Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Chateau Greysac 2004

Lately I've been on a French wine kick. I've had Pinot Gris from Alsace, Burgundy from the Cotes de Beaune, and plain old table wine from areas like Languedoc. They have all been pretty tasty, but one in particular deserves a little highlight.
Chateau Greysac, which you can get just about anywhere for around $20, was one of the best wines that I've had in quite a while. From the Medoc region in Bordeaux, this Cru Bourgeois wine is a blend of the classic grapes that are allowed to grow in Bordeaux; Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. The Greysac from 2004 has a large amount of Merlot to it, typical of left bank winery offerings. Left Bank and Right Bank refer to which side of the Gironde Estuary the winery is located within the Bordeaux area. Left Bank is usually Merlot based wines with the other varietals added for flavor and nuance. Right Bank wines are usually heavier on Cabernet Sauvignon. Depending on your wine preferences, it would be in your interest to find out which side your Bordeaux is from. (They won't tell you on the label. The French think you should just know that information.)
Back to Chateau Greysac! My wife had made a lasagna and salad for dinner and I had the desire to complete the Italian theme and go for an Amarone that I remember buying. Unfortunately, I had already drunk that one. I unracked the Greysac and figured France was close enough to Italy. I peeled the foil off the top and handily uncorked the wine. As is my usual custom, I quickly smelled the pent up esters that arose from the bottle. This wine actually smelled smooth. I thought that was a very good sign and poured two glasses. I let the wine aromas fill the glass. I put the glass to my lips and closed my eyes breathing in the fragrances of plums and currants. I took a sip and let it sit on my tongue. The smell of it was only a small hint of what the taste was like. Plums and currants, licorice and smoky oak. I grabbed a plate of dinner and had a wonderful time with it. The wine would have been perfect with a medium-rare steak or some lamb chops. As it was, though, the spicy tomatoes, cheese and sausage enhanced the soft tannins of this wine. I wouldn't hesitate to pair this wine with Italian cuisine again, but I think I'm going to need some roast beast next time.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Josh Doyle "Solarstorms"

I was shuffling through my YouTube account one afternoon and saw that I had a message from a guy that wanted me to check out his video. No matter what, I always check out what people send me. Who doesn't like to find new music? I was especially glad I did that day because it was Josh Doyle. I looked at that video and found a couple of his others including a cool rendition of an old Cat Stevens song. I became a fan of his without really knowing he had been in the music biz for a while with a different band and a different look.
Josh was the front man for the British pop band Dum Dums. I did a little research and they supported a lot of acts that toured the U.K. like Robbie Williams, The Flaming Lips at a festival, and Bon Jovi at Wimbledon. After Dum Dums called it quits, Josh and his wife moved to the U.S., Nashville to be specific. He's been working his ass off since he got here. He has released five independently released albums and recently won the Guitar Center's Singer/Songwriter competition. After winning that, he has been catapulted into the limelight and deservedly so.
One of the perks of being the top dog in the contest was recording an album. The result is titled "Solarstorms". I've had the chance to hear a few tracks off of it and couldn't have been happier with what was streaming into my ears. Some of the highlights I've heard so far are 'Bird of Prey', the title track 'Solarstorms', and, my favorite so far, 'I Figured The World Out'. Josh is the epitome of the label Singer/Songwriter. His lyrics are thoughtful and impressive and the music is rich and perfectly fitted to the words. I feel that Josh is on the upswing of a great career (second phase of his career) and we are watching from the ground floor. If you like artists like The Band, Cat Stevens, Paul Weller, Warren Zevon and Elvis Costello, you will love Josh Doyle. He's going places and I'm glad I'm along for the ride.

Here is Josh's website. Go find him!

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This is Josh singing I Figured The World Out on Jimmy Kimmel Live

You can pick up the title track on iTunes:

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Woman In Black (2012)

I've been a fan of creepy movies for a long time. I lean more toward psychological terror than blood and guts terror even though there have been some classic gore films that are on my top 100 list. One film that I saw recently fits the psychological genre; The Woman In Black. Since I don't have television, I rely on previews before other movies to find out what I need to see next. The trailer I saw looked pretty good and a little creepy, so I was in. What I got was really creepy and, at times, actually scary. It stars Daniel Radcliff (Harry Potter, Equus) as the main character, Arthur Kipps. He's a lawyer that goes to a small town to do the paperwork for a woman's estate. What he got was a seriously pissed off ghost that kills for revenge.
The first 15 minutes, I was being my typical dorky self and quoting Harry Potter, but the story slowly wrapped me up and I completely forgot that little Danny was my favorite rambunctious wizard. The cinematography was grim and gray and the acting from the whole cast matched the scenery perfectly.  The Woman in Black definitely had a high creep factor to it. Any movie involving dead kids has that effect on me. Add to that the lurking ghost and you've got a winning combination.

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The Woman in Black Poster

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Chickanellas in Grove, OK

For those of us that live in and around Grove, you know that you could try all the restaurants in town within a couple of weeks and still want more. We need more places to relax and have something really good to eat without having to pawn the lawnmower to do it. A pleasant surprise awaited me this 4th of July and its name was Chickanellas. The creative endeavor by Debbie Douglas is a food lover's dream, especially if you dream of light, flavorful and utterly delicious cuisine.
We stopped in for lunch at the former Corey Hotel built in 1909. Essentially it is a big house with dining in the back room and out on the shaded patio. Update on their new address at the end of this story. On the way to the dining room, there is an entryway where their display of freshly made sweeties are taunting you. Cupcakes, cookies, fudge and truffles were a few of the things I saw before my eyes glazed over with dreams of slipping into a sugary siesta. I came to and sat down to an amazing lunch. The menu at Chickanellas is small and simple which, to anyone who knows menus, means that they do a few things and do them very well. I ordered a California wrap and Flora and Audry both ordered the Cuban wrap. As is Flora and my usual practice, we each ate half and traded plates. I almost didn't want to trade because the chicken, veggie and avocado wrapped in a jalapeno cheddar tortilla was still calling to me. But I wanted to experience as much as I could on my first visit to a new place. The Cuban wrap was the tubular version of the classic sandwich which is ham, pulled pork, Swiss cheese, mayo and mustard inside a special garlic tortilla. To accent the main dishes, they offer veggie straws instead of chips, which I love. If you haven't tried them, you're missing out. They complimented the light wraps perfectly. If that wasn't enough, Vicki brought us a sample of their soup of the day, roasted corn chowder. Debbie had grilled corn and peppers that morning to make the delicious soup. I'm pretty sure it was the best corn chowder I've ever had. And I've had quite a few. On the way out, my daughter Audry ordered a tropical fruit smoothie. She was kind enough to let me try it. If I hadn't been stuffed with other tastiness, I would have ordered one for myself.
Debbie and Vicki definitely have a good thing going on and, more importantly, it's a good thing going on here in Grove, America. They were both super nice and glad we were there. As it is, I'm glad that they are there. I'm planning many happy returns.
P.S. They love it when you order ahead and come pick it up. You'll be glad you took a Chickanellas lunch back to the office. Everyone will be envious. Also, you can see what the daily specials are on their Facebook page.

9a.m. to 5p.m. Tuesday thru Saturday
Update on Chickanellas
Debbie has moved to a new bigger location on Highway 59 and they couldn't be happier with the move. I hope for continued success for them!
New Address
5550 Hwy 59 North in Grove, OK

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

One Day As A Lion

Last year I blindly bought a few CD's. To be accurate, I bought 25 CD's that I had no idea of how good or bad they were. I was attempting a run at having a CD section in the shop, but that soon fell through because everyone wanted Slayer and ICP. I like Slayer's Reign In Blood as much as the next guy, but people weren't ready to venture out into unfamiliar musical territory. I played the discs in the store and sold a few, but I eventually took out the CD section and back stocked them for another day. One of the albums that really stood out was One Day As A Lion's eponymous EP.
One Day As A Lion is a collaboration between Zach de la Rocha from Rage Against the Machine and Jon Theodore who used to play drums for The Mars Volta. Zach took on vocals and keyboards while Jon did all the drum work. The five song album is a tight mix of hard edge rock, smooth funk, and biting lyrics. It has the feel of a Rage album with a more straightforward approach to the instrumentation. I put this CD in the player and put it on repeat, which is how I listen to most albums. I'll let it play through a few times so I can really get into the groove of the album. After a couple of listens, I take it out and put in another one. However, the day I listened to One Day As A Lion, I left it in the whole day...and it only has five songs!
If you like Rage Against the Machine, this album is a no brainer. Grab a copy and slip into the funk. I also read that these two guys are putting a band together to release a full album. If it's anything like this EP, it will smoke your ears off.

Follow them on the ol' Facebook.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Here Come The Men in Black...Again

Let me start by saying I don't like Tommy Lee Jones on a personal level. When I sold wine in the Hill Country of Texas, my route included the town where he has a huge ranch. I saw him on multiple occasions and waved or said Hi and he just sneered at me, bought his beer and left. That being said, I still wanted to go see Men In Black 3.
From the moment I heard Josh Brolin was going to play the younger "K", I thought it would be an interesting twist on the franchise films. Aliens, time travel, and Emma Thompson seems like a winner to me. I wasn't disappointed. Emma takes over MIB as agent "O" and does a great job of making the transition as Zed's replacement. With a great supporting cast and a lot of jokes that are there for the benefit of the people who are paying attention, MIB3 was another hilarious installment. Unfortunately, I can't say too many things about the film without giving away important story lines. I'm not going to ruin it for those that hate spoilers. What I can tell you is Josh Brolin's imitation of Tommy Lee Jones is fantastic. Also, watching Will Smith navigate through 1969 when the Mets won it all and Andy Warhol ruled New York was outstanding.
If you liked either of the other two films, you will absolutely like this one as well. So catch some corn, grab a big beverage and enjoy the heck out of this movie. Even if you're like me and have issues with one of the cast members.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Kinnaree Thai Cuisine, Joplin, Missouri

I'm always up for food that doesn't come in a paper wrapper. So when Father's Day came around this past Sunday, I decided I wanted some Thai food. Since I live in a town where ethnic food is limited to chorizo y huevos at the Mexican place next to my shop, I had to go out of town. Joplin, MO isn't too far away and they have a couple of Thai places, so we asked my parents if they wanted to join us for lunch. We pulled into the parking lot of Kinnaree Thai Cuisine which is on 32nd street in a strip center. It's unassuming and simple sign meant we almost missed it the first time we ate here, but we knew what we were after this time. Entering the restaurant, I'm still pleasantly surprised by the size of the dining room. It seats about 40 hungry foodies, which is big enough so that you can usually get a table and small enough that you're not overwhelmed by noise while you eat.
The owner came around to take drink orders and I chimed in that we wanted an order of spring rolls. One order is five rolls with duck sauce, so we each got to have one. I only ordered one because I knew that the entrees were going to be more than enough to satiate everyone. Kinnaree's delicious soup that comes with every meal is cracked rice in chicken stock with a few vegetables and spices. One could easily make a meal of the soup and some crispy spring rolls, but I'm here for more. I ordered the Goy See Mee with chicken. It's a dish with a lot of different vegetables, chicken and a thin brown sauce over egg noodles. Although I really like spicy Thai food, I opted for this one since I hadn't had it yet. It was delightful, and I don't usually use the word delightful. It was fresh, light and flavorful, just what I needed that day. My wife is a sucker for Pad Thai, so that's what she ordered. Of course, I had to sample hers. Each time we eat at Kinnaree, we try to explore what they have to offer. We've decided that we're eventually going to try everything on the menu. Like that's a real effort since everything we've had so far has been fantastic! Great meal at a decent price. Happy Father's Day to me.

Thai food you can order in your underwear! But you have to put pants on to pick it up.

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Friday, June 15, 2012

Arizona Stronghold Mangus

When I heard that Maynard James Keenan had gone to Arizona to plant a vineyard, my brain came to a screeching halt. The front man for the bands Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer was not on my radar for possible vintners of fine wines. It's not that I didn't think he would be capable of it, far from it. He is a master of complex projects. I had just never thought of him as anything other than the freaky guy in a wicked awesome band. Since I'm an avid wine drinker and a fan of Maynard's musical work, I needed to find out more about this project he was becoming involved with. I went to that Google thing and made some discoveries.
One thing that I found was a documentary about the vineyard and Maynard's struggle to keep all the things wine related running smoothly. The title of it is Blood Into Wine. Here's an IMDB link to it.  It gives a little insight into his partnership with former David Bruce winemaker Eric Glomski and their desire to make great wine from an interesting place. The film has some dark subtle humor in it, but rarely does it come from the stoic Maynard. I did often laugh at his deadpan stares. Patton Oswalt lends his opinions about the wine and what Maynard could do to market it. Maynard also sits through a mock interview with two imbeciles that hate both wine and Tool. I don't know how he kept a straight face during the whole thing.
I discovered for myself that Merkin Vineyards produces a lot of wine under the Arizona Stronghold and Caduceus labels. They have strategically located vineyards all over Arizona with the biggest being 120 acres in the southeast.  For the longest time, we couldn't get any of these wines in Oklahoma because our laws are backward and ignorant. However, someone finally came to their senses and got a few in the state. I got to try a bottle of AZ Stronghold "Mangus" recently and was thoroughly impressed with it. The Mangus is basically a Super Tuscan blend of red wines. The winemakers like to call it an Arizona Chianti because it has a very high percentage of the Sangiovese grape in it, about 71%. I poured a glass for my wife and myself as a warm up to a great dish of pasta with Bolognese sauce. Throw in a wedge of smoked Gruyere and I was in heaven. The wine was immediately giving off the rich cherry aroma that is typical of Sangiovese. I sniffed it a few times because I couldn't believe the concentrated aromas coming out of the glass. I took a sip and it felt like an explosion of cranberry and cherry. It's a fairly light weight wine that doesn't make your face pucker with too much tannin. Mangus is smooth, full of bright fruit, and really pairs well with the aforementioned pasta. I can't say anything about this wine that isn't blubbering praise. If our distributor in Oklahoma keeps it in the state, then we'll be fine. If they discontinue it, I'm driving to Arizona twice a year to pick up some more. I hope you like it as much as I did.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Funny Or Die

I don't know about you, but I like to laugh. I also like to take breaks during the day. And since I can't always have a margarita, I go visit the website Funny or Die. There have been a few sites like this one pop up over the last few years. They're a one stop site for funny videos and pictures. Most of them are animal based because sometimes animals are hilarious. While this one has a section for animals, the main focus is the human race and how funny we can all be. One of my favorite things on Funny or Die is a series of videos called "Between Two Ferns". It's made to look like a low budget public access interview show hosted by Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover, Visioneers). Zach interviews some of the most prolific celebrities that the world has to offer like Natalie Portman, Bradley Cooper, and Charlize Theron. Zach acts like he doesn't know the people he's interviewing, he mispronounces their names, and asks ridiculous questions. You can tell the interviewees are in on the gag, but it's fun to see how they react to questions that they probably don't know he was going to ask. "Natalie Port Man, you starred in the Star Wars movies. Were you upset that you didn't get more scenes with Chewbacca?" This question asked with the deadpan delivery that Zach is so incredibly good at.
Between Two Ferns is just one of many series of videos on Funny or Die. There are also commercial parodies, fake movie trailers, and small videos from big talents. There is a section called Pictures & Words, which the title kind of explains it all. Podcasts, politics, and celebrities are all present in this great diversionary website. Be careful you don't go over your break time limit because it's easy to do. And if you're in a office taking a break at your desk, find a way to laugh quietly so as not to disturb your office mates. Or, even better, share it with them and laugh together.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Dynamite Museum

Amarillo, Texas seems like a place that art probably passed by a long time ago. When you're there, you're nose deep in the smell of hog poo in the morning and cow poo in the evening. It is brown in Amarillo. Just brown. When I moved there, I thought that I was going to have to give up on the idea of being immersed in the art world on a daily basis. I hit the local galleries that I finally found, Amarillo College's Gallery, and West Texas A&M's occasional shows. While I thought it was great to be seeing this creativity, it just wasn't enough for me. I voiced this to a coworker one afternoon and he told me I should check out the Cadillac Ranch and the Floating Mesa. He also asked if I had seen the street signs that weren't really street signs. I told him that I hadn't, but I would be on the lookout for them. I traveled west out of Amarillo and came to a National Roadside attraction, The Cadillac Ranch. The Cadillac Ranch is 10 Cadillacs half buried nose first in the ground. They represent every year that Cadillac changed their tail fin design. They are positioned to emulate the exact angle of the Great Pyramid at Giza and they were spray-painted a hundred colors. I marveled for a long time in that field. What loony bird would have the time, money and guts to pull off a project like this? The answer I would later find out was Stanley Marsh 3, who hired the Ant Farm to do the project. (He told me once that he prefers "3" to "III" because he loves movies and feels he is the sequel to his dad rather than merely the third man to have that name.) I went to find the Floating Mesa, which was a chore since I didn't know my way around very well at the time. This earth art piece is two dozen metal panels painted to reflect the color of the sky and set 20 feet below the top of a mesa. When you're at a distance, it looks like there's 20 feet of earth floating above the rest. I couldn't resist the temptation of trying to find Stanley Marsh 3 and telling him I loved his work. I found out where he lived and pulled up to the gate. It was closed and there was no intercom to call the house. I walked around a bit and found an exit road, so I went the wrong way on a one way street and entered the property. As I drove past peacocks, yard art, and a half buried VW Beetle, I thought I may be getting myself into a lot of trouble being here. I stopped at the house and got out. A thin man of about 60 came from the house and asked if he could help me. I asked him if he was Stanley Marsh and he laughed out loud. He said, "No, but you can find him in the bank building on Polk Street on the twelfth floor." I asked which office was he in on the twelfth floor. Foster laughed again and said, "He has the whole twelfth floor."
I nervously went to that building, went up to the right floor, and asked the receptionist if I could see Stanley. She called his personal secretary and she in turn called him. Stanley came out to meet me. He was a heavy man about as tall as I was with a fantastic Mark Twain mustache and glasses. He told me to follow him to his office which was heavily decorated in earthy African tribal decor. We sat and he asked what I needed from him. Without thinking I said, "I want to do artwork with you." He gave me a look of suspicion, then he smiled and told me to come back tomorrow for lunch. I came back the next day around 11:30 and we sat on his couch. He said, "If you had come to just ask for a job, I wouldn't have given you one. You said you want to do art with me, so I have some interview questions." I told him to fire away. The first question was "Would you break the law for art?" I said I already had. Second question: "Would you get naked for art?" (Thankfully, I never had too.) Deep breath...absolutely I would. Third question: "How do you feel about art galleries?" I told him that they were generally depressing and most people didn't even want to go to them anymore. Stanley smiled and told me I was hired and welcome to the The Dynamite Museum. Over the course of a couple of years, Stanley and I made Amarillo a living, functioning and accessible art museum. We painted many things colors they shouldn't have been, made soft canvas sculptures and left them in odd places, erected street signs, among many, many other things. We put up a sign on Route 66 that read "Road Does Not End". There was a sign that we installed at a bridge outside of town that spanned a deep and dry gulch with a picture of a sea monster on it...Sea Monster Xing. I also painted the Cadillac Ranch orange and black for Halloween, Pastels for Easter, and green and red for Christmas. It was a cat and mouse game with the local authorities and the two of us couldn't have been happier with our handy work. We even made the front page of the newspaper a couple of times. Doing art with Stanley under the umbrella of the Dynamite Museum was the most mind liberating experience I have ever had. It taught me that what people think art is, doesn't necessarily match what true artists think art is. I still believe to this day that art should be outside for everyone to see everyday, even if it's a big yellow traffic sign that simply says, "I Love You So Much". If you're in Amarillo, you can see some of the work that Stanley's mind created. I have the distinct pleasure of saying I helped.

If you would like to read more about my artistic adventures with Stanley, check out my other blog Oh, the things I do for art.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Ray Bradbury

On June 5th of this year, an amazing man passed away at the age of 91. His name was Ray Bradbury. Ray had been a prolific writer for seventy years and he had no intentions of letting up. When he was a young boy in 1932, he took a trip to a carnival where he saw the magician Mr. Electrico. At the end of his performance, Mr. Electrico touched Ray with his sword like a king at a knighting ceremony and said "Live Forever." Ray remembered thinking, "That sounds like a good idea" and he went home and started writing every day.
Ray's influences became quite diverse and they started showing up more and more in his stories. When everything Ray has done has been tallied up, he has written mainly science fiction, fantasy, horror and mysteries. However, within those few genres he has written hundreds of short stories, nearly 50 books, a lot of poetry and essays, and scripts for operas, theater, television, and films. These included sixty-five of his stories that he adapted into teleplays for his Ray Bradbury Theater. The total number of works is impressively over 500. The number of awards that he received over the course of his life is deserving to say the least. Book awards obviously, but he also won an Emmy, was nominated for an Oscar, and he received The National Medal of Arts, which all provides credence to my claim that he was one of the best writers ever to put pen to paper. Actually he used a typewriter, but you get my point!
Some of his most important work was fairly early in his career and thoroughly groundbreaking. His dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 was given to much interpretation. Ray said it wasn't about censorship but rather about society leaving real literature behind and becoming a factoid and television culture that has little truth and no context. They give up complete books for snippets of information and entertainment, which is very much what the world has become. From this book sprang my favorite quote of Ray's. "You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them." As far as his other work is concerned, I would really just be giving you a list and synopsis of fantastic stories and plays like Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Martian Chronicles, et al. What you should know about Ray was he was genuine, honest and, from what people have said, quite lovable. He once said that he never had a depressing day in his life simply because he knew that he was alive. While I can't say the same thing, I strive to be more like Ray in that respect, as well as being a daily writer. If you haven't read any of his books, you should give at least one a try. And if you don't like it, then at least read about him and see what kind of person he was. He is truly an example of a good life. Through his work, he will surely Live Forever.
Go discover Ray's work.

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Friday, June 8, 2012

A Prairie Home Companion

There are some days that I feel overly contemplative. I wonder about things that I'll never have the answers for and I probably shouldn't be asking the questions in the first place. I'm completely aware that it's a waste of time and energy, but I continue to do it. One day about ten years ago, I was in this state of mind when I woke up that morning. I knew I needed to think some things out, but I wasn't sure what those "some things" were. My wife had just laid down for a nap with our daughter and I was left alone with my brain. Rather than sit around the house and think, I decided that I would go for a drive and think.
It was late on a Saturday afternoon, which was my only day off at the time, so I had nowhere to be and no one to see. So, I got in the car and drove. The classic rock station was playing songs that I'd heard a thousand times over the course of my life. The Top 40 station was playing songs that I'd heard a thousand times over the course of that week. I opted for silence. As I drove the rural routes around San Antonio, I stared and tried to think of something. Something I was missing or something I needed to do. Nothing came, so I just drove. Soon the silence was too much to bear, so I put the radio back on. I hit the scan button to see if there was anything new or exciting or worldly. Anything but southern rock, hip hop, or the preacher in the old time gospel hour. The preacher's station was low on the dial like they always are. What was also down on that end was NPR. I was vaguely familiar with the station. I knew that I heard some news once, some classical music, and an interview or two. I should have realized that I would love this station because I like to know what's going on in the world, I like most classical music, and I enjoy hearing people's stories. But NPR was a haughty people's station, wasn't it? Instead of zipping by NPR that day, I stayed tuned in to it. I heard what sounded like a commercial, but it was a live commercial for something called "Powdermilk Biscuits". It seemed real enough, but then again, not quite real. Next, I heard two men talking in a northerner's version of a cowboy drawl, which I always find entertaining. I heard someone making sound effects like crackling fire, horses settling down, and a howling wolf. It was odd enough to keep my attention. As I drove across the countryside, I discovered I was listening to a radio variety show like I'd heard my parents and grandparents talk about. I turned up the volume and started listening more carefully. The Dusty and Lefty skit finished up and the announcer, whom I would later discover was the talented Garrison Keillor, introduced a bluegrass band. I can't remember the name of the group, but I recognized the music. I had heard it from a family that was from the town in which I grew up. They loved to play and sing old gospel and bluegrass just like what was on the radio now. It definitely wasn't classic rock or top 40 and that was perfectly fine with me. I finally made my way home but didn't get out of the car until the final soliloquy was finished, Garrison's weekly story of his hometown of Lake Woebegone.
My mind expanded a little bit that day. I had listened to funny skits like Guy Noir, great fake commercials like The Ketchup Advisory Board, music like I hadn't heard in years, and a heartfelt story of a place that only exists in the mind of one man. Since that day, I have listened to countless editions of A Prairie Home Companion. Each one amazingly written during the week since the last show and performed live in front of a theater full of people. It showed me that the world didn't have to be as fast-paced as I thought it needed to be. Sometimes you have to stop and listen to a story, or a ballad, or a guy making a string of sound effects. The show taught me to listen to the world around me, because there are stories to be heard in some of the oddest places. Stories of real people that have done real things. Listening to these talented performer's stories is my break from constantly telling the world my story. I'm always thankful for a mini vacation, even if it's just to Lake Woebegone.

Here is their home on the web.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Anthony Bourdain - Medium Raw

If you've never had the chance to see No Reservation, Anthony Bourdain's show about his travels around the world, then you've been wasting your television viewing time. He has traveled to so many places that I've lost track of where he's been, but I'm always "hungry for more" as the intro to his show states. I've actually been fortunate enough to follow in his footsteps a couple of times, even though I stayed in the U.S. to do it. Chicago, New Jersey, and Florida were a few of the places that I have gone and, before I left, I watched those episodes on Netflix just so I could eat where he ate. And I do this not as a Saint Bourdain worshiper, but as a fellow food lover. Since I've eaten a few of the same dishes that Tony did, at the same place he did, and I loved them as much as he did, then I think it's safe to assume that his and my tastes are relatively similar. That makes watching his show that much more enjoyable. If he says the kimchi is nice and hot, then I can rest assured that it is. I look forward to venturing into Asia, Briton and Europe to eat, drink and make my own memories of various pork products.
When I happened upon a copy of Anthony's latest book Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, I couldn't pass it by. I was hooked like a mahi mahi from the opening story about a clandestine dinner involving a little European bird. The book is a text geared more toward people in the food industry like chefs, food critics, restaurateurs, and the like. Even though I am no longer in the food business, I am still an avid food lover. (Working for a Michelin starred French restaurant will spoil you very quickly.) He wrote candidly about celebrity chefs, in-the-trenches cooks, food writers both good and bad, an OCD fish-prep Superman, and how that world is very foreign to those that are not a part of it. The food service industry is an exclusive club with their own lingo and roster of heroes much like any club, but with sharp knives, mise-en-place, and the reverence for names like Fergus Henderson and David Chang. One of the main points I took away from Medium Raw was the fact that it takes all kinds of people to make a restaurant successful and it takes even more people to make the food industry successful. And those people are you and me. Anthony cusses as much as I do, so be aware that there are quite a few expletives in the book. For me, it only added to the enjoyment, but some might not agree with me. To them I say "#(@* You."

This is the Facebook link to his new show's page.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

TEDtalks: Chimamanda Adichie - The Danger of a Single Story

Originally started to bring together the minds of those in Technology, Entertainment, and Design, TED has spearheaded the effort to again make the short speech an effective and important tool for conveying ideas. With over 1,100 filmed speeches in their inventory, TED presents the world with an overwhelming olio of subjects ranging from what makes us laugh to the future evolution of the human race to oceanic mysteries. They have asked some of the world's most interesting people to tell us about what they're passionate about. The speeches are usually 15 to 20 minutes long, entertaining and very informative. What you will glean from these talks and demonstrations is inspiration, mind expansion, and knowledge that the world is even bigger than you thought.
One particularly poignant speech that I watched recently was from a Nigerian author named Chimamanda Adichie. First of all, she's gorgeous so watching the speech wasn't difficult at all. But what she had to say was much more important than how she looked. She grew up reading children's books from the U.K. and eventually started writing her own stories that mimicked those books. She wrote about white children with blond hair drinking ginger beer and talking about the weather. These were her stories even thought she hadn't seen a white person, didn't know what ginger beer was, and never talked about Nigeria's unwavering hot weather. She had what she called a "Single Story" about how books and people were supposed to be. For an example, she told of the house boy that her family hired. Her mother always told her that the boy's family was poor. So, in her mind, that family's single story was that they were poor. It wasn't until she visited them in their home and saw that they made beautiful woven baskets out of raffia that she realized they don't have a single story. There are things that represent them other than being poor.  As she discovered African authors, she started changing her stories to fit what she knew, which was being Nigerian. She encouraged the crowd on hand to explore the things you think you know about and learn to reject the Single Story about anything and anyone. "Reject the single story and regain a bit of paradise." I will. Thanks, Chimamanda.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Station Agent (2003)

This film stars one of my favorite actors, Peter Dinklage, the dark haired guy from Elf, Death at a Funeral, and Game of Thrones. The story is that Finbar (Dinklage) works at his only friend's hobby train shop. When things take a turn for the worse, Fin moves into an abandoned train station in New Jersey that has been bequeathed to him. The station was once a fully functioning depot, then someone's residence, long abandoned, and now Fin must fix it back up since it's the only place he has left to go. While Fin is trying to live a quiet secluded life, he meets Joe, played by Bobby Cannavale (Louis, Cold Case). Joe is a man that vends hot dogs from his family's food van and, since he's a very talkative guy, can't help but pry into Fin's life. He's just trying to be neighborly! Throw in the wonderful Patricia Clarkson (Pieces of April & Good Night, Good Luck) as Olivia, a woman with a sad past of her own, and you have a witty and dramatic combination of characters attempting to be alone and hoping to find companionship at the same time. The actors' subtle expressions and awkward silences between themselves make this film such a great departure from super hero action movies (which I also love). This is definitely a character and dialogue driven movie, so no chase scenes or explosions. But it's a perfectly simple look into the lives of these three sad people that luckily find each other. I hope you get as much out of it as I did.

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The Station Agent Poster

Monday, June 4, 2012

Dreaming Tree - Crush (Red Wine Blend)

Over the years, I have listened to a lot of music and one of my favorite bands since I first heard them is Dave Matthews Band. So, when I heard that Dave was collaborating with renowned winemaker Steve Reeder, I knew it was going to be a freestyle, casual mixture they would come up with. When I was fortunate enough to try this blend, I could tell that was exactly what they had accomplished.
A little history about Steve; he has lived and worked in Alexander Valley and Sonoma County in California, a few other states, France, England and Germany. All that time he was developing his wine making styles and becoming more adept at his chosen profession. All of his efforts have landed him as the winemaker and general manager of Simi Winery and, according to him, he has found his home.
About Dave's contribution to this project, he's not just a famous guy who put his name to a wine label. Dave has worked and cultivated a winery in Virginia, learning as much as he could about the beverage he loves. He wanted to jump into the California wine producing business, but he knew he would have trouble pulling it off without a little help. A "little help" turned out to be one of the most prominent winemakers in California today, Steve.
Now, onto the wine itself. Crush (named after one of Dave's songs) is a vague blend of grapes from the North Coast area in California. I say vague because the mix they've come up with is masterfully blended to not highlight one particular varietal. The result is that it simply tastes wonderful. In the first glass, I usually try to pick out which varietals they used so I can feel like my wine training was worth the effort, but for this one I didn't care. I just wanted to drink it and be happy. When I poured the second glass, I did analyze it a bit closer. It has a prominent raspberry jam kind of flavor and hints of sweet blackberries. The great aroma is the prefect lead in to the flavor. What I got out of it was Zinfandel, a little Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot and maybe a splash or two of Cab Franc. Whether those were the grapes used or not is completely irrelevant. The only thing you need to know about Dreaming Tree's Crush is that it's smooth and fruity, slightly tannic, and well worth the price. ($15-$20 depending on where you buy your wine.) I serve all of my red wines at cellar temperature rather than room temperature. Compare 60 to 65 degrees in a cellar to 75 to 80 degrees in most rooms, and there's a big difference in how a wine smells and tastes. If you're like me and don't have a cellar, put the wine in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes before you open it. You'll be amazed at the difference. Enjoy Crush slightly cool and you will love it as much as I do.
Other Dreaming Tree Wines that are also fantastic are their Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Everyday White. (Reviews for those are on the way.)

Check them out here.

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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Hendrick's Gin

It appears that we're about to be neck deep in hot weather, so I thought I'd review the tasty adult beverage Hendrick's Gin made in a remote distillery in Scotland. Gin from Scotland? Aye!
This fantastic gin is a rare bird indeed. Distilled in a rare Bennet still and an even rarer Carter-Head still, this spirit is crafted in small batches (about 450 Liters). All the usual suspects go into the making of Hendrick's, like pure water, juniper berries, herbs, and the rinds of lemon, lime, and orange. The lads at Hendrick's go a step further and infuse the gin with rose petals, giving it a faint floral aroma. They also infuse it with cucumber which imparts a smooth, cooling effect that is refreshing and unique. I take Hendrick's to every party I go to and the result is at least one more fan of this amazing gin. I've always been one to stay pure and serve it as a shaken dry martini, but there are so many ways to enjoy Hendrick's. Here's a great summertime recipe that will please anyone that partakes of the punch bowl.

1 quart of lemonade (fresh is better, but a mix will work too)

24 oz. of Hendrick's Gin (that leaves about 1oz in the bottle for a little nip while you're making this)
1/2 of a large cucumber peeled and sliced into thin wheels
1 lemon cut into wedges
1 cup blueberries
It's really easy. Make the lemonade, add the gin, toss in the fruit and veg, add ice, and stir very well.
Makes quite a few servings depending on how big your glasses are. And you'll want large glasses for this one.

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Friday, June 1, 2012

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

During its opening weekend, I made the short journey from my house to Bentonville, Arkansas to experience the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the brain child of Alice Walton (Sam's daughter). From what I had read up to that point, Alice had made it her goal to bring art to Arkansas from American born and American transplant artists. Her quest was a labor of love for sure, so I needed to see it. I printed off the Google Maps directions, loaded up my wife and daughter, and meandered to our neighbor state. The Google Maps directions led us right to a walking trail. It was a big walking trail, but if I had used it as a driving path for the truck, I would have surely been arrested. Navigating what seemed like a residential area for ten minutes, we finally found the entrance to the museum grounds. The drive in was what you might expect from a museum, manicured lawn and trees. It wasn't awe inspiring, but it was nice. My ho-hum attitude toward the experience was short lived however. When the museum rose into view, I couldn't have been more impressed. Set in a small wooded valley, a huge modern structure of wood, glass, copper and concrete seemed to be perfectly at home there in the forest. From the picture below, you can see that the museum's designer, Moshe Safdie, was trying to be as modern as possible without completely disregarding the surrounding terrain. The beautiful copper roof gives a hint of something natural and elemental, while the glass walls reflect the oak and maple trees that swaddle the grounds. Already I know I will be back to this place many times and I haven't even been inside yet.
From the parking garage, we take an elevator to an open air courtyard complete with an art piece in the center. The gift shop is to the right, but I'm not interested in that right now. I want to go left and see some priceless American Art. The ladies at the front desk were very helpful, quickly pointing out which direction various styles of art were located. We opted to begin at the beginning, so we made our way to the Colonial wing. We herded into a small group of people that was being asked to wait by a gallery guard. When he was satisfied with the number of patrons present, he gave a speech that was short and sweet. It was basically No touching, No drinking, No eating, No gum, and No running. Essentially he was saying, "act like you're in a museum, doofus" without calling everyone a doofus.
The Colonial part of the museum was heavy on portraiture. The painting of George Washington in full uniform by Charles Willson Peale was certainly a highlight, but that was one of dozens of paintings of aristocrats, Native Americans, and the great landscapes and seascapes of the Eastern Seaboard.
The museum was further divided into 19th century art, modern art (1900-1980's), and an ever-changing contemporary art gallery. There were hundreds of works in the whole collection; oil, acrylic, pencil, pastel, sculpture, light, video, and textile.
This museum would have been totally fulfilling if the exhibits were all that Crystal Bridges had to offer. However, the small additional things made it a true "Art Is Life" experience. The cafe, the learning library, the reflecting pool, the knowledgeable employees on hand, and the walking trails through the surrounding estate made this a unique and memorable visit. We're planning an evening trip to the museum so we can sit in the cafe and watch them light up the reflecting pool. The employees we talked to said it would be worth the effort to come back again. I hope you take the time to go enjoy this American Art collection as much as we did. To make the best better, Alice has made the museum completely free to enter and park. So that's one more reason to go.

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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Primus - Live at the Brady

Last night I had the fortunate experience of attending a Primus concert at the Brady Theater in Tulsa. It was my first trip to the Brady and it was my first time to see Primus. I was really impressed with the theater and its steep balcony where we sat dead center. Unless you were in the section closest to the stage, you had a perfect seat if you were up top. Underneath us was mostly flat seating and a standing room only area just in front of the stage. I've never really been one to want to bang into a lot of people while I'm watching a show, so I try to go for a place that I can sit down if I want to and still keep an eye on the festivities. I grabbed a double Jameson's on the rocks at the bar and got comfortable for an incredible three hour show.
I've wanted to see Primus live for years and last night my wish was granted. With two gigantic inflatable astronauts standing guard on either side of a big projection screen, an odd mood was set for the evening. As the band strode onto stage, they launched into "American Life" while loops of Abe Lincoln, The Statue of Liberty, and The Stars and Stripes flashed and morphed on the big screen behind them. Throughout the night, I heard song after song that I recognized, but some had been transformed into jam sessions of this fusion of rock, jazz, pop, and noise that only Primus could pull off. They were such a tight band that every note and every pause were exactly where they were supposed to be without it sounding like the music was being fed through a machine into the PA. If you can imagine Primus trying to achieve the jamming prowess of bands like Phish and Pink Floyd, then you've got an idea of what the show was like...which was thrilling and fantastic. About six songs into the show, the three of them left the stage. Seconds after they were clear, the big screen in the back started to show an early Popeye cartoon. The crowd loved it. When that one was done, they played another...then another. When the third cartoon was done, there was a pause. Then a fourth cartoon started up. Some people booed and screamed, but I laughed because I knew they were pulling an Andy Kaufman. How far can we push these people? Fittingly, the title of the fourth and final cartoon was "Can You Take It?" Perfect. The last cartoon finished and the show resumed. For the rest of the night, the music surged and ebbed like a big sea of cheese. It was a completely satisfying show and a good introduction to such a great theater.

Seek them on the webs.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mustang Summer Lager

I recently picked up a couple of mixed six packs of beer at my favorite liquor store, Grand Spirits in Grove, OK. Nine of the twelve were summer seasonal brews. One that I found very tasty was Mustang Summer Lager. To get the best out of a lager, you're supposed to use the proper glass and serve it at the proper temperature. I don't care much for that snobbery anymore, so I grabbed a bottle from the fridge and chose my favorite Samuel Smith pint glass (British pint, a little bigger) and poured a tall glass of golden summer. I was hot and tired so the beer was looking perfect, cold and inviting. The light golden color and a foamy white head was slowly drawing a smile on my face. I hucked the bottle into the recycle bin and sat down to a fantastic bright and clear lager. Without going into boring detail about every faint ester I tasted in the beer, I'll hit the high points. This Mustang had a sweeter style malt, flowery hops that weren't strong at all, and a hint of lemon grass and citrus. While you're drinking this beer, if you can't picture yourself sitting in a chaise longue by the pool or under an umbrella by the lake, then you have obviously lost all the imagination that God gave you.
This beer was born and developed at Mustang's headquarters in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. They do what dozens of smaller beer companies do, they contract brew with larger breweries like Point Brewery in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. This means that the big guys with all the cool equipment get paid to produce Mustang's beer for them. The recipe, ingredients, people and preparations are all sourced by an Oklahoman, but the equipment is not. So calling this an Oklahoma beer is mostly right. I consider it totally an Oklahoma beer. And a damn good one at that. Enjoy some soon, because when summer starts to wane, so will this great lager until next season.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Garbage - "Not Your Kind of People"

Let me start this review of the Garbage album “Not Your Kind of People” by saying I am a little biased about the group; Shirley Manson to be specific. A long…long time ago I was watching MTV’s 120 Minutes. For you youngsters, that was when MTV played music videos and 120 Minutes was the more favorable alternative music show. So when I was glued to the tube one weekend, I saw a video from a band called Angelfish, which was Shirley’s first venture into a solo-type project. The lyrics were overly simple, but I instantly became irrevocably smitten with the red headed lead singer. As the Fates would have it, Steve Marker was watching that same show and called Shirley to come do some vocals for a new band a few guys were starting called Garbage.
Flash forward about 13 years and the band released their fifth studio album “Not Your Kind of People.” With outstanding musicians and producers in Duke Erikson, Steve Marker, and Butch Vig, Garbage, along with Shirley, is a terrific outlet for these four great minds. On the new album, Garbage sticks to what they know best. It's something I call dark pop, meaning most of the songs are fairly upbeat, but there is a melancholic or sinister tinge to them. The melodies are tight and the musical riffs, at times, are thoroughly hypnotic. The strong vocals often have a free-form lilt throughout the album and really put the sweet icing on the cake. I've listened to this album quite a few times over the last couple of days. Two of the highlights for me so far are “Blood for Poppies” and the title track. But I wouldn’t hesitate to include nearly all the other tracks on one of my infamous mix CD’s. The short and sweet answer for “Will I like this album?” is, if you’ve ever liked any Garbage song, then yes. You will like it. Buy it and love it as much as I love Shirley Manson...I mean...uh, this album. 

Get your Garbage fix at their website.

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  1.Automatic Systematic Habit  
  2.Big Bright World
  3.Blood for Poppies  
  5.Not Your Kind of People  
  7.I Hate Love  
  9. Battle in Me
10.Man on a Wire 
11.Beloved Freak  

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Dictator (R)

I'm not much of a fan of what I call uncomfortable humor. The kind where comedians or performance artists include random people in their practical jokes, like most of Borat or some of Jackass. When I saw the commercial for The Dictator, I could tell it wasn't in that vein of comedy, but I was still hesitant to see it. However, the lure of it couldn't be ignored so I went. I made the right decision because The Dictator was hilarious from beginning to end. When the screen flashed the words "Dedicate to the memory of" I thought perhaps one of their friends had passed while making the film. Then, "Kim Jong-Il" faded in and I knew this was going to be a satirical joyride. Sacha Baron Cohen portrayed supreme leader Admiral General Aladeen (and his body double). His screenplay, along with his delivery of the character, proved that Cohen is very smart, deliberate, and good at what he does which is make fun of people who deserve it. The rest of the cast was spot on as well, and most of the names are recognizable, even a few unexpected cameos. What was a highlight for me was the performance by Anna Faris. She usually gets roles that make her appear like what we think of when we hear a blond joke, but in this film she was perfect. Her hippie, non-racists, non-sexist, free-trade organic shop owner role was realistic and very funny.
Over all, the story line was sometimes a little loose and I said to myself a couple of times, "Okay, that's kind of funny, but let's get back to Aladeen." However, those small bursts of story line off-shoots didn't detract enough from the flow of the film to cause any permanent resentment. And when you include Middle Eastern versions of Dr. Dre and R.E.M. songs, who can be upset for any length of time?
If you are the kind of person who thinks that our government has never done anything wrong and that the rest of the world is evil, then this probably isn't your film. The irreverence is thick, poignant, and accurate. But if you love satire in it's highest form, go see this movie as soon as you can. I know when it comes out on DVD, I will own it.

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

What's Going On?

While the title would suggest a review of the classic Marvin Gaye song, it is merely an introduction to this web log. I recently watched the Jamie Kennedy film "Hecklers". It was a look at people who purposefully disrupt performers for whatever reason. It was also about people that review the shows and movies we all see. A lot of the critics were either bullies who enjoyed taking personal jabs at actors, comedians, filmmakers, musicians, and even athletes, or they were morons who could never get a job critiquing dog shit, let alone films or music. They seemed to be vicious simply because they were in their grandma's basement where no one will ever find them. The doc had a ton of my favorite people in it like Lewis Black, Patton Oswalt, and David Cross. I particularly like it when Jamie would bring his hecklers backstage after the show and ask them why they felt the need to be dicks while he was trying to perform. While I can't say that I've seen everything that Jamie has done, I definitely like this documentary. I will probably go find his other films, watch them, and watch some of his TV shows again. What I won't do is personally attack him, or anyone else, if I don't like their work. (Maybe I will so he will come track me down and I can be in his next film.) Bill Maher had one of the best statements. "I don't think any performer of any kind has a thick skin. I don't think you can do any good work if you do. You have to be sensitive to be good. And if you're sensitive, then you're going to also sometimes suffer because of that." I am a writer, a musician, a playwright, a screenwriter, a poet, and a skate shop owner. I hear critiques all the time. While I know that you can't please everyone, I try very hard to do just that. It hurts when someone says my play sucks or my skate shop is lame. I know that pain, so in this blog, I choose not to be the asshole. I choose not to take personal swipes at artists. There are plenty of haters. The world needs more lovers. I love all of the fine arts, so this is my place to tell you all about all the cool things in our world. Welcome to Talking Simian.

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