Monday, January 29, 2007

My first culinary review

The following commentary is courtesy of my roommate, Robert, upon tasting the rough-draft version of the creole (not cajun, as he describes) chili I'll be entering in Greg and Bonnie's annual Chili/Cornbread Cook-off next weekend. To wit, Robert's assessment:

Winter Warmth Assessed by an Amateur

Nice and meaty it was, with cajun flavor enough. It burns not the lips, nor the probing tongue, only a pleasant tingle in the throat, but then... The head and upper body warm, the skin flushes, and we can say - Yes! Excellent!

Probing tongue? Pleasant tingle? Huh, sounds like he really enjoyed it. Anyway, this is a work in progress, and I have almost a week to work it out. Cross your fingers for me, friends, and with any luck this year I will CRUSH the competition!!!

Baguettes, y'all!

As some of you may know, I've been experimenting with bread lately. I've been cutting my teeth, for the last few weeks, on a pretty basic Italian bread recipe, and I've decided to branch out a bit. I made baguettes the other day, with, get this... very considerable success! I have to say, I'm pretty proud of myself here, folks. Baguettes, while not exactly difficult, per se, are one of the more technically demanding forms of bread to make, and I'm happy to reiterate that mine came out really quite well. Now, they can't be technically considered baguettes, as they're not quite long enough (hold the jokes, people). You need a professional oven to make true baguettes. They were, rather, miniature versions of the same. But the dough was true, and that's the real test.

Baguette dough, or for that matter any traditional french bread dough, involves two pre-ferments (pate fermentee, or "scrap dough," and poolish, so named for the Polish bakers who supposedly invented it), which distinguishes this kind of bread from a more simple one-day bake, such as the aforementioned basic Italian bread. Creating the pre-ferments involved really nothing more than mixing some flour, water and yeast the day before, the pate fermentee being refrigerated overnight, while the poolish was fermented overnight at room temperature. Both of these pre-ferments are really quite impressive once they're ready to incorporate into the dough the next day, the yeast having produced some pretty aggressive bubbling.

Why bother with the pre-ferments, you ask? Well, the purpose of the pate fermentee is to impart a slightly sour flavor (somewhat akin to a sourdough starter, the sour flavor being the result of the acetic acid which develops during refrigeration), while the poolish develops gluten, which gives the final dough its extensibility, which helps in shaping the loaves.

On the baking day, the pre-ferments are incorporated into the rest of the dough, and it's pretty smooth sailing from there on out, although I have to say that the end result is a very sticky dough which can be a bit tricky to work with. I, myself, don't yet have the skills to knead this dough by hand, and relied heavily on my pastry scraper, so at this point I'm still a bit of a candy-ass, I suppose. But after baking the loaves in my newly-acquired baguette pan (yes, you DO need a baguette pan to really do this right), my baguettes turned out as well as any I've ever bought at a bakery, so I'm considering this endeavor to have been a success!

The Heat Can Melt Your Brain...

At Jenni's suggestion, we went to see local husband-and-wife rockers Viva Voce at Dante's this past Thursday. And to boot, it was a $5 "low dough show."

The first opener was the Caves, a band which seems to draw a lot of comparisons to early U2 and the Cure. Well, I love early U2 ("October," "Boy," and "War" being some of the best albums ever made), and I hate the Cure. I'm happy to say that this band embodied much more of the former than they did of the latter. Good poppy hooks, fantastic musicianship, and not a trace of whiny Robert Smith vocals!

The second band was The Village Green, a Kinks-inspired (hence the name) punk-pop outfit that didn't offend, but didn't exactly impress either.

Viva Voce, it must be said, blew us all away. Somewhat reminiscent of Quasi or Point Juncture, Kevin Robinson, playing drums, and his very lovely better half Anita Robinson, on guitar (and occasionally bass), rocked the place! They must have had a few pre-recorded tracks, as a two-piece like this simply could not flesh out a full-band sound otherwise (even Quasi employs extra musicians for live shows), but I didn't mind a bit. They were superb. They're heading out on tour with the Shins here in a bit, so y'all in other parts do check 'em out when they come to your town!

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Janet Weiss is the new Janeane Garafalo! Those of you who know me well will know what that means. Janet, if you're reading this, and you're single, call me ba... Oh wait, I'm kinda seeing someone right now, never mind... Sorry! (Like I'd have a shot...)

Janet Weiss, who is (make no mistake about this, people), a Rock God, was recently freed of her Sleater-Kinney duties and has signed on as the new drummer in Stephen Malkmus' band, the Jicks. I guess you could say that she's been Jickified. Or Jick-O-lated, perhaps. Or maybe just plain Jicked. At any rate, Jenni and I caught their show tonight at the Crystal Ballroom, and... Wow!

I wasn't really familiar at all with Malkmus' work, apart from some of the old Pavement records my friends used to play back about 10 years ago. I was pretty deep into a Dead/Allmans/Panic thing at the time (with a lot of Freddy Jones, Samples and Jayhawks thrown in for good measure), and I wasn't paying much attention to anything else. Those of you who know anything about music are shaking your heads at me right now, I'm sure. Basically, I went to this Malkmus show toinght with totally fresh ears.

I would describe what he played as... the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Doors, Grateful Dead, Journey, REO Speedwagon, Boston, Knack, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Miami Sound Machine all rolled into one amazing mustachio-ed package. That is, of course, a ridiculous description and doesn't begin to cover it, but let it suffice to say that I could hear a pretty broad range of influences, reconstituted into something both familiar and new. And quite a bit jammier than I was expecting (hence the Doors/Dead comparison), which was a welcome surprise. In short, good stuff. I'll be diving into the Malkmus/Pavement back catalog here in the near future. I've got my homework cut out for me, you could say...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Bill Moyers for President!

"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote."
-Benjamin Franklin

This is the quote Bill Moyers used to open his plenary address at this year's National Conference for Media Reform, held over this past weekend in Memphis, and it only got better from there. This was an absolutely electrifying speech. I've heard Bill Moyers speak before, and while he never fails to impress, I'd not heard him loaded for bear quite the way he was this time around. He is, after all, an ordained baptist minister, and that really comes through when he's on his game. If you have even a passing interest in net neutrality, I highly recommend giving this a listen. And if you don't have even a passing interest in net neutrality, then you NEED to give this a listen! Perhaps the best part is his announcement that he'll be reviving his old news documentary program, Bill Moyers' Journal, this spring. It's about an hour long, so grab yourself a snack and a tasty beverage, and enjoy!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Mori's at long last Desperado AKA "Desi" August 1994-January 2007

This is a sad day for Portland's canine community. My good friend Robin just lost one of her two akitas, Desi. Any of you who were lucky enough to have known Desi surely understand just how cool a dog she was. She will be deeply missed by us all, but especially by Robin, Tim and Desi's packmate Bronwyn. My deepest condolences go out to the three of them.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Sailing to the moon with Alice the goon

Hope you all had a good New Years' Eve! I, for one, was working hard. Not working in the traditional sense, mind you, but bartending.

No, I haven't become a bartender. I've been doing some volunteering lately for a local "interdisciplinary arts" organization called Disjecta, and I signed on to help with their New Years show. Disjecta, located in a great old warehouse next to the Burnside Bridge, puts on visual arts exhibitions, as well as performance art pieces, and the occasional rock show upstairs. This particular event was of the latter variety, and featured local favorites Quasi (who are Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney and her ex-husband Sam Coomes, of Elliot Smith's old band, Heatmiser), the Joggers (who are, well, the freakin' Joggers!) and the Grails (who are the Grails). And Heather, the volunteer coordinator, fool that she is, put me behind the bar!

Actually, it wasn't such a bad move on her part. I have to say, I did a pretty good job, as did the rest of my compatriots. We schmoozed the gents, flirted with the ladies, and generally kept the crowd's buzz-on going strong. But don't think it was an easy gig. The three or four of us that were behind that bar at any given time got WORKED! The last show Disjecta put on, which was San Francisco's Xiu Xiu (see previous post), drew about 300 people, which is more or less the norm for this venue. The NYE show, on the other hand, drew nearly a thousand! It was crazy, we were moving the whole time! We literally ran out of booze during Quasi's set and had to drag a couple dusty kegs of Pabst out from the basement. The upside to all of this was that we had a clear sight-line to the stage, so we could at least look up and see the bands every once in a while. And of course, we made pretty significant bank in tips. If it can be said there was any downside, it was that the tap on the bands' keg was broken, and they kept hassling us for free drinks all night ("I'm with the band" gets old after a while, but we humored them; they were, after all, the night's entertainment).

And of course, I got to put a few of my friends on the guest list, which they appreciated. Unfortunately, my friend Zack had to leave during Quasi's set, as the buses were about to stop running. I offered to drive him home after the show (being hard at work behind the bar, I basically wasn't drinking at all), but he declined my offer, which I wish he hadn't done, as Quasi is his favorite band.

At any rate, a good time was had by all. The bands did a fine job. The Joggers, in addition to their originals, pulled out a few choice covers such as Yes' Long Distance Runaround (which I'd heard them do before), and of all things, the Dead's St. Stephen! That was a surprise. And Quasi were fantastic as well. They played mostly stuff from their latest record, "When the Going Gets Dark," which I highly recommend to any of you not familiar with their work. Great record (I'm listening to it as I write this).

Good stuff! I'll definitely be volunteering for Disjecta again in the future.