Saturday, November 19, 2011

A beer with John Muir, the original hippie.


"A thousand Yellowstone wonders are calling, 'Look up and down and round about you!' And a multitude of still, small voices may be heard directing you to look through all this transient, shifting show of things called 'substantial' into the truly substantial spiritual world whose forms flesh and wood, rock and water, air and sunshine, only veil and conceal, and to learn that here is heaven and the dwelling-place of the angels." John Muir, Wilderness Essays 

I just finished reading Muir's essay on Yellowstone National Park, man, I really need to get out there, and see for myself what he describes so beautifully. I love reading Muir, what a wonderful soul he was, and a true hero. He used passion and intelligence to fight for Nature, peacefully; a worthy cause in my opinion, and a noble effort.

He was the original hippie, and I use the term endearingly. To me, a hippie is one who understands, and appreciates the underlying beauty of certain things, such as the natural world. I came to know my inner hippie having moved out west, to Colorado, after Hurricane Katrina forced me to think about my uninspired life at the time. I've since happily embraced him, and I find life to be much more meaningful for it, especially considering how much nicer he is than the dude in me was.

In fact, the dude in me died in the Rocky Mountains. I buried him there on a hike years ago. And while my old drinking buddies would certainly disagree, I believe he deserved to die, so that the hippie in me might live on, and experience life as it is, naturally. My new friend John Muir would understand. And even though I doubt he was much of a drinker, I'd like to think he would have enjoyed a good, local brew now and again. So here's to you, John Muir, may you continue to inspire the soul, and awaken in us our true selves with your old hippie ways!

written whilst drinking a Colorado Native Lager, a fine beer with an unfortunate reputation, due to its funding. A product of the admittedly lame, and massively boring Coors Brewing Co., most see it as a knock-off craft beer; a desperate marketing attempt to cash in on the Craft Beer Revolution we're witnessing of late. But it's brewed off-site, by noble and passionate brewers, and it's meticulously executed and quaffable. It's also made with 99% locally sourced ingredients, which is something I'm sure my boy John Muir would appreciate. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Looking Back...

I've been freelance blogging for Westword, Denver's alt weekly, for exactly six months as of yesterday. It's funny to think about that fact, or at least it is to me; my very first foray into the world of writing.

It's been eye-opening to say the least, and quite a bit more difficult than I imagined, writing for money. I never envisioned I would be doing it. In fact, if you had asked me two years ago what I wanted to do for a living, I'd have answered pr/marketing/event planning for a craft brewery, which is more or less what I was doing at the time.

But looking back over these past months, I feel like I have been writing for a lifetime. Whether or not I do it well enough to earn a living remains to be seen.

my archives from Westword...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Sports Book

"The man had reached the highest level anyone can achieve in sports: the perfect blend of sweat and pain and champagne, a weathered appreciation of everything that happened..."

The Sports Guy Bill Simmons on Bill Russel in The Book of Basketball 

I'm on the last chapter of quite possibly the most entertaining book I've ever read, and I couldn't be more bummed about it. The Book of Basketball; seven hundred pages of free-flowing wit about nothing and everything to do with sports. Although the book is essentially about one, Simmons touches on the pulse of what makes them all so great: entertainment in its purest form, or in other words, artistry.

I didn't grow up a sports fan, much to my father's disappointment I'm sure, but my younger brother did, so luckily I never had to feel guilty about it. I came to love sports merely three years ago*. I had just moved from Boulder to Denver, into a small, nondescript studio apartment on Capital Hill with no real intentions; other than getting buzzed, and getting laid.

I happened to live a few blocks from my good friend, and fellow poker enthusiast, John; who happens to possess one of the most captivating, intellectual minds you'll ever find. He also happened to have a sick TV with surround sound, and a kegerator tapped with good locals brews. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time there. My visits weren't entirely selfish though, it was his mind that I was most interested in, and at that time, it was keenly focused on sports.

We'd spend countless hours watching them, and with me being such a novice spectator (everything was foreign to me: names, places, rules, everything), John was able to fully realize his pent-up desire to share all that he knew. He'd wildly, and frantically break down every aspect of whatever game was on; the intricacies of it, the background of the players of it, the financial state of it; all of which became fascinating to me.

Over three years later, sports are all I can pay attention to, quite literally. I haven't watched a TV show to speak of, or a movie in its entirety since. Nothing scripted can come close to the athleticism and strategy of sports in my opinion. To witness, first hand, the physical and mental potential of a human is nothing short of awe inspiring, as much so as any other art form. I'm forever grateful to my buddy John for introducing me to it.

And now that I think of it, he was the one who turned me on to Bill Simmons' column, and subsequently, one of my favorite books ever. Which makes sense, they are kindred spirits, John and Bill. They both know more about sports than anyone I've ever encountered, and both have the admirable ability to share their thoughts about it with such passion that one could spend hours listening to them.

Sadly, the book is almost over, and ever since my girlfriend and I moved in together across town, John and I don't get to watch the game together very often. But I'll never forget those days we spent endlessly engaged in sports. Those moments have a special place in my heart, as does this book.

*I'm borrowing the footnote method from Bill Simmons here, part of what's makes his book so thoroughly entertaining is that there are at least two random, yet riveting footnotes on each page. Anyway, coincidentally, the very first football season I watched from start to finish, 2009, when my hometown team the New Orleans Saints won their very first Super Bowl. The entire city went nuts, people stopped their cars in the middle of the highway to celebrate; my mom got stuck on the other side of the river and couldn't get home. My dad, who watched the game by himself in their quaint French Quarter apartment, said the Quarter sounded like nothing he'd ever heard in his life, "like we had won the war". Unfortunately, I was here in Colorado, comfortably slouched on my boy John's couch. But I'd like to think I played my fair-weathered part in their victory, the one last fan they needed so to speak. By the by, my friends here hated me for this sentiment.




Saturday, October 8, 2011

"The Rooftop of America..."

Kerouac coined the phrase in reference to the Rocky Mountains, and it has stuck with me ever since I read it -- as do the majestic mountains themselves every time I see them.

In fact, I deeply and constantly miss them; so much so that I fall into a state of depression upon returning to the city. I sometimes think it best to never visit them again, lest their hold of me begins to have a serious, negative impact on my day to day responsibilities: earning a living, being social and whatnot.

But I love the Rocky Mountains, and could never imagine not being near them. Each unfathomably formed formation is so unique, towering with such personality. They humbly provide an imposing, yet comforting companionship that's as hard to describe as it is to ignore. (I'm reminded of a thought from Thoreau "...to the traveler, a mountain outline varies with every step and it has an infinite number of profiles, though absolutely but one form...")

The best way I can convey the feeling would be to say it's like visiting the gods, and casually kicking it with them for a bit, or, what I imagine it would be like to grab a beer with the Dalai Lama...

post camping on Keebler's Pass outside of Crested Butte, Colorado; and hiking to Copper Lake

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Soft Shining Growing Light...


A zen garden tucked into an urban oasis; in the desolate plains between the traffic-packed grey silhouette of I-70, and the quiet bustle of downtown Denver; a few hundred yards from both an abandoned taxi hub turned neon-conceptual-property-development, and the lonely, rusty midwestern railroad tracks that once transferred bums and poets alike across the country.  

The garden belongs to one of my favorite restaurants in the city, and my girlfriend and I were attending a charity event there on a cool summer evening last week, coincidentally annoyed with one another, as couples in love often can be. 

The event was benefiting a new urban farming initiative here in Denver, one that harvests fruits and vegetables from the front lawns of well-to-do residents who care enough to plant food-bearing plants on their property for looks, but not enough to use them for their actual purpose in life. The nonprofit group then shares their uncultivated crop with those in need of food rather than decor.

We spent most of our time meandering in the garden though; a peaceful reflective time. And we acquiesced to make up under the subtle glow from its Buddha nature.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Queen of Five Points Jazz Festival...

I was hanging out at the Five Points Jazz Festival on a windy, overcast spring afternoon, slightly disappointed in the lack of food...

In previous years, the festival saw a plethora of authentic street food courtesy of local businesses and families, and it was the perfect accompaniment to the good tunes. Sadly, there was but one lonely bbq stand this year, punctuated by a long line of people, and it didn't look that great.

I settled down on the curb nearest the main stage on an empty stomach and listened to a very talented older woman sing and skat through the standards, putting on quite a show. The breeze had died down in the waning afternoon, the weather became pleasant, and in between songs the people passed my path and my attention. Its one of the best festivals I've been to and while the food was certainly one of the reason why (and sorely missed), the people make it what it is. One can get a true glimpse of Denver in Five Points from its residents, the old Western-bound spirit runs though its streets and through their veins.

Once the main stage set was over, I got up and began the short walk home for a bite to eat and a beer (something the Five Points Jazz Fest has always severely lacked). On my way, I noticed a makeshift sidewalk sign in front of a small chapel facing Welton Street. It was handwritten, and read Jam Session in Here.

The invitation was too enticing to pass up, so I went in and grabbed a seat amongst a crowd of about fifteen others, all of whom gave me the impression that they frequented the spot regularly on Sunday mornings. I smelt good food cooking in the back, and was relieved to know that people were still eating well at Jazz Fest, even though I knew it would be rude of me to ask for some.

The aforementioned jam session consisted of four old dudes: an old hippie on drums, an old pro on stand up bass, an old soul on congo drums (who I recognized from a drum circle I watched not that long ago. I wonder if they were practicing for the fest...), and a very old, broad shouldered general pounding old school tunes into an antique piano. They were playing my kind of jazz, 50's and 60's kind of stuff, and playing it raw and gritty, the way it should be in my opinion.

After a few sweaty songs, I happened to look away from the music towards the doorway and was pleasantly surprised to see a beautiful young woman's silhouette standing in it, her feminine curves bold against the setting sun behind her. She came in and smiled and I saw how truly beautiful she was. Her hair was done up in a big carefree afro that moved half a second after she did, giving her movements a slow-motion-like feel as she greeted everyone there but me. Her body was that of a dancer's, strong and womanly, and her kind smile lit up the room. She was sexy, she embodied American sexuality, and everyone was affected by it.

Despite the commotion she created, the Old General never looked away from his piano. But she had made her presence known to him in some other way, and he acknowledged it by calling out the next piece, a lively Latin jazz number. The beautiful young girl immediately stopped what she was doing and focused on the beat. She began to shake her shoulders to it, and the crowd started to cheer her on. She laughed and became shy, but with more and more encouragement from congregation, she gave in and kicked off her shoes and joined the band.

Before doing anything else though, she went up to each player and gave them a deep bow to the floor, all the while the samba beat droned on in anticipation. Her respects paid, she made way to center stage and let herself go, completely offering up her beautiful body to the mercy of the music and its players.

What followed was one of the most inspired improvised acts I've ever witnessed. She was a professional dancer, of this there was quickly no doubt, but her choices of movement, her reactions to the music and the crowd (which was, by this point, going nuts) was nothing short of a miracle. She frantically infused ballet, hip hop, latin, tribal; anything that seemingly came to her mind was effortlessly and expertly displayed through her body. Her energy radiated and It took my breath away, and in that brief moment, I fell in love with her. I wanted to anoint her the Queen of Five Points and shower her with all of life's riches.

The song came to a long and drawn out end though, and when the music finally stopped, amidst the still loud and boisterous cheering from the small crowd of which I was a part of, the Queen broke down in tears and left the small chapel emotionally and spiritually spent. She had given herself to us out of duty and now, she needed to rest.

I got up, and followed her on to the street, my heart still aching, and tapped her shoulder, not really knowing what to say. She turned to me with a welcoming smile that by then I had come to expect, tears still in hers eyes.

"That was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen." I managed to say, but it didn't even come close to what I was feeling.

She wiped away her tears and smiled, even larger than before which I didn't think possible, and we embraced.

I held her tightly as she gently sobbed against my chest. Once she stopped crying, we looked into each other's eyes and said farewell. She knew and I knew that I had been knighted by her majesty that evening, and that I had to leave her, so I could go out into the world and fight for her.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Drum Circles on Welton St.

I've noticed lately, on warmer weekend afternoons in Five Points, some pick up drum circles on Welton St. and it brings a smile to my face every time I hear them. The other day, on my way to the store to pick up a jar of sweet relish (I like it in my tuna salad these days), I heard what must have been two or three groups playing, the effect of which was beautiful to me. The sound of so many drums resonated throughout the whole block in all directions, echoing and turning in on itself, creating new rhythms and time signatures literally out of thin air. It had a bass-like drone that I could almost feel and it created a wonderful soundtrack to the neighborhood.

Halfway walking in the direction of the store and halfway following the sounds, I came across one of the groups, tucked away in a small open garage and for a brief moment stood and watched. They were three older gentlemen, one playing three high pitched drums, one playing four slightly deeper drums and one holding, but not playing a single bass drum. I assumed the latter was the leader since he wore a whistle and an old school jumpsuit, the other two being dressed much more casually. And once the leader, who was clearly the oldest of the old group, noticed my presence, he banged his drum twice, signaling the other two into frantic solos.

While they impressively showed off their skills, the leader, his movements slow with age and deliberate with experience, pulled out his tuning tool and tweaked his instrument, chiming in every once in a measure with a tap or two. Then, suddenly with one loud bang he signaled the end of the performance; and the group was visibly pleased with the session, as was I.

I hope to see them again, and maybe then I'll ask to join in (I'm no pro, but I can keep up), or maybe I'll just bring a sixer to share with them and sit and listen. Either way, I definitely appreciate some tunes on Welton St., one of the hippest places in the country to hear jazz back in the day, it is sadly silent these days...safe for a few drum circles on a sunny afternoon.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Moderation in all but Moderation...

Eating a moderate amount of good food, drinking a moderate amount of good drink and walking moderate distances in the meantime is an affordable and agreeable lifestyle if done on a regular basis.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Hung Over Thought...

"No one has ever been able to explain why the Doric Temple of Paestum is more beautiful than a glass of cold beer except by bringing in considerations that have nothing to do with beauty." W. Somerset Maugham

I stayed up very late last night drinking very strong beers and awoke this morning somewhat hung over. I regret nothing however, I find that good beer is beautiful and very much worth the trouble.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On the Light Rail with His Holiness The Dalai Lama.

"I think that there has been a change in my attitude towards myself and others. Although it's difficult to point to the precise cause of this change, I think that it has been influenced by a realization, not full realization, but a certain feeling or sense of the underlying fundamental nature of reality, and also through contemplating subjects such as impermanence, our suffering nature, and the value of compassion and altruism." H.H. the Dalai Lama The Art of Happiness 


I haven't thought about this quote or its author in a very long a time, too long in fact. It popped in my mind today, while riding on the light rail, on my way to meet my girlfriend at the eyeglasses store to help her pick out a new pair. My errand was a coincidence though, I had planned to take the light rail somewhere today and it worked out perfectly that she needed a second opinion; I've always enjoyed watching her shop. 

Truth be told, I've been a bit annoyed by other people lately, which bothers me because I don't want to be, and my trip was an attempt to remedy this problem. I don't exactly know why, but riding the light rail is very therapeutic for me. People on the light rail seem perfectly innocent, I can't help but feel a closeness to them and subsequently, the thought of being annoyed by them seems absurd. It might have something to do with the direct purpose of the situation, that we are all traveling to essentially the same place, in the same direction. 

Whatever the reason, riding the light rail puts me in a good mood. Case in point, at 18th and California, I watched a very small older woman plop herself down, dramatically, right in the midst of a group of high school kids who were obviously trying to prevent just that. She was all bundled up for the cold, and happy and full of energy. She gave me the impression that she was on vacation and when she took off her beanie, revealing a hip cut of pretty gray hair, she looked young and lively. 

She shook her hair and, almost mockingly, looked at one of the boys straight in the eye and asked "Is this ok?" 

"Yeah" he said. 

She proceeded to settle in, once again dramatically, like she was acting in a play, every move was accentuated with certainty. The kids were slightly taken aback but were quick to adjust and they soon continued their affront to society.

Two stops later the old woman was engaged in a riveting and loud discussion on facial piercing with the whole group of them, most of whom had proof of their expertise and let her touch their set jewelry, which she did with an almost childlike awe. Two or three stops later, they had all left, the kids and the older woman, happy and giggling, content with their differences rather than annoyed by them...





Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Soul Satisfaction...

To eat and drink with grace, that is, with elegance and appreciation for form and with respect for function, is good for the soul; the inexplicable self in all of us, who happens to know the meaning of life, but stubbornly refuses to let us in on the secret, instead only hinting at it, when it has been given what only it knows and needs. 


This is my opinion as a self-proclaimed student of the Philosophies of Food and Drink.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Close to Home-brew.

Grinning with glee, the old man ushered us into his house. Aside from a table and four chairs and an old, tattered easy chair, there was another furnishing that caught my eye and held it. Against the north wall stood a gleaming white refrigerator.

"Well Uncle Ben," Poppa said, as gay as I had ever seen him, "did it come?"
"It sho did! It sho did!"

And the old man hobbled to the refrigerator and opened it. It was literally packed full of beer bottles. But these bottles didn't contain beer. They were capped by the kind of plain, white caps that you can buy in the hardware store, and there were no labels on the bottles.

Uncle Ben uncapped five bottles and, bidding us to sit down (while Poppa brought another chair from the little lean-to kitchen), he poured the amber liquid into five glasses.

When we were all seated, Uncle Ben between Poppa and the Colonel, the three older men held their glasses up and touched them in the middle of the table. At a gesture from the Colonel, Billy Joe and I held our glasses up too.

"It finally came!" said Uncle Ben, Poppa and the Colonel in unison.

And we drank. It was better than beer, smoother, stronger and it left a pleasant fizzy feeling in my throat.

"What is it, Poppa?"
"You like it, huh?"
"Yessir, what is it?"
"Home-brew."

Home-brew. I had heard of it all my life--Billy Joe and I had tried to make some last fall--but this was the first I had tasted. Since that day I have had my share of Uncle Ben's home-brew and I have drunk a goodly number of the mixtures various bartenders have concocted, but home-brew was and will remain the best drink ever made.

A passage from The Day The Century Ended by Francis Irby Gwaltney, published in 1955.

Francis Irby Gwaltney (1921-1981) was my grandfather on my mother's side. I never knew him though, he died a couple of months before I was born, and I have never known that much about him to be honest. For reasons unknown to me and my siblings, my mom has never been very candid about her dad, neither was my grandmother about her husband when she was alive. I did know that he was an author however, and that he had written several books, but growing up I was always more impressed by the fact that he had written screenplays for the Alfred Hitchcock Show and I never really cared about his novels. I do remember once, when I was 13 or 14 years old, finding a book of his in my grandmother's study and trying to read it, but the first few pages bored me and I never tried again, until a few days ago.

On a recent trip to New Orleans to visit my parents, while going through a bunch of family photos, I happen to come across a picture of him and his young wife on the front porch of their house. He stood cooly, leaning against the rail with one hand, the other in his pocket, one foot crossed over the other in turn. And next to him, barefoot, wearing short shorts and a tank top, looking like a movie star, stood my grandmother Emma Carolyn (I knew her as Ecey and we were very close, truly a beautiful person). The image has stuck with me ever since for some reason. I think the reason is that deep down, I want to know the man in the picture, he's part of why I'm alive...I figured the best way to get to know him was to read what he wrote when he was alive as well.

So the other day I bought The Day the Century Ended, a book about a southern boy coming to terms with fighting in World World II, because not only was it his most famous (it was made into a movie), but also supposedly his most intimate. He had written it shortly after returning from the war himself (during which he befriended Norman Mailer come to find out) and the main character was widely thought to be based on him.

It was with this in mind I came across the above passage about the main character's first taste of home-brewed beer. I couldn't help but think it was, in some way, the retelling of my grandfather's first time tasting it. And for the first time I felt connected to my Grandfather Francis. I wholeheartedly agree with him when he says "...home-brew was and will remain the best drink ever made" and I will raise my glass to him every time I drink it from now on...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Beer vs. Wine...

"The culture of the hop, with the processes of picking, drying in the kiln, and packing for the market, as well as the uses to which it is applied, so analogous to the culture and uses of the grape, may afford a theme for future poets." Thoreau

I thoroughly agree with Thoreau on this matter, as I usually do, the hop definitely deserves far more romantic attention than it gets, a call to all poets!

On another note, his comparison got me thinking about the ongoing beer versus wine debate and which is a better suited companion to good food. Having worked in the craft beer industry, I've had to sit through more "beer is better" speeches than I care to remember and honestly, I've yet to be convinced. I should say that my stubbornness in the matter is not rooted in a lack of love for beer, I truly do love it, nor is it based on a preference for wine, I truly am a novice drinker of it, but rather for my impatience with circular logic. The question of whether or not beer or wine is better makes no sense to me, like a snake eating its own tail, they are one in the same! They are both fruits of the Earth, medicinal and tasty, both perfectly paired with a meal, their only difference is form.

But the beerfolk will tell you that beer is more diverse in flavor, given the roastiness of the malt and mostly because of the uniqueness of the hop (ironically unique in fact, the list of flavors that pair well with it is pretty short). And the winefolk will lean on sophistication, both of person and palate, snobbishly refusing to join the conversation, scoffing at a newfound friend to food in this country. And the debate goes on...

Meanwhile, the beer list still pales in comparison to the wine list, and none of us are better for it.

So I say to the beerfolk, stop putting wine down and start bringing beer up! And to the winefolk...be cooler.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

As For Laws on Drinking...

The recent headlines about the selling of three two beer versus full strength beer in Colorado have got me thinking. The political, economical and social ramifications of selling full or half strength beer conveniently aside, it got me thinking about the Freedom of Drinking. Given its nature, I understand the difficult and finicky task of regulating, as well as allowing the mass consumption of alcohol, and I won’t pretend to know how to do so. But I do take offense in not being able to consume it as a human being, that is to say, whilst Walking!

I believe it is my natural instinct and right to walk, with or without purpose, from place to place. Just as Nature dictates that the wonderful byproduct of yeast eating sugar is alcohol, it also dictates that I am a conscious biped, meant to walk on two legs, aware and appreciative of that fact and many more. Walking connects us not only to our natural self, but to Nature itself, in that it is definitively done out of doors. It is as natural an act as eating (which, strangely, we’re allowed to do with reckless abandon), or speaking or, to a subtler extent, drinking.

I happen think that as a human it’s my natural privilege to drink, and when and where I am pleased to do so, within reason of course (and certainly not while operating any sort of machine made by man). That Nature ferments sugar into alcohol is an evolutionary gift to us, and like all true gifts, it is best enjoyed in the giver’s presence. Restricting ourselves to exclusively drinking inside a man-made structure is an insult, to walk out the door, into the world that birthed us drink in hand a celebration!

So I say this, let politicians and business people argue about the business and politics of drinking and be thankful that they do so. In return, let us enjoy the Freedom of Drinking, and plead to the powers that be to allow us to do so Walking, humbly, through the Natural World.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Perfect Meal.

Pasta a la me...

Bring a pot of heavily salted water to boil (more salt than you might think, a good and trustworthy cook once told me that its pretty hard to over salt pasta water). Add a fistful of pasta and when done to taste, toss straight from the pot to a large mixing bowl, skipping the strainer. Add a large dollop of butter, a handful or two or whatever cheese you like and a shit ton of fresh ground pepper. Gently toss until the butter has melted and the pepper wafts. Enjoy with an ale whilst watching basketball.

This is one of the most perfect meals for me, truly more than the sum of its parts. A perfect meal for me doesn't necessarily have to do with the food itself though, nor the setting. However, it must be exactly what I want in that moment, made for and by myself (or by people I know and trust). It's as simply put as it is to do.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Walking around Five Points...

In desperate need of some mayonnaise, a crucial element in my kitchen, I decided to walk to the grocery store and make an afternoon of it, the weather being as nice as it was that day. My one errand complete, I walked through Five Points, turning randomly down random streets to chase the sun and to avoid the shade, observing the eclectic mix of housing and warehousing. Walking is one the the best things a human can do I think. It is a great way to get outside and enjoy the world as well as your thoughts. Also, I love Five Points almost as much as I love mayonnaise.

New Orleans, Soul Food.

It seems so distant now, but it wasn’t too long ago I found myself on a plane, surrounded by a large group of very chatty high school cheerleaders, because like them, my girlfriend still feels the allure of the back of the bus. We were on our way to New Orleans, my hometown, to visit family and friends and to enjoy life…

For many reasons though, the constant girlish chatter being one, I was uneasy about heading to the Big Easy. Mostly because earlier that week, I had quit my job for the first time as an adult and wasn’t sure what was next for me, and second mostly because it was going to be my girlfriend’s first time there, her first time seeing my past. She’s known me out west, which is to say, she knows me now as opposed to then, I was a different person back then. I left New Orleans five years ago, the storm having put some things in perspective, to pursue a new chapter in my life. I was jobless, young and full of newly formed ideals about life, love and beer. Still young and again jobless, and heading back for the first proper visit since, I felt like I had weathered a different type of storm, I felt like I was going home a man, a nervous one, but one none the less.

We arrived, and as we drove from the airport into the city, I felt waves of memories wash over all my senses, permeating them, like the humidity that surrounds you there, it was refreshing and I instantly felt better. I missed the humidity, I missed that town.

My old high school chum and best friend put us up for the week. He lives a block from Magazine St., a mile and a half from Audubon Park, half a mile from the cheese shop he manages and right across the street from Les Bon Temp Roule, an old building filled with loud music, smoke and debauchery, like most bars in New Orleans.

Once settled we walked up Magazine, beers from Bayou Teche (a new brewery out in Cajun Country) in hand, catching up on our way to Mahoney’s for po boys, the stresses of life already starting to dissipate, the weather beautiful. Once there, I ordered the fried chicken liver with Cajun slaw, my girlfriend and friend both ordered the root beer-glazed ham and cheese.  We sat outside, enjoying the unseasonably nice weather and the traditionally sloppy sandwiches and watched the people of Uptown. Uptown has an old money, new fashion collegiate slow pace to it, very different than the vibe Downtown or any other neighborhood in New Orleans, but like all of them, saturated with funk, poverty and pride.

We dined in the first night at my friend’s request. He happens to be one of the best home cooks I know, one that has taken that next step if you will, like a home brewer who’s left the comfort of extract behind to tackle the more engaging and flavorful all-grain process, its always been a pleasure to eat what he cooks. We feasted on eggplant salad, roasted veggies, pasta carbonara and plump grilled shrimp, prefaced by good cheese, good bread, jam and chocolate. Old and new friends came over to join us and we all drank and ate into the night. It was good introduction to the trip, easy and carefree.

The next day we had breakfast at St. James Cheese Shop on Prytania St., as we would for the duration of the trip, where my friend works. It is one of the best cheese shops I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to a few. They sell one of the world’s best cheese selections, serve up the best cheese plates and make some of the most eclectic sandwiches in town. Each morning we were served on wooden blocks a world wind of artisan foods…cheeses, charcuterie, fruits, mustards, jams, anchovies, house-smoked duck, pates and meat pie, always accompanied by plenty of good strong coffee and good crusty bread. A perfect way to start a day I think.

That afternoon, we biked down St. Charles past the mansions and colleges of New Orleans, to meet my mom, the birthday of whom I had accidently and luckily timed the trip around. I’m awful with birthdays, but surprisingly good with timing, a skill learned on the drumline of my high school marching band I think. We met for coffee at Rue de La Course, a local chain located throughout town, this one in an old bank. It was good to hear about my mother’s post empty nest adventures (a long time coming, there are six of us), it made her seem more like a person to me, less an authority figure, and good to see her as well, I had forgotten how pretty she is. We biked back lazily as the sun began to set and saw the ornateness of St. Charles in a different light, and listened to the nostalgic clanging of the trolley cars as they passed.

That night we dined at Le Petite Grocery on Magazine. My friend told us it’s one of the best places in town, a bold statement to say in that town, but he knew the chef and knew him to be a truly good one. The place was warm and cozy, golden and white, as picturesque as a French restaurant in New Orleans can be. We sat at the bar and drank stiff cocktails while blue crab beignets, veal sweetbreads, beet salad with crawfish, shrimp and grits and hand-made saffron fettuccini (the standout dish in my opinion) were served forth and thoroughly enjoyed by all. Once we were all thoroughly stuffed and night capped, everyone but me agreed it was time to retire. I on the other hand, a full stomach of good food and good drink stubbornly felt Le Bon Temp across the street from where we were staying was the place to be, so I went there by myself, and danced to the live music until I don’t know when and felt a little like my old self…except that I behaved myself.

The next morning, after a quick jog through Audubon Park, it was time to shop Magazine Street, apparently a famous place to do so. The old me would have never spent an entire day wandering aimlessly from one boutique to the next ooing and awing at this or that, but the new me is in love and enjoys watching her have fun, beer in hand of course. I left her however at the halfway point to meet my boy for a beer at the Bulldog. We bought a pitcher of locally brewed NOLA Blonde Ale, kicked back on the patio and as the sun set, talked about why I quit what I was doing and why he was doing what he was doing, and about beer and food and as always, about women. My lady arrived and we set off to enjoy the evening.

We began at Bouligny Tavern for cocktails and a quick snack of fried truffle gnocchi. The gnocchi were delicious, the cocktails, some of the best I’ve had, the atmosphere, hip. After a few, we walked down the street to Baru, a fairly new Caribbean tapas place that’s getting rave reviews of late. We were promptly seated and promptly ordered cerviche with roasted corn, fried oysters and arepas which were quickly and expertly brought to us by a wonderful waitress, the name of whom I wish I could remember, the service was as great as the food. And as we dined, my little brother showed up to join us. He had driven, in his pick up truck down from Baton Rouge to hang out for the night. I hadn’t seen him in almost two years, which I now know is far too long, he is my one brother and first friend ever. After dinner, we made our way to Le Bon to meet friends for drinks. My brother and I talked basketball, my girlfriend got to know him and live music played in the background, through clouds of smoke and echoes of laughter. It was a night I hope to always remember.

The next day we left Uptown and headed Downtown, or more specifically the French Quarter, where my parents have lived the past two years in a one-bedroom apartment. I was very much puzzled when I heard they moved there after the last of their children left, my parents being as conservative as they are. I was curious to see their place though, to see them living as a couple downtown, like older versions of us. And so, that afternoon, three of my four sisters, and one of their boyfriends, my brother, my girlfriend and I were all to meet at my parents place, to celebrate my mother’s birthday. But first, we all needed a drink. So the seven of us met up at Bar Tonique, a cocktail and wine bar on Rampart Street that my sister swore made the best handcrafted cocktails in town. And after the first sip of one ordered for me by her, I was inclined to agree. We were the only patrons in the dimly lit bar that afternoon, which seemed right at the time. We enjoyed the strong drinks and each other’s company, some of us for the first time, others for the first time in a long time. Our glasses empty, we let out a collective sigh and started to walk up the street to my parents’ apartment, a parade of kin marching to pay homage to Queen and King.

My parents’ apartment is on the third floor of a very old building on Ursaline, between Royal and Bourbon, a block away from an even older catholic church. My dad greeted us with a grin, looking younger than I remembered, and led the way up the long flight of stairs to their pad, which was everything a couple in love could want living in the French Quarter. It had beautiful hardwood floors, a quaint perfect little kitchen and windows everywhere looking out onto to the rooftops of the Quarter, all accentuated at this point by the purple and gold light of the setting sun. We listened to my mom play the violin (she had gotten much better since the last I heard) and to family stories, and we sifted through the hundreds of family pictures my mom keeps haphazardly in a big plastic tub in the closet. It was a great time, and it meant a lot to me that my girlfriend fit in so well with such a large and somewhat strange group. Later, my siblings having left to drive back to Baton Rouge, we walked out into the rain with my parents to the church up the street to see a violinist my mom had heard was in town. The old church was packed and the violinist played Russian classical music accompanied by a piano. The music was as beautiful and powerful as the old world setting, and I couldn’t help but feel guilty for the beer in my hand…

We left my parents in a daze to go to a dinner party in Midtown at a friend of my friend’s house. Our hostess happened to be a local chef who had cut her chops in notable restaurants like Stella’s, Gautreau’s and Patois and we were honored by her invitation. When we arrived, she was a mirror image of our first meeting her, which is to say in the kitchen, hurried and stressed. As she dashed around the well-equipped, purposefully cluttered space, covered in flour and sweat, she divvied out duties to the guests. Mine, unfortunately was to set the table, I wanted to help in the kitchen, as I always do, but I know very well not to argue with the chef. She shared the place with the son of an artist who was apparently an avid collector. There were pieces large and small hanging, leaning and lying everywhere and while the chaos in the kitchen ensued we discreetly poked around the miniature museum. It wasn’t long before dinner was ready and we all sat down to a wonderful beet salad followed by an even more wonderful plate of pork schnitzel, pickled cabbage and spatzel. The wine flowed readily, the food was hearty and good and both helped nourish our somewhat spent souls. The rain in the background helped as well. Southern rain has a certain sound I think, large drops of soft water gently drumming against dense foliage, it’s a very soothing noise.

After dinner, we were invited to a wedding reception for a friend of our hostess’ at some bar I can’t recall in the French Quarter. Despite fatigue, we immediately accepted. The newly weds must have rented the place because it seemed everyone in the small dingy bar was part of the celebration and we were quick to follow suit. We danced and drank and by the end of the night, the groom and I were embracing and wishing each other well in life, despite the fact that neither of us knew the other’s name. The rain had stopped by then and we walked back to the car through the thick heavy mist from the Mississippi River, creeping its way through the Quarter.

The next day was our last and it was gorgeous. We went back to the Quarter one last time to grab some gifts for all of our friends who took care of us and to grab a muffaletta from Frank’s, an old school Italian place specializing in hot versions of the old school sandwich, across the street from Café du Monde. Our errands complete and hunger quenched, we walked around the French Quarter soaking in the sun and the scene. Its hard to describe the Quarter, you have to see it to know it, a must see in fact. It’s dirty and smelly, beautiful and old, ripe with both native pride and tourism, all accentuated by booze, music and debauchery. I don’t think there’s any other place like it in the country and probably the world.

We headed back Uptown to St. James, to say farewell to my best friend. He was busy working, so our goodbye was short and as always between us, very sad. Our cab to the airport arrived and we left in what seemed like too much of a rush.

Sitting in the cab, watching the scenes of New Orleans go by, thinking of my childhood there, my family and friends, I couldn’t hold back tears. While my ambitions have led me elsewhere, my heart will always be there. It took me a while to snap back into the reality of an unknown future and my newfound happy life in Denver, but once I did, I was glad to chat with our cab driver. He was, as I was, on the drumline in High School and was currently moonlighting as a drum instructor for kids in the lower Ninth Ward. I was quick to forget my own small troubles in hearing something so noble. Music is part of that city as much as anything and to teach young underprivileged children its appreciation is something that would make Louis Armstrong himself proud, he too was from a bad part of town and he too proudly marched in its parades. The driver and I talked about marching in the Mardi Gras parades and of drum battles with other schools (my favorite part) and how we both felt musical knowledge inevitably leads to carnal experience. And when we shook hands at the airport he made sure to remind me to keep practicing…

Back in the Denver, it was one degree outside and snowing, the whipping wind constantly reminding us of where we were, like a hungry crying child, as we hiked to the car, conveniently parked (my bad) in the farthest corner of the economy lot. The ice on the windshield was so thick I could barely manage to make a small window in it, which I navigated out of until the car warmed up enough to break the rest off further up the road. Its been snowing ever since. I find that snow slows life down here much like humidity does during the summer months down south, but unlike the ever-present sticky thick air, it melts quickly in the Colorado sun. I’m reminded of a conversation I had with my friend one night on our trip. We had both moved to Boulder after the storm, but after a couple of years he went back to be near his family and to fall in love. Now having been back for 3 years, he told me that while the city is a place like no other in the world, it’s a stagnant one, much like the climate. He’s right, the good ol boys lurk in every corner of life down there, and they make damn sure things stay the same. Denver on the other hand embraces forward thinking and change I find, it’s an idealistic place that idealistic people migrate to and no matter how much snow falls here, one can be certain it will melt soon and nourish life under the close sun. Weather aside though, it’d be nice to get some good seafood out here.

Vegas...A Strange Place

I always said, with smug conviction, that I would never find myself in Las Vegas unless I found myself married. A rebellion to both acts really because I planned indefinitely to do neither. Some of my friends knew of my opinion on the matter of Vegas and cared enough to plead the city’s case, usually using the fact that I love food to argue their point, they knew debauchery would not appeal to me. But I always answered that while its true Vegas is a food town, it’s also true that most of the world famous chefs who open restaurants there, open world famous restaurants in other way cooler towns. Why not go to New York or San Fran or Europe instead?

Honestly, I think of Vegas as a massive and wasteful tourist trap out in the middle of an area of the country no one cares to be otherwise. It represents all that I dislike about human sprawl and wealth. And this is exactly what I was thinking almost three years ago while listening to a beautiful girl I had just met go on and on about her recent trip there and what a fabulous time she had and that I just had to go. It was the first of many conversations to come, but because it was the first, I held my tongue in hopes of seeing her again. I did and was very happy with my silence. We got to know each other, got to date each other and now we’re stuck with each other. And when we signed the paperwork to be on the same phone plan a few months ago, I considered us married to one another. She didn’t think that was funny, but she didn’t disagree.

My wife, like many do, cares deeply about birthdays and it so happened on her 31st she was to be in Las Vegas for a work conference. When I learned this, after months of racking my brain for a gift idea for one of the best gift givers I’ve ever met, I thought the karma was far too strong for me to ignore. I resolved then to go to Vegas, to meet the woman I loved there, it was my gift to her and only her. There was some protest, first in my head and then from her, but once we both became comfortable with the idea that I would to do something I so openly never cared to do, she looked at me and knowingly asked, “What are you going to do there?” She knows me, my likes and dislikes, it was a good question.

I set out to do some research, queue previously mentioned friends, and learned that Vegas is a town of vices. Its why everyone I talked to about my going there told me I’d have a blast, but wouldn’t be able to stay long, an overnight kind of place if you will. That said I have many vices, but only one that I care to indulge these days. It surprises me sometimes and others all the time, but I recently developed an addiction to sports, and it just so happened that Vegas is the most ideal place to be if that’s the fix you need. I then realized I actually wanted to go to Vegas, for sports and for the first time in my life gamble on sports. And I wanted to be well fed, as I always do. I want I want to go to Vegas.

So the time came for me to do so, and after I three times completed the list-of-things-to-do list my girlfriend had conveniently duck tapped to the door, I jumped in a cab, a married man heading to Vegas. The cab driver was a cool dude and the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations played in the background, which made me very happy. I started to feel a strangeness by the time I got to the airport though…for a long time, I’ve been traveling with someone very dear to me and now I was doing it alone, it comforted me greatly that it was to meet with her. The flight there was un-memorable besides meeting a pampered beast in the security line, dogs should be allowed to do everything we do in my opinion…

I arrived in Vegas and was efficiently ushered into a cab. A resounding theme I later learned, if Vegas is anything, it’s certainly an efficient town. I told some uniformed staffer I was heading to the Bellagio and seconds later was. I walked into the hotel lobby and was, as I usually am, drawn to the bar and the live music, where I waited to meet my girl. I ordered a beer and immediately learned I shouldn’t do so in that town, based on both selection and price. My lady arrived, we embraced as the piano played, caught up under the soft lights of the surprisingly intimate space, watched people and proceeded to embark on our adventure into this strange world.

Staying at the Bellagio made me feel like Frank Sinatra, it’s a cool place to be. A well-known place and for good reason, you are treated very well there. Instead of the bustle of the strip, our room faced the hustle of the highway and the starkness of the mountains, a better view I think. We tried to venture out, but the time wasn’t right, I’m not sure if it ever is in that town…We stayed in and ordered room service. And as I ordered some soup and some such pasta, I thought it would be good to test the kitchen of such an expensive place to stay. The food didn’t blow me away, but I have to admit, it was by far the best I’ve had delivered to me in a hotel room, it impressed me. However, it wasn’t until the next morning until I found the most impressive feature at the Bellagio, the drip-only-express-lane in the coffee shop. I’ve always hated waiting in line while people ordered non-coffee drinks at a coffee shop, not that there’s anything wrong with that, and I always thought a separate line for coffee drinkers would be awesome and it was. I told the barista as much and was told no one ever notices the sign, I looked at the other line and it was around the corner…it gave me a strange feeling. In an effort to save some money, we left the Bellagio to stay at the Venetian, but I know now we shouldn’t have.

Our suite at the Venetian required a map to find, every corner looked the same, and Italian and dark. It was divided into three parts, a lounging one, a bedding one and a bathing one, all of which were equipped with flat screen TV’s. And after we finally figured out that the curtains moved by motor instead of by hand, we saw that it looked out onto half of the mountains and half of the bleak backside of the industrious hotel, a far less appealing view than before. We left it to venture out for the first time together in Vegas, but I stupidly and stubbornly wanted to eat first. We lunched at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon, which was, as many things are, conveniently located in the hotel. Despite the somewhat rude and very spacey staff’s best efforts, we ordered tuna salad topped with boiled eggs and thinly sliced radishes, on a bed of lettuce and crusty buttered bread, sprinkled with chopped herbs and dabbed with olives next to a pile of salt and vinegar chips. It was simple and good and good for us, this place was starting to get to us. We shared it and a bottle of cheap wine I had bought up the hallway at a hotel convenient store, which was also good.

Our hunger satisfied, we made our way to the mall to shop, and learned that if you want to walk somewhere in that town, it’s a bit challenging and a bit fun at the same time. People there walk with no real purpose or direction, they slowly drift around, like large lost ghosts. The challenging part is that there are so many of them, the fun part is trying to pass them up. Once at the mall I left my girl, I shouldn’t have, to head to Emeril Lagasse’s sportsbook determined to make money betting on sports and if I didn’t, at least eat some good grub. I needed a drink though, but definitely did not want to pay for one, and then I remembered the convenience of the store in the hotel and subsequently learned of the best feature at the Venetian. In the lobby, at some store I can’t recall, they sell bottles of wine rejected from Bouchon at wholesale prices. I bought a normally $70 bottle for $20, opened it in my room, poured a glass and walked out the door bottle in hand. I’m not sure why they rejected it, but aside from some effort in getting the cork out, it tasted good enough to me.

On my way to the sports book I started to notice literally hundreds of signs telling me how to get there, and once I started reading them, found it quite easy to get around in Vegas, in fact, everything’s easy in that town and that’s the way they want it to be. If you get lost, look up, if that doesn’t help, ask one of the seemingly millions of helpful staffers, a manager of whom I spoke to along the way and told of my observations. She promptly and nicely replied “Of course its easy! But you read the signs, you’re special”. I remembered the sad little sign in the coffee shop that no one read but me and felt special. Vegas makes you feel special, which is kind of a strange feeling.

I made it to the sports book and went straight to the bookie to place my bets, one on a basketball game that was just about to start, one on a football game the next afternoon that I could watch while shopping (there are bars everywhere there) and one two afternoons from then that I could watch in the comfort of my own home, all of $20 value. I picked a spot with a big leather chair, leaned back and enjoyed thinking of nothing but the human game of chess massively displayed before me and drank my bottle of rejected wine. I later learned I wasn’t supposed to be there without reservations and wasn’t supposed to bring my own drink, but I didn’t mind paying a corkage fee and I’m not a troublemaker so they let me stay. By the second half, my lady was done shopping and on her way to meet me. I knew she’d be hungry cause I was, so I ordered a side dish of the cheesy bacon fries cause I know what Emeril does best. She showed up looking like a super model in a brand new pair of knee high, seriously hot leather boots, curled up next to me in the chair and we ate the cheesy starchy goodness. And as I watched the game, she feel asleep next me, I felt high on life, so high in fact, she had to remind me as we left to collect my winnings.

Back at the hotel, we were tired, and even though we tried, couldn’t think of leaving it. So once again room service was in order and once again very impressive, only this time we ordered every side option to our main dish in an effort to put the service to a better test. We awoke to a ghost town, by this time everything started to seem odd and strange and very annoying, the people the place. I noticed time was hard to tell in Vegas, especially at the Venetian for its lack of windows. At one point, in anticipation of a game I had bet on, I had to ask someone what time zone we were in, neither of us was surprised by my question, nor its lack of answer, neither of us knew…

We left the town of Venetian and headed back to the town of Bellagio, a brighter and livelier one, to try the pastries at Jean Phillipe’s, supposedly the best in town. Once past the wall of people posing for photos in front of a massive chocolate fountain, we saw they were certainly the best looking, delicately designed miniature scenes of sugar and dough. Its hard to eat, or should I say destroy something so beautiful, but necessary because you paid for it. We did our damage to them as best we could in front of the fountains of Bellagio and while we debated our next step, the star spangled banner burst surprisingly and loud from strategically placed speakers and the fountains burst impressively into a huge and beautiful dance with them. We knew about the fountain show from movies but had never seen it nor cared to up until then and I can truly say it is the best show in town, and free and frequent. To see bursts and streams of water behave that way, so choreographed and flawless is a sight to see for sure.

We decided to stay put and set up camp for the next show. We slumped down on the pavement, lazy from the sensory overload of being there and watched people go by. We bathed in the sun, feeling comfortably like rejects, like the rich cynical hipster kids sitting next to us, like the bottle of wine I drank, and waited for each new and immensely entertaining show to happen. And when it did, we felt the spray from it cool our sun burnt skin, while the water danced to beautiful music, the best part of the whole trippy trip I’d say…

It was almost time to leave and we were definitely ready to, but not before a quick shop, a quick bite and a quick peek at the game. We shopped a bit and had a late lunch at Holsteins’, a burger joint in the vicinity. The burger was almost as badass as the lobster truffle mac and cheese, as was the service, but by the fourth quarter the game was over…

The cab driver to the airport told us to buckle up as we got in and he meant it. He was my kind of driver, aggressive and laid back. We were thankful he hurried us away from such a strange place, and I was very thankful to learn he was way into sports. Once he realized that was cool with me, he changed the station on the radio from pop to espn, and we listened to it for the duration of the trip, loud when on air, soft during commercials. Like I said, my kind of driver.

We sluggishly made our way back to Denver and the real world and came home to a house with no dog. We knew she was safe and comfy at her grandparents’ house, waiting to be picked up the next day, but her absence still felt strange. We had made it back from Las Vegas though, unharmed and wiser. We learned a lot, mostly that we’ve changed a lot since we first met, because of each other and for the better. We’ll go back one day and for only one day, when she needs to shop and I need sports and when we need to get away from reality. Being a gambling man though, I bet it won’t be for a while…oh, and I won $20.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

On Fine Dining...

A few months away from officialities, I’d consider myself 30 years old. And while that may not be many years to speak of in the grand scheme, I’d consider it enough to speak of dining. I’ve dined at many places in my life (…sadly, too few abroad), from backyards to back of the house seating (I’ve never been great with reservations, I prefer just showing up) at some of the world’s renowned, and many of them bring a smile to my face, which is to say they brought satisfaction to my palate. As for the ones classified as fine dining, my only issue is terminology. In my opinion, there’s nothing finer than dining with and on food prepared by family and or friends, in a laid back environment, free from pomp and circumstance if you will.

Not to say I don’t enjoy eating in a more formal environment by any means. Dining at Bayona in New Orleans stands out to me, but not as much as Chez Panisse in Berkeley, as some of the most regimented and best feats I’ve ever had. The service, décor and atmosphere were impeccable, the food, just as much and more. There’s something to formalities whilst eating I think. That you’re treated with such importance as a diplomat is obviously a pretty cool feeling (makes me feel like James Bond), the fresh, hurried neatness of the whole experience is constantly entertaining and when it comes to the food, the old axiom about getting what you pay for most assuredly reigns true.

It’s describing the experience as fine that I don’t get. When I think of fine, I think of my girlfriend…and I think she’s her finest in the morning, when she’s stripped of all the done-upness (and clothing) that makes her so striking the rest of the day. It’s in that moment, when she gets out of bed and starts pacing around yelling at me to do the same, that I think to myself, damn, this chick is fine. And I should say that, to a certain extent, I think of a fine meal in much the same way I think of a fine woman. Besides sharing beauty, they share that impactual embodiment of fine-ness I so thoroughly enjoy. I crave those times in life, when you sit back, satisfied in so many ways and in momentary awe of it, and think that despite the sometime overwhelming awfulness that occurs in the modern world, I am totally fine with my place in it. Lewdness aside, the moment is in the stripping of things I think.

A meal stripped of elements like locale, décor, fresh linen and shinny flatware, military-like service and a price tag consists simply of food, drink and company. I’m lucky to have had the pleasure of experiencing the remaining three elements well done and am better for it I think. The Denver based underground supper gang Noble Swine comes to mind, as do crawfish boils not surprisingly down south and pleasantly surprisingly up north, neighborhood potlucks and poker games and in too-many-to-recall establishments run by cool and good people. In each setting I had that moment, that feeling of contentment with what life has dealt to me, and I couldn’t say it better than to say I was feeling fine. When it comes to describing such things though, no one, in my opinion, describes them more perfectly, simply and romantically than my girl Mary Franklin Kennedy Fisher (a fine woman by the by). In her foodie bible The Art of Eating, she muses of raw dough shoveled by bread bakers, into open ovens late night in France…”It was naked, like a firm-hipped woman, without benefit of metal girdlings.”

I can see the shapely dough she referred to, clearly, and can certainly see why she made such a feminine comparison, luckily. I think that underneath it all, (wink) what she was truly referring to was the raw, strikingly primal beauty of sustenance. The enjoy-ability of which is no coincidence, as the more appealing food is to eat, the more life sustained. It’s nothing short of our nature to want to eat well, or I should say, feel fine to dine. I recently felt as much…

It was a few months ago, when the nights were as pleasant as the days have been lately here in good old Denver. My neighbor came banging on my door one Sunday afternoon, covered in blood. It was the blood of an antelope he’d slain a mere eight hours earlier and he needed help getting rid of the evidence.  I remember thinking, as we (gangster-style) lugged the cooler containing the carcass, that it was way heavier than I imagined of such a small beast. We brought it in and he showed me, one by one, the various cuts of fresh flesh, killed and cut by his truly. It was a beautiful sight as well as one I’d never seen. It may sound strange, but the smell of blood and raw flesh was absolutely intoxicating. He pulled out the precious filet, the daintiest cut of an animal, seasoned it liberally with salt and pepper and fired up the grill. It was dark by then, and our fellow neighbors had come out to join the commotion. We all feasted on the rarely cooked meat with our bare hands, without benefit of metal utensils, watched the bats of Five Points take flight to do the same, drank many locally brewed beers well into the night and shared life. It was most certainly a fine time.

That said, the next time I dine in good company, well fed, my thirst well quenched, contented to be human, I will say that it is fine dining. The next time I dine and find myself fantasizing that I’m double O (insert man crush on Daniel Craig) seven, I will say that it is re-fined dining. I don’t disagree with refinement though, I just think it’s enjoyable in a different way…I love to dress up and behave formally, refine myself so to speak. It makes me feel like a gentleman about town, which in my opinion is one of the finest feelings to have. And as any gentleman should, I also love taking my girl out to a nice and pricey dinner, its part of making her happy, which is part of a gentleman’s job. In fact, if life itself is a job, and food is its fuel, than to dine on it in any way, whether it be fine, refined or in any other circumstance, is to be doing it well, because if you’re not eating, you’re not living.