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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