Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Help Drown Junk Mail in the Bathtub!

My cousin sent me an e-mail about this ForestEthics campaign a few days ago, and while I was once at least tangentially involved in this sort of thing, a ban on "direct marketing," as they call it, is something that I can get behind entirely. Never mind the fact that junk mail is a pain in the ass, there are all kinds of other reasons to curb this irritating phenomenon. It encourages conspicuous consumption at a time when we really need to be working out ways to do more with less. It clogs our landfills. It's a drain on our already threatened forests. It's a foolish use of dwindling oil resources and contributes to global warming... need I go on? If you agree, then I would encourage you to sign their petition. If you're not sold on the idea, have a look at the website and get the facts for yourself.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Weekend of Firsts...

Just before noon this past Friday, I finished a project I'd been planning for a long while, and working on for about a week: I built up my first set of bicycle wheels, the results of which you can see in the photo above. The impetus for this undertaking came about a month and a half or so back, when one of the rims on my fixie blew out. I'd been meaning to try my hand at wheelbuilding for a while, and finally had my excuse to get off my butt and do it. I ordered a pair of Velocity Deep-V rims from Universal, and picked up a Miche track hub, along with a matching front hub, at Revolver. I'd have built the new wheels on the old Formula hubs, which are great hubs and were perfectly salvageable, but for the fact that they were 36-hole. I couldn't find the Deep-Vs in a 36-hole pattern in white, so I went with 32s instead (anybody out there want a good deal on a pair of 36-hole Formula hubs?). The Deep-Vs are pretty stout rims, so you don't really need 36 spokes anyway... 64 spokes and nipples later, I had my raw materials:

Wheelbuilding can be an intimidating task for those dabbling in bike mechanics, but like a lot of things in life, you find that once you've thrashed your way through it a bit and learned from your initial mistakes, it's not really that hard. Ninety percent of success is just getting started, as they say, and upon finishing this project, my efforts were rewarded with not only a new set of wheels, but the satisfaction of having acquired a new skill. I found a series of videos on YouTube to guide myself through it, which worked out pretty well. Most of you reading this will never try your hand at wheelbuilding, of course, but for those of you who might, make sure you start with the third spoke hole from the valve, not the first, as shown in the video (if you're doing the standard three cross pattern, that is). Trust me.

This was, however, only one of a number of firsts this weekend. Just a few hours after the wheels were built, I headed off to Atomic Art to get my first tattoo:

Interestingly, the tattoo itself is related to the wheel project. The fixie, which I found on Craigslist for $150 last summer, is built around an old french frame, probably a Forris, which had at some point been painted white. On getting it home, I started tossing around ideas for painting it, and settled on applying some sort of pin-up style art to the head tube. I worked out an image I liked, but realized a couple of things fairly quickly: first, that it was way too intricate to put onto the relatively small space of the head tube of a bicycle, and second, that it would make a really good tattoo. So I spent most of the next year developing the idea, tweaking the artwork here and there, forgetting it for a few months at a time and eventually coming back to it, yada yada yada, until I had something I felt I'd be comfortable wearing on my person, specifically my left shoulder/upper arm. Here's a shot of Roll Hardy, who did the work:

Portland has at least 60 tattoo studios, and hundreds of tattoo artists. I picked Roll out of this fray for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that I admire his work, which you can check out here. Roll's a fellow art school grad, and a very talented painter to boot (he's represented locally by the Laura Russo Gallery). But the real reason I chose him to do my first tattoo is that he's a very good friend of some old roommates of mine, Brian Fisher and Jesse Rodgers. I lived with these two in a house on SE Salmon a number of years back and first met Roll one night when he came by to visit. When I ran across his name while researching local tattoo artists and had a look at his portfolio, I decided that he was the guy for the job. What I didn't know until I was in his chair was that he had actually lived with Brian and Jesse in that house on SE Salmon before I landed there. Portland is full of those small world moments...

A few hours later, with the tattoo healing under its bandage, I headed off to the Hopworks Urban Brewery with Risa for another first: to meet my first cousin once removed, Graydon Adams (I hadn't been to Hopworks, so I guess that's yet one more first). Here's a shot of "Grady" with his proud father, my cousin Brad (you'll notice that Grady is instinctively reaching for Brad's beer):

And here's Brad's better half, Amy. Moments before this photo was taken, Amy and I had ourselves a bonding moment over the subject of tattoos (Amy's got four, and despite the fact that she and Brad live in Seattle, she has all her work done at a studio in Denver)...

Brad's step-brother Kip and his wife Jennifer met us there with their son Jasper. I didn't manage to get a good shot of Jennifer and Jasper, but here's Kip, in all of his Bakula-esque glory:

And of course, Risa got to meet some of my family members for the first time. Here we can see her, looking vaguely Bjork-like in this photo, pondering my cousins and their offspring:

It was a fun, if busy, weekend. I think I'm good for new experiences for a while though...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Return of the Butter Man

A lonely flower, struggling to push its way through the asphalt and greet the sun; an apt metaphor for the human condition, no? All right, all right, enough of that pretentious poetic crap... Today was the opening day of the Eastbank Farmers' Market, my neighborhood's arm of the behemoth that is the Portland Farmers' Market. And the vendors were out in full... well, partial force. It was lookin' a little thin, to be honest, but hey, it's the first day. Here's a shot of the eponymous Butter Man:

The Butter Man, aka Ken, is without a doubt the coolest guy at the market, to my mind anyway. Every week he holds down the fort at the Rogue Creamery stall, and does so with dignity and aplomb. The guy never complains, no matter the rain, the humidity, the madding crowds... He just keeps on dishing out the Oregonzola, the Pesto Cheese Curds and the best butter this side of Guernsey with a smile and a wry sense of humor. I'd have Ken as my wingman any day of the week. The guy is a class act. And while we're on the subject of class acts, here's a shot of Heather Hanselmann, of Blue Heron Herbary:

I used to work with Heather at REI, and she's... a character. A very good woman to have on your side, but you DON'T want to be the chip on her shoulder, trust me. She's every bit as tough as she looks. And from what I hear, she's got mad snowboard chops as well. Heather's family has been farming in Oregon since, I don't know, 1672? Or maybe 1972. A long while at any rate. The Hanselmanns' stock in trade is herb starts, and fine ones at that. Moving along, here's a shot of some lettuce and rosemary (I can't remember the vendor):

One of this year's most intriguing newcomers would have to be Solpops. These guys make the most interesting popsicles you'll ever taste. Their flagship product is the cucumber lime jalapeno pop. It's refreshing to be sure, with a little bit of a kick from the pepper, but still mild enough to enjoy on a hot summer afternoon. Here's a shot of the dudes of Solpops:

As I was strolling along, enjoying my popsicle, I ran into my old housemate Garett:

Sorry ladies, but he's married. Hey, I'm straight, and even I think the guy's hot... Garett's an interesting fella. We shared a house, for an all too brief time, with four other guys in deep southwest Portland, on the fringes of Tigard. We called the place Project 53 (it was on 53rd Avenue), and it was a monkey house to say the least. Good times were had and crazy stories were shared in that shack and its numerous outbuildings. Garett's a very talented musician (sponsored by Clif Bar no less), a troubador in the tradition of Tom Waits, or perhaps more accurately, fellow Michigan boy Greg Brown. He also heads up his own production company, which you can check out here.

So that was my day at the season's inauguration of the local market. If you live in Southeast, swing by next Thursday, or visit your own market and support your local farmer!

You'd Better Get It While You Can...

I headed off this evening (okay, techically, last night) to Dante's with Risa, the Irishman and the Architect, along with the Architect's new chick and her friend, to see the best band to come out of Detroit since the MC5: the Dirtbombs. Don't know 'em? Well, I'm not surprised... But you should.

Mick Collins has been kickin' around the Detroit music world since the early 1980s, when he played in the U-Boats and the Floor Tasters, and then fronted the Gories, a band which, it could be strongly argued, set the stage for the emergence of the White Stripes, and for that matter, the rest of the Detroit garage rock scene of recent years. After the demise of the Gories, Collins went on to host a WDET radio show, become a UNIX programmer, produce a record for Andre Williams, collaborate with acts as varied as Alex Chilton and Rocket From the Crypt, and ultimately form the band that rocked Dante's on this fourteenth of May.

Mick and company (and I just have to interject here to say that Ko Shih is the sexiest bass player on Earth - yes, even more so than both Kim Gordon and Kim Deal) came out swingin' this evening. They opened with Leopardman at C&A, off the new record, and settled into a set which favored the old material as much as the new, including a few favorites of mine: Ode to a Black Man, Underdog, Start the Party and Motor City Baby... For their encore, they didn't disappoint, busting out the perennial crowd favorite I Can't Stop Thinking About It. I was expecting them to play their version of Dead Moon's Fire in the Western World at some point (this being Portland and all), but I guess it just wasn't to be. I also would've loved to hear their excellent hispanocentric cover of Stevie Wonder's Livin' for the City... Ah well, next time perhaps. At any rate, it was still a fantastic performance. I'll leave you with some footage from a show they played in Brisbane last week:

Monday, May 12, 2008

It's Like Shooting Fish in a Barrel, But Funnier...

Oh, the schadenfreude! Okay, so we all knew Bill O'Reilly was a jackass to begin with, but sometimes you need to take a break from the war in Iraq, the earthquake in Chengdu, Cyclone Nargis, the latest Diebold voting machine outrage, the tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, Mad Cow Disease, the Kennedy assassination or whatever else it might be that's sending your blood pressure through the roof, and just laugh at the village idiot. So take a moment from your busy day and gawk in astonishment at America's Dumbass Laureate. You'll be glad you did! And remember, no matter how horribly wrong things might be going in life, at least you're not this guy!

Update: There's even a dance remix!

On the Joys of Hot Tubbing and Huge Burgers...

So New Girl, aka Risa, and I had a couple of milestones this weekend. The first was a hike into Bagby Hot Springs with the dogs. Our first hike together, and hot tubbin' to boot! The hounds are getting along very nicely, although Burke had to bust out the snarling and get some boundaries worked out with Moe in the car on the way up. Dogs will be dogs, I suppose. As for the humans, Risa was well prepared, but I misjudged the season/elevation, and wound up hiking through snow in my Chaco sandals (very capable footwear, even in the pow). Not the first time that's happened, mind you, but I was glad it was a short hike! We got up to the tubs and soaked for about an hour while having a very nice conversation with a three-generation family of old Oregonians (who were NOT naked - what's up with that? I guess "clothing optional" means that you can, indeed, wear something if you really want to, but that ain't the way they do things at Breitenbush... although to be fair, I was wearing my glasses most of the time). On the way back into town, we stopped by the Fearless Brewing Company in Estacada. I had the Jumbo Blues Burger, a half-pound behemoth with bacon and blue cheese dressing:

It's hard to fully appreciate the size of this thing from the photo, but the diameter of the bun is just shy of that of a frisbee! It was pretty tasty, although the bun itself was a little disappointing. The fries, while too skinny for my taste, were perfectly cooked: crispy on the outside, nice and mushy on the inside. Risa had the steak sandwich with grilled onions and horseradish:

In-between bites of our unhealthy but well-earned sandwiches, we partook of that other milestone: our first game of Scrabble. We're both pretty good at this game, and were talkin' a more than healthy amount of smack at each other leading up to the big event. I won't mention who beat the crap out of whom, but let it suffice to say that the winner's streak went unbroken... Here's a shot of the board:

"Stasis" and "private" (triple word score!) were Risa's, while "insane" and "equine" (double word score!) were mine. A rematch is in the works, I'm sure... Amazingly enough, the dogs behaved themselves in the car while Risa and I were going at each other over the tiles. A good day was had by all involved!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

"We should all hang our heads in shame for letting America come to this..."

I'm paraphrasing a bit there, but such were the words of Bill Moyers on a recent broadcast, in regards to, oh, I don't know, pick your pet catastrophe... Today, he might apply that sentiment to the Bush administration's pledge of $250,000 of aid to the victims of Cyclone Nargis in Burma. Let's see... Up to a million left homeless (never mind the 100,000 dead)... $250,000... That works out to (calculating furiously), twenty five gleaming American cents per person! Can't you just see those terrified, confused and desperate cyclone victims wetting their pants in anticipation? Doesn't it just warm your heart to imagine them wondering, "Which American state will be on the backside of MY quarter???" Perhaps the resulting quarter trading craze will spur their economy into an upswing and empower the Burmese to take back their country and set themselves on the road to democratic self determination... It's an exciting time to be alive!

To be fair, that does go a bit further in Burma than it does here in the Pacific Northwest, where a quarter won't buy anyone much of their old life back once the lahars start flowing, but doesn't this seem just a bit... miserly? Shameful? Or INSULTING??? Yes, I think that's the word I was looking for. Although I suppose it's more or less on par with the Feds' response to Hurricane Katrina...

But enough with my self-righteous indignation, already. In other news, I've recently run across several food-related articles that I think are worth passing along. For those of you not familiar with the skulking evil that is Monsanto, a recent Vanity Fair article will shed light on some pretty scary stuff that your tax dollars, via federal farm subsidies, are being poured into. But wait, don't jump out of the nearest open window just yet... There was a great piece in last month's Harper's by Nathanael Johnson about raw (unpasteurized) milk, called The Revolution Will Not Be Pasteurized. I've recently started looking around for raw milk sources here in Oregon, for cheesemaking purposes, but there's arguably a good case to be made for just drinking the stuff on a regular basis (also worth reading is Nina Planck's defense of whole milk). Interesting stuff. Finally, in case you missed it (as did I - always a day late and a dollar short), over at The New York Times, Sunday before last, Michael Pollan wrote a compelling argument for tearing out the lawn and starting a garden. More than just an advocation of growing food, however, it was a meditation on overcoming the psychological effects of living in the culture of hopelessness fostered by a highly specialized society such as ours. Pollan invokes the agrarian philosophy of Wendell Berry in admonishing us for wondering what good any of our actions will do (we've been chasing that one around since time immemorial, haven't we?) and calls upon us to just get out there and do something, anything, big or small. Be the change you want to see in the world, as Ghandi put it. This piece, at once frightening and inspiring, shows Pollan bringing his A game. Well worth a look!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Caramelized Ginger-Pear Galette with Blue Cheese Creme Anglaise and Bacon

I busted this one out on a new friend for whom I made dinner for the first time last night. Dinner itself consisted of grilled pork chops which had been brined with apple, sage and garlic, spaetzle with mustard and sage butter and grilled asparagus with thyme. All served up with a nice Montepulciano which was on sale at New Seasons (it's a good thing neither of us are wine snobs...).

I've been playing around with galettes lately. It's a good way to practice one's pie chops without committing to something as large as an actual pie. It all starts with a good dough. I used Shuna's, for a couple reasons. First, it's a great pie dough recipe which doesn't incorporate lard or shortening. Second, it's the only pie dough recipe currently in my repertoire. Whichever dough you go with (and no, there's no shame in using store bought, although it kind of defeats the purpose of the whole, y'know, cooking experience), roll it into a log and cut it into roughly half inch sections:

Roll each section out into a rough circle, about 1/8 inch thick and seven or eight inches in diameter:

At this point, you're ready to make the filling:

3 pears, of your choosing, sliced thinly
2 Tbsp crystalized ginger, finely chopped
1 Tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 tsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp sugar
Juice of one lemon
Zest of one lemon
2 Tbsp unsalted butter

Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat, and saute the pears and ginger with half of the sugar:

Once the pears have softened and caramelized a bit (they won't take on a great deal of color, the way caramelized onions do), Add the juice, zest and the rest of the sugar. Cook this down a bit, add the flour and cornstarch and cook it for a few more minutes, until it's taken on a thick consistency and take it off the heat.

Sprinkle the dough circles with a 50/50 combination of flour and cornstarch. This will prevent the dough from becoming saturated by the filling:

Next, spoon a small amount of the filling onto each circle, keeping it about an inch from the edge:

Fold up the edges around the filling:

Put the galettes into a pre-heated oven at 400F for one hour, rotating once halfway through. When they're done, they should look something like this:

To make the creme anglaise, beat three egg yolks and set aside. Bring one cup of heavy cream and a few ounces of crumbled blue cheese just to the boil in a large saucepan. Take off the heat, and temper the egg yolks by whisking the hot dairy, a small amount at time, into the yolks, until about half of the dairy has been incorporated. Then pour this back into the rest of the dairy and keep on a very low flame, whisking frequently, until ready to use.

Fry up some finely chopped bacon. Plate the galette, sauce with the anglaise, and sprinkle with bacon. And enjoy.

So you're probably wondering, how did my new friend like her galette? Well, she never tasted it. We finished dinner, went over to Vincente's for a drink, came back and... got distracted. I guess I'll have to pawn them off onto my co-workers.