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so fresh and so clean: future cities of earth

Camouflaged Tree House

 

Innovative Gameplay

This city is a personal favorite of mine and founded on an infrastructure and economic system based around interactive game play, both between people and elements of the city. The idea is to create a city that is rich in interactivty, engaging person and city and ultimately providing an emotional, educational, communal or other reward. Game play engenders friendship, community and bonding, and when approached in a reasonable manner the possibility exists for team building and healthy competition.

This is a basic goal when introducing game play within cities, positive reinforcement and social bonding. The next is for the game play to be engaging and innovative. It is easy to imagine a team of game developers set loose in a city would generate creative ideas. The key idea here however is that the possibility exists through the technology of television, gaming, computers, WIFI and more to create a city with a positively rewarding game infrastructure. How this is implemented and the degree to which it is implemented successfully would be determined by the mind behind the craftsman.

A current and simple example is the Barclay’s Wheel-U-Wait in London. The link provided is to an online re-creation of the interactive queuing wheel. http://neave.com/barclays/

Even more creative and revolutionary ways to interject gameplay into city life are possible and, to my knowledge, barely explored in current cities.

 

City Landscapes, embracing what is natural

This idea occurred to me sitting on an early morning train in Berlin, Germany. Sitting in the train, watching the city go by in the distance, I realized the separation between the train environment in front of me and the natural one outside. With a simple vision I brought nature into the train; how striking it would be to embrace nature within a city. A train car interior designed in jungle leaves and branches. Waterfalls playing on the television between announcements. Street signs in taxonomy. Murals teaching about the use of medicinal plants and the dangers of poison. A group of city people embracing nature. Plants abound, morning glories bloomed on early morning street lights, ivory covered exteriors, cherry trees for picking and herbal tea on every street corner. A modern and sophisticated natural urban landscape of the future; this is the idea.

The idea comes in two parts and two cities. One, Berlin. The other, Athens.

The idea above is themed in nature, but in every way a modern city. The above embraces nature. The next idea immerses itself in it.

The trees remain standing, lanterns fed by underground gas lines fuel the night. It is a small town of a city, the first natural city on earth, more reminiscent of a tribal village or mountain town than a modern city. The people wear modern fashion, naturally themed and plain in color. The pharmacy is a quarter mile walk through the woods, following a path dead in the winter and bloomed in a profusion of color in the spring. There are no roads within the city limit and certainly no cars. Roads to the city remain unpaved. There was no need. 4-wheel drive vehicles transport potential city-goers and visitors to the outskirts of the city for the hike in.

Inside the city is navigated through a complex system of hiking trails, replacing city roads. The modern-tree house is a primary feature of the architecture here. 3-stories high attached to oak and housing a cafe where people spend the night cozy, drinking chocolate and reading.

 

Education is more balanced and the outdoors included more so in the process than within the cities.

This is as far I can go. My ideas end here, mainly and are better explained in a simple analogy. Walk along a trail in a state park, or a national forest. Implement elements of the city, everything you need for your daily life. Clothes, cosmetics, health-care, food and education. Envision walking the trails and coming upon everything you need. When you go hiking, at one point or another you leave modern society behind. Hunger is satisfied through foraging and water drunk from streams. The idea here is to bring together city and nature, without destroying wildlife in the process, without separating from it. There is no need for trees to be cleared in massive scale, no need for roads to be paved and streets created, and certainly no need to return to the city in need. This is not the future of every city but the possible future of one or many in the world. My point here is that natural landscapes hold enormous potential for integrative design and living a creative modern life.

 

Global Society, meet the World City

 

 

Feeling Based Economics

Positive Feedback-

This idea is founded on the awareness that there is no separation between our internal thoughts and our external environment. This applies to the city as well as nature and implies that our thoughts are connected with what is happening around us. This observation occurred to me walking through the streets of Amsterdam. In Amsterdam bikes are prevalent and each bike is fitted with a bell, creating a classic, bright and happy chime. I spent my time in Amsterdam smoking and eating small amounts of cannabis and observing, meditating, listening and learning about life in the city along with and my interaction and effect on this urban environment.  What I observed is that my thoughts were connected to my environment, in a way that is understood as positive and negative feedback, and this realization was triggered by the bells (among other things). The idea is simple: entertain a positive thought, receive positive feedback. Entertain a negative thought, receive negative feedback. The same applies to behaviors performed and their immediate effect on the people around us.  Feedback includes car horns (negative, with an implication to Stop), ambulance sirens, smells, chimes, laughing, people speaking around you, etc.

Amsterdam isn’t unique in this respect. All cities and human interactions function on positive and negative feedback. Perhaps a friend left you with a brilliant feeling. Or a stranger left you with a bad taste in your mouth. Nature both follows and sets this rule. Bitter foods indicate potential danger and human beings universally prefer sweet foods for taste, nutrition and energy. The basis of communication itself is through feedback with our internal awareness and our external environment. To put it simply, we are in constant communication with the world around us, and through observing the feedback we receive we can gain an understanding of our effect on and place in our environment.

A rainy day is relaxing, dark, and with it comes a certain mood, feeling, and thought pattern. People who live in the often rainy and cloudy Pacific Northwest may develop a melancholic personality with accompanying depressed thought patterns. The same can be applied each unique environment we experience. To reiterate, there is no separation between our thought patterns and the goings-on of our environment, any environment, and every person is connected in with this thought-feeling matrix of constant communication.

Example One, a negative feedback loop.

You are sitting in a cafe working. You sit in quiet silence in a vacant room that smells pleasantly of coffee (a hint of positive feedback). You accomplish much because of your distraction free environment. Your productivity is affected and positive in outcome. Gradually, people enter the room and begin talking. Harsh metal music begins playing. The first twinge of frustration is felt. The volume increases. The chatter is annoying. Your mind jumbles. Someone laughs, a cackle. Your stomach cringes. Your trying to work. You have to finish. A person sits next you, smelling unpleasantly. He speaks to you. By now your frustrated and your productivity is nearing zero. Soon, you leave the cafe more angry than you intend and head straight for fresh air, a well-lit park, and soft light so you can finish your work. You experienced a negative feedback loop.

Example Two, a positive feedback loop.

This example is recent, and to my understanding an appropriate, realistic, and organic example of positive feedback. They were sitting having a conversation on a terrace overlooking the Acropolis in Athens. I arrived independent of the group talking behind me. Ten minutes of sitting alone, halfway admiring the view and observing my tiredness after a long bus ride during the day I speak up and with a  simple question and introductory banter I’m included in the conversation. This continues pleasantly for an hour and a half. As my interest dies down, and my hunger and tiredness increases I decide to shower and find food in this late night city. I wait. And wait. Continuing the conversation, waiting on the right time. I’ve all but decided it’s time to go, and as I picture myself standing and leaving a thought-feeling occurs to me, “Stay.” Simultaneously a deliciously pleasant smell drafts my way from the flowers on the terrace, a first for the night, confirming my intuition. I stay. This is positive feedback between thought and environment. Had a rotten, sour smell drifted my way as the thought occurred I might have known not to stay.

Examples in the city are equally as intuitive and subtle, with some examples being easier to understand than others. The message is simple, however. The way out of negative feedback loops (and experiences)  is through creating and embracing positive feedback, and the way to understanding feedback mechanisms within the city and your own life is through cultivating awareness.

Where this can be of benefit is when it is observed, understood on both an intuitive and intellectual level and then applied, essentially harnessed by a city and city-dwellers. All personal relationships depend on knowing when to stop, when go, when to speak louder, etc. Gain an awareness of when to stop, when to go, when to speak up, when to stay quiet and you benefit not only yourself but the group as well. The same applies to interactions within a city involving personal and group interactions.

Further, city sounds tend to be harsh and abrasive, creating a negative feedback loop, and if one lives closely to the city long enough, thoughts, feelings, and eventually the personality can become abrasive. This is seen through a longing for the peace of nature sought by the modern city-goer, along with the quiet tranquil sounds and the feelings accompanying natural surroundings.

In contrast pleasant sounds, smells, and experiences are universally preferred. Flowers are an excellent example of this. Roses could be said to exhibit little purpose than to be beautiful and fragrant, both creating a positive feedback loop between the human and his environment, creating positive psychology, and positive feelings to his life and surroundings.  This idea remains virtually unharnessed on a creative and practical level by city planners, with art and architecture being the only notable example, and is the purpose of this writing.

Where this can be applied is universal in possibility, and the greater degree with which it can be applied skillfully the more refined the result. Creativity and understanding are the key here, and observation of patterns and connections within daily city life are the foundation for further understanding and progress. The opportunity here is for a city environment to make you feel good, to give you positive feedback and reinforce healthy interaction between itself and people. Like a warm smile versus a cold shoulder, or a pleasant Ka-Ching! at the sound of a purchase versus crashing plates or a dull Thud, the right sights, sounds and smells at the right moment can transform daily life in any environment, the city being no exception.

 

Alcohol Free and Clean

In the evolution of cities we must become alcohol-free and clean. It must be a personal choice. Outside obstruction through laws and regulations causes unrest. Like mommy taking the bottle away from the baby, forced governmental restriction of alcohol would create disharmony and outcry. Forced restriction is not the solution for personal and global alcoholism. The way forward is for humanity itself and each one of us to put down the bottle and release ourselves from the addictive behavior pattern and ill personal and social health that alcohol creates. The resulting sobriety will bring a more balanced personal and social atmosphere and the reality of the stumbling drunk gone with it. Alcohol engenders low-awareness,  imbalance, and uncivilized behavior among a population and from a sober perspective is foolish, self-destructive and a symptom of deeper unrest between the user and his standing in the universe. Where and when alcohol use and alcoholic behavior became socially acceptable and encouraged is downright questionable.

 

October 12, 2012   1 Comment

from the archives: southern skillet beans

Southern Green Beans

 

03 July 2012  I don’t know why I didn’t post this at the time. It’s one of my favorite bloggings and, although it’s been hidden away for nearly two years now, it feels proper to post it, thousands of miles, far from home, nostalgic and remembering childhood dreams of travelling the world.
 
from Greenwich, London, England
 

When I first received my copy of The Flavor Bible, a now favorite resource on mine, I immediately turned to green beans without thinking twice. Now, you may be thinking, “Green beans? Why, of all of the great ingredients in the world, would you turn to the simple and plain green bean?” In truth, even I found it a bit curious until the reason came to me  in a moment of realization. The reason, it’s simple, is nostalgia.

See, canned green beans form a better part of my childhood food memories. My dad loved them– they’re inexpensive, relatively healthy, fairly tasty, and are an acceptable side item for just about anything from fried chicken to pork chops, a hamburger, or a grilled steak. All of which, in some way or another, formed my other earliest memories of food, with the only missing pieces needed to fill in the puzzle being copious amounts of creamed corn, black eye’d peas, fried Tilapia, and macaroni and cheese. Oh… and mashed potatoes. We can´t forget my mom’s thousand varieties of mashed potatoes!

Now, while I don’t eat green beans everyday or have them with every meal, like I did when I was a kid, I still have a deep appreciation and love for them. Thankfully, in the interest of keeping things exciting, I’ve thought up a few ways to spruce them up after a few years of trial, error and, at times, radical experimentation. What I’ve learned is that different cooking methods can coax a range of flavors out of such a simply flavored bean. Long, slow-cooking in a deeply flavored broth courtesy of a smoked ham hock produces a tender bean with a deep richness; a quick boil followed by a high-heat sauté in bacon fat brings out a slightly smoky, meaty caramelized flavor; gently steamed and shocked in ice water and paired with fresh herbs, a little butter, and a tangy vinegar will accentuate their freshness.  Regardless of how I choose to cook them, eating a bowl of green beans transports me back to childhood like only comfort food has the power to do.

Which, again, is why I turned to green beans when I first opened the book; the simple, yet infinitely sweet taste of nostalgia, the unexplainable force that memories have to drive our lives, continuing living, if only in a subtle way, to recapture or reexperience our fondest memories– of childhood, of holiday gatherings, of family, friendships, first loves, and food.

Written December 20th, 2010

 

Love and Memories,

Thomas Chase

July 3, 2012   1 Comment

from the archives: the art of cooking

When I stopped blogging I didn’t stop writing. I went underground in a sense, deep within myself and allowed what I had learned through the years to come pouring out. What emerged in a few short months was a framework for a book with the working title, “The Conceptual Cook.” Its writing came at a highly inspired time in my life and, though it is incomplete, and likely incomprehensible, it is purposefully so. I fully intend for my understanding of cooking and eating to mature and for this framework to be refined and in time for a full book to emerge, as a family heirloom, a personal keepsake, or as a published work remains to be seen.

For now, the book is comprised of three main sections; The Concepts, The Senses, and The Abilities, with an added chapter that will explore the virtues of drawing skill and cooking. The purpose of the book is not to directly teach you how to cook. Instead, the intention is to enable you to explore and create your own food, to think about, visualize, and approach food outside the confines of recipes. The intention is also to help you see more deeply into the world around you, to explore and develop your capacities of sense and perception. The approach is conceptual in nature rather than technical. Feedback is both welcomed and encouraged. Please,  forgive the excess of quotes, they are my road map back to writing.

 

Cover

Table of Contents

Drawing and Cooking

The Concepts

The Senses

The Abilities

Continued Learning

Book Review

 

From Amsterdam, Noord-Holland

In the Netherlands,

Chase

 

June 29, 2012   1 Comment

life is sweet

Within the opening paragraph of The Tao of Pooh is the story of The Vinegar Tasters.

“We see three men standing around a vat of vinegar. Each has dipped a finger into the vinegar and tasted it. The expression on each man’s face shows his individual reaction. Since the painting is allegorical, we understand that these are no ordinary vinegar tasters. They are representatives of the “Three Teachings” of China. The vinegar they are sampling represents the Essence of Life. The three masters are K’ung Fu-tse (Confucius), Buddha, and Lao-tse, author of the oldest existing book of Taoism. The first has a sour look on his face. The second wears a bitter expression. The third man is smiling.

To K’ung Fu-tse and the Confucianists life is sour. They believe that the present is out of step with the past, and that the government of man on earth is out of harmony with the Way of Heaven, the government of the universe. Therefore, they emphasize reverence for the Ancestors, as well as for the ancient rituals and ceremonies in which the emperor, as the Son of Heaven, acts as intermediary between limitless heaven and limited earth. Under Confucianism, the use of precisely measured court music, prescribed steps, actions and phrases all add up to an extremely complex system of rituals, each used for a particular purpose at a particular time. A saying was recorded about K’ung Fu-tse: “If the mat was not straight, the Master would not sit.”

To Buddha, the second figure in the painting, life on earth is bitter, filled with attachments and desires that lead to suffering. Through Buddhism, the whole world is seen as a setter of traps, a generator of illusions, a revolving wheel of pain for all creatures. In order to find peace, the Buddhist consider it necessary to transcend “the world of dust” and reach Nirvana, a state of “no wind.” Although the essentially optimistic attitude of the Chinese altered Buddhism considerably after it was brought in from native India, devout Buddhist often see the way to Nirvana interrupted all the same by the bitter wind of everyday existence.

To Lao-tse, the harmony that naturally exists between heaven and earth from the very beginning can be found by anyone at anytime, but not by following the rules of the Confucianists. As he states in the Tao Te Ching, the “Tao Virtue Book,” earth is in essence a reflection of heaven, run by the same laws—not by the laws of men. These laws affect not only the spinning of distant planets, but also the activities of the birds of the forest and the fish in the sea. According to Lao-tse, the more men interfer with the natural balance produced and governed by the natural laws, the further away the harmony retreats into the distance. The more forcing, the more trouble. Whether heavy or light, wet or dry, fast or slow, everything has its own nature already within it, which can not be violated without causing difficulties. When abstract and arbitrary rules are imposed from the outside, struggle is inevitable. Only then does life become sour.

To Taoists, the world is not a setter of traps. It is a teacher of valuable lessons. Its lessons must be learned, just as its laws must be followed; then all will go well. Rather than turn away from “the world of dust,” we encourage y’all to “join the dust and dirt of the world.”  What we see operating behind everything in heaven and earth we call the Tao, ”the Way.” A basic principle of Lao-tse’s teaching is that the Way of the Universe can not be adequately described in words, and it is insulting both to its unlimited power and to the intelligent human mind to attempt to do so. Still, its nature can be understood, and those who care for it, and the life from which it is inseparable, understand it best.

Over the centuries Lao-tse’s classic teachings have been developed and divided into philosophical, monastic, and folk religious forms. All of these are included under the general heading of Taoism. The basic Taoism that we are working with here is simply the way of appreciating, learning from and understanding everything that happens in everyday life.

From the Taoist perspective, the natural result of this harmonious way of living is happiness. Happy serenity is the most noticeable characteristic of the Taoist personality, and a subtle sense of humor is apparent in the most profound Taoist writings, such as the twenty-five-hundred-year-old Tao Te Ching. In the writing’s of Taoism’s second major writer, Chuang-tse, quiet laughter bubbles up like water in a fountain.

“But what does that have to do with vinegar?”asked Pooh.

“I thought I had explained that,” I said.

“I don’t think, so,” said Pooh.

“Well, then, I’ll explain it now.”

“That’s good,” said Pooh.

In the painting, why is Lao-tse smiling?

Through working in harmony with life’s circumstances, Taoist understanding changes what others  perceive as negative into something positive. From the Taoist point of view, sourness and bitterness come from the interfering and unappreciative mind. Life itself, when understood and utilized for what it is, is sweet. That is the message of The Vinegar Tasters.”

—Benjamin Hoff


Tao’n to The Beatles—Get Back

 

October 16, 2010   5 Comments

oh, aldous, baby, sing it sweet and true

“Literary or scientific, liberal or specialist, all our education is predominantly verbal and therefore fails to accomplish what it is supposed to do. Instead of transforming children into fully developed adults, it turns out students of the natural sciences who are completely unaware of Nature as the primary fact of experience. It inflicts upon the world students of the humanities who know nothing of humanity, their own or anyone else’s.

Gestault psychologists, such as Samuel Renshaw, have devised methods for widening the range of and increasing the acuity of human perceptions. But do our educators apply them? The answer is, No.

Teachers in every field of psycho-physical skill, from seeing to tennis, from tight-rope walking to prayer, have discovered, by trial and error, the conditions of optimum functioning within their special fields. But have any of the great Foundations financed a project for co-ordinating these empirical findings into a general theory and practice of heightened creativeness? Again, so far as I am aware, the answer is, No.

All sorts of cultists and queer fish teach all kinds of techniques for achieving health, contentment, peace of mind; and for many of their hearers many of these techniques are demonsratably effective. But do we see respectable psychologists, philosophers and clergymen boldly descending into those odd and sometimes malodorous wells, at the bottom of which poor Truth is so often condemned to sit? Yet once more the answer is, No.

[…]

When it comes to finding out how you and I, our children and grandchildren, may become more perceptive, more intensely aware of inward and outward reality, more open to the Spirit, less apt, by psychological malpractices, to make ourselves physically ill, and more capable of controlling our own autonomic nervous system […] no really respectable university or church will do anything about it.”

-Aldous Huxley “The Doors of Perception” 1954

‘always

 

Listening to Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds Live at Luther College – One Sweet World

October 12, 2010   1 Comment

follow that sweet bright light: i walked in a desert, a poem by stephen crane

Perception affects our personal and collective reality.

I Walked In A Desert

September 20, 2010   No Comments

gone fishin’

A quote to change your mind to:

In the 16th Century, Shakespeare said, ” The world is too much with us.” What better way to describe the never ending hustle and bustle of life in the 21st Century. To be busy constantly and to socialize with other people as much as possible is encouraged, expected and easily accomplished in this age of communication. Plans, worries, hopes, and fears fill our minds. Entertainment, telephones, televisions, and computers are always there to take up “empty” time. We are taught from the beginning that idleness is wrong while being alone is boring. In other words, the society is based on continuous planning, productivity and activity. From bright colored-mobiles for the day old infants to senior activities for the dying, no allowance exists for doing nothing.

-Joan Bello

Originally posted July 31st, 2010

Gently cared for June 12th, 2011

July 31, 2010   3 Comments

Food Cart Crawl – Austin, Texas

Within moments of entering the Austin city limit’s it is clear to see that these people are awesome.

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

Austintonians love their food carts and it’s not hard to see why. What’s not to enjoy about a freshly prepared meal out of a truck on the side of the road– a wonderful truck that uses fresh corn tortillas for their expertly prepared  tacos or fresh blackberries for their sorbet or who bakes their cupcakes each day, fresh, instead of sticking them in a fridge for a week. Who wouldn’t want their food cooked that way?

To explore the mouthwatering and mind-changing possibilities of the food cart, we set out on a local tradition known as the food cart crawl, whereby we selectively mapped out “top-tier” food carts throughout the city aiming to sample a piece of what each had to offer, without exploding from excessive food intake, of course. What happened as we tasted our way through the city was part epic, food-lust fueled experience and part life-altering, taste bud entrancing magic, but ask those who enter into the food cart crawl and live to tell the tale and they’ll tell you, more than any of that, it’s a whole lot of super tasty, Austin-themed awesomeness.

“The Crawl”

After a midday trip to Barton Springs Pool, a wonderful 900 foot natural limestone pool in Zilker Park, of which I unfortunatly have zero pictures, we headed out on our “crawl.” As is the case with all tasting experiences, like tapas or tasting menus, we wanted to start off with lightly flavored dishes and progressively move towards more heavily flavored items as the day wore down.

As it turns out, we couldn’t have picked a better place to start than Edible Earth, a newly opened vegan food cart, where we chatted with the owner, sipped sun tea, and ate fresh blackberry sorbet, all of which were perfect compliments to the continuously glaring and, at times, over-bearing mid-morning Austin heat.

“Edible Earth”

Sun tea with oranges and lemons

“Sun tea made with green tea, lemons, and oranges”

“Fresh Blackberry Sorbet”

After our refreshing visit to Edible Earth, we headed off on a harrowing, death-defying journey across the parking lot (hey, I said we mapped them out not that they were far apart) to Izzoz Tacos, a new age Tex-Mex taco trailer run by John who serves an assortment of tortas n’ tacos spiced up with a little attitude and more than enough knowhow.

Izzoz Tacos

“Izzoz Tacos”

To call these tacos “good” is not only wrong, it’s downright insulting. These tacos defy words and are, without a doubt, among the most delicious street food we had in the entire country, in competition with only The Odd Duck, a farm to trailer establishment located, oddly enough, only miles away in Austin. In fact, these freshly inspired tacos, like the Fried Avocado, with its layers of perfectly peppery arugula, wonderfully tangy and smoky chipotle sherry sauce, Cotija cheese, and flash-fried avocado, and The Padre, a traditional carnita pork taco, topped generously with rich slices of avocado, sweet roasted pineapple, and tangy tomatillo salsa, make me quiver with excitement just thinking about them. Not to mention the fact that it literally pains me that I can’t visit for lunch more often, as in, everyday. So, John, until we meet again some day or you kindly accept my begs and pleas for you to allow me to work for you (hint hint), I proudly salute to you for making, what is, without question, one hell of a taco.

Izzoz Tacos

“Fried Avocado Taco”

“The Padre”

Looking for something a little different following our terrific Tex-Mex taco tasting, we headed over to a popular Vietnamese cart known as Me So Hungry!, a feeling which, as it turns out, is perfectly captured by the scheming oriental woman plastered on top of the Ninja Turtle green paint job of the truck.

Me So Hungry - Austin, Texas

“Me So Hungry”

Me So Hungry is famous for their Banh Mi, a traditional Vietnamese sandwich made with a french baguette and filled generously with pickled carrots, cabbage, cucumbers, cilantro, chili peppers and a meat, usually pork, chicken or ham which has been grilled, roasted, or charbroiled.

Me So Hungry's Banh Mi

While this was my first time tasting a Banh Mi, I’m not at all unfamiliar with the flavors of grilled meat and vegetables and I happen to know a great sandwich when I see one. This is a great sandwich. The contrasting flavors and textures of the crunchy baguette, caramelized pork, and super fresh vegetables are the kind of stuff unforgettable food memories are made of and, conversely, what food related crime will be committed for if I don’t get my hands on another one of these very soon.

Banh Mi Sandwich

Amidst chatting with the owner of Me So Hungry and asking for a refreshing drink to cool me and the now sun burnt Brittany down from the unbearable Texas sun, I learned that Cheer Up Charlies, a nearby bar with more than enough lesbian appeal, specialized in a fermented mushroom drink known as Kombucha.

Now, I consider myself to be a pretty adventurous person. Can I be a little timid, at times? Sure. Am I off climbing Everest, swimming with sharks, or trying to tickle bears? No way. In truth, I might hesitate to do more than a few things that might put myself into even possible mental or physical danger, but some things are just worth it. New food experiences happen to be one of those things. So to satisfy this craving, alone, without trepidation, and in clear violation of the rules of the “crawl,” I headed off into the mystical void of experience to track down the mysterious mushroom drink they called Kombucha.

As I walked into the bright white and turquoise brick building I was met by an unmistakable menacing glare. It was the glare of young hipster women, artfully inked and sporting trendy ‘alternative fashions’, and only young hipster women, that resided in this low-key and surprisingly not very cheerful bar. Welcomed was the opposite of how I felt.  In fact, really the only vibe that I got was one that screamed in an all-to-stereotypical, startled, husky female voice,  ”woah, what the hell is he doing in here?!”

But before you wrongfully accuse me of being even the slightest bit intolerant, let me be clear. Seeing as no one specifically told me, I have absolutely zero proof that Cheer Up Charlies is a lesbian bar nor do I have even the slightest problem with it if it is. All that I ask is for a little warning next time. That way I can make Brittany go, for the comic appeal, that’s all.

Cheer Up Charlies

According to Wikipedia, Kombucha is “a fermented tea that is often drunk for medicinal purposes,” Although there’s currently no scientific evidence to support the purported benefits of the mushroom tea, I believe in them.

The drink– lightly carbonated, tart, slightly sweet and lacking in any noticeable fermented flavor– is served on tap at Cheer Up Charlies and is loaded with healthful items like Yerba mate, green tea, a small amount of vinegar from the fermentation and, I’m sure, more than enough antioxidants to count.

The flavor is pretty intense, though, and certainly not for the faint of heart. To me, you have to really want to be healthy to get more than a few sips of this stuff down. Although the sun melting the ice down did make this one easier to palate, unlike a few others we’ve now tried without ice.

Cheer Up Charlies Kombucha

“Kombucha”

Surprisingly refreshed from the Kombucha experience, we headed off to what would be our last destination on the crawl and, not surprisingly, the only one that Brittany really lobbied for– the cupcake place. And when I say lobbied, I mean lobbied hard. Repeatedly reminding me that, before days end, we’re getting cupcakes! … or else.

To match her excitement and save me from the … or else part, we headed over to Hey Cupcake! to take a bite out of their famous red velvet cupcake.

What we found was not only a place that was passionate about serving gourmet cupcakes, but also one that has become rooted in Austin culture, sitting as the silver bullet trailer lined up alongside other food stands, restaurants, bars, and shops which cover the curbs of the district known as South Congress, in South Austin.

Hey Cupcake! South Congress

“Hey Cupcake!”

I’m not sure if there’s a better way to end a limestone pool and fantastic food filled summer Austin day than to sit down and eat a couple of  freshly baked cupcakes, sip on a bottle of cold milk, and listen to the rustic twang of a beat up acoustic guitar. I’ll let you imagine…

Hey Cupcake! Red Velvet Cupcake

“Red Velvet Cupcake (front) Strawberry and Chocolate Cupcake (back)”

Acoustic Guitar

“Guitar Man”

Music to “crawl” to Matt the Electrician – Made For Working

July 20, 2010   1 Comment

Austin, Texas – Shipping Box Pastries and Tacos Served From a Truck

To be honest, I’m really not sure where to start with my description of our time in Austin and, in a way, I’ve been avoiding this post because of it. I know that it’s more than a bit cliche to say that I’m hardly ever left speechless after a great experience, but with Austin, it’s just true.

‘Meeting Austin’ was a lot like running into someone who’s strikingly familiar and gives you a weird, intuitive sense that maybe I’ve met them before? Simply put, Austin was too familiar. The food? Fresh, locally sourced and prepared in a variety of styles by the coolest, most passionate people on the planet. The wildlife? Diverse, beautiful, and scattered throughout the city. The music? Let’s just say that more than a few of my favorite musicians are from Austin. The people? As cool, laid-back, and unbelievably friendly as they come. Pardon the personal depth, but for the first time in my life, I felt like I actually belonged in a city.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I just can’t find the words to explain why I love something. Words lack the meaning and depth to translate the feeling, the connection.  Even the most impassioned of efforts come up inevitably short. As one of my favorite lyricist, Jeffrey Foucault,  writes, “the finest pen could never hold a butterfly.” To me, it goes to show that there’s something about beauty that’s above words– above silly adjectives and washed out clichés. It must be experienced. It must be felt. In it’s simplest form, it just is. To me, Austin just is.

La Boite

After a night camping in the McKinney Falls State Park about 20 miles south of Austin, we headed to La Boite, a local eatery serving high quality french pastries, coffee, and other breakfast goodies out of a shipping box on the side of the road. Pretty cool, huh? A lady and fellow customer inside remarked that the pastries were as beautiful and tasty as any she had in Paris. Now, I’m a skeptic so I’m going to take that with a grain of salt until I make my way to Paris, but I do know that La Boite serves food as beautiful and tasty as anything I’ve ever eaten.

la boite

We had really just planned on ordering their famed Almond Croissant and a Cafe Mocha to satisfy Brittany’s insatiable appetite for coffee, but upon seeing the range of food they offered, I couldn’t help but satisfy my insatiable appetite to to try as many delicious-looking things as possible.

Cafe Mocha

Amidst chatting with the remarkably tattooed and helpful (both common traits among Austintonians) young girl at the register, I pointed out that I’d like to try every macaron they had. See, I consider myself somewhat of a rube in the world of desserts. I’m more of a savory food lover, choosing to endlessly gorge myself on as many salty and fatty foods as I can cram into my mouth. Because of this, macarons are completely new to me. So much so that I pronounced them ‘mackaruune.” Which is just plain embarrassing. Though, I quickly learned through my keen observational skills that it’s actually pronounced ‘mackaRON’. Though, after some detective work, there may be more to it than I ever imagined (see discussion on Chowhound – “Macaron vs. Macaroon”)

Whatever the case, these delicious little cookie-like contraptions are beyond delicious. I had heard of them, seen them, and read recipes to make them before trying them, never with the intention of actually doing so because I falsely imagined them to be rock hard little cookies with filling in the middle. As it turns out, they’re perfectly crispy on the outside, tender on the inside with a melt in your mouth filling that leaves you craving just one more bite. If I could only eat one cookie-like-thing for the rest of my life, it would be a macaron with a drop of hesitation.

Macaron

“Left: Pistachio with chocolate ~ Middle: Lemon and ginger ~ Right: Fluer de sel salted butter caramel”

Since I’m not a huge coffee fan, and Texas is frankly the hottest place I’ve had the pleasure to step foot on, I decided to quench my thirst with a cup full of lavender lemonade. Lemonade– an already perfect combination of sweet and tangy was only heightened by the slightly floral qualities of the lavender. It wasn’t too far off from a recipe for honeysuckle lemonade that I was tinkering earlier in the summer.

Lavender Lemonade

Torchy’s Tacos

Tochy’s is an Austin institution, famous for it’s creative and extremely delectable Tex-Mex tacos served out of a spruced up catering truck. It goes without explanation that when you stop in Austin, you stop at Torchys, likely more than once.

Torchys Tacos

It’s hard to decide what to eat as you’re perusing the chalkboard menu littered with selections like slow roasted pork simmered in green chilies, onions, and cilantro, hand battered shrimp topped with cooked cabbage slaw, pickled onions, and jalapeños, and the ever-famous fried avocado taco with pico de gallo and a poblano ranch sauce.

Okay, actually, it’s not that difficult of a decision, being that no matter what you choose it’s going to be delicious and all. There certainly could be worse predicaments, I’m sure.

To satisfy this new found hunger for great Tex-Mex, we chose a heavily spiced seared albacore tuna taco with cilantro, slaw, and the always appropriate lime wedge.

Albacore Tuna Taco

Along side that, and my personal favorite, was a taco filled to the brim with chunks of slow-roasted chicken, grilled jalapeños, gently roasted mango, sour cream, cilantro, and a spicy, spicy, spicy Diablo sauce, which is okay, because I like it spicy.

Torchys Brushfire

More on Austin to come!

June 9, 2010   2 Comments

Road Trip 2010: First Stop, New Orleans, LA

As of yesterday, we’ve embarked on a month long, sixteen state road trip traversing the central and western United States with no itinerary, a tent for ‘lodging,’ and a 2 door Honda Civic worth of luggage. Insanity, you say? Adventure, we respond.

I will say, though, that for all of my ability to simply “go with the flow,” there is a certain way to start a trip of this magnitude, the adjectives of which sound something like stress-free, relaxed and methodical, with the ultimate goal of being as prepared as possible for whatever obstacles lie ahead. What you shouldn’t hear the day before you leave is, “Mr. Blackwell, that car you’re planning on driving across the country needs new front tires, a left front axle, front brakes, adjusted rear brakes, air filter and a serious alignment after you hit that truck tire driving down to New Orleans some odd months back.” Oh, really? You don’t say? How ‘bout we fix that axle when I get back? Right…

Here’s where I insert my sincere and much needed public apology for allowing my wonderful parents to ‘handle’ the potentially trip ruining repairs. Mom and Dad, I am so very grateful.

Anyways, after a torturous amount of stress, tirelessly waiting around, and getting on a first name basis with the fine folks over at the Honda Service Center, we finally set off for our first stop, New Orleans, Louisiana, at 5 p.m. in the afternoon with dinner reservations at our favorite spot, Boucherie, four hours later. Which, as it so happens, is the exact amount of time that it takes to get there. Lucky us, huh?

Boucherie is our favorite spot in town for three reasons—it’s absurdly cheap, the food is awesome, and James, a server and part owner (I think), is a seriously knowledgeable beer geek who will, upon the slightest request, immaculately pair any chosen dish with a beer from Boucherie’s stellar beer list. In fact, he’s so good at pairing beer with food that I consider him a good friend, but only in a kind of weird and slightly creepy “he doesn’t even know who I am” kind of way, of course.

For this visit we went with a shared appetizer of Boudin balls, a heavily spiced rice sausage of traditional Cajun cuisine that is rolled and deep fried, with a creamy garlic aioli served alongside a bowl of perfectly fried pomme frites, aka French fries, topped with herb butter and freshly grated parmesan cheese. Both of which were delicious down to the very last scrapings on the plate, though the Boudin balls were missing the peppery crunch of arugula that had made them so delicious on numerous occasions before.

For an entrée, Brittany decided on seared scallops served with crunchy green beans alongside what I would consider a meaty and heavily acidic hybrid between tomato gravy and chutney. Whatever the case, the acidity of the tomato paired nicely with the richness of the impeccably seared scallops while the green beans provided a crunchy and remarkably fresh contrast to the meaty tomato sauce. For my entrée, I went with a pan seared duck breast, smoked black-eyed peas, duck cracklings, and a foie gras milk gravy—no further explanation necessary, if you ask me. To cut the richness and support the gently spiced duck, James recommended a Triple Karmalleit, a full-bodied, moderately carbonated, and distinctly “Belgian-tasting” beer brewed with a combination of three grains that results in a slightly spicy, herbal, and crisp compliment to the rich duck dish. Thanks James, I owe you one.

Boucherie New Orleans

“Boucherie – sorry for quality, Iphone photo”

After dining at Boucherie we set off for the first night of our many planned nights camping at state parks in and around the cities where we’ll be exploring. Now, midnight in the pitch black of a riverside Louisiana state park probably isn’t the best time for a first time ‘tent pitching’ experience. Hell, a bright incandescent light bulb lit living room would have been perfect for a test run. But in an effort to make things as difficult as possible during a day when everything else had gone wrong, pitch black seemed like the right move.

Luckily and contrary to popular belief and movie portrayals, pitching a tent really isn’t all that difficult, even in the dark with way too many bugs around. The tent was set up in a mere twenty minutes thanks to Brittany’s intense and quite inspired workmanship. To be honest, I had fully expected the tent pitching to be a solo experience for myself, wrought with frustration, anger, and likely a few echoing obscenities. But what happened amazed me. Throw a special someone in a situation they absolutely don’t want to be in, but otherwise have no choice, make sure there’s a ton of bugs, a stress-filled day, and the urge to get a good night’s sleep and watch them go. It was like an experiment in human psychology at its finest, mainly because I was the observer and not the subject.

Camping in Louisiana

“Fairview Riverside State Park – Madisonville, Louisiana”

The next morning, on our way to head out for Austin, Texas, we set off on a “greatest hits” tour of New Orleans, featuring two of our favorite New Orleans specialties: Po-boys and Chocolate Azteca Gelato.

For the first, we went to the very place where we first experienced the meat packed, incredibly messy, and perfectly dressed Po-boy sandwich: Crabby Jacks. The small and eclectically decorated eatery is a local favorite for Po-boys, Boudin sausage, red beans and rice, and nearly every other New Orleans specialty you can think of, and with good reason, it’s delicious. For this visit we decided to share a 12” stewed Cajun pork Po-boy. It actually went by a more complicated, “French-like” name, but I can’t remember what it was, but who cares. It was good.

Crabby Jacks Po Boy

For dessert, we headed over to La Divina Gelateria for their Chocolate Azteca Gelato. There really isn’t much to say. La Divina, as we call it, is locally sourced, artisan quality, and basically the best gelato this side of Italy. And if you’ve never eaten chocolate ice cream spiced with Mexican spices like cayenne pepper, cardamom, ginger, etc. then you’re missing out. The sweet heat is to die for.

Chocolata Azteca

“La Davina Gelateria – Chocolate Azteca”

Now we’re off to explore Austin, Texas! Wish us luck!

June 3, 2010   3 Comments

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