Archive for December, 2010

2010: A Year in Rant…er…Review

The quintessential and clichéd way to begin an entry like this is to declare, “What a wild ride it’s been…” And with other years, and other people, that might be entirely applicable. 2010 was an entirely different beast, however. I can’t say it was wild by any stretch, but strange things did happen – some good, some life-changing, and others terrible. I’m not even entirely sure how this entry will play out. So, I thought I’d summarize my year – to the best of my ability – and reach a conclusion. I have some idea of what that conclusion is; still finding the words to voice it, though. Here we go.

Good ol’ Baby New Year ’10 began with a “THUD!” in the form of a road trip, one I took in order to see a girl again. Funny what men will do in the name of the opposite gender.  Wars have been started for and about the fairer sex. And in my case, near crashes and snow storms. The former of which should’ve been my first clue that this trip was a bad idea.

A mere ten miles outside of home, a car spun out in the fast lane. I caught sight of it before it 180-ed in front of me, put on the breaks just in time, and then veered around the “ruh-tard” by inches.  In a flurry of curses, I pulled off the Wilsonville exit to catch my breath. That should have been my cue to turn around in the complete opposite direction.  But I didn’t, I continued on unimpeded, blind in my resolve.

The good? By the time I made it down to SoCal, I was able to see my grandparents, Dad, Evil Stepmother, uncles, aunts, and cousins again. A new tea shop was notched off with friends, I saw Air Supply in concert (I know…”WTF!”), did a mad-dash through Disneyland, and – of course – spent quality time with said girl.

The bad? Just about everything else.

Fast-forward to the spring. I hate that time of year, and it has no fond feelings for me either. I’m not sure what happens to me when things “spring” forth anew, but I tend to go completely batshit. Not “rifle-on-a-clock-tower” nuts…but still impressively annoying. Usually, my changes in mood (of which there are many) result in loud declarations and hermitism.  In essence, Seasonal Male Menstrual Syndrome.

The trigger this time around was social networking sites – the Internet’s drama lubricant. Several friends of mine who followed me on Twitter found my plethora of tea updates boring and annoying. They had a point. Not everyone is as fascinated as I am about dead, dried leaves steeped in hot water. As a result, these several friends “unfollowed” me. I didn’t take that well.

To me – at the time – unfollowing was akin to a friends’ list removal. It was a very clear sign, in my mind, that I was an irritant. Instead of puttig up with online disapproval and “butthurt”, I ranted, then deleted all my social networking incarnations – Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Buzz, everything. My only outlet to the “Intel Inside” world was my website.

I kept this e-embargo up for the worse part of four months. Parallel to that, I sunk into a deep and denial-based depression. I rarely went out and rarely corresponded online. I went to work, I slept, I drank tea; rinsed, repeated. The one bright (and sometimes frustrating) spot in all of this was the adoption of a furry, cuddly, and whiny Maine Coon mix named Georgia.

But we won’t go into the flea epidemic she brought upon us. You can read about that HERE.

There was another momentary distraction in the wake of my netizen exile. The parents required help in June for a cross-state move to Wyoming. I was asked to take time off from work in order to help with the endeavor. At first, I was ambivalent to the travailing trek. I was a wuss, completely useless as a mover. Added to that, I wasn’t a fan of readjusting my sleep schedule (I worked nights) to accommodate the request.

My mood brightened on arrival. The process of moving went rather quickly, and the rest of the trip was spent bonding with the bros and stepdad over various microbrews. What started as a weekend I dreaded became a three-day trilogy of remembrance. To this day, it’s one of my more memorable trips.

That reverie wouldn’t last long upon my return to Oregon. I was greeted with a lay-off.  My job was posted on Craigslist, or at least a part-time version of it. My occupational existence of the last six years changed with a blip of the computer screen. Luckily, the parting was somewhat amicable given the circumstances, and I tried to view it as a necessary evil.  Finally, I got the kick in the proverbial pants I needed to move on with my life.

On the suggestion of my mother, I attended various job and networking groups to “get out there” again. With six years gone, I was a little rusty on my job-hunting skills. Wrestling with the unemployment office was also becoming an arduous experience.  By the end of summer, I was down to the wire financially. My bro/roommate was (thankfully) patient and understanding during the process.

In the interim, one of the biggest recommendations made by the job groups was to put my online presence back together. I returned to Twitter and Facebook, actively updated my blog again, and put feelers out there among friends that I was seeking employment. Unfortunately, due in part to my long absence, my social circle had decreased by half. Part of the blame rests with my outburst and subsequent hermitism. That sudden realization – and my car going “kaput” – made August a very dark month.

My brother changed this a bit with the declaration that he wanted to adopt a puppy. Not just any type of puppy, a Saint Bernard. I joined him for the jaunt to Camas to pick out the little fella. In the litter there were many to choose from, but one in particular stood out; a fuzzy, forehead-dotted little critter that was licking my shoe. I pointed to him, my brother picked him, we named him Abacus, and the rest is history. (My cat can’t stand him. We’re working on that.)

September saw two more gestalts to the ol’ routine (or what was left of it). My sister also decided to move to Wyoming and – again – I was drafted to help with the move and clean-up of her old place. While I can’t claim the task was easy, it was a welcomed distraction from the work-related/wallet issues. By coincidence or fate, right as we were about to take to the road again, my first unemployment check arrived. A summer-ton weight was lifted from my shoulders.

Partial gainful employment appeared a couple of months later in two forms thanks to the feelers I put out three months prior. I landed two temporary gigs doing floor sets and meeting setups, and a return to an old art gallery cashier job in October. Things were looking up.

November rained down soon after with the arrival of mounting debts. Red tape held up my unemployment benefits, and I was making nowhere near enough to pay my bills. Searches for additional part-time work were next to impossible given my limitations in availability. I could only work on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays. Other days affected my art gallery gig.

Additional help would arrive once the red tape with the unemployment office cleared up. And – again – thanks in large part to a very patient and humble housemate.

Which brings us to December. Sales at the gallery were good; I had many writing posts under my belt. I sampled new teas from far-flung locations, and still found time to hang out with friends. The only speed bump was a speeding ticket. Christmas came and went, spent in the company of intermediate family and candlelight services. (Although, my first present on Christmas Day was a computer virus.)

And – now – here I sit, reflecting on the “Year That Was”. In the middle of concocting this narrative lump, I had to backtrack as other significant moments popped back into memory. “I almost forgot the dog!” I inwardly exclaimed. Had this been scribbled on a piece of paper, it would look like a jigsaw puzzle.

So what does 2011 promise?  I have no clue, and I’m not just saying that to be cheeky. My temporary “contract” at the gallery ended today, and I’m back on the job hunt. I will hopefully start up a novel of some sort, while simultaneously juggling a blog/review schedule. My “Tea Want” list has grown to thirteen – including (but not limited to) a British-grown and blended Earl Grey. Not that many of you care. (*Cue chuckle*) Beyond that, I don’t care. It’s a start.

Conclusion? 2010 was a ride; not a wild one, not a slow one. I liken it to driving my Ford Focus. It doesn’t look pretty, doesn’t stand out, but at least I can see where I parked.

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Friday, December 31st, 2010 Musings 4 Comments

Exit Through the Art Gallery

It was a prototypical Thursday. Nothing of import should happen on a Thursday. (Well, except for “ladies night”-s at certain bars.) I had an hour left on my shift at the art gallery. For a temp gig, the retail stint had proven to be an engaging one. Rarely were there bad days. “Off” days, yes…but rarely bad. This was one of those days.

At the five o’ clock hour, a youthful-looking man with a long, scraggly chestnut ponytail came into the store.  He reeked of booze; the smell of ethyl clung to him like a haze. I couldn’t identify the libation in question, but it seemed like bourbon. Attired in a Pendleton coat, a faded backpack, jeans, and a vacant gaze, every inch of him screamed homeless or hipster.

He asked, “Do you have any art by Banksy?”

“Never heard of him,” I replied. A part of me hated it when people asked about artists. While I did work at a gallery, I knew next to nothing about art. I was a writer by “trade”.

“Oh, he does – like – street art. Cut-outs and such. It’s really killer, man.” At least, I think he said “killer”. I dunno. I’m paraphrasing here.

“That sounds great,” I lied.

For some reason, he took my curt replies as an invitation to continue talking. Perhaps the best strategy in this situation would’ve been to simply ignore him. I didn’t, however, and he segued from art into music – particularly work he’d done. Apparently, he was a musician – a famous one…a famous un-credited one, according to him. Mr. Chestnut (as I’m wont to call him) claimed to have written the song “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something, along with many other famous titles I only halfway paid attention to.

Then he veered onto a tangent about movies, touting having thought of the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s (which would’ve made him a zygote at the time of production, but no matter). Further to his dossier of phantom accomplishments, he added I Am Legend (no specificity as to book or movie), Dumb & Dumber, and a myriad of other comedies. Before I could stifle a chuckle, the conversation got dark.

He confessed to me that he’d written a conspiracy theory novel linking the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the “4/20” British Petroleum oil rig explosion to The Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints. Mr. Chestnut mentioned he was raised Mormon and witnessed firsthand some of the shadowy goings-on of the Prophet and his ilk.

When the Mormon Church caught wind of Mr. Chestnut’s impending novel, they squelched its chances of being published and ruined him on a pot-possession charge. As in, any attempt to make a name for himself ultimately failed – his music “career”, his writing “career”, anything. He continued on for a good half-hour, relating to me the links of organized religion to attempted world domination, and of how he was one of the few who knew the full story.

At the forty-five-minute mark, he finally realized that I wasn’t paying attention anymore. He politely excused himself from the gallery with a, “Good talkin’ to ya.” I closed shop soon after, but I got to thinking…

What an interesting story that would make! A man seemingly on top of the world – destined for mainstream success – has his life taken from him because of something he knew. I dreamt of a similar idea over a year ago. Did I believe him? Oh, heck no. His list of “credits” predated his own birth. He was as wackadoo as any batshit hobo in Portland. Still, it made for an interesting thought on the way home.

I related my creepy encounter with my brother/roommate, had a good laugh at Mr. Chestnut’s expense, and proceeded to lounge in the living room with Netflix fired up. We couldn’t quite determine what to watch; I wanted something stupid, he preferred something more contemplative. It was his Netflix account, so he had veto power. A documentary caught his eye.

“Y’know, I’ve wanted to see this for a while now,” bro/roommate said.  He had stopped on a film called Exit Through the Gift Shop – a doc about street artists.

It seemed as good a choice as any. Nothing else was catching my eye. I shrugged and said, “Sure”.

I asked to read the blurb before he selected it. Afterwards, I let out a guffaw. Bro/roommate wondered what had me so tickled. The artist that was heavily featured in the documentary…was Banksy. The very same street artist that Mr. Chestnut had inquired about before going on his little tirade about Mormons. My brother thought it an eerie coincidence – as did I.

The film was an interesting one, to say the least. It was about an oddball who meant to make a documentary about street artists but wound up sucked into the lifestyle. I found myself liking it far more than I intended. Parts were poignant; others were offbeat in their hilarity. The “protagonist” himself – a Frenchman named Thierry Guetta – was the epitome of undeserved hubris, yet at the same time, he was somewhat loveable; an odd dichotomy, to be sure.

When the end credits rolled, we were surprised to learn that Banksy himself directed the documentary. Without giving anything away, I can say that it made me question the different between art and crap. A ninety-minute film succeeded in driving a question home that four months at an art gallery hadn’t. Perhaps I didn’t feel as invested as I did now. The combination of coincidence, conspiracy, and consciousness made me more alert to the subject.

I did what I always do after watching a movie that “superpoked” my paradigm, I researched it. Different reviews posited a theory I found fascinating. Some questioned the validity of the events in the film. Others went as far as to claim that it was an exercise in Andy Kaufman-esque performance art, devised by Banksy himself to make us question what art really was. Such a stunt would be well within the street artist’s modus operandi.

An online friend pointed out to me that Banksy had directed one of The Simpson’s opening sequences, revealing an exaggerated portrayal of a Korean animation shop and the conditions therein. I had seen it before, found it funny and slightly thought-provoking, but not enough to jolt me. I was more surprised it was made at all.

The whole day gave me much to ponder on. How does one define art? What makes a piece art? What makes a piece good art? Is it only art if a bunch of people agree that it is or only if someone puts their heart and soul into it? And what if someone puts their all into something that is less than stellar; could it still be art then?

In the end, I can only conclude the same way I did several years ago. I remember a conversation with my aunt about artists and practitioners. My stance was that anyone involved in the arts shouldn’t take themselves too seriously. The world doesn’t need artists, they need artisans. Of course, she – being an artist – didn’t take a liking to this opinion, and she had every right to. It’s not a popular opinion.

As I see it – and as someone involved in an “art” of some sort – we are putting something of ourselves out there for the world to see. The hope is that the piece finds an audience, and that said mob will “get” the message (if there is one). The secondary hope is that the piece in question outlives us, demonstrating a helluva half-life close to immortality.

I don’t like the idea of creating in the hopes that someone will coincidentally happen by it. Granted, I like getting recognition for work well done, but that can’t be the only thing motivating me or nothing would get done. Not that much does anyway. By not taking one’s self too seriously, one isn’t subject to as much disappointment if merits aren’t bestowed. Call it a safety mechanism.

After all, how different are we from the sad, Pendleton-draped would-be, mythical music/movie-making homeless person? The only thing that separates the crafty folk from him is…well…reality. Life is fleeting, art is finite, but we might as well have fun in the process. We like art, we like to think about art, and some of us like to create it. In the vain hope others consider it art and like it as well.

The process is – like many things – cyclical. A man came into my gallery, spouted achievements and conspiracies, then left. But his presence inspired a likely story idea, or rather a direction for a story to go. In turn, I watched a movie about the very man – by the very man – that he found inspirational. It’s enough to make me giggle.

Or perhaps I’m taking this too seriously…

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Wednesday, December 29th, 2010 Musings 2 Comments

White Petals and Whiskey Barrels

In the fall of ’09, I ventured to a relatively new special-“tea” outfit created by former Stash/Tazo front man, Steven Smith. The aptly named op was called Smith Teamaker, and I instantly fell in love with the place. Their bricks-and-mortar store was…an actual bricks-and-mortar building. The tasting room was atmospheric, welcoming, earthy, and cozy – reminding me of a wine-tasting room. I had every intention of returning.

And at one point, I did with family in tow. Then time somehow got the better of me. I neglected the one place I saw myself frequenting. Heck, I envisioned coming in at least once a week – a la Norm Peterson from Cheers – buying a pot and sipping a way the morning. The reality, though, was that it would be over a year before I ventured in again.

Sometime in the summer of ’10, I “LIKED” them on Facebook, so as to keep tabs on special events and goings-on. Their hours of operation usually clashed with my schedule – such as it was – but I stalked their statuses from the e-bushes like a tea-creeper. An imperative visit surfaced in the form of a new tea in early December.  One of their master blenders – Tony Tellin – had concocted a Whiskey Tea.

A bit of a digression: I’m not much of a hard liquor fan, but when it comes to that smoky, battery-acidic drink, my Irish roots come forth. I have a latent taste for the stuff. I blame Scotland and my first single malt from Edradour.

If I can’t handle or locate the actual stuff, there are passable substitutes in the form of oak-aged ales and liquors. The process is simple. After a batch of whiskey is made, the oak barrels used to ferment them still retain a bit of the scent and flavor. Put something else in it, and chances are a trace amount of that flavor will grab hold. Just look at bourbon-casked beers or barleywines.

Well, good ol’ Tony decided to try this out with tea. The process was similar to how jasmine green teas were created. Traditional scenting for green teas and/or blacks meant letting the tea age and rest for a couple of months with the added ingredients. That way, it took on the flavor before separating. Example: Rose Congou Keemun rested with rose petals, osmanthus oolongs rested with osmanthus petals, lotus greens rested with lotus petals, etc.

How Smith Teamaker got a hold of a Rogue whiskey barrel, I know not. But they did so after a batch of whiskey was made, and then added black tea leaves to the barrel and sat on it for a spell. Occasionally, they’d open it up – cup it – and see if it was ready. The idea was that some of the whiskey oak scent would be absorbed by the tea leaves.

It wasn’t like combining tea and liquors was a new thing, especially with whiskey. 52Teas had a Golden Yunnan Whiskey Sour (that I have yet to try), their offshoot – Man Teas – had a beer-flavored one, and Red Leaf Tea had a whole line of wine-flavored teas. What made Smith’s different was the process. No flavoring agents were added, just the scent from the barrel it was kept in.

I figured this was a good gift for three people – my dad (a “tea”-totaler), my stepdad (for novel-“tea” sake)…and myself. The only way to make the trek work was to go prior to a work shift. As convenience would have it, Smith’s teashop was located northwest of downtown. I was working downtown at a gallery. They opened a full two hours before I was due. The Thursday following the Whiskey Tea discovery, I rousted myself early for the quest.

I arrived right at their opening time. A kindly gent asked if I needed help with anything. I inquired about the Whiskey Tea. He apologized and said they were sold out. I “B’AWWWWW”-ed. But only on the inside. The man did bring forth a bag, however, of what they had left. My eyes glittered like an excited anime character. Gleefully, I asked if I could sample a pot, and he said, “Sure.”

Turned out the guy that was helping me was the blender of the tea in question. This led to a series of questions regarding the process (by me), scribbles in my notepad, and random pictures of the tea in its potted habitat.  Tony took all my tea geekery in stride and good humor.

The part that had me most excited about the tea – besides its novel scenting process – was that Tony revealed that a Nuwara Eliya Ceylon black tea base was used; my absolute favorite growing region in Sri Lanka. I don’t know what it was about that region, perhaps the altitude, but they produced some of the best – most floral – black teas I’ve ever had. I have Smith to blame for my fascination with Ceylons from there. Even while walking up to the teashop, I was secretly hoping the foundation was a Nuwara Eliya.

Happily, I can report that the whiskey-infused tea lived up to my rather vivid imagination. The liquor brewed a bold amber with a woody/winy aroma. The flavor was smoky on the forefront, but not forest-fiery like Lapsang or Russian Caravan.  The middle betrayed its Sri Lankan high-altitude roots with a floral lean – light and feathery with little astringency. It was the aftertaste where the whiskey-scenting was most prominent. The woodiness came through with a wine-whisky tang that wasn’t too bitey but still readily apparent. Tony described it as “toasty”; I would agree.

After he left me to nurse my sumptuous pot, Steve Smith himself popped in. He remembered me from my first visit, and my esoteric series of questions from that time (for which I apologized). I think he remembered that I was also squirrel-like in my attention span, for he directed me to a new product line I hadn’t been aware of – ready-to-drink Smith blends, three total.

The ready-to-drink teas were unique to Smith Teamaker because of the process used to make them – a technique they dubbed “fruitsmithing”. I loved the term. Layman short version: Fruit pieces were cut up and steeped in cold water, creating a juice-like base. Hot tea was then infused with the mix and cold-brewed again. Afterwards, cane sugar, lemon juice, apple juice and natural flavors were added. At least, that’s how I understood it.

One key fact I came away with – and the point Smith wanted to hit home – was that no citric acid was used in the brewing. I was no expert on the subject, but I had never heard of an iced tea NOT having citric acid for storage purposes.

These were my impressions:

No. 15 Honeybush – This was a rooibos/honeybush blend infused with raspberries.  I already adored the nut-sweet one-two punch that rooibos and honeybush delivered when blended together.  Efforts to ice it myself proved worthwhile as well. But I had never paired it with fruit before. They succeeded for the most part in yielding what they intended. It tasted as the moniker sounded, honey-like with a berry-ish lean. If I had any complaint, it was that I expected stronger. Other than that, good but just shy of great.

No. 6 Black Cap – Smith mentioned that whenever there was a taste-test, this came out the clear favorite on average. I can see why. It’s a strong blend, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Smith’s Kandy blend (a Ceylon base *glee!*) has been paired with Oregon blackberries for this one. And – lemme tell ya – it shows. Unlike the Honeybush, this one screams BERRY! Lightly sweetened as it is, it could pass for fruit punch but without the fructose guilt. Quite outstanding but not as good as…

No. 71 White Petal – I’ve sung praises about this one for well over a week now. A full review is pending on Teaviews as I write this. Since I’m kinda lazy, I’ll simply reiterate my Steepster notes on it: “I sampled this and immediately picked up a bottle. That’s how much I loved it. I finally cracked it open while at work. I’ve had pear-flavored white teas before, but never paired with apples. The flavor lived up to my wildest imagination…and that’s pretty vivid. Pear dominated the foretaste, while apple and mildly-astringent Bai Mu Dan dominated the middle. The aftertaste was toasty, almost Riesling-like. This is an iced tea I’d pour into a wine glass to ‘fit in’ at a party full of sommeliers. Looks the same and almost tastes the same. Simply awesome.”

Heftily caffeinated and mostly-sated, I finally parted ways with the shop and strolled to work – happy with having sampled some wonderful wares. I returned a week later when a new batch of the whiskey blend came in. I hope the two father figures find it to their liking. I certainly did. Now…I just need to find a new excuse to “Norm” it to Smith’s again for another hot cuppa-somethin’.

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Thursday, December 23rd, 2010 Steep Stories 27 Comments

Mellow Marshmallow

When most of us think of marshmallows, we think of the doughy, puffy cylinders of white “WIN” that grace campfires and Graham crackers. It wouldn’t occur to us that there is a plant of the same name, and that it is loosely tied to that most artificial of all sweet snacks. And even stranger still, it was used as an herbal remedy for sore throats. Not what you think of with that sweet confection, eh?

How the dessert and the plant (Althea officinalis) came to share the same name is sketchy. One sound theory presents that a mucilage concoction from the plant – sweetened with honey – was the great-granddaddy of the dextrose-laden dessert o’ death. Evidence is flimsy on this, however.

I first heard of the plant in the only way a geek can – in a movie. My cousin insisted I give the comedy, Grandma’s Boy, a view. He swore by its campy genius; I merely swore.  Watching it was pure torture on all required senses. Granted, there were some humorous moments, but they were few and torturously far between. Until an odd character came into the fray.

The protagonist’s boss – Mr. Cheezle – was the New Age-y sort, played to near-perfection by Kevin Nealon of Saturday Night Live fame. During the first (or was it second?) encounter with the character, at one point in the conversation, he offered a group some “marshmallow tea”. That furrowed my brow.

I didn’t think on it again until a friend’s lovely Latin-borne wife took a rather well-lit cell phone picture of a tea she brewed.

Two lovely leaves were steeped in a transparent cup, yielding a soft, yellow-green liquor. My palate? Whetted.

On a visit to the couple’s house, she kindly showed me the source of the steep. In her backyard. The marshmallow leaves she used weren’t from a vendor or dried source, they were fresh! All of my infusions up to that point were with dried herbs. I knew one could use a fresh source, but the rules for brewing would differ. She imparted two branches for me to experiment with. What deal with a deity my friend had to make to land her, I know not. But I was happy to reap the benefits – by way of plants, both illegal and/or exotic – by proxy.

The next night, I began playing with the leaves. From what I read, fresh herbs and roots required a full, continuous boil. They couldn’t just steep alone. To decoct them properly, one needed a lengthy cook. The friend’s photo showed two leaves in an 8oz cup. I used about 32oz of water and multiplied the number of leaves accordingly – eight…-ish. (I suck at math.)

My first attempted decoct was for ten minutes. The steam wafting from the cup smelled like cooked asparagus. The infusion colored beautifully to a green-gold liquor that shined in the light via a clear beer mug.  The surprise was the flavor. I found it tasted rather light, buttery, very similar to a chamomile-verbena cross but more vegetal.  The mellowness of it bothered me.

A second attempt at fifteen minutes led to a darker brew, but the taste was about the same – incredibly subtle. To my surprise, though, it took various sweeteners rather well. With a name like “marshmallow”, I shouldn’t have been surprised, though. Honey worked best of all.

To conclude, I liked it quite a bit. I’m a sucker for herbal infusions, even those with a medicinal lean. And while I can’t attest to its throat-relieving properties, it does act as a good relaxer. Sometimes after a tough day, that’s all one needs. I hope to explore it in dried form in the future to see how that measures up.

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Saturday, December 11th, 2010 Steep Stories 1 Comment

The Belle of the Bell

I submitted this to a blog-writing contest. The parameters were to select a positive local restaurant experience we had and write about it. This is what I came up with.

Picture, if you will, a corpulent bespectacled thirtysomething gent. A five o’ clock shadow adorns his one-and-a-half chins, a black fleece sweater – covered in cat hair – frames his heaving mass; shielding him from the cold. Said man-child only has one thought on his mind – cathartic carbicide.

Of course, that man-child is me. At the time, I had ended what seemed like the pissiest day of errand-running in recent memory. Where most would turn to some form of battery acid-like alcohol for swift release, I turned to something else. I bee-lined for fast food.

Not just any fast food, mind you. Somewhere in the deep and dessicated tendrils of my scholarly “brain”, I was of the notion that Taco Bell was healthier than other fast food outlets. Some distant memory of a health class experiment that measured fat content kept springing to mind. Whether or not there was validity to the claim mattered little; only economy of distance and dime held sway. Their dollar deals.

From the route I was taking back home, the most convenient of locales lay on Cedar Hills Blvd in Beaverton. I usually hated this location, but it was on the way. I pulled my manly Ford Focus up to the drive-thru, the white noise-washed voice chimed a “Can I help you?” And I went about regurgitating my order: two chicken burritos and a chicken flatbread sandwich. However…I stopped in mid “chick-“.

Their dollar menu was gone. My one solace – the chicken burrito – had risen to the astronomical price of $1.29. My heart and stomach sank. Given the unison of the “sinking” feeling, my shoulders slouched. I blubbered a, “You know what? Nevermind.”

Dejected, I drove off. Only one other avenue remained. There lay another Bell one bridge over from my house on Murray, right next to the Home Depot. It was an island of faux-Mexican excellence residing in an empty parking lot. By the time I reached it, my stomach moaned in anticipation. I looked at their menu. My inner child cued an “I’ve got a golden ticket”-esque silent melody as I beheld the dazzling “99 cents” next to my beloved burrito on display.

I ordered, I counted, I horded, I drove off – all the way beaming my burrito-battered grin. Why I hadn’t considered that outlet first, I know not. Their staff was always nicer than the other franchises, they made their burritos with plentiful amounts of chicken, and their sauce? Well…it was the stuff angels wipe off in place of sweat. Leprechauns collected it instead of gold – a mysterious miasma of Mexi-nectar. I was in fast food heaven, and I never looked at another Taco Bell again.

If she were a woman, I’d marry her. In Vegas. With Wayne Newton presiding. Because nothing’s too good for my “Bell belle”.

Needless to say, it didn’t win.

Photo by Roman Pinzon-Soto

Photo by Roman Pinzon-Soto

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Saturday, December 4th, 2010 Musings 2 Comments

Year-End Facebook Status Collage

Normally, I wouldn’t post anything to my website that has anything to do with my social networking hijinx (well, unless it was to rant about it), but this was just far too cool to pass up. It was an application on Facebook that compiles a collage of various status updates someone has made. The result is a non sequitur narrative so epically esoteric, one can’t help but love themselves for it.

This has nothing to do with writing, tea, beer, or movies. It probably isn’t as cool to others as it is to me, but it’s my site. So nyah. I’ll do what I want with it.

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Friday, December 3rd, 2010 Musings No Comments

Beer Monks and the Men Who Love Them

An interesting dichotomy exists in the relationship between clergy and alcohol. One would think that the consumption or production of the world’s happiest poison would be strictly off limits. The opposite is the case, as far as production goes. One wonders if the collective cloistered thought is, “If Jesus can turn water into wine, why can’t we?”

They won’t get an argument out of me.

A casual drinker need not look further than Belgium for the greatest example of this. The Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance – or Trappists for short – has brewed their own beer for almost four hundred years.  So revered are their wares, some staunch critics believe them to be among the best beers in the world.

My brother and I discovered this firsthand in mid-July at the Portland International Beer Festival.  One of the multi-tokeners (i.e. pricier) beers was a Trappist tripel. The Christian sensibilities in my sibling drew him to it; I was curious by proxy. At first, he thought that there was gunk in the glass, and he was right. Because Trappist beers are bottle-conditioned, residual sugars and yeast remain from processing. The result was a sweet, somewhat sour, but not overly pungent ale with a lot of character. I was hooked. Line. Sinker. All that.

The desire to delve into the monk muck again, however, took a back burner to other beer styles – mainly because of price. I assumed, given the amount of tokens it took for a 5oz sample, that Trappist beers were out of range of my moth-infested wallet. A grocery run to my nearest Trader Joe’s corrected that.

Among the various 20s and 40s on display, I saw a rather robust bottle of Chimay Grande Réserve. Also known as Chimay Bleue, it was a darker ale – 9% ABV (drunk-dose by volume) – in a bottle large enough for at least two pints worth of goodness. It was an impulse buy.

The moment I got home, my bro-roommate and I cracked it open. It took a second for me to figure out how to undo the wire knot around the cork, but eventually my dumb arse did it. The cork came out with a loud pop, sounding almost like a shotgun blast. Fizz oozed from the mouthpiece like a boy’s baking soda volcano experiment.

As I predicted, the bottle poured two pints, but on the second glass I had to wait for the foam to settle. That took awhile. The liquor color was amber-to-cherry crossed with briar brown. The aroma was light, crisp and pilsner-y. Taste-wise, it was sour on the forefront, pungently sweet in the middle, and possessed an almost tannic aftertaste like over-brewed English Breakfast tea.

If I were to draw a comparison, the closest I could think of was bourbon cask-conditioned ales but a bit stronger on the taste.  Such an impression was probably due to the bottle-brewed aspects. The verdict between the two of us was the same; it was good but not “Trappist tripel” good.

A stint to Wyoming delivered me a second round with another Chimay bottle – this time, their Première (or Rouge). It was described as a brown ale with a fruit-sweet aroma. My step-dad purchased the bottle as a gift, mainly because we were both looking for an excuse to drink something after moving furniture all day.  Unlike the Grande, it was lighter and didn’t yield a sour forward punch. The liquor was smoother, sweeter, and reminded me more of the excellence of the Merchant I had months prior.

I liked the Première so much I subjected my pipe-smoking friend to the breed. He preferred his beers on the wheat-y side, anyway. Said palate was the subject of considerable debate between us – light-hearted, though, I assure. Oftentimes, I avoided Belgian beers and stuck to my hoppy beer-candy. The Chimay proved to be our middle-ground – our tasty truce.

At the same time as the Chimay, we also picked up two bottles of Rochefort’s Trappist. For the life of me, I can’t remember which of the three types – titled 6, 8, and 10 respectively – that we had. If I were to wager a post-buzz guess, I would say 6. I remember the ale being expensive and a wine-like crimson.  The Chimays were quite good…but the Rocheforts were f’ing superb. While not called a tripel, it certainly tasted like one; dark, sweet, nuanced, and packing arse-kickery.

I never thought something from Belgium, close to it, or brewed in that small country’s sugar-sweet style would appeal to me as much as it did. But wow – oh, wow – it did. Sometimes I have to be torn away kicking and screaming before I change my paradigm. When I do, though, I extol the changed virtues from the ramparts.

Recently, my brother looked at me and said, “I can picture you as a monk. Writing, brewing beer, contemplating…praying to God.”

Can’t say I disagree with him on most of those points. The only problem might the distance between me and the barrels. Clearly-labeled “Geoffy No Touchy” signs would be required.

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Thursday, December 2nd, 2010 Beverage Blog No Comments

I work for tea money.


December 2010
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