Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My friends are pretty cool and very enterprising

I invited one of my oldest friends, Kevin, to guestblog about his new business venture for an online kitchen supply/grocery store that he and his wife recently started. It's way cool, so check it out.

The Eclectic Grocer grew out of a car trip I took a ways out one day. We're pretty fortunate here in Rochester, NY, that we have one of the finest grocery chains in the world, Wegmans, right in our back yard.

At the same time, as I was driving further and further west, I realized not everyone has this opportunity to shop for the finer things in a setting that's enjoyable. So my wife and I decided to develop the Eclectic Grocer.

In essence, over time, we will become a supermarket of sorts, except that it will be primarily stocked with items that your local grocer might not carry.

Eclectic Grocer provides high quality items for your kitchen. We believe cooking should be fun, affordable, and simple.

These items include clay bakeware, olive oil-based skin care and kona coffee.


Internet faves of the past few days:'s story about gibbons and the campaign to save the "small ape" of the world. One of my new heroes is definitely Alan Mootnick, who runs the Gibbon Conservation Center in California. To those who know me this may come across as mocking, but trust me, it's not. This is one of those classic stories about someone and really someones being dedicated to a lesser-known cause.

The LATimes series on the cost of fighting wildfires. I loved part 1 for its comprehensiveness about costs, but part 2's illumination of the political pressure to use planes and copters to fight fires despite limited efficacy and at exorbitant costs was stellar. For a paper that is taking it from all sides, this has proven to me the value of great journalism. And given the LATimes Western base, this was a story they were far more suited to pull of than the NYTimes or WashPost would have been.

Finally, Dana Milbank's Washington Sketch column (from the Washington Post), that provides a good reality check on Barack Obama. I still am planning to vote for Barack, but the shine is wearing off a bit. As Milbank reports:

His schedule for the day, announced Monday night, would have made Dick Cheney envious:

11:00 a.m.: En route TBA.

12:05 p.m.: En route TBA.

1:45 p.m.: En route TBA.

2:55 p.m.: En route TBA.

5:20 p.m.: En route TBA.

The 5:20 TBA turned out to be his adoration session with lawmakers in the Cannon Caucus Room, where even committee chairmen arrived early, as if for the State of the Union. Capitol Police cleared the halls -- just as they do for the actual president. The Secret Service hustled him in through a side door -- just as they do for the actual president.

I don't mind security being tight and I don't mind confidence. But as a former reporter I very much am offended by a candidate who ducks the media. Sweeping orations are inspiring, but the business of government can get ugly and tedious. I want someone accountable and right now, I'm not sure who Barack is being held accountable to. He doesn't grant interviews to the major newspapers; and let's be honest, the reporters covering him are better informed than those of us quasi-seduced by his speeches on race and responsibilty and unity (I count myself as the seduced, but falling out of love).

Monday, July 28, 2008

It's good not to be the best, in fact that's the best thing

I've forwarded and/or posted hundreds of articles, essays, Op-Eds, pieces of writing in the last few years. Some are political, others are cultural, a few obscure scientific and others are too-broad and deep to be easily classifiable. Though a small part of me feels like I should be creating/producing something like those, most of me is thrilled that there are such brilliant people out there so that I can merely enjoy/be stimulated by the discovery.

Today's reefer is from Mental Floss courtesy of The 15 reasons Mr. Rogers was the best neighbor ever. I'm not going to steal the whole, but pick three to whet the clicketite.

2. He made thieves think twice. According to a TV Guide piece on him, Fred Rogers drove a plain old Impala for years. One day, however, the car was stolen from the street near the TV station. When Rogers filed a police report, the story was picked up by every newspaper, radio and media outlet around town.

Amazingly, within 48 hours the car was left in the exact spot where it was taken from, with an apology on the dashboard. It read, "If we'd known it was yours, we never would have taken it."

5. He might have been the most tolerant American ever. Mister Rogers seems to have been almost exactly the same off-screen as he was onscreen. As an ordained Presbyterian minister, and a man of tremendous faith, Mister Rogers preached tolerance first.

Whenever he was asked to castigate non-Christians or gays for their differing beliefs, he would instead face them and say, with sincerity, "God loves you just the way you are." Often this provoked ire from fundamentalists.

12. He was a perfectionist, and disliked ad libbing. He felt he owed it to children to make sure every word on his show was thought out.

At one point I was tempted to throw in the line "... and another reason to hate fundamentalists" as a pointed joke. But sincerely, I realized that Mr. Rogers would have viewed that as a failure on both our parts, that I would take his value of tolerance and soooo incorrectly misapropriate it. And I feel like if I ever did something to make him feel like he didn't do a good enough job being a good person, then well, that's pretty much the ultimate failure on my part.

Organic from overseas vs. conventional from a few miles away

This is from the Freakonomics blog on

It's readers sending in questions to agricultural economist Daniel Sumner. It's long, but it's Q&A so you can read what you want and come back to it later. It's got tons of links to other papers and studies. It will probably challenge at least a few things that you think you know. It did with me.

Also, if you've ever stood at a grocery store and internally debated whether to buy organic from New Zealand (health and ethics) or conventionally grown, meaning pesticides, chems, etc., from the States (carbon footprint) you'll find out that there are no easy answers. Distance does NOT necessarily equal a larger carbon footprint.

And oh yeah, farm subsidies are unnecessary.

Blogger Stephen J. Dubner writes:

Sumner has answers for questions about organic produce, biofuels, the logic of locavores, whether the U.S.'s attachment to cotton is emotional or financial, and how to talk to farmers about the economics of agriculture: "I do not start by challenging their passions, but I am pretty forthcoming about what most economic analysis finds about farm subsidies."

His answer to whether there's a good argument to be made for farm subsidies:


I learned more from reading this Q&A than I have from all the miscellaneous reading I've done on these topics in perhaps a year, maybe more. Thanks to Sumner for his answers and to you for the questions.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Weak ass blogger

I suck. I haven't posted much this month. The last few entries have been stolen videos from YouTube. But in August I'm debuting a new blog theme. I'm going to track all my expenses for the month. Everything. Every stop for gas. Every trip to Coffee Bean. Every Sprite while shopping.

One of two things will happen, both of which are good. I will get a great picture of my typical monthly spending habits so that I can start checking myself after a month of hate-myself-for-being-so-irresponsbile spending OR I will be so self-conscious of knowing that I'm outing all my spending I'll check myself while blogging.

In the meantime three quick things ...

This is my friend Amanda's blog, which is about her efforts to lead a greener and more planet-friendly life. She's a great blogger, in that she's got a tight focus to her blog and great writing voice.

Is this the clip of Feist singing a modified version of "1,2,3,4" on Sesame Street not the cutest video ever? Almost makes me want to have kids, so that I can teach them to count to four using it. I am linking rather than embedding because this is the Sesame Street YouTube version on their channel.

If you like the brilliant little-girl voiced harpistry of Joanna Newsom then check out Emily Wells. She's not a harpist, but rather a violin player and multi-instrumentalist who uses keys on loops to create amazing modern folk-rock music symphonies.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Late nights, less blogging

But while I edit away, I've been listening to this ...

What a brilliant song.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I wish we saw more of this Iran in the media

I get very frustrated with the "establishment" when I hear them say why aren't the moderates of any group speaking out against intolerant and/or extremist views. Currently, we hear this most often in reference to Muslims and probably Iranians, many of whom are not Muslim of course. People are speaking out, but we're not listening closely enough and not doing enough to let them know we care. Thankfully there's this thing called the Internet ...

Peace is spoken in every language.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Playing DJ

When another student asked me to make her a playlist I was of course superterrificallyexcited again, but feeling a bit worried. Would it suck? That's always the fear right? When you're sharing something of yourself, what if that part of you isn't good enough. I was going for stuff that was a bit more obscure for this girl, who I know has very similar taste in contemporary music to me.

“Stupid Girl” -- Garbage: Garbage -- Lead singer Shirley Manson is a goddess. One of my favorite songs from high school by one of the bands I’m very disappointed never to have seen.

“It's a Shame About Ray” -- The Lemonheads: It's a Shame About Ray -- A band that time seems to have forgotten, but the melodies and harmonies amount to an unforgettable memory of late night MTV during high school. This was one of the songs that kept me up for “just one more video.”

“Sister Rosetta (Capture the Spirit)” -- Noisettes: What’s the Time, Mr. Wolf? -- Best free single of the week ever on iTunes? Maybe. Amazing soundtrack to doing something aggressive song? Definitely.

“Worn Me Down” -- Rachael Yamagata: Napster session -- This piano-only version of this broken heart song somehow manages to make it even more poignant. It’s a shame that she’s sooooo uknown despite her appearance on The O.C.

“No Man's Woman” -- Sinead O'Connor: Faith and Courage -- Wanna know a secret about me? When given the choice I always choose female characters in adventure video games. Why? Watch the Alias pilot for when this song comes on.

“Feed The Tree” -- Belly: Star -- This song was my first crush on the lead singer song of high school. Tanya Donelly should have been a superstar for her metaphoric lyrics and rock melodies.

“David Duchovny” -- Bree Sharp: A Cheap and Evil Girl -- Bree Sharp has probably been hurt longterm by the fact that this was her first single. But who wouldn’t want a song like this written about themselves? I keep dreaming ...

“Rock The Smile” -- The Clash vs Jay Z vs Lily Allen -- This mashup doesn’t have a formal title that I know of. Who gives? It’s awesome. More importantly, mashups like these show that music isn’t divided into genres, just good and bad.

“Only In My Dreams” -- Debbie Gibson: Out of the Blue -- Debbie owned malls and pop and still owns the keys to my heart. Amazing thing about her versus virtually all other teen pop stars is that wrote her own songs and produced them, too. Has gone onto Broadway acclaim. Hooray, Deborah!

“True Blue” -- Madonna: True Blue -- A less known and far more innocent Madonna song. But I defy anyone not get this melody happily stuck in their head.

“Sweet and Lowdown” -- George Gershwin: “Gershwin Plays Gershwin: The Piano Rolls -- American classic. Gershwin does more on one piano line than most pop artists do on a whole CD. It’s a damned shame that music like this is no longer popular. I guess there is some truth to the idea that the good old days were pretty good.

“Magic Works” -- Jarvis Cocker, Jonny Greenwood, Phil Selway, Steve Mackey, Jason Buckle, Steve Claydon: Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire -- Supergroup records
suprisingly great songs for the Goblet of Fire soundtrack.

“Mushaboom” -- Bright Eyes -- There’s some French show that asks artists to cover songs. Hooray for the French because this version of Feist’s song is awesomeness.

“Goodbye Earl” -- Dixie Chicks: Fly -- Revenge is a dish best served cold with a side of melody and sarcasm.

“Cruisin'” -- Gwyneth Paltrow & Huey Lewis: Duets -- One of the biggest surprises ever was that Chris Martin’s wife can sing. This Smokey Robinson classic gets a fine treatment from Huey and Gwyneth—so casual and easy.

“Tiny Dancer” -- Elton John : Madman Across the Water -- Phoebe Buffay said on Friends that this was the most romantic song ever. Maybe. When it’s used in Almost Famous it’s definitely my non-Once-related favorite use of a song in a movie.

“Toss The Feathers” -- The Corrs: Forgiven, Not Forgotten -- Traditional Irish melody. The Irish sure could party back in the day, too.

“I Can Dream About You” -- Dan Hartman: Streets of Fire Soundtrack -- Nickelodeon used to have this music video request show called “Nick Rocks,” which my parents let me watch before I was allowed to watch MTV. This song was on all the time. Thankfully even PG-rated rock music can be great. This guy is white, btw.

“Something's Coming” -- Broadway Cast: West Side Story (Original Broadway Cast) -- I love showtunes and if we all could sing like this and convey our emotions with this kind of passion, I would love to live in that world.

“Into the Mystic” -- The Swell Season: Bonnaroo Music Festival 2008 -- Glen and Mar of Once fame cover Van Morrison and amazing live music moment ensues. I wish I had been there.

“Sweet Child O' Mine” -- Kelly Clarkson w/ Metal Skool and the Yellowcard dude -- Kelly doesn’t know all the words, but who cares because best contemporary female pop vocalist + novelty act x GNR classic = genius.

“Diablo Rojo” -- Rodrigo Y Gabriela: Rodrigo Y Gabriela -- I demand that everybody see them live. They need to be featured on the next guitar hero.

“Walk This Way” -- Run-DMC: Raising Hell -- More evidence that there’s good music and bad music. When two superstar acts combine on one great song—voila!

“Satellite” -- Ruby James: (Unreleased) EP -- This song seemed to portend the future of woman-rock but then what happened? I wish that I knew.

“Missing Link” -- Curve: Cuckoo -- Why do the English do things better than us? Curve is gone now, but like a supernova when they burned they burned really fucking brightly.

“Make Your Own Kind of Music” -- Cass Elliot: 20th Century Masters -- The Millennium Collection: The Best of The Mamas and The Papas -- I think you already know how to do this one, Devin.

“The Way You Look Tonight” -- James Darren: This One's from the Heart -- When I listen to a guy like Darren sing a song like this I understand why some people want only to be songwriters and have great singers sing their songs.

“I'll Cover You (Reprise)” -- Rent: Rent (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) -- Don’t we all want to be protected like this? But it’s scary because what if that protection disappears?

“Mandy” -- Barry Manilow: The Essential Barry Manilow -- If this song is cheese then I want to be the Mac.

“Delirious Love” -- Neil Diamond: 12 Songs -- Combining a producer like Rick Rubin with a singer-songwriter like Diamond means rediscovering the fountain of youthful genius.

“Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead” -- XTC: Nonsuch -- One of my fave songs from the early 90s. My fave high school radio station (CFNY from Toronto) intro’d me to XTC. I wish I had been cool enough to discover them as an A&R guy.

“The End Of A Love Affair” -- Stina Nordenstam: The World Is Saved -- Rachael Yamagata blogged about this Swedish singer and I am so thankful she did. One of my fave ways of discovering new music is finding out who the artists I love are listening to.

“Zooropa” -- U2: Zooropa -- U2 went electronic in a great way on this album, which was more The Edge’s baby along with Flood and Brian Eno. The opening German line is “progress through technology.”

“Birthday” -- Sugarcubes: Life's Too Good -- I like Bjork better when balanced with the guys in Sugarcubes. This song was one of many intro’d to me by Alternative
Nation on MTV.

“Swan Swan H” -- R.E.M.: Life's Rich Pageant -- My first favorite R.E.M. song. War sucks.

“Nightswimming” -- Coldplay with Michael Stipe: Austin City Limits -- This version of
my second favorite song ever is hauntingly beautiful and somehow even more wistful. If someone could be unmoved by this then they don’t have a heart.

“The Absence of God” -- Rilo Kiley: Live at The Greek Theater 6.18.2008 -- It’s OK to cry when Jenny asks Blake to turn the bad in her into good again.

“The Life Of Riley” -- The Lightning Seeds: Pure -- Highly underrated Brit-pop.

“You Gotta Sin To Get Saved” -- Maria McKee: You Gotta Sin To Get Saved -- I’m glad I judged this CD by its cover. Something about McKee’s expression in black and white clued me in that this CD would have soul and heart to spare.

“Us” -- Regina Spektor: Soviet Kitsch -- F-U Cold War. The Russian heart beats with love for family. The piano on this song carries power and wisdom like a river.

“Rhythm Bandits” -- Junior Senior: D-d-don't Stop the Beat -- Some songs just make you move. This is one of them. This song would be played at my wedding if there is one. Maybe I should get married just to dance to this?

“I Would Never” -- The Blue Nile: High -- If I ever meet the person who makes me feel like this I will get married. Wow.

“Back to Me” -- Kathleen Edwards: Back to Me -- Another revenge song. From The Dixie Chicks to Kathleen Edwards to Beatrix Kiddo women are soooo much better at it than men.

“Ahead By A Century” -- The Tragically Hip: Trouble at the Henhouse -- An amazing band from Toronto that has degenerated into coffeehouse music, but when Gord Downey sing "no dress rehearsal, this is our life" you understand that life is about appreciation.

“Just Like A Pill” -- Pink: Missundaztood! -- What a difference between Pink’s first record and her amazing second one. Never stop fighting to be yourself.

“Ev’ry Rose Has Its Thorn” -- Poison: Open Up & Say ... Ahh! -- Paired with “Fallen Angel” I would argue that few bands have ever had two songs in a row on any album sooooo good.

“Happy Together” -- The Turtles: Muriel's Wedding soundtrack -- The innocence of the 60s pop songs. I wish it was OK to be this unironic now.

“Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now” -- Starship: Mannequin soundtrack -- Another Mac and Cheese song.

“Your Wildest Dreams” -- The Moody Blues: Moody Blues Greatest Hits -- Purists would argue (and argue correctly) that the Moody Blues did far more important work than this synthesizered pop song. But it’s beautiful and dreamy, and since when was that ever bad for music?

“Then He Kissed Me” -- The Crystals: A Box Full of Love - Volume 2 -- This song opens Adventures in Babysitting in one of the great uses of song ever in a movie, too. Motown ruled.

“The Hammer & The Bell” -- Spirit Of The West: Weights And Measures -- This song by one of my favorite Canadian bands (thanks CFNY) was written in tribute to a member who left the band. Will anyone say such things of me?

“Kamakazee” -- Blair: Single -- Unsigned girl writes e-mail to you when you buy her CD online. It’s a great song from a New Orleans artist that a Pitchfork ad intro’d me, too.

“The Captain” -- Kasey Chambers: Morning Becomes Eclectic 5 Nov. 2004 -- Hearing Kasey live her girlish voice gets a strong dose of heartbroken husk, too. When she sings this song ... tears.

“Common People” -- William Shatner featuring Joe Jackson: Has Been -- Could have been dismissabel novelty. Instead it’s raucous and almost violent. What a great way to close?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

How the other infinitessimal slice lives or starring in my own version of Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Since moving to Los Angeles I've had a lot more experiences that make me feel like I'm becoming an adult: promotion, salary negotiation, opening a Roth IRA, having my car towed, serving on a jury (in a murder case no less), hiring someone, purchasing equipment for my company.

The most recent grownup experience: a fancy restaurant. Yeah, I've been to a couple before but I was a college student getting taken out by friends' parents.

Amy and I went to Craft Los Angeles to celebrate her birthday. This is Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio's restaurant. I've learned a lot about food from him and the other judges, guest chefs and contestants during the past few years, some of the most important being about the value of great ingredients. (That's the reason I've become a grocery snob who shops at Whole Foods for certain things, like seafood, now.)

Two friends had been there and raved, so I figured that fellow TC fan Amy would be down with playing grownups for good food, even if we did have venture into Century City (at least we passed the Die Hard, er 20th Century Fox, building, which if you live here you have to point out every time, just like Clark Griswold would).

Right away when we walk up it just feels kinda swank. The first Ferris Bueller joke is cracked as Amy says she'll refer to me as Abe Froehman (Sausage King of Chicago) if I want.

The decor is very modern but it still felt very warm. There's light-brown wood (I wish I was sophisticated enough to ID it) everywhere and low-lighting with columnar lamps dangling from the ceiling. Check out this photo gallery. This one is almost the view from where we sat; we were just to the left in the first booth on the wall.

Immediately, the service, is a change from what I'm used to (though this might be because I also don't make reservations or go to places that take them). Very friendly service with big smiles and professionally warm eye contact that makes you feel like you might be most important guest of the evening. Or at least that our inexperience in these situations wasn't offputting to them. We're invited to wait in the bar as they put final touches on our table.

We had scouted the menu ahead of time to make sure that as non-mammal eaters there'd be sufficient appealing choices, and seeing the price of drinks ($12 for 12-year-old single malt) was no surprise. Honestly, for a place like this that's not bad. I pay almost that much at some shows.

OK, the food. Right when we sit down we're served a basket of bread. There are slices of bread (seemed Frenchish in style) and then a dark brown roll, which honestly might be the best roll I've ever had. I wish I was Remy from Ratatouille who could ID flavors. I can't but it was amazing. So moist and tastey, almost with a hint of a sweet-esque pepperyness. It didn't need the butter, which was served hard-to-spread cold. Nevertheless, I feel like if the meal measures up to the roll (which I could sincerely describe with the word "best"), then we'd be in good shape.

When the server asks what we want he first recommends the $95 tasting menu. We pass, mainly because neither of us eat mammals and this menu is beefy and porky. Though that price is um, uh, yeah.

Amy orders the Local White Sea Bass and Pickled Chanterelles while I get the Diver Scallops and Vermouth Butter (each over $30). We also order a side of roasted baby carrots. We pass on the "first course" portion of the menu and hope that our Main Courses and side will be sufficient, besides dessert is a probable. We acknowledge that our inexperience with fine dining has rendered this decision a small gamble. The server was very friendly and knowledgeable when we had questions about the food on the menu, which was definitely not what I ever make.

Promptly after ordering the food, we're served an amuse bouche of salmon in a teriyaki jelly. (This was free.) From a few seasons of TC, we've learned that an amuse buche is a bite-size appetizer. OK, onto the food ... EXCELLENT. Fresh fish is the only way to go. And based on webiste research that's Craft's specialty. Simple, bold flavors made from fresh, local and seasonal ingredients.

Then came the meals. I am not just saying this to justify the expense, which ended up being $138 for two (before tip), this was the best food I've ever had at a restaurant.

The scallops were sooooo tender and not chewy at all. Damn you professional chefs who can manage that. The Vermouth Butter was soooo rich and tastey and yet didn't drown out the scallops at all. It was sooo good though that I used it to dip my amazing roll in as well.

Amy's sea bass was also excellent. Flaky, fresh.

One thing about fine dining, the portions are right-sized, not TGIFriday's mega-sized or Olive Garden bottomless. But right-sized based on multiple courses. So in our case it was great that we ordered the Baby Carrots, because we got like 16 finger-sized carrots. They were also amazing. And I am not even a huge fan of cooked carrots. But these had a zesty seasoning that ended up complimenting everything.

Now if you eat your food slowly (at what is honestly a more healthy pace) then the portion is fine if you're also splitting a side. After the amazing scallops (there were three) and some bread and half the carrots, I was very satiated and also craving dessert. By the way, I went a whole restaurant meal without eating cheese, which is like a super rarity and a testament to how good the food was.

I ordered the Blueberry Rhubarb Cobbler with Blueberry Gelato. Amy ordered the Smoked Chocolate Cherry Gelato. Before our desserts came another surprise. We each got a shot-glass-sized three layer mini-dessert of ice cream. I have to be honest, the psychology of tiny freebies does sooo much to take one's mind off of the price. Like everything else so far, amazingness in my mouth.

The official desserts come and more wowness. The cobbler, btw, is as big as Amy's sea bass. The rhubarb was soooo fresh and a great balance with the supersweet and juicey blueberries. The cobbler was delicate but had a good enough structural integrity to make eating it very easy.

After the end of the meal, which took a few hours (in a good way that was casually paced, not rushed by the staff and allowed for lots of conversation), we got one last freebie. These weren't so great. They were coin-sized cookies that were too dry. :(

But overall, wow. Seriously, the best meal I've ever had in a restaurant. With the high prices, I can't afford this more than a couple times a year, but I wish that I could. I think the food is good enough that I wouldn't take it for granted. If this is adulthood, sign me up.

Bonus: We had reservations for 8:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night. I think the midweek thing worked well, because we were about 15 minutes late and it wasn't a thing. And they do online booking through

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Sometimes a blog is just about stealing's Bill Simmons loves "unintentional comedy." As a writer he also loves the escalation device as in: "There's comedy, then there's high comedy, then there's transcendental comedy, then there's INSERT SPECIFIC THING HERE."

Well this blog post is inserting a specific thing here (1:08 of this clip). And it's also embedding a clip from YouTube that was posted and written about on, which recently turned 4.

Without further ado ...