Archive for February, 2009

Top 10 Beers

February 27, 2009

A recent post by the yellow dog (ah, do we capitalize or not? the topoi of formal names vs. persona, Dylan vs. dylan, Thomas vs. tom, but I guess I’m free-associating now, hmmmm) made an off-hand comment about the metaphorical top ten list of beer.  I am pretty diligent about posting my beer tasting on Rate (recent pleasurable find: Alameda Black Bear Stout), but like the yellow dog I don’t know how my ratings hold up in the long run. I taste, I note, I comment, I rate, and then I drink some more, go searching for more, the pleasure of finding the new beer. I’m not sure the notes are more than having noted that I tasted the beer. But what about that metaphorical top ten?  What would it be? Would it be the BEST beer? Would it be the beer we most want in a given situation?  Would it be a ratio between quality and price (which incidentally is one place I draw the line for that vague “overall quality” category on rate beer: is it worth the price? I mean I had a great experience with Rogue Brewery’s Imperial IPA, a fabulous beer that was the nightcap to a great trip to the west coast, but when I saw the price of it per bottle, it didn’t seem so great. Context, I suppose, is everything). So, knowing that such a list will change probably by the time I finish the list in the first place, here is my current top ten. Do remember, I’m not claiming these are the best, but the ones I most want to drink at the moment:

10. Summit Pale Ale.  OK, I’ve written about this before. I acknowledge it’s not the most outrageous beer.  But it is an incredibly well-balanced beer and this one gets the nod for sentimentality as well as quality–it’s the combination, a very good beer that also serves my memory well. I can pretty much drink it any time and be happy.  What else do you really want from a beer?

9. Bell’s Hopslam. My tastes start to show through here: incredibly rich, luscious hops that just can’t be beat here. It’s not available all year (and not at all here in Iowa) so drink it while and where you can.

8. Surly Furious. Yes, I’m new to the Surly bandwagon, but I’m hooked. This, too, I have to travel to find, but fortunately Minnesota is one of those places I love to travel (or that friends will bring me beer from–thanks to the Koeods for the beer extravaganza in Austin, MN–and the Spam museum–but that’s another story). Like Hopslam, this is all about the hops. Yummmm…..

7. Lagunitas IPA/Maximus. Both of these are great versions of what has become one of my favorite breweries. I suppose I’m repeating myself, but can you say hops? If not, this probably isn’t the list for you.

6. North Coast Brother Thelonius. A west coast Abbey style ale that I find really well balanced and rich and creamy and tasty and I want another one as I’m typing this.

5. Saint Bernardus Abt 12. I know there is an immense number of great Belgian beers, all with a unique flavor and yeastiness, but this one really hits the spot on almost any occasion.  I vote for this one for its sheer versatility as well as its quality.  A great, great beer.

4. Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA. Yes, there are a number of amazing dogfish head beers. But for my general drinking days, I’ll go with the 60 minute. It’s everything I want in a beer, really.

3. Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye. I suppose any beer with hop in the name is bound to appeal to me. But add that tang of rye in there and it’s something special.

2. Stone Arrogant Bastard. An incredibly dense and layered and complex strong ale. “You are not worthy” the label says, but I am, I am, I am. Pour me another you bastard.

1. Pliny the Elder. Double IPA. Nothing like it. It’s all things beer that I love. It is the best.  Sure, my list may well change tomorrow, but I’m not sure this one will.

My honorable mention list would just go on and on. I start listing beers and all I can really think is all the fine beers that won’t make the list. How can I? How can I? Oh, but such is the nature of the list.Yes, such lists are ridiculous in the end. Argue with me and disagree, in the end, the point, as with my many musical lists on this blog, is to keep searching out the good stuff and enjoying. Here is to the hop!


Veggie Gumbo

February 25, 2009

In honor of Mardi Gras, I thought I’d give any veggie lovers out there my recipe for gumbo. Yes, I know all you meat lovers out there will scoff and say this goes against the very grain of gumbo, but I’ll stand strong on this one and say it’s worth a try.

First, we need a stock:
1 onion rough chopped
2-3 carrots r.c.
several slices of celery r.c
a head of garlic r.c.
1 green pepper r.c.
1-2 jalapeno r.c.
put all the veggies in a hot pan with peanut and/or sesame oil and brown them well. Add water and salt and let simmer for as long as you want.

Then, we need a roux:
3/4 c. vegetable oil
3/4 c. flour
stir the flour and salt into the vegetable oil and keep on low heat for at least 15 minutes. This step is crucial. Watch your roux and stir pretty consistently. You want to let it get to the copper color of a penny (or darker, but don’t burn it). The deep roasted flavors of a slow cooked roux are essential.

Now, we need our veggies. Dice the following:
1 large yellow onion
2 green peppers
6-8 stalks of celery, with leaves
1-2 jalapenos (dice these small, and go ahead and keep the seeds)
When your roux is ready, add these to the mix along with a bit of thyme, some cayenne pepper, and a few bay leaves.  The mix will be really thick, so stir constantly for a few minutes.
Add two cans of diced tomatoes. (I’ve also added a dark beer at this point to good effect).
Then add the stock (you should end up with 7-8 cups of stock).
Bring to a boil, then lower the temperature and let simmer for 1-2 hours.

Next, we need some okra:
Of course, fresh is best, but frozen will work as well (I say now that I live in Iowa rather than when I learned to make this in Florida).
Fresh or frozen, slice your okra into medium thick slices.
Saute the okra in some peanut oil until it turns slightly brown and crisp (if it’s frozen, in particular, it will be kind of slimy but the sauteing will get rid of that).
Add the okra to the pot.

Now, we need some meat for the mix:
One box of Boca Italian Sausage (4 sausages). Cube the sausage into good-sized cubes, then brown in veggie or peanut oil.
One bag of Quorn “chicken tenders” (these are surprisingly good). Saute these as well until they are browned.
Add the sausage and quorn to the pot.  When you get to this stage, you can turn the pot off and let it steep.

It’s also important to listen to the right music while you cook.  I recommend the following:
Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, “Bon Reve”
Clifton Chenier, “Bogalusa Boogie”
Neville Brothers, “Yellow Moon”
Earl King, “Street Parade” (but, of course)
Rebirth Brass Band, “Kickin’ it Live”
Preservation Hall, “Shake that Thing”
Beausoleil, “La Amour ou la Folie”
Boozoo Chavis, “Johnny Billy Goat”
Dirty Dozen Brass Band, “Funeral for a Friend”
James Booker, “Junco Partner”
of course Dr. John’s “Gumbo”
and one of my all-time favorites, Kid Simmons and the International All Stars, “Live at the Louisiana Music Factory”
I could go on on this front, but that’s plenty of good listening to get through a pot of gumbo.

For eating, cook some basmati rice with garlic and salt.  Right before serving, add some Gumbo File to your gumbo and serve. Add generous doses of Louisiana hot sauce (certainly any hot sauce works, but for this dish I find the pretty vinegary ones like Louisiana style are best).  Enjoy steaming hot!

And finally, you need a good dark beer. I do like to drink a bit of Abita while I cook (frankly, I think it’s an underrated beer.  Sure, it’s not the greatest beer, but it does the job and fits the ambience just right). But when I get to eating this, I want something thick. Tonight, I had an Alameda Black Bear stout that really hit the spot. But anything thick and dark with plenty of roasted flavors (like your roux) will work really well.

And most of all, remember: laissez les bon temps roules!

Scott Russell Sanders

February 23, 2009

Since I’ve been at Cornell, I’ve hosted quite a range of visiting writers. On the whole, these have proven to be wonderful events and I’ve managed through the program to meet some great writers. Last week’s visit by Scott Russell Sanders, though, really was one of the best events we’ve had.

In my introduction to Scott, I told the following story: about 10 years ago I was in a program at the Loft in Minneapolis called the Loft Mentor Series.  Each of us in the program had the opportunity to work with four nationally known writers over the course of the year. We also worked during the year with a local writer who offered continuity to the program.  That year, the local mentor was Barrie Jean Borich.  At the time, I was trying to figure out what it meant for me to be a writer, what it was I thought that writing should do.  In that context, Barrie said to me, “You really should read Scott Russell Sanders’ work.” She gave me a few essays and I was hooked.  The honesty, the generosity of spirit, and the clarity of vision in his work was incredibly important for me and has shaped what I think writing can do.

Hearing him read last week (and getting to talk with him when he visited an Environmental Studies course I am currently team-teaching) confirmed everything I already believed about him. His is an essential voice in contemporary America, and his voice and vision are as clear as they have ever been. Sanders’ nineteen books include novels (Bad Man Ballad, Terrarium) and collections of short stories (Wilderness Plots, Fetching the Dead), and most importantly, literary nonfiction (The Paradise of Bombs, Hunting for Hope, Staying Put, Writing from the Center). The most recent of his books, A Private History of Awe, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. I had not yet read Awe, but I have just started. He also read from his forthcoming book, A Conservationist’s Manifesto, and I’m really looking forward to spending some time with it. So, I guess I’ll just put in a plug here: if you don’t know Scott’s work, you should. Read it now. You can also learn more about him at his website here.

scottrussellsandersphoto by Robert Scheer

RIP Snooks

February 21, 2009

Mardi Gras will not be the same this year, as the world lost one of the great New Orleans musicians this week.  Snooks Eaglin died of a heart attack on Wed. Feb. 18 after a long battle with prostate cancer.

Born January 21, 1936 in New Orleans as Fird Eaglin, Jr., Snooks is generally regarded as one of New Orleans finest guitarists, playing a wide range of styles including blues, rock, jazz, country, and latin.  His wide repertoire earned him the nickname “the human  jukebox.” At live shows, he would not prepare set lists, and the shows were totally unpredictable, often to his bandmates as well.

He played with musicians such as Allen Toussaint, James Booker, Ellis Marsalis, Dave Bartholomew, the Wild Magnolias, and Earl King. There will, no doubt, be a great second line funeral in New Orleans.

For listening tribute, I recommend 1959’s “New Orleans Street Singer.”  I’d also recommend Lolly Obeda’s “Sugar Shop” on KFAI from  Feb. 20 which includes a wide-ranging tribute to Snooks.  It will  be available here for the next two weeks.


RIP Snooks

It’s Carnival Time

February 14, 2009

It’s been a long, long couple of weeks, but last night was a good way to let it all unwind. MB and I went to the beneffit show for the Englert Theater in Iowa City with Dr. John and the Neville Brothers. Some amazing funk, jazz, soul, r&b etc. It was a cold, snowy night (two hours to get the 30 miles down to Iowa City for us) but it was all steamy New Orleans inside.  Dr. John was his typical voodoo self. The Nevilles were lacking Art and no horns, but they were on fire. A special night indeed with a bit of Mardi Gras in the icy reaches of Iowa. Time for me to cook up a big batch of my gumbo (I know, I know, that you scoff at a vegetarian dish, anathema to the very spirit of gumbo you say, but I reject your spite until you taste my gumbo…).  Last night was just what the dr. (John or otherwise) ordered to dance away some stress.

Reliving the Floods

February 9, 2009

We went to see the photo exhibit of the 2008 Iowa floods in the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.  The photos were in the Gazette, so I’d seen most of them, but it was pretty impressive to see them in large scale en masse.  Brought back a lot of emotions from the time and was a good reminder of how far this town still has to go to recover. Gov. Chet Culver has been praised for his fast and decisive actions, and I just don’t get it. This is the guy that absolutely refused to call a special session of the legislature and so now in session we’re still waffling with funding issues. With the national economic crisis it only gets worse. Sorry folks, my sense is that the Iowa government has done fairly close to nothing to make sure that recovery money is getting to the folks who need it.  And some of the overhead shots in the photo display really are good reminders of just how much of this town was affected.  Miles and miles of submerged housing and businesses.  Many of the shots are still on the gazette site.  It’s not like seeing them in wall-sized displays, but still a good reminder.  Try here or here.

In Honor of Darwin

February 6, 2009

So, yes, we’ve all heard it repeatedly: the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin is coming up. It’s all been said and repeated and repeated again, so I won’t post about the importance of Darwin on contemporary science. Instead, I’ll let the genius of Nick Park say it all:

All the speakers here are actually people on the street answering questions about evolution.  Brilliant!