In the spirit of the new year (happy 2012, by the way), Hanne and I decided to try a grand experiment that we’ve talked about since last summer: we’re going to go a month without drinking. Now, I realize for many people this would be easy and could be done without changing their behavior, but so much of our lives revolves around brewfests, meet the brewer events, beer tastings, wine tastings, weekly pints at a particular pub, etc. that it’s going to create a lot of empty space in our schedules. Furthermore, sitting down at the end of a long day with a cold pint glass in your hand is one of life’s consistently pleasurable experiences for me, not because I seek the effects of the alcohol (though I admit, it’s not an undesirable side effect up to a certain point) but because I enjoy both routine and the taste of well-made beer, wine, or what have you. I don’t expect that we’ll suddenly become more productive and clean our house from top to bottom or something of the like because frankly, having a few beers certainly hasn’t stood in the way of that. No, it’s going to be more like we sit down of the couch at the end of the day to watch something and we’ll be reaching for the nonexistent pint glasses next to us. What exactly does one do without that beer or wine?
I joke, of course, but I was somewhat floored by the notion that if I do make it all 30 days, it will be the longest I’ve gone without drinking since I went to college just over twelve years ago. Even when I was out of college and not going to parties anymore but before I discovered craft beer, I was still having a beer with dinner a couple of times a week. The last time I tried swearing off alcohol was last summer after I got back from Minnesota, mostly because I needed a few days to detox from all the beer I’d had while there. I aimed for a week, I made it four days. Truthfully, I finally caved because I was going through withdrawal. I know that sounds bad, but when your body gets accustomed to any substance you put into your body on a regular basis and then you suddenly deny it that substance, it reacts. It happens when I stop drinking coffee and soda, it happens when I stop eating meat, and it happened when I stopped drinking.
Saying that “I went through withdrawal” has such negative connotations, though. It brings to mind the image of the junkie huddled in the corner shivering because they can’t get a fix, and when I’ve told the story to people I have to be careful to put it into the proper context because I always get a look. Sometimes it’s concern, sometimes it’s pity. I had headaches, I had trouble sleeping, and I was generally irritable. It was exactly the same symptoms that I get when I stop drinking coffee and just as pronounced. I figured four days was enough, and I felt better again after my first pint. My assumption is that I’ll probably start feeling the symptoms in a day or two and they’ll be gone by this time next week, but in addition to the challenge of it, I think it’s for the best. As I said, so much of our lives revolves around not just the act of drinking but the concept of it that I think it will be nice to take a break.
Also, I expect we’ll save a fair chunk of change in the next 30 days. We don’t spend an extraordinary amount of money on alcohol on a monthly basis, but we spend it nonetheless. I’ll be curious to see the level of our bank account at the end of the month.
Hanne is convinced that she’ll break first not because her will isn’t as strong as mine, but because she has a case going to trial next week and she may desire a glass of wine to relax after spending all day in a courtroom. Or the case may unexpectedly end and she will go out to either celebrate or mourn with the other attorneys. I wouldn’t begrudge her breaking her fast under those circumstances, but I’ll just have to be careful not to join her. Another part of the reasons why I ended my personal fast last summer is that Hanne hadn’t sworn off alcohol and was still having a beer or two while I wasn’t. I think together we’ll be stronger in our efforts to go all 30 days.
Last night we decided to feast before our fast and made one last trip to Belmont Station both to return out empties but also to pick up a couple of beers we knew would be gone by the time we finished our fast. I might have to keep an eye on those. We cracked a bottle of Oakshire’s Hellshire II that we’d been saving as well a a bottle of Fifty-Fifty Brewing’s Eclipse stout aged in brandy barrels. A fine send-off, if I do say so myself.
So, today the experiment begins. Wish us luck.
It’s like deja-vu, I swear.
I’d like to think that the time I sliced open my thumb on my mandoline a few months ago taught me something about safety around sharp implements, but I apparently did not learn my lesson and cut open my left index finger on my chef’s knife while opening a package of cheese. I’m not upset that I did it again, nor was it as bad as my thumb, but I’m just annoyed that if was doing something so mundane and it wasn’t during preparation of an epic meal. Nope, just constructing a sandwich. Bleah. On the bright side, I missed the nail by just a hair again, so I consider myself lucky. Also, I didn’t get light-headed again and nearly pass out from the blood loss, so there’s that as well.
Today is Saturday, and it’s a rare Saturday in which there’s nothing on my calendar that needs attention–hence my realization that gee, maybe I should write a bit. This morning Hanne and I got up early and went to Pine State for breakfast (biscuits and gravy with an over easy egg on top FTW), returned all our non-alcoholic cans and bottles, then made our way up to the Portland Farmers Market. We returned home with a half flat of berries (mixture of strawberries–not Hoods, sadly–blackberries, raspberries and blueberries), a couple of pounds of cherries, a pound or so of green beans, cherry tomatoes, some bratwurst and two ears of corn. Those last four will be part of dinner tomorrow night, a meal that Hanne looks forward to every year when the ingredients are fresh: Grilled Sausages and Summer Beans with Herbs, Tomatoes and Caramelized Onions. It’s a marvelous recipe, and Hanne keeps telling me how good it is cold and leftover as well. I’d love to try it sometime, but she keeps eating it all before I can get to it.
Up at the market today, I saw one of the most heartbreaking things I could imagine: a woman dropped a half flat of berries on the ground. In the grand scheme of things it’s pretty far down the list, but still, there was a collective gasp from the crowd around her as we all thought NOOOOOOOOOO and clutched our own berries a little tighter. She looked despondent for a few seconds and tried to gather them up, but she’d lost too many. She said to the crowd around her that they hadn’t been very good anyway, but we all knew that a little piece of her had died inside. This time of year, there are few greater pleasures than bringing home many, many berries.
Which reminds me, it’s been long enough to break open the jars of Tequila Por Mi Amante that I made after another trip to the market a few weeks ago–one with reposado and one with plata. I made some last year and enjoyed it well enough, though what seemed to occur was all the sweetness from the strawberries made their way into the tequila and all the alcohol made its way into the strawberries. What we ended up with was essentially strawberry-flavored syrup and a bunch of extremely alcoholic strawberries. Both were consumed quite quickly, though I will not repeat the mistake of putting the strawberries into a blender and adding more alcohol. That was just overkill. I also took a bunch of halved and pitting cherries and mixed them in the rest of the plata (which I normally don’t drink–I prefer reposado), so we’ll have some cherry-flavored tequila as well. I’m not entirely certain how that will turn out, but I figure that even if it’s a little too medicinal (cherry flavoring always reminds me of cough drops and whatnot) it should still mix well with something not-sweet, like grapefruit or cranberry juice.
In other alcohol-related news, July is Oregon Craft Beer Month. Drink local beer! The highlight of Oregon Craft Beer Month, the Oregon Brewers Festival, is next week and I’m ready. I’m taking Friday off, gorging for lunch on food that will soak up the copious amount of alcohol I will be imbibing and taking a very large and very full water bottle with me. This strategy worked extremely well for me last year–so much so that we were able to make a stop on the way home at the soft opening of the Hair of the Dog tasting room and not stumble out of there–and in direct response to the debacle two years ago when I got so drunk that I fell asleep at 7:30. Hanne was not happy with me that day, mostly because she had been unable to go and I had too much fun without her. I was also apparently being annoying, so I suspect that she was grateful that I turned in a little early that evening.
Through a happy series of events, I recently found myself with a $100 Visa gift card and a $20 Amazon gift certificate, so I used the gift card to buy a $100 Amazon gift certificate and put all the money towards a Le Creuset French oven. I’m not going to lie to you, I have lusted after a Le Creuset for years. They are expensive and from what people have told me, worth every last penny. I foresee cooking the fruits of the many tomato plants in our yard very, very slowly in my lovely new French oven this summer. I’m armed with a French oven and a Marcella Hazan cookbook, and I know how to use them both. I see some eight hour pasta sauces in my future, and since I rediscovered my pasta maker I can see myself making the pasta, too. I might have to have an epic meal. I never like eating a lot of food in the summertime when it’s hot out, but A) it hasn’t been hot this summer (here at least, we’ve thus far dodged the heat wave that’s affecting the rest of the country) and B) c’mon, fresh tomatoes. Take advantage of seasonal food while you can, because I guarantee you that the tomato pulled from the vine in your garden is going to be far, far better than any hothouse tomato shipped in from Mexico or Canada.
Of course, we planted about six or seven tomato plants, so in a couple of months I might just be bitching about there being too many tomatoes to use up and how sick of them I am. First world problems at their finest.
The other day Hanne and I were up at Belmont Station for a beer tasting (Double Mountain Devil’s Kriek, the 2011 batch…delicious, BTW) and noticed that Mikkeller brewed 19 beers using a single hop for each one. Hanne immediately had the bright idea to buy all 19 and taste them side by side and take notes, which will be both delicious and educational. At $5.79 for each 11.2 ounce bottle it makes for an expensive tasting, but I think that in the long run it will be worth it. When I brew a batch of beer I often pick out random hops (or ones I’m more comfortable with) but I think that really getting an idea of what each hop tastes like will be extremely helpful in the future. Plus, I’d just like to state for the record that it was my wife who had this idea, and that I just might the luckiest bastard in the whole world to be married to such a crafty woman. We picked up six of the bottles since we had the cash for those six, but we’ll be acquiring the other thirteen this afternoon.
Work is going well enough. I do what I have to do and they give me a paycheck and I’ll keep doing what I have to do until they stop giving me paychecks.
I’d feel remiss to not mention that my grandmother died two weeks ago. She was my only living grandparent for the better part of half my life, and I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to see so much of her in the last six years since she moved to Portland from Boise. I had prepared for the moment for years, thinking that when my Dad called at odd hours it would be “the call,” but it was still a shock even though I knew exactly what my Dad was going to say when I answered the phone. She had rapidly deteriorated over the course of 48 hours and I had a feeling that the end was near so it was not shocking or unexpected, but it was still a great loss. I cried and was comforted by my wife, then spent much of the weekend at my Dad’s house. There wasn’t much sharing of memories of her, but I think we all just wanted to be together and remember her in our own ways. She will be missed.
The only other thing going on today is the Timbers game this evening. Hanne and I have been making a point to watch as many as we can, and tonight is one of the few that we can watch from home so we’re going to stay in. We went out several times this week, and though there are so many places we can go to enjoy the game or enjoy the weather, the idea of staying home and sipping on strawberry-infused tequila on such a beautiful day sounds too good to pass up.
On Sunday, I brewed my first batch of beer since last August. The final product is expected to a dark, low alcohol Belgian beer hopefully suitable for entry into the Portland Cheers to Belgian Beers homebrew competition. Last time I submitted a beer was two years ago, and due to a cold snap and an unheated house the beer didn’t fully ferment before bottling, so I ended up with a beer that was too sweet and had a tendency to foam over when opened, and in the case of two bottles, outright explode and leak beer all over.
Since Hanne was out with her Mom, I invited my Dad and grandmother over for lunch and to keep me company while I brewed. I got to taste some of my Dad’s recent brews, visit with my grandmother, and it was generally a good time.
Now, I mention the brewing and an afternoon of drinking not just for posterity’s sake, but as an intro to my evening. The plan was to use the gnocchi dough I made Sunday morning and have gnocchi with caramelized onions and spinach for dinner, so in preparation for caramelizing the onions I pulled out the mandoline and began thinly slicing. I typically use the guide to protect my fingers, but I’ve avoided it a number of times for things that are difficult to slice when using it (mushrooms, potatoes, etc.) and I’m generally pretty careful. My afternoon of drinking apparently took a toll on the caution center of my brain, though, and I managed to run my finger right into the blade that is so sharp that the Amazon review page is filled with people saying how sharp the blade is.
Of course, I immediately knew what I had done and pulled my finger back, but it was too late. I was bleeding all over the sink and cursing like a sailor for doing something so stupid. The first thing Hanne said was “Do you need to go get stitches?” I’d give her crap for not first asking if I was going to be OK, but every time I slice without the guide Hanne stands there and watches, expecting me to do just what I did. I declined to go to the hospital and rinsed my finger and she ran and grabbed some gauze so I could put some pressure on it. I’m not bothered by the sight of blood, but I did so light-headed I need to lean on the kitchen counter so I didn’t pass out and bleed all over the floor.
It could have been much, much worse though. It all happened so fast, but I just realized that it’s my left thumb that got sliced. When I use the mandoline, whether I use the guide or not I slice left to right with my right hand. Because my left thumb got sliced, that means I was pressing on a stubborn piece of onion to get it to go through and wasn’t applying the full amount of pressure as I would have otherwise. If I’d hit my thumb when actively slicing, well, I’d be missing a piece of my thumb and not just have a half-inch gash.
So, the moral of the story is to always use a guide with your mandoline. Or at least, use the guide to push that stuck piece of onion through. It’s probably stating the obvious, but I’m not that smart to begin with. Also, gnocchi with caramelized onions isn’t the best combination. The more you know.
I had hoped to write up a little bit about my new iPad and my initial impressions of using it, but it’s only been two days and I don’t have any real insight to share quite yet. I’ll leave you with these two teasers, though:
- Using the touchscreen on iDevices, whether it’s an iPad or an iPhone, heavily relies on your thumbs. I hadn’t really been aware of that until this week.
- After using my iPad for awhile, Hanne handed me her iPhone and my first thought was “WTF is this little toy?” Make of that what you will.
I’m going to experiment a little with the so-called “post-PC” age of computing. Last night I purchased an iPad. I also unlocked the “Apple Whoredom” achievement in life.
This purchase was not what I would call spontaneous and starry-eyed from Apple’s announcement this week. For years now, I’ve been saying that I wanted a glass-coated touchscreen tablet computer in the kitchen (not exclusively in the kitchen, but available for use there) to display the recipe I’m currently cooking from. I’ve had a lot of people tell me flat out that was a stupid idea, but here’s why it’s not.
- Digital copies. I tend to find most of my recipes online these days. Yes, I own many cookbooks and subscribe to Bon Appetit, La Cucina Italiana, Sunset and Saveur, but much of their content in available online. I also find recipes from many other sources online. I do have a printer. I’m pretty sure it’s out of toner. I’d rather not print out recipes if a digital copy is available.
- Glass. If it’s going to be used in the kitchen, it needs a glass screen so that it can be easily cleaned.
- Touchscreen. If you think I’m going to try and use a keyboard and mouse in the kitchen, ha!
Now that all being said, there are a number of tablets coming out that could probably fit that bill. Remember, though, I don’t want something to sit in my kitchen all the time, I want to be able to use it in the living room, too. I already have an iPhone, so an iPad is the logical step. Yes yes, walled garden and all that, but it’s a good extension of a digital ecosystem that I am already in. Frankly, I’m surprised that I was a holdout for so long. I’d been telling people what I wanted for years before the iPad came out, and I resisted buying one for an entire year despite a well-made case that I could put one to good use.
When the new iPad was announced, though, the first-generation iPad dropped in price, and a refurbished model could be had for even less. So I’m being somewhat frugal about this step. Most of the alternatives to the iPad are more expensive, and the one that are cheaper generally require more wrangling to make usable. And again, they wouldn’t let me use apps I already own, sync with the same software, etc. At that point, I’m looking for convenience over value.
Right now my current thinking is when I find a good recipe, I’ll send it to Instapaper, and that way I’ll have a good plain-text copy to look at. I’ll have to experiment a bit, though.
Not just design-wise, but I broke it last year by changing everything to go to /blog instead of the root of my domain. This was deliberate, but I changed it back todat so if you’ve added the site to Google Reader or another RSS aggregator in the last year or so, you’re going to have to change the address again. Sorry.
Married life, to put it bluntly, feels no different than the life my wife and I had the day before we were married, with one exception: I can’t get over saying “my wife.” The ring around my finger feels completely natural by this point, but I still marvel over the fact that I have a wife. How very, very strange.
On the bright side, too, Hanne hasn’t kicked me out yet, so married life is still somewhat agreeable with her.
The wedding itself was a lot of fun, though I was disappointed that I couldn’t get the specific beers I wanted for the reception. I would have appreciated the caterer offering me a list of what they could get, but I can’t really fault their choices in the end as none of them were disliked beers. I had very little time to enjoy the food that made up the bulk of the wedding budget, but I hear that it was all quite tasty. Afterward, Hanne and I dropped our stuff off at the hotel, changed out of our wedding attire, and met our friends and her cousins for drinks at the Hair of the Dog tasting room and later Bunk Bar, and with the exception of the rings on our fingers it felt like any other Saturday night.
Let me back up a bit, though, and mention the bachelor party that my best man organized. When one thinks of bachelor parties, one typically imagines a night of drink, debauchery, strippers, etc. One does not typically imagine an evening barhopping in a limo with one’s friends and family, and yet that is what happened for me. I was completely surprised by the level of deception that had gone into hiding the plans from me, so naturally I can never trust any of the involved parties ever again. I knew something was up when I was asked to meet my best man at the Green Dragon and saw my Dad outside. I had further suspicions when my sister arrived. When my soon-to-be father in law walked in the door I knew the game that was being played. When the rest of my friends and the limo pulled up, well, I can say I was pretty shocked.
“Andrew’s Classy Bachelor Party Pub Crawl,” as it was emblazoned on the hat I was forced to wear with my picture on it, took us from the Green Dragon to Produce Row Cafe, to Amnesia Brewing, to Saraveza, and finally, to the Horse Brass. The end of the evening is a little blurry, but in all the pictures I’ve seen I’m having a good time, and that is how I will remember it.
I kept the hat.
I have begun the plotting for the bachelor party in which I play the role of the best man in June, but I have a feeling that I won’t be able to top that.
The other big thing to happen to me in the last four months is that I changed jobs. I didn’t even have to change my office! My firm ended up merging (it’s more complicated than that, but for simplicity’s sake I’ll call it a merger) with another firm in the same building, and while most everyone moved upstairs to their new spaces, I stayed behind on the old floor because there just isn’t room for me up there. My new job responsibilities are about the same as they were before, albeit somewhat more nebulous, but since much of the IT work is done from another office I have less ultimate responsibility as before when I was more or less running things. I’m not alone down here and it’s not permanent, but I feel somewhat disconnected from the rest of the firm because I don’t see people with the same frequency as I did before. The eventual plan is to acquire the rest of the space on one of the other floors, build it out, and then move us up. Until then, I’ll enjoy my relative solitude down here and continue to use the stairs to go up to the main floors.
I have continued to run on occasion, but since I weigh more than I did when I was doing 10k twice a week and even longer on the weekends, my pace has certainly slowed a bit. I started carrying my iPhone instead of an iPod and using a nice iPhone app called Runkeeper that automatically maps out your runs using the phone’s GPS as well as records distance, pace, etc. It’s been somewhat interesting to finally get distances on some of the runs I’ve taken over the years as well as know how I’m doing as I’m running. About five years ago I ran a 10k race and got a time of ~45 minutes, giving me around a 7:30/mile pace. Not bad. Now I’m consistently around 9:40/mile, so I have definitely slowed.
I went for a run on Saturday when it was 27 degrees out. Even bundled up, it was so cold it took my toes two miles to warm up to the point in which they weren’t numb anymore.
I would certainly like to run more often, but even ignoring the dreary Portland winter weather, my new hours interfere with my running schedule. For the last five years or so, I’ve been working 37.5 hours/week, but my new position is 40 hours/week. It doesn’t sound like much of an increase, but I’ve found that extra half hour every day really made a difference in the evening if I wanted to go for a run. It creates a problem in terms of cooking, too, and I’ve had to do more planning ahead to make sure that I have stuff on hand for dinner rather than go to the store after work. It’s taken a bit of getting used to, as I always enjoyed being inspired by a recipe I would come across during the day and then cooking the dish that evening. I demand to have my instant gratification returned!
Obviously I’m leaving out months worth of insignificant crap, so if you want to be more up to date on my insignificant crap than when I sporadically put words to the screen, my Twitter feed is usually full of said crap on a much more regular basis. You can follow me and learn the instant I drink a beer and where I am when I’m drinking it, or possibly even read a 140-character-or-less treatise on the subjective opinion of whatever I may be watching on television. It’s scintillating commentary, I can assure you.