sitting under a heat lamp for a few minutes.  However, they were still seasoned well and crisp.

If you have read any of the things I’ve written about reviewing things in the recent past you know I don’t like star systems or any other kind of ranking system, but I think recommendations should be much simpler:  would I recommend this to a friend.  So, yeah, I would wholeheartedly recommend Olde Hickory Tap Room to a friend.  Cool spot, cool atmosphere/décor, and knowledgeable bartenders.  I would love to go back one night especially when they have music and take a date (don’t laugh, that could happen).  That said, if you are passing through or near Hickory and need a nice meal and a good beer it is a great place.

It Started With Odds and Ends and Stopped with Alan Watts

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on January 20, 2014 by cueball

I haven’t posted in a few days.  Not because I haven’t had thoughts and threads of ideas.  I have.  I always do, but nothing coalesced into a single piece.  My work schedule didn’t allow me to do much writing in that regard.  So here are some of strands, observations, and ideas I’ve had over the last few days.

I’ve been reading two books.  The first is Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.  It is part of my year of going back to classics.  This is the first on the docket.  I will also read Ulysses, continue my exploration of Faulkner and Hemingway, and drop a little Conrad and Camus into the mix this year.  However, after finishing Invisible Man I’ll probably read the Barry Hannah short story collection Long, Last, Happy to keep my Southern dirty realism run going.

The one thing had forgotten was how much I disliked the narrator.  Dislike is probably the wrong word.  I had forgotten how unreliable and naïve bordering on stupid the narrator is.  I cannot help but wonder why Ellison created this character in this way.  Maybe it was to make the character and the book less threatening and polemic then say Richard Wright.   I have to think it about more.

The other book I am reading is Alan Watts’ The Wisdom of Insecurity.  It is a wonderful and funny introduction into Eastern philosophy.  What has struck me most about it is Watts’ continuous discussion of how symbols begin to obscure what they are supposed to symbolize.  (This is where I could drop some Derrida and talk about deconstruction, but nobody wants that, least of all me.)  For example, money has come to be happiness for many people when in fact money is only a symbol of happiness for those people.  Money represents the ability to purchase more symbols of happiness which in the end do not actually provide happiness.

Even before reading Watts I have been thinking about how celebrities and other famous people have come to be symbols either out of circumstance or worse by choice.  They are not human they are these famous objects that we can talk about with impunity.  We talk about these human beings as these things (athlete, movie star, reality star, professional celebrity) because they have ceased to be human in our eyes and are only symbols.  While I believe treating people this way (even if they have asked for it) demeans us as a public, it must be hell to live your life as a thing and not a person.  Watts would say, the people who have chosen to live life like this in pursuit of the happiness they believe fame and money will provide them is illusory because there will never be enough fame or money to give them actual happiness which come to us internally.

I had other thoughts on college sports, Richard Sherman and, Sherlock, but those things have been talked, tweeted, and blogged about  to death this morning.  To go back to Watts for second, the endorphin rush from getting a lot of page clicks, follows, and retweets is not a good substitute for happiness, so adieu.

I Just Felt Like Posting About Food and Beer

Posted in beer, food with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 16, 2014 by cueball

I just made this recipe I got off of Allrecipes.com tonight:

  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped
  • 4 pounds potatoes, diced
  • 1 tablespoon dried dill weed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

  • Combine the onions, celery, potatoes, and dill weed in a slow cooker; drizzle the olive oil over the mixture. Pour the vegetable broth into the slow cooker.
  • Cook on High until the vegetables are tender, about 6 hours.

I was surprised at how tasty this was despite its simplicity.

What really worked was drinking a Denver Pale Ale from Great Divide Brewing.  Because it is and English-style pale ale, the more mellow hoppiness paired really well with the dill weed and the Earthy nature of all the root vegetables.