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. 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 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.