On Procrastination, with a Beer or Two

                        My day at work reached its conclusion by four o’clock today, but I waited at the office for a senior vp’s daughter to arrive with Girl Scout Cookies I had ordered.  Since I work from the office only a couple times a month, I wanted to pick them up today.  I came across an article on the Atlantic in the interim, and it prompted me to post this musing.

                        The article’s title “Why Writers are the Worst Procrastinators” aptly leads into Megan Mcardle’s description of her procrastination whilst writing the piece, checking email “3,000 times,” making and discarding grocery lists, and a lengthy twitter debate, among other things.  A wake-up call alone does any creative mind good, but the article also took me back to the spark of intrigue I feel when composing an idea into something tangible.

                        This blog was my third attempt to create my take on this new medium of writing; never mind the articles I have written for other people’s blogs.  For the first time I had developed a premise both focused and personal enough to maintain.  But, as fellow blogger and friend Nathan Brown says in the opening post on his blog, “[t]he issue is maintaining that energy.  The momentum fades a couple weeks into a project.  Life happens, something comes up, it gets sidetracked.”  While I could begin describing obstacles large and small that I allow to keep me from posting as often as I should, I would rather describe the brew pub I visited after getting my cookies, especially since I just quoted Nathan, a Beer Specialist.

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                        I had wanted to visit Gastropod for months, after reading and hearing positive feedback about their wholly original yet no-frills food and craft beers.  Carla and my son Isaac are visiting family this week, and the less-than-half-mile walk from work meant I could not make any excuses tonight.  I was going to sit at their bar, snap a couple pictures, and see how their menu fared.

                        This tea specialist did not expect, however, to see an Oolong Brown Ale on their menu, so I of course had to try it.

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Having cooked many things with tea, I can say it is a challenging ingredient to make useful.  My favorite teas have subtle flavors that are difficult to tease out in ways other than infusing leaves in a cup of plain hot water.  The best advice I heard was from Chef Jason Ferraro of Dallas’ Hibiscus: “use it like salt and pepper.”  Epic Ales Daria, however, had all the floral overtones of a fine Taiwanese Tie Guan Yin, or a Chinese Dan Çong with its peach blossom richness.  I milked it while a chef stir-fried black rice with yellowfoot mushrooms in front of me, and placed a slivered soft-cooked egg on top before serving it to me.

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                        I concluded my visit with a scoop of beet goat cheese tequila ice cream and a six-ounce pour of their Oceanic Funk, a light and briny sour ale brewed with seaweed and squid ink.

                        A four mile bike ride in Seattle rain later, I arrived home determined to re-visit my routine of writing that I have deferred as of late.  Here is to cultivating my craft again…

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Amanda Palmer and Drinking the Full Bottle, Part I

“i remember two years ago when I was supposed to take a week off in bordeaux. i booked a place to stay with no internet.
i brought books and DVDs and blank paper and rented a piano and was all set in my little villa to create and consume art.
i went totally crazy after two days of reading and drinking wine and eating chevre salads and riding my bike around.”
-Amanda Palmer, amandapalmer.net, June 21, 2009

                        April 17, 2012.  I received an email from Good Records that began with a picture of Amanda Palmer, her face pasty either from the flash or sunlight hitting her gaze toward the sky.

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She would be at the store that evening at 6 PM, and the length of her performance would depend on audience interaction.  They would also be selling signed copies of her limited release Amanda Palmer Performs Radiohead (On Her Magical Ukulele).

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                        At 8 PM, I realized I had forgotten about the show, and I phoned Good Records.

 “Hey do you guys still have copies of that Amanda Palmer playing Radiohead cd you were selling?” I asked.

                        “Yeah,” he responded on the other line.

                        “Do you think you’ll still have copies tomorrow?”

                        “Unless a bunch of hardcore Amanda Palmer fans invade the store between now and then…”

                        I picked up a copy the next day, and it sat around my house awhile.  I received a job offer in Seattle, and made arrangements to leave Dallas at the end of May.  Carla and I packed, the house became disorganized, we stuffed every inch of my Subaru for our cross-country trip, and our hearts broke when my seven-year-old dog Phoebe died two and a half weeks before the move.

                        Two months later, we were in temporary housing in our new home, and I put the cd into my computer, and began doing further research about Amanda Palmer.  She had married Neil Gaiman a few years ago, a writer I had admired since devouring his Sandman series toward the end of college.   They had embarked on a project together last year, singing and reading onstage during a road trip, and funded the recording of this project through Kickstarter. I noticed that she would be playing with her band in Seattle soon, but was not sure if I wanted to go, and let that show fall off my radar as well.

      More months passed, and at some point I received an email from her newsletter when I had a free moment to open and read it.  The message referenced her TED talk in a passing hyperlink.  I clicked on it, and from her account of posing as a statue on the street at the beginning of the speech, to her final question, “How can we let people pay for music?”, I sat rapt with attention.  It was inspiring to hear this unique and new voice in music and art, and I could mark everything I thought before seeing the talk and everything after.

In spite of having discovered these projects of hers when they were nearing their conclusion, I have no doubt her next project will be monumentally different from any of these albums I have, and any of her other groups prior to those, but it seems likely my love will grow for it just the same, perhaps more quickly than it did for her work over the past year and a half.  I liken it to that first taste of an unfamiliar wine that stimulates new sensations on my taste buds.  I may not immediately crave another taste of the wine, but I think about it more throughout the day, and want to revisit it, and consider whether it is worth buying.  I try to imagine my connection with it as I consume the remainder of the bottle, but all I had was a couple sips that I spit into a cup, a few glances at a label, and the text on a shelf-talker.  Would I want to include it in my personal collection, and perhaps add it to the restaurant wine list or store shelves as my new preferred hand-sell? 

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At the end of “Do You Swear To Tell The Truth, The Whole Truth & Nothing But The Truth So Help Your Black Ass, “she sings:

“and iiiii’ve already spent too much time
doing things i didn’t want to
so if i wanna’ sit here alone and drink wine
you can bet your black ass that i’m going to.”

As I wrote the first draft of this entry, on one of my few nights alone, I was not drinking red wine, but instead a Phoenix Mountain Oolong tea from my personal Taiwanese set.  After countless infusions, it still yielded peach blossom undertones, and the first thing that came to mind when I re-read those lyrics is the moment I felt liberated from a long-term, unhealthy relationship, when there were no boundaries to when I went out for a drink, who I came to meet on any given evening, or how loud I played my music as I began writing the first entries in this blog back then, months before discovering Amanda Palmer.

Saul Williams said that each piece of art will speak to us based on the moment in time it enters our lives, much like the Buddhist saying that ‘when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.’  Amanda Palmer slipped into that specific moment in time, and grew in my consciousness and desire.   I am trying to plan an evening with the new record and a bottle of wine, imagining the ideal pairing.  2004 Domaine Lois Dufouleur comes to mind, a wine my sister and I picked up at the estate in Beaune four years ago.  But we just drank it in celebration of Thanksgiving and my thirtieth birthday, and perhaps its balanced blackberry silk flavors are too soft to accompany Amanda Palmer.

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Perhaps a sophisticated Australian wine such as Molly Dooker’s “The Violinist” better befits her audacious brand of artistry.  “The Violinist” delivers something bold and round yet expansively nuanced and lingering.  She sings of red wine, but if I want a white wine, even in the cold weather, you can bet your black ass that I’m drinking it…

                        And one day, I will write Part II of this post, wherein I will chronicle my love of Neil Gaiman.  But that must happen after I read Anansi Boys and can wax about his wine references in that novel.

Late Night Tales and Sweetbread

The year was 2008, in the early part of a year where I rode a rollercoaster of career changes.  I had been laid off from managing a Dallas restaurant and brewery near my house, and was waiting tables at a Cuban restaurant that had opened about a mile from where I lived.  We were open until 3 AM on the weekends, and I was working a late night shift when our charismatic bartender Josh put in a CD: “Another Late Night” by Zero 7.

“What is this?” I asked.

“I call this CD ‘Just push play,’ ” he remarked.

“…‘right now we’d like to continue with the conversation by yours truly,’” a voice echoed as beats, lingering bass tones, and a faint melody on a clarinet reverberated, Zero 7’s remix of a song called “Sunrays” by Yesterday’s New Quintet.

*                     *                     *

                        Carla and I had nearly circled all the booths in the Ballard Sunday Farmer’s Market, larger than any others we had yet seen in Seattle.  She called my attention as I was eyeing some produce, for she had found the booth for a farm we had seen featured on Bizarre Foods America called Sea Breeze Farms.

                        The segment opened with Andrew Zimmern taking a shot of chicken blood with George Page, the farm’s co-proprietor.  Since seeing that episode, we have been endlessly curious about their nose-to-tail butcher shop and restaurant (now on hiatus) that came highly recommended by two close friends who had recently moved to Vashon.

Their Ballard booth revealed not only a meat case full of custom-made sausages and various cuts of beef, chicken, pork, duck, and lamb, but also raw milk and three different wines they had produced.  I picked up a bottle of Pinot Noir called “Jamón.”  The label was simple and straightforward, with bare necessities of information printed along with a drawing of a ham hunk.

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                        “What’s this Pinot like?” I asked George.

                        “The Jamon?  A lot like a red burgundy, a little heavy, some dark fruit, a little resin.”

*                     *                     *

                        Just a few months ago, I discovered that “Another Late Night” was not unique to Zero 7, but was rather a series of albums wherein individual musical artists have been creating their ultimate late night mixes.

I borrowed a couple of the albums from the West Seattle Library, and started jotting down ideas for my own “LateNightTales,” a mix I decided would emerge on an evening alone with a bottle of wine.

I wanted to compile and curate a collection whose ambience would hang around in my consciousness, expanding and building different modes within the confines of my imagination.  The right bottle of wine to sip while I composed a musical record to document in this blog had to be something new, different, and curious.

A couple weeks ago, I finally sat down with my bottle of Sweetbread Cellars “Jamón” and compiled a mix much longer than any of the albums I have seen from LateNightTales.

“Jamón” was one of the more interesting bottles I have had the privilege to sip late into the evening.  It opened with wild blackberries on the nose, yielding to cranberries and that hint of resin George had mentioned.  I was drinking it with a wild mushroom and mustard green salad I had made at first, and its unfiltered structure stood up well to the spice of the greens.

With each track, I have tried to re-imagine the experience of how the wine evolved along with the music, and wrote my liner notes below in that vein:

1. “Return to Hot Chicken” by Yo La Tengo

Yo La Tengo has mastered the balance between mellow ambient mood music and distorted experimental rock n’ roll more than any other band.  The deceptively simple, quiet melody of this song has a relaxing feel that lingers.

2. “Drama Section” by Happy Apple

This song was the first tune I heard David King’s extremely underrated Minnesota jazz trio play when I saw them live for the first time.   Toward the end of the song, the Jamón was yielding allspice.

3. “Sketches of Spain (For Miles)” by Buckethead

No mix of this type would be complete without one of Buckethead’s more relaxed compositions, a cover of Miles’ Davis’ “Sketches of Spain.”  Here is Buckethead proving his command of the guitar, expanding from the original version in the true spirit of jazz.

4. “All that Glitters” by Death in Vegas

I like this tune for intellectual lounging, which has happened on many occasions with friends and bottles of wine over the years.  In this case, the wine did have a sort of “funky light” that was changing as the bottle got lower.

5. “Solid/Liquid” by Motion Poets

Here is my other nod to the Minneapolis jazz scene, this time from a group that has not been around for about ten years.  Songs such as this one represent modern jazz at its best, when it pays homage to its roots but sounds like something that could only be from the present time.

6. “How to Disappear Completely” by Radiohead

Many people have a moment of experiencing a profound connection with music while listening to Radiohead, and mine occurred while laying on my bed listening to this song from Kid A.

7. “Burn” by The Cure

One of the Cure’s darkest and more obscure songs, the opening tune from The Crow soundtrack.  While wine might not be the drug of choice with this song, I think I was at least on track by choosing something unusual and lesser-known to complement it.

8. “First Touch” by Desmond Williams

I may as well have closed my eyes and pointed to any Desmond Williams song for this mix, because his music is quintessential late night fare, and I could think of no more fitting wine than a Pinot Noir, especially as its tannins became more pronounced.

9. “Hey You” by the Pharcyde

If you are not intoxicated, the crescendos, hook, and densely laid-back flow of vocals from this track will take you to another place.  In my case, I was merely going further down the rabbit hole.

10. “Someone Great” by LCD Soundsystem

11.  “Bethe Bethe Kese Kese” by Gaudi and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

This song kept me from including more than one Jeff Buckley song in the mix, for it was Buckley’s rendition of an Ali Khan song that turned my attention to the rapturous voice of this Sufi mystic.

12. “The Blue” by David Gilmour

13. “Tonight” by TV On the Radio

TV On the Radio’s music had a hypnotic effect on me since the first time I heard them, but this song in particular gave me a similar sensation to the Radiohead song I chose for this compilation upon first listen.  It somehow sounds spare and at once expansive, with layered vocal harmonies and impeccably timed instrumentation.

14. “The Stars are Projectors” by Modest Mouse

15.  “The Dancer” by PJ Harvey

When PJ Harvey makes a good song, I want nothing more than to become its mate for the rest of our lives, for it to never stop playing.  But alas, neither bottles of wine nor musical compositions play eternally, and they will not mate with me.

16. “When I First Get to Phoenix” by Set Fire to Flames

Here is a song that pushed my mental boundaries more than anything else.  “How are they making those sounds?” I remember thinking.  When drinking a bottle of “Jamón” while listening to the mix, I was toward the bottom, where tannins had become most concentrated and I had gone to the kitchen for a button of goat cheese to mellow them.

17. “Paradise Circus” by Massive Attack

18. “Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby” from Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

Emmylou Harris’ unmistakable voice was sending a message to me: “Go to sleep you little babe…”

19. “Memory Lane” by Elliot Smith

Listening to Elliot Smith late at night is not always enjoyable, because his music can be quite devastating and fitting of hard times.  The last verse of this posthumously released piece makes me feel a metaphorical stabbing akin to how he ended his own life.

20. “Mouthful of Cavities” by Blind Melon

21. “Lost Highway” by Jeff Buckley

The best songs on my iPod are the ones I forgot I had or never knew in the first place.  I have no idea how I got hold of this Jeff Buckley cover of a Hank Williams classic, but I remember the moment I heard it, over headphones late one stoned night on my bed in Ecuador.

22. “Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 17, No. 4” by Chopin, performed by Wladyslaw Szpilman

On the soundtrack to The Pianist is one song performed by Wladyslaw Szpilman, played by Adrien Brody in the film.  The mild static of this song gives it a haunting quality.

Italy in my Imagination

“I think we should get a margherita,” said Alfonso Cevola, as our server approached the table a little over a year ago in Dallas.

“Do you guys make good margaritas here?” I asked our server, making a complete fool of myself.  He began describing how they made their margaritas, and soon Alfonso cut in.

“I meant another pizza!” he laughed.  He motioned toward our server and said “A margherita with Calabrian chiles.”

It was a rare afternoon when both my colleague Bianca and I were not scheduled to work later, so we were joining Alfonso for a long-anticipated lunch at Dough, a pizzeria that had opened a location in Dallas and was working on getting VPN certification for their oven at the time.

A few days later, I picked up a jar of Calabrian chiles from Jimmy’s Food Store, an item that has since become a staple in my refrigerator.  It was at the beginning of this year when I discovered my new resource for this perfectly spicy condiment, a pepper my girlfriend always requests when I make pizza.

I last used them when my close college friend Matt was visiting Seattle in early January.  We headed downtown for an obligatory walk around Pike Place Market, and dropped into DiLaurenti’s to pick up items for an impromptu dinner party at my house, and found an entire row of Calabrian chile jars on one of their shelves.  We chose the larger-sized peppers.

As usually happens when I visit that store, I got briefly lost on the wine floor, and came across a bottle of Castello di Verduno Basadone, a wine made from Pelaverga Piccolo grapes.  It was from Piedmont, and memories of the rustic mouthfeel of a Nebbiolo and the bright acidic finish of a Barbera ran through my mind.  I had first tasted a Piedmont wine on a whim – how might this one taste?  I did not buy that wine on that day, instead choosing a Barbera d’Alba.

It was not until the next time Carla and I stopped at DiLaurenti’s that I remembered the Verduno I had left behind, but I was more focused on Montalcino at first, a region usually been beyond my price range.  I nearly left the Verduno behind again as we walked to Target, but then ran back, knowing I would always be curious  and only able to imagine its flavor if I did not pick it up.

I opened the bottle on Sunday to taste it with another culinary experiment, an Italian improvisation of fettucine with a poached duck egg and dandelion greens.  Recipes on blogs seem to be a trend these days, a trend I have resisted for fear of I might develop a complacent and passive writing formula.  This time, however, I think my essay in the kitchen was a way of actively exercising my imagination:

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¼ lb. fresh fettucine
Olive oil
small handful hedgehog mushrooms, the smaller the mushroom the better.
1-2 Calabrian chiles (I managed to neglect using these when I made this dish)
2 cloves garlic, quartered then sliced
small handful dandelion greens, rinsed
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 duck egg
breadcrumbs
Wild greens such as chickweed and cress, for garnish (I forgot to use these too)

Toss mushrooms and Calabrian chiles in enough olive oil to coat, season with salt, pepper, and any other desired seasonings, such as paprika and/or cumin.  Cook fettucine in salted boiling water to desired tenderness.  While fettucine is cooking, heat olive oil and garlic in pan and add the mushroom mixture.  Sauté until reduced in size by about ¼, then add dandelion greens and sauté until greens begin to wilt.  Set aside and keep warm.  Crack egg into ramekin lined with plastic wrap, then tie plastic wrap with rubber band.  Remove pasta and drain, reserving water so you can poach the duck egg in it (I like to minimize the amount of dishes I clean, since I have no dishwasher).  Poach egg to desired doneness (I like a medium poach to use some of that yolk for a tasty and slightly thick sauce as I eat), keeping the plastic from all falling into the pot.  To plate, pour pasta and mushroom and dandelion mixture into pasta bowl (I really need to buy a few of these) and toss together.  Then remove duck egg from plastic and place in center, and finish with breadcrumbs, then chickweed and cress.

On Il Corvo’s website, Mike Easton says the act of pairing pasta with condiments “is all about creating the perfect bite, matching up the size/texture of the pasta with the right chunkiness/sauciness…[y]ou must imagine the physical act of eating the pasta, pushing around the sauce, stabbing, twirling, and chewing, and then ask yourself ‘is this the right noodle for the sauce?’”    In my recipe above, I must admit that my combination may have been thrown off by the chunks of mushrooms, which may have been more suited to penne, but I digress.  The Verduno was a lush blanket of barely ripe strawberries and cherries, a wine that did not draw too much attention to itself, and let me feel relaxed as I finally dove into my pasta after taking a picture for this blog.

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“I have a love-hate relationship with Italian wine,” I told Bianca shortly after we started working together.  “I love the wines, but it is so hard to keep them straight because there are so many unfamiliar grapes only found in Italy.”   As if I was reading a beckoning call a few weeks ago, I ran across one of Alfonso’s blog posts that culminated in a tasting of some Calabrian red wines.  He mentioned “beyond the names and the confusion, there is the shiny golden soul of Italian wines.  And very few people get that.”  My love-hate relationship stems from a constant endeavor to see into this elusive “shiny golden soul” from a place where I have never traveled but have longed to visit ever since reading Chaim Potok’s description of Florence in My Name is Asher Lev. Italy has thus far remained a place I have tried to see and taste in my imagination, every time I stretch my own hop-infused pizza dough, or sip a wine made from an obscure grape.  With each cork I pop, I feel inclined to explore it more.

A Thank You Note

Dear Jane

 
About nine months have passed since our last correspondence, and the possibility of me moving to Argentina and working for Algodon has fallen off the radar.  My job search has instead taken me to Seattle, Washington as of this summer, where I am now working for Starbucks as their tea quality specialist.  Though my career has shifted away from wine at this time, my taste buds are getting more exercise than ever, and I am nurturing my former passion through the blog I started last year.
 
Regardless of how long it has been and all the unpredictable things that have passed, I am reaching out to let you know you were in my thoughts on Sunday evening, when the appropriate moment finally came to open the 2008 Algodon Private Collection Malbec you had given me toward the end of last year.  My girlfriend and I took our puppy to the West Seattle Farmer’s Market to pick up ingredients for dinner, and spent four hours making a bolognese sauce of ground elk, bison, and yak to toss with fettucine we cranked out on a pasta-maker she had bought me for my birthday a year ago.  With game meat, your Malbec came to mind.  It was no less intriguing to my girlfriend, who had learned to make pasta from an Argentinian, and was teaching me to make it that evening.
 
Lush, bright, and supple, its soothing taste befit our rainy Autumn Sunday well.  There was more to that wine than its mouthfeel though, as it occupied a unique space in my memory.  It evoked the brief dreams I had harbored of another life months ago, and reminded me of the kind support you offered at that time.  Moments like those are what nurture my penchant for wine, and I thank you for your generosity and interest in that pursuit.  I will no doubt make it to Argentina one day, and I hope to make Algodon an early stop on that trip.  For now, I am enjoying the opportunity to explore the Emerald City and experience Autumn for the first time since I can remember.  If you make it out here, feel free to reach out and we will catch up.
 
Warm regards,
 
-Adam