11/30/2010

Facing Outsourcing

The idea of outsourcing has never been one I've necessarily agreed with, but then again many, many successful companies do it and don't seem to have too many issues. Apparently mine is about to take that step. We were told a couple weeks ago outsourcing some of our jobs overseas was going to happen and December 1st, I heard through the grapevine, is when we find out who is getting replaced. The rumor is as much as a 25% reduction in headcount could happen in my group/department/division.

And no, I'm not going to say what the company is. I don't even intend on saying what the field is. That's not important.

Outsourced Movie Poster, 2007, courtesy of the Outsourced blog. If you haven't seen the movie, I highly recommend it.

The reality is outsourcing does make a company more productive. If you owned a business and found out you could have two talented and productive people for the price of one, wouldn't you go down that route too? It's hard to argue with that.

Of course, raising the topic of outsourcing is bound to spark debate. Words tinged with flame like "moral" and "ethical" usually come out, insinuating a company has a moral obligation to keep the jobs at home. I don't believe that - companies are free to make their own legal decisions. I don't have to agree with it, but the reality is a public company has only its shareholders to answer to, and the announcement of outsourcing means costs are going down, shareholders will be happy, and share price will go up.

To me it's not a moral issue. Companies, apart from obeying the rules of the nation-state in which they operate, don't have to be beholden to keeping jobs there. I know others disagree with that point, and that's fine.

Maybe if my job disappears I'll feel differently. Then again, maybe I'll be happier person and will dedicate myself fully to becoming a best-selling novelist. Oh, and finding another job in the meantime. I guess. If I have to, to keep things like food and shelter, silly items like that.

I don't think so though. Corporations have different goals than the governments of nation-states. Governments can do nothing about keeping the jobs at home - no matter what they say during a campaign. The only way the jobs stay home is by giving corporate tax breaks to make it cheaper, and most people aren't fans of that either.

So the jobs will go, and us here at home (by home I'm referring to my home, the United States) will be forced to adapt or fall behind. That's the way of the world, the way it always has been.
The Outsourced TV series, which really wasn't very funny at all and a huge disappointment.

Some of this is funny to me. My University of Oregon education tried to teach me things like this are bad, that outsourcing jobs will actually hurt the locales to which they move. One example, inevitably, was always Nike. Nike puts a production facility (let's put all issues of possible child labor aside, because that's going down another path not directly relevant to this conversation) somewhere and they pay better than average wages. Critics say this only introduces inflation into a community, driving up prices by introducing more money into the market. They are right. What they didn't say in my UO class is this inevitably finds a new balance and most of the time - not always, it's not perfect, nor does it claim to be - the overall prosperity level of the locale is raised.

This is what's happening in places like India. They have a very talented, very intelligent ocean of workers to choose from, and they cost half the price of one American. A few years ago that cost was a third. What am I getting at? The point is India, which is currently seen by many as a threat to American jobs, won't be one for much longer. At some point in the not-too-distant future the two workers - one in India, one in the U.S. - will cost roughly the same.

No matter what anyone tries to say, we are inevitably heading towards a flattening of the entire world job market, one in which Americans will compete equally with workers from around the world. And it will work. It's not just theory anymore, it's happening.

I can say all this knowing full well I could end up being on the outside looking in, at least in this particular instance.

And honestly? I think I'm okay with that. I understand it, I get it. I may not like it if it's my job, but I still get it.

It just sucks to have to think about now, during the worst job market of my lifetime, but such is life. There is never a good time for it, just some that are better than others. This isn't one of those times. But I'm resilient. I'll deal with it if I have to.

I'll just have to get writing on that first blockbuster.

11/29/2010

My Dog Loves Persimmons

I'll be real honest, I've never eaten a persimmon. I know what they are because I see them in the grocery store next to a sign that says "Persimmons - $2.99/lb!"

Image found at SkilletChronicles

But while I barely recognize them, apparently Misaki has quite the affection for them.

We don't have a persimmon tree, but someone in our neighborhood does and it seems that the local squirrels have taken to dragging these persimmons into the upper branches in our yard, digging out the seeds, and then tossing them to the ground. (This is where I should note these are not native to northern Oregon.) Misaki then, when she goes out to the backyard to do what dogs need to do outside, finds these half-chewed persimmons and proceeds to chow down on them with reckless abandon.

Seriously?

The first time it happened was a few weeks ago. I was outside with her and she suddenly stopped from zooming around the yard, focused on something in the bed of pine needles that layers half the backyard. I watched her as she sniffed, then gently nosed, then appeared to be chewing. I told her to leave it, thinking it was a dead animal or something.

Misaki, well-trained Shiba that she is, completely ignored me. Nom nom nom nom nom. Whose in charge anyhow? I should know better by now.

So I go over to her and she continues to completely ignore me. I had to reach down and grab whatever it was - I still hadn't gotten a good look at this point - out of her mouth. I mean, I didn't want her getting sick or anything, right? So I grab this thing and at first I thought it was a tomato. It being a few days after Halloween I thought some punk kids had thrown it into the backyard. Then I realized it was orange.

A persimmon? Really? Who throws persimmons into yards?

So I tossed the thing into the corner of the yard, and Misaki promptly bounded after it. Silly Dad, like that's going to fool her. I'm not a lab, she tells me.

Fine, so I picked it up and threw it away. I had no idea where it came from, but figured that would be the last of it.

Two days later she finds another half-eaten persimmon. And proceeds to almost finish it before I realize what she's doing. Since then we've tossed three or four of the things and still they keep showing up, all half eaten and in an area where squirrels likely dropped them from the trees.

I almost feel bad taking these things away from her, because she obviously loves them so much. I keep walking by them in the produce section at Whole Foods and think I should buy her one, just to see if she really likes to eat persimmons or it's simply the joy of finding something edible in the yard she loves.

Of course, this is the same dog we refer to as "our little goat" because at least once a day she asks to go outside and all she does is nibble on grass in the yard. Actually, check that - Misaki doesn't nibble. She grazes. At first we worried she would throw up after that since that's what Ruby always did, but apparently there is something missing in her diet grass covers. Or she just likes to eat grass. Either way, it apparently doesn't make her sick, so I guess I'm fine with it.

Misaki having a nice dinner salad. As you can see, there is plenty.

We joke she eats healthier than we do with the fruit and salad she finds in the yard. Hmm, maybe we shouldn't find that funny.

I still think it's crazy persimmons, a non-native fruit, keep showing up in my yard. It's even crazier my Shiba, who lived most of her life in Bend before moving to the Portland area this year, has decided persimmons are something yummy.

Then again, she was born in Japan - Kumamoto on the island of Kyushu - so maybe that's where she acquired a taste for them? Maybe these are a taste of her childhood and a long-dormant favorite flavor has been awakened in her palette, reminding her of her birth mother and blood brothers and sisters.

Crap, now I feel a little guilty. Time to go buy her a fresh persimmon. Anyone know how to choose one?

---

Anyone else have a dog with odd tastes?

11/25/2010

Pac-10 Week 13: Checking Probabilities

Last week's games went well, at least according to my picks. While a few people mentioned to me being surprised I still chose Oregon State over SC, the Beavers came out ready to play, as if their season was on the line. That's good, because it was. Last week's 3-0 pushed me to 51-16 on the season (.761).

Now with two games left in the season, it's time to talk about bowls. The Pac-10 has ties to six bowl games, in descending order of conference finish:

Rose Bowl
Alamo Bowl
Holiday Bowl
Sun Bowl
Las Vegas Bowl
Fight Hunger Bowl (seriously)

Teams need six wins to be bowl-eligible. If the Pac-10 doesn't have six teams with six wins, they lose the berths. As of today, the league has only three teams bowl-eligible: Oregon, Stanford, and Arizona. USC has seven wins, but has NCAA sanctions not allowing them to go to a bowl game this season or next.

With two games left (for most), Cal, Oregon State, Washington, and UCLA each have a shot at a bowl bid. Washington State and Arizona State have been eliminated.

Cal and Washington play this week. If Washington wins, Cal's season is over. If Cal wins, the Huskies will not be able to get to six wins, so this is basically an elimination game. If Washington wins, they have to then beat Washington State in the Apple Cup to secure a bowl bid.

Oregon State must win either at Stanford this weekend or next week at home against Oregon to make it to a bowl game. Ouch, considering those teams are ranked 6th and 1st respectively in the BCS.

UCLA must win this week at Arizona State and then beat USC at home to become bowl eligible.

So how will all of this break down? We could know by Saturday evening. If Washington, UCLA, and Oregon State all lose this week - see below - that's it. It will take an upset by any of those teams to make this a little more interesting.

How do I think it breaks down? I see Cal winning and the rest of them losing this week. That means the Pac-10 will lose at least two bowl berths this year. Why at least? If Oregon makes it to the national title game, that's another one. Even if Stanford gets chosen for the Rose Bowl (no guarantees there), it would mean three Pac-10 bowl bids will be filled by another conference's team.

The conference put a lot of work into justifying six bowl bids...and in it's first year it won't fill them all. Oops.

THE TIERS

Tier 1: Oregon

Tier 2: Stanford

Tier 3: Arizona, Cal, USC, Oregon State

Tier 4: Washington, UCLA, Washington State, Arizona State

Stanford has been dominant this year and after the way they beat Zona last week they've proven they are better than just about everyone else. Oregon State, while losers to three of the teams in the last tier, has also beat the other three on the tier they are on. Can anyone explain that? I sure can't.

WEEK 13 SCHEDULE

On to this week's schedule - two games on Friday this week. As always, all game times are Pacific time, followed by the network and the pick. Also, the network and whether or not it's on TV is for Portland - some games may be televised regionally, so if you live in a home market, check your local listings. Rankings are in parentheses (AP, USA Today).

FRIDAY

12:30pm - UCLA at Arizona State, Fox Sports Northwest - ARIZONA STATE
4pm - Arizona (20, 20) at Oregon (1, 1), ESPN - OREGON

SATURDAY

12:30pm - Washington at California, Fox Sports Northwest - CALIFORNIA
4:30pm - Oregon State (37t, NR) at Stanford (7, 8), Versus - STANFORD
5pm - Notre Dame at USC (29, *), ABC - USC

* USC is not eligible for the USA Today Coaches Poll because of NCAA sanctions.

Washington State is off this week.

I'd love to pick the Beavers this week after how they thoroughly dominated SC, but the Cardinal are playing on another level.

UNDEFEATED WATCH

In the race for the national championship game berth Auburn, TCU, and Boise State remain undefeated.

Auburn faces a serious test by visiting Alabama in the 2010 edition of the Iron Bowl. Ranked 11th, the Crimson Tide would love to knock their rival out of the BCS title game - and possibly out of a BCS game altogether. This game will be Friday at 11:30am on CBS and should be quite good. I'm giving Bama the edge by virtue of playing at home.

Boise State faces their final test of the season (not final game, just final test) with a visit to Nevada. Remember them, the team who decimated the Cal Bears earlier in the year? This game will be at 7:30pm on Friday on ESPN. It should be entertaining, but the Broncos should win.

TCU visits New Mexico at 1pm on Versus on Saturday. Yes, the same New Mexico Oregon hung 72 points on in their opener. It's a safe bet TCU wins.

If Auburn does lose, will Boise State step into the #2 spot in the BCS? Or TCU? Or will something truly wacky happen?

MISAKI

Our little pups was quite happy with Oregon State's performance last week. And while I'm not holding my breath for a Beaver win in Palo Alto this Saturday, she is very confident.


Should be a good one!

11/24/2010

Giving Thanks 2010

It's that time of year, so I figured I should do my part and offer thanks to all those who deserve it.

First and foremost, to my wife, for not only being understanding of long work hours but also encouraging me to then spend more time writing, both here on the blog and creatively via the class I'm taking. She truly is perfect for me - I'm a lucky guy.

To Ruby, whom we lost in the spring after her short battle with cancer. I'm thankful for those seven and a half years we had together, even if it wasn't long enough.

To our vet, who was fantastic in helping us through a very rough time and making this as smooth as possible.

To our new pup, Misaki, who came into our life at just the right time and brought just the right amount of perfection.

To Sanshou Shibas, who raised a very polite, very well mannered, and a relatively well trained Shiba for us to love in her retirement from the show ring.

To my coworkers at the day job, so I don't have to go through all of that by myself.

To the community of Shibas and their owned people I've discovered via blogs and Twitter. Misaki may be perfect, but it's still fun to "commiserate" about the fun stuff.

To the community of writers I've found in the same place. These writers, published, non-published, struggling, and just starting out, inspire me to keep chasing the dream as well.

To the "interesting" people I come across and deal with in the course of daily life, so I have something to suddenly write about when I think the well is dry for the day.

To the fantastic network of chefs and cooks throughout the city of Portland, who make fantastic food to make our day.

To all the farmers who toil to bring products to the local farmer's markets, which I enjoy like I used to enjoy a trip to Toys R Us when I was little.

To all the vendors and companies I thanked in 2009 - ditto for 2010.

To each and everyone one of the people mentioned here, and all those I probably missed, thank you again for all that you do. Know it's not forgotten.

11/23/2010

Little Hoodlums

Sometimes I think our cats will forever act like teenage kids. They rough house like frat boys, chase each like it's the most natural thing in the world, do things that make us think they are using hallucinogens, and play pranks on each other.

Sometimes they play pranks on us. These are not funny.

Invariably they happen in the middle of the night and wake us up, which is so not funny when we don't get enough sleep as it is.

The other night, about 2am, they decided it would be funny to just bang on the bedroom door for literally no reason whatsoever. Their food bowl had been filled right before bed and their litter box was freshly scooped, so there was no reason to get our attention.

Moochie: What should we do to Mom and Dad tonight?

No one was breaking in. The house was not on fire. There was no gas leak. No thunder and lightning was happening to scare them.

Nope, these little devils, specifically brother and sister hoodlum duo Moochie and Sera, decided to pull the cat equivalent of ringing the doorbell and running away or calling a home and hanging up without saying anything. How did they do that?

Our secret plan, not yours.

Let's set the scene. As a reminder, it's 2am. Also, the door to the bedroom is closed because if it's open the dog can't relax and sleep. Plus, the cats would be on the bed, likely on Wifey's side, and they make the bed very warm - so to allow everyone happy sleep they get the run of the house at night.

Two cats move to the outside of the bedroom door. If one were awake they would hear them whispering to each other, likely encouraging one to make a move. I know this is Moochie and Sera because Sera is the brains in the pride and Moochie will do anything anyone tells him (well, except Wifey and I). Plus, claws are required for this, so Lilo can't be of service - and she wouldn't mastermind something like this.

Sera tells Moochie to do it.

A spotted paw reaches under the bedroom door, upside down so when the claws extend the grip the door rather than the carpet. There is plenty of room to snake that paw under, because one day a long time ago Ruby was left in the room with the door closed and tore up the carpet and padding underneath. We haven't fixed it, yet.

No idea what Dad is talking about. We're sleeping.

The claws extend, gripping the door. Moochie pulls the door towards him. It stays latched - we haven't found a need to actually lock it yet, not until one of the cats grows thumbs - but there is enough space around the latch the door moves, banging against the doorjamb. One shake, two shakes...repeated shakes.

Wifey jerks awake. I, apparently, am too tired to wake up. Likely my REM sleep was disturbed on some level, but not enough to find consciousness.

The banging lasts only a few seconds, but it's more than enough.

Still sleeping...

Sera says something, quietly, and Moochie stops. Then the pair chatter, gradually louder. I can just imagine what they are saying.

"Do it again!"

"No, I don't want to get in trouble!"

"Why stop now?"

"We should run before they yell at us!"

"Pansy!"

Sound like two kids at a door ringing the doorbell, preparing to run? Sure does to me...not that I would know by experience or anything. As far as you know.

Then two sets of paws run away, claws digging into the carpet for traction. They can be heard galloping up the stairs, seemingly as heavy as a full-grown mountain lion.

Isn't this how it starts? Do I need to nip this little burst of nuisanceness in the bud? Are they headed down the wrong path? Next will they be tagging fences, dealing weed in the park after dark, and stealing cars? Should I be worried?

We're just cute. Nothing more than that. Move along.

I have my eye on these two...they are not to be trusted.

11/22/2010

A Strange Interview

This writing class I'm taking is all about finding one's inner creative voice, about not stifling that voice, and using that voice in a way to create good writing. Along the way we get seemingly silly assignments, meant to stimulate said creativity in any way they can.

This is good. It's good for me to allow myself a little silliness, to see where it takes me. This will - and, I think, already is - make me a better writer and help me further towards my goal of novel writing. Mayhaps it will also lead my dear faithful readers - all five of you - to enjoy this tiny corner of blogdom a little bit more.

Some of these bits of silly creativity I want to post because it's just fun. This past week's assignment was to have a dialogue with an object. Dialoguing is meant to be a brainstorming activity, a way to come with new angles by focusing on and asking questions of a single object. It's also similar to free-writing, but more of a back and forth than being completely random. The assignment could be any object, but preferably one that has a story to tell. Some people chose a picture, a treasured family heirloom, or even a pet. Me? I looked around my desk in my office and chose my water bottle.

Hey, it's a fixture in my life. I have this goal to drink a gallon of water a day, which I hit about half the time, and my water bottle is in my car, on my desk at work and at home, next to the couch when I watch TV - not even my cell phone stays with me this much. So I set down to hear the real story on the life and times of my Camelbak water bottle - this is that story:

---

Me: So where are you from anyway?

WB: Weatherford, Texas. You know that because you Googled it. You can find anything on the internet you know, no need to ask me.

Me: Where’s your drawl?

WB: I was born there and shipped out. Plus, I don’t exactly have parents to pass down a drawl.

Me: I suppose that makes sense.

WB: It should. It’s truth.

Me: Where did you go that day?

WB: What day?

Me: You remember. The day I lost you.

WB: Ah, the day you left me on the trunk of the car?

Me: Yeah, that one. Or at least, I thought I had.

WB: You did.

Me: What? I got to work the next day and you were on my desk.

WB: Yep. I walked back.

Me: From where?! Hey, wait a minute…you don’t have legs.

WB: I’m awesome like that.

Me: You’re avoiding the question.

WB: What was it again?

Me: Where you went.

WB: Fine. You carried me out to the car like you do every day. Set me down on the bumper while you tossed your bag in the back of the Escape, like you always do. Then went and sat behind the wheel, leaving me on the bumper on a day when it was breezy and rainy. That was rude.

Me: Sorry about that.

WB: You should be. And by the way, you drive like a freaking maniac.

Me: Excuse me?

WB: Do you even know how many yellow lights you typically run?

Me: OK, for one, you were on the bumper, so how would you know? And two…all of them.

WB: How do I know? Because as you fly through the intersection I can see the cross traffic starting to go. And I can see the light is red after we passed under.

Me: Hmm. Okay. I’ll give you that. What else though? I mean, none of this explains how you got back to my desk.

WB: Well, around 12th and Hawthorne you jerked hard to the left to avoid a drunk bicyclist. I slid along the bumper to one side, hit the edge where it curls up slightly, and popped out into traffic.

Me: That’s two miles from work.

WB: I’m not done.

Me: Sorry.

WB: So this guy picks me up from the gutter and tosses me in his cart. How I didn’t get run over by crazy fools at rush hour I have no idea.

Me: Some homeless guy?

WB: Not sure. Didn’t ask him. Sure was thirsty though – he really liked that water you fill me with at work, the spring water they truck in from miles and miles away.

Me: Well yay for him. And yay for work for not being FLOSSy with their water.

WB: FLOSSy?

Me: Fresh. Local. Organic. Seasonal. Sustainable.

WB: Yeah, not so local. Probably not sustainable either. Anyway, the guy meandered all over the east side, and then around midnight we crossed the Morrison Bridge.

Me: So, now you are on the right side of the river, but further from work.

WB: Well, we did turn north. And actually the guy pushed his cart all the way down First to right in front of the Randolph building.

Me: How convenient. But I know he couldn’t get in.

WB: No, but it was kind of awesome. The guy gets jacked by these two other homeless guys with a shank made out of a chicken bone. The jumped out of the bushes, flipped his cart, stabbed him with the bone, grabbed some stuff, and ran off. I ended up rolling down the sidewalk to the base of the stairs that lead up to the building.

Me: You have got to be kidding me… All this, AND he drank out of you?

WB: I did say that, yes.

Me: Still, how did you get into the building?

WB: A raccoon grabbed me and carried me up the stairs to the door and left me there. I think he got spooked by something, but didn’t see it.

Me: And then?

WB: You know Mark from accounting?

Me: Umm…vaguely.

WB: He recognized me! He picked me up on his way in that morning and put me on your desk.

Me: I mean, you are pretty dang cool, but there has to be other 32oz blue Camelbak water bottles. How did he know you were mine?

WB: I told him.

Me: You… Um, what?

WB: Yep.

Me: That’s not possible.

WB: Why not?

Me: You don’t have vocal cords. Or a mouth.

WB: This is true. But I did. Besides, I’m talking to you now aren’t I?

Me: I guess. And how are you doing that again?

WB: For me to know and you to permanently wonder about.

Me: So, I did leave you on my bumper, and not on my desk as I surmised when you were there the next day.

WB: Yep.

Me: And you ended up in the gutter, were drank from by a homeless man, carried around the city, ended up on the ground again after the fight, and were carried upstairs by a raccoon?

WB: That about covers it.

Me: Um. When was the last time you went through the dishwasher?

WB: Probably two months ago.

Me: This incident was six weeks ago.

WB: Quite astute you are.

Me: So after all that, I’ve been drinking a gallon out of you every day, thinking I just left you on the desk.

WB: Yes, you have.

Me: Why didn’t you say anything?

WB: No vocal cords, remember?

Me: I think I’m going to be sick. I might have to get tested for…stuff. I have no idea what, but this can’t be good.

WB: Hey, before you do…

Me: What?

WB: Can you toss me in the dishwasher? A little soapy hot water might be a good idea.

Me: You think?

---
 
What did you think? Plain silliness? Or helpful brainstorming tool? Ever done this before?
 
I did feel a little silly sitting down and starting this thing, but as it wore I got more and more immersed in the story that emerged. The teacher for my class suggested this would be a good method if you are in the middle of a story and get stuck, not sure what should happen next or maybe how it should happen. I can totally see that and may very well use it for that purpose.
 
For now, in this exercise, I just think it's a tad entertaining.

11/19/2010

Mooch Prefers "Exotic Model"

Here at the My NWX household we think our kids are pretty damn cute. Of course, we don't think that nearly as much as they do themselves.

And while Misaki, Sera, and Lilo all have their moments of being unabashedly proud of their prettiness, when it comes to outright fawning over themselves none of them hold a candle to Moochie. Not only is Mooch a classic narcissist, convinced the world is here to serve the purpose of providing him with hands to rub his body, but we're pretty sure he's the feline equivalent of a pin-up boy.

Check out these bedroom eyes.


We call Mooch our Big Pimp. He's always lounging around the house with a look on his face that says you know you want to love me, and even if you don't want to I'm so damn irresistible you can't stay away anyway. Basically, if he was human, you'd have to buy his photos in black plastic bags, and they'd be behind the counter at 7-11.


He doesn't care where he is either. Anyplace is ready for his soft luxuriousness.


If Moochie could, he'd be getting spots in rap videos like this one from Jigga himself - Jay-Z's Big Pimpin'.


Or maybe this one, Hypnotize by Notorious BIG.


On occasion Mooch can even share his spotlight with someone else. He seems to have taken a shining to Misaki, as much as she isn't that thrilled with him rubbing on her muzzle and yelling in her ear. Still, it's pretty damn cute when he cuddles up to her anyway.


They make quite a striking pair.


But it's not all fun and games for the self-proclaimed most beautiful being on the planet. Sometimes our little boy would rather be a diva than make love to the camera.


And sometimes, when he thinks the camera is off and allows himself some quiet time to sleep, the camera can snatch images his agent would never approve of showing on the internet. If Moochie ever really becomes a famous cat model, this is the kind of pic you'd see on TMZ.


Oops. I suppose we all have images like that in our past we want no one to see. Unfortunately Moochie is still a cat and therefore does not have thumbs, so he can't properly work the mouse to delete images off the hard drive. Doesn't mean he doesn't try - sometimes we catch him on the internet Googling himself. Or maybe he's looking up kitty porn. I just hope he can spell, because the last thing we need is cops at our home because Moochie can't spell "kitty" correctly and logs on to the wrong websites.


But in the end, it's hard to disagree with his self-assessment of pure cuteness. Would you look at that face? It's one that knows his cuteness level, it's confident, and those eyes - wow. Those eyes say you know you want to love him up.

Gotta go. Duty calls.

11/17/2010

Pac-10 Week 12: Can't Forget USC

Because of a Thursday night game this week, the preview comes early! I know, I know, everyone is so excited they don't know what to do with themselves.

Speaking of not knowing what to do with one's self, what the hell happened in Corvallis last Saturday? Hey, give Washington State credit, they played a very good game. Their defense did whatever it wanted, and in turn, Oregon State's defense let the Cougars do whatever they wanted - I suppose that's fair.

Still, seriously, Wazzu? That game and a nice win by the USC Trojans in Tucson gave me a 2-2 week, putting me 48-16 on the season.

With regards to the Trojans, something needs to be said. Yes, they are not bowl eligible because of NCAA sanctions, courtesy of Reggie Bush and others. But. Those games still count in the Pac-10 race. Those four wins they have in the conference are four wins other teams don't have. When the national media discusses the Pac-10 of late, it's always about how they aren't strong enough to fill all six of their bowl commitments.

I get it. It's true - 1-10 the Pac-10 isn't as strong as I thought it was. However, when factoring in the conferences strength USC has to be considered because they are playing games that count in the standings, they are still very talented, and they can beat anyone on any given Saturday. You can't look at the Pac-10 this season and say, oh, it's Oregon, Stanford, Zona, and maybe Cal. Yes, those likely will be the only teams going to a bowl game, but SC is in that mix too. In fact, they likely are still the third-best team in the conference and would do very well in a bowl.

Don't forget the Trojans, that's all I'm saying.

THE TIERS

Tier 1 - Oregon

Tier 2 - Stanford

Tier 3 - USC, Arizona, California

Tier 4 - Washington State, Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA, Washington

Yep, that's right, no more separate tier just for the Cougars after last week. I can see how some would be inclined to replace them with the Beavers, but those same Beavers still beat Arizona and Cal. At least, I think it's the same Beavers - same jerseys anyway.

Oregon, Stanford, and Arizona have clinched bowl berths. SC is ineligible. Cal can get in with a win over Stanford or Washington. Washington can still earn win with wins over Cal, Washington State, and UCLA. Oregon State can get in with two wins in three games with SC, Stanford, and Oregon. UCLA can get in with two wins in three games with Washington, Arizona State, and USC. It's still possible the Pac-10 has six bowl-eligible teams - just not very likely.

WEEK 12 SCHEDULE

On to this week's schedule. As always, all game times are Pacific time, followed by the network and the pick. Also, the network and whether or not it's on TV is for Portland - some games may be televised regionally, so if you live in a home market, check your local listings. Rankings are in parentheses (AP, USA Today). The BCS rankings will be ignored for now.

THURSDAY

5pm - UCLA at Washington, ESPN - WASHINGTON

SATURDAY

12:30pm - Stanford (7, 8) at California, Fox Sports Northwest - STANFORD
5pm - USC (20, *) at Oregon State, ABC - OREGON STATE

* USC is not eligible for the USA Today Coaches Poll because of NCAA sanctions.

To be honest, I could see any of these games going the other way. This is a must-win for Oregon State - if they can't get up for this one, I don't know what to say. Last week I would have said The Big Game would be a Stanford blow-out, until Cal almost upset Oregon.

Oregon, Washington State, Arizona, and Arizona State are off. Next week Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, and UCLA all play on Friday.

UNDEFEATED WATCH

Besides Oregon three other teams remain undefeated: Auburn, Boise State, and TCU.

Boise State hosts Fresno State on Friday at 6:30pm on ESPN2. They should win, but Fresno won't go away quietly.

Auburn and TCU are off.

MISAKI

Poor Misaki doesn't quite know what to say about her Beavers at the moment.


Get 'em this week puppy.

11/16/2010

Apparently I Look Like A Good Listener

People tell me things. A lot of times, if it's friends or family, I really don't mind. I'm a good listener, I can give or not give advice, depending on if the person really wants it or not, and I think it's probably one of my better traits.

However, there is apparently something about my face that invites just about everyone to tell me things, little bits of their lives I have zero interest in. It's all sorts of people, the kind one comes in contact with on a daily basis, be it the clerk at the grocery store, a waiter, the maintenance man fixing my window - they all seem to want to tell me things. I'm not going to speculate as to why they do this, it just seems to happen to me inordinately more than it happens to others.

And sometimes it just gets weird.

Take yesterday for instance. I stopped at a gas station on the way home from work. As the attendant came up to my car - remember, this is Oregon, where we are required by law to have a professional pump our gas (no jokes please, I have heard them all - and I agree) - I noticed there was no one else filling up. Oh boy. Gas stations for me have become one of those places where people like to talk to me. The following is not an exact transcript of what happened, but it's close.

Attendant: "What can I get for you?"

Me: "Fill with regular, thanks."

He swipes my card and starts the fill, handing me back my card.

Attendant: "Siiiggggghhhhh"

Oh boy.

Attendant: "Maaaannn. I am glad it's not busy today."

Oh no. He sounds like he and I are buddies kicking back over a couple of brews. Dude, I have never seen you before in my life. I know what's coming.

Attendant: "Yesterday, man. Wow. I had to work my usual 7-4 shift."

He looks at me. I nod, politely, with a smile. I'm kind of stuck, since I can't exactly go anywhere.

Attendant: "Then I went home and took a shower."

Dude, really?

Attendant: "Had to get to the mall. My wife got a seasonal job there, so I had to meet there you know."

How would I know that? Seriously?

Sera: You can stop talking now.

Attendant: "So she got done at 5:30 and then we had dinner at the food court."

Yum.

Attendant: "Then she had to go to her other seasonal job there, for training so they can be ready for the day after Thanksgiving." Shakes head. "Already, man. We didn't get out of there until after 11."

I nodded. Note that none of my responses here are in quotes. I didn't say a word because I didn't want to encourage him, yet this story has no end.

Attendant: "Then today my co-worker here had to go to the V.A. hospital for a colonoscopy, and his wife had to work, so guess who got nominated to drive him up there?"

Um, you? Do I win anything? And seriously? There's more?

Attendant: "So I drive him up there to the V.A. and it all goes well..."

Well that's good. I was worried.

Attendant: "...until we were coming down from the fourth floor and my buddy starts puking in the elevator."

Oh lord. Isn't my gas tank full yet?!

Attendant: "I mean, seriously. He hadn't been able to eat since Saturday, couldn't have sugar and caffeine since Friday, and then they give him two cups of applesauce and a muffin. That sugar just made him sick. So I grabbed one of those emergency bags and gave it to him, told him I wasn't cleaning up that mess in my car."

Misaki: Please make it stop!

Oh. My. Lord. Can someone shoot me? Or better yet, him?

Attendant: "But it was all okay, so that's good."

I smiled. I nodded.

THUNK!

Oh thank you lord - I'm not even religious - my gas tank is full! Please, please, print that damn receipt and let me go...

Attendant: "Here you go. Have a nice day."

Me, with strained smile: "You too, thanks."

And I got the hell out of there.

Seriously? These are the stories you tell to random strangers who can't possibly care? I mean, no one does, right? I'm not an aberration here? There isn't one person who pulled up to the gas station that day and was interested in his story, right? I seriously doubt I was the first person lucky enough to hear it, too.

This is one of those social situations that doesn't call for small talk. And if it does, please talk to me about the Blazers, Beavers, Ducks, or the weather - those are acceptable small talk topics. And usually those are the topics, because someone takes a cue from the shirt or hat I'm wearing, and I have forgotten I'm wearing it, and I'm completely confused why they are asking me something.

I guess not everyone has the same social rules, the same social bubble, as I do. Maybe I'm just aware that no one really gives a flying rat's ass about what I did yesterday (of course, except you dear blog readers!).

This actually reminds me of one of our cats, Moochie. He has zero understanding of personal space. Have you ever met a person like that? The ones who stand too close when it's not necessary, and not for a specific reason other than they just do? That's Moochie. He'll get in your face, sniff you, talk to you, even if you would really rather he just talk from a couple feet away, like a normal cat.

Moochie: What are you doing?!

Such is life, though, right? Takes all kinds to make this fleeting few years we enjoy interesting.

11/15/2010

Creative V. Critical

So I'm taking this writing class and one of the first lessons involves something called "free writing." The general idea is to just let your mind go, to not stop writing even if you don't have anything to say, to ignore grammar and structure, and just be creative. The thing is, I can't do that - I have to fix my spelling mistakes and form cohesive thoughts.

And that's a problem. Really. It sounds like it shouldn't be, but it kind of is. If I want to eventually write a novel I need to have the critical part of my brain allow the creative part to work some magic, without knowing what the result will be.

That's a big part of my - for the lack of a better term - block at the moment. I have ideas on pieces of this novel. I have a very vague idea of how the pieces will be intersected. However, the critical side wants more concrete pieces set down before it will allow the creative side to work. On the flip side, my creative side literally doesn't know the answers yet...so I'm at somewhat of an impasse.

I confess - I skipped the first completely open free writing exercise. I probably shouldn't, because that's where I need the help, but I've done this sort of thing before and the result has always been a useless mess. That's not discounting the exercise - that's just me feeling I could use a tiny bit of structure, just a little. Give me a topic to free write about, something with a modicum of specificity. Then I can make this work.

The second exercise did that. The topic was The Room Where You Write, and the assigment was to write two paragraphs about that, with notes to be honest, specific, and emotional. So I did, and here is the result - you tell me how I did.
The room where I write is on the upper floor of my home, up the stairs and down at the end of the hall. There is a cream-colored, aluminum baby gate on the entrance though we have no babies; instead, it’s to keep the distracting cats out and the dog in if that’s what we want. Inside the room are two doors, both painted the same bright white as the door form the hall and matching the trim. All of that was “natural” wood until a few years back when we decided the dull colors of our home needed some life. Then the natural went white and the white walls became a sage green, something much softer and welcoming. One door leads out to the attic, stocked with boxes of books, compact discs that have been turned into digital audio files, Christmas decorations, camping equipment we don’t use, and pretty much everything else we can’t find a better spot for. The other door leads to a closet where out-of-season jackets hang and my sports card collection waits for organization. There is one window in the room, sans covering, which lets in a fantastic amount of natural light during the day. Once the sun goes down this room is lit only by a single overhead light which isn’t nearly enough. Perhaps I should replace it with a brighter bulb, or go shopping for something else.


This room is not only where I write and surf the internet, where I organize pictures of our dog and cats, but also where my wife is currently studying for her own class, taking the steps to change her future much as I’d like to do. To that end we have two PCs sititng on a cheap, five-foot banquet table I bought 15 years ago at Office Depot before I went down to college at the University of Oregon. The “desk” is cluttered, filled with pieces of technology that don’t always get used. Two external hard drives, a networked hard drive we can both use to access digital images, the router from Verizon controlling out Internet and television access, an occasionally used heart rate monitor because my doctor thinks my blood pressure is too high (turns out, that’s only when I’m at a doctor’s office – go figure), an Oregon State coffee mug full of pens and a box knife because that makes sense, and cords going every which way to connect drives, mice, keyboards, monitors, and speakers curl around like kitten tails. Speakers, connected to my PC, also sit quietly with their sound turned off, so the only sounds in the room are the clicking of my keys and the soft whirring of the PCs. There is a greenish microsuede lounge chair in one corner of the room, one we spent a few hundred on at Dania that has been bequeathed to our queenly Shiba, Misaki, who lounges there some afternoons and evenings as we work. We placed a purple towel, quite garish in contrast, on the chair ostensibly to keep off the dog fur and protect the chair. Beside that chair is a rather modern glass and metal side table, much more modern than anything else in this room. I love the piece which is why we bought it, but where should it go? Another desk, a very old, handmade piece sits in one corner. It’s a light colored wood, built years ago by my wife’s grandfather, in what I call an antique style. Since I know nothing about woodworking, that’s the best I can do. There are drawers and rounded edges and it could use some finishing, plus it’s missing one leg. To hold it up we replaced that leg with an epic stack of World Book encyclopedias – who needs those when you have the internet? It’s quite the contrast to the side table, sitting just three feet away. A bookcase sits behind my seat, full of books one might think of as reference: travel books, dictionaries in various languages, coffee table books, and piles of magazines. The top of the bookcase has a couple manekineko figurines, lucky Japanese kitties, that I collect, with postcards from by brother-in-law’s trip to France and Spain and a picture of my wife and I from a tour of Safeco Field in Seattle. I couldn’t begin to say who took that picture a long time ago, but we are both smiling against the sun and it still turned out well. Next to the bookcase is a two-drawer metal file cabinet, also a flavor of green, but doesn’t really match the walls nor the chair in the opposite corner. An OSU Beavers mini helmet rests on top of that, my wife’s alma mater, with a stuffed Beaver.  Generally the walls of the room are bare, but there is a Sharper Image digital clock on one wall, with numbers big enough to read at the opposite end of the hallway. On another wall is a Chrisian Riese Lassen calendar we flip the months on because that’s what you do, not necessarily because we use it for anything specific. There is a corkboard, also, supposedly to keep track of things, but instead it has old schedules for the Seattle Mariners and Cincinnati Bengals, a couple of postcards from places someone else went, and a Message board with no messages. No one calls us. 
Talk about writing a ton of words - that was 1000 of them. That's a ton for two paragraphs - yet, I probably could have written more. I didn't mention the dog toys on the floor and a few other things. For me, specifically planning two paragraphs on a subject means two distinct thoughts, yet as a I wrote I came up with multiple thoughts, and so the second paragraph ended up being quite the grammatical mess.

But it doesn't matter - that's the point. Just let it flow, let it take you places. I don't think there are spelling mistakes, as there should be, because I fix things as I go. They say you shouldn't for this kind of exercise, but it's just how I always type, be it an article, a column, an email, or anything else.

So did I fail free writing? Am I not "letting go" enough? Possibly. However, I think it's a start, which is further than I was yesterday. And hey, that's worth something.

And just for fun, Misaki in front of her claimed chair - and the mentioned side table - rubbing her face on the floor! (No, we have no idea why she does that.)


Anyone out there ever done a free writing, stream of conciousness assignment before? Did it work for you? Did you find that it had value?

11/12/2010

Pac-10 Week 11: More Muddling

Without a doubt there is now some separation in the Pac-10, but not completely. It's fairly clear Oregon is the class of the conference this year. Stanford is looking like a clear #2. After them there is a bundle of five teams who can all beat each other on any given day. Of those five one of them (SC) is not eligible for a bowl and another (Arizona State) must win out to make a bowl game.

This is the reason it's so difficult to pick games in the Pac-10 this season. Last week I went just 3-2 to put me at 46-14 on the season.

Every week the picks seem to be clear. Take Oregon, take Stanford. Pick against Washington State (whose only remaining chance for a win is the Apple Cup, and only if Jake Locker is hurt). Other than that? Throw some darts.

Let's just move on.

THE TIERS

Tier 1 - Oregon

Tier 2 - Stanford

Tier 3 - Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA, USC

Tier 4 - Washington, California

Tier 75 - Washington State

Washington State has long been eliminated from bowl eligibility. ASU, with two of it's four wins coming against FCS schools, has to win seven to be bowl eligible instead of the normal six - probably not going to happen. UCLA has to win two of it's last three. Cal has to win just one, but has looked horrible since Kevin Riley's injury. Washington is one loss from being eliminated.

It's sad, really, in a conference this deep the Pac-10 may not have five bowl-eligible teams.

Oregon, Stanford, and Arizona are locks. Oregon State is likely. After that? Don't hold your breath. And that's why it will take a miracle for Stanford, even if they win out and finish 11-1, to earn a BCS berth.

SCHEDULE

On to this week's schedule. As always, all game times are Pacific time, followed by the network and the pick. Also, the network and whether or not it's on TV is for Portland - some games may be televised regionally, so if you live in a home market, check your local listings. Rankings are in parentheses (AP, USA Today). The BCS rankings will be ignored for now.

1pm - Washington State at Oregon State, Fox Sports Northwest - OREGON STATE
4:30pm - Stanford (7, 9) at Arizona State, No TV? - STANFORD
4:30pm - Oregon (1, 1) at California, Versus - OREGON
5pm - USC (26, *) at Arizona (18, 19), ABC - ARIZONA

* USC is not eligible for the USA Today Coaches Poll because of NCAA sanctions.
 
In my mind these are just about all no-brainers. The only one that might be up for some debate is the SC-Zona game, but the Trojans are just way, way too undisciplined and inconsistent for me to pick them on the road in Tucson.

UCLA and Washington are off this week. They play in a Thursday night game next week, so this column will appear on Wednesday next week.
 
UNDEFEATED WATCH

After last week only Oregon, Auburn, Boise State, and TCU remain undefeated. Oregon and Auburn control their national championship future. TCU now looks to be the team most likely to jump in if one of the top two loses - Boise State seems to lose voters and BCS respect every week.

Boise State plays at Idaho tonight at 6pm on ESPN2 - should be an easy win.

Auburn hosts Georgia at 12:30pm on CBS - they shouldn't have any problems.

TCU hosts San Diego State, a team getting some votes of late, at 1pm on Versus, but shouldn't have any problems either.

It's a safe bet there will be no change in the top four come Sunday.

MISAKI AND FRIENDS

It's been well-document in this space Misaki is a Beaver Believer. However, what about the other fuzzy kids? Well.

Take a close look at this picture. Click on it to make it larger, then click it again to maximize it in your browser. Look at Sera's left eye, the one to the right in the picture. Sure looks like an Oregon logo to me...and in green and yellow no less.


And check out Moochie - he seems to be sporting the "O" himself. Misaki does not look pleased about that.


As for Misaki herself, she finds it pretty comical anyone would think she would choose anyone but the Beavers. Especially against Wazzu.


Until next week...

11/11/2010

Dinner at Shigezo Izakaya

You know there is much love here on the blog for Japanese izakayas - just have to click back to our reviews on Syun, Yuzu, and Biwa (and Biwa again, and finally again) to see that.

So when a new one opened in the city you knew we were going to hit it up. Shigezo opened just a couple weeks ago in downtown Portland. It's a chain, actually, but this is the first location for them on the U.S. mainland; there is one in Honolulu and over 60 locations in Japan.


We walked in on a Friday night with no reservations - actually not sure if they take reservations - and were given a booth right away. It was busy, but there were still a few other tables.

You actually have a few different seating options. There is a bar area, with stools; there are regular American restaurant-style booths; there are tatami rooms with floor seating around a table; and then there is where we sat. It was a booth, but we were sitting on the floor of the booth, which was a step up from the restaurant floor. You must take off your shoes, to get in the booth, and Shigezo provides some slippers in case you need to run to the bathroom (which, I have to say, is damn tiny). Inside the booth there is a microfiber covered beanbag-type chair. It takes a little maneuvering to get comfy enough so you don't think you will fall over, but it's okay. Personally I prefer a chair with a back. The booths have backs, but if you lean back you probably can't reach the table. Well, at least, I wouldn't be able to.

So what to order? Wifey and I came for ramen for sure, which we heard was supposed to be very good, but decided to start off with a stick of grilled ribeye.


I'm not sure the picture does it justice - this was fantastic. It was topped with a daikon mixture that perfectly complemented the nicely cooked beef. At $6.95 for the one stick it wasn't cheap, but it was melt-in-your-mouth goodness.

The next item we ordered was the tonkatsu tonkotsu ramen. (Just an aside, but they spell it "tonkotsu" on the menu and so of course the American servers who don't know Japanese pronounce it that way. Why do they spell it wrong? Is there a reason? Is this really something different and not tonkatsu, like everywhere else in the world writes it? Drives me insane.) (See comments below for perfectly reasonable explanation. Lesson, as always, I'm an idiot.) This comes in two sizes and we opted for the small because we ordered other items as well.

Well. Apparently this is small. It was more than enough for two people to split. Heck, if you aren't very hungry two people could split a small and likely be satisfied. As you can see in the picture the meaty broth - which was pure salty porky goodness - was topped with green onions, kikurage mushrooms, and a generous piece of pork. I'd go back just for this, it was that good.


Shigezo also provides smaller bowls so the big dish can be shared. Here's a look at a small amount I dished out for Wifey.


The noodles, which I believe they make themselves, were very good. Solid, but not overly so, and not so weak they are overpowered by the other flavors. Every item in the bowl brought a distinct flavor and was only enhanced by the broth.
The next item was okonomiyaki, which came stuffed with a little squid and pork. I also swear ours had some octopus tidbits in it, though the menu doesn't cop to that. Just look at the presentation here - don't you want to dive right in?


I'll admit to being a bit of an okonomiyaki snob. We make it at home kind of often and we ate some in Hiroshima during our trip to Japan - and this was pretty dang good. Ideally for me it comes with some noodles and an over easy fried egg (one of many traditional styles, that's just MY favorite - this is another), but that wasn't an option. The squid/octopus pieces were a tad chewy, but not any more and actually perhaps less than I'm used to. Solid flavors, but would have liked just a tad more crunch on the "pancake."

Our final dish was gyoza. Shigezo, apparently, doesn't adhere to tradition when it comes to gyoza. Typically this Japanese pot stickers are made from a round wrap, filled with a pork and onion mixture, crimped shut, and fried to a nice crispiness. Shigezo does it differently by using larger, square wrappers. The filling and cooking style is the same - and flavor generally is too - but just be prepared to have to explain this if you eat there with a traditionalist or an actual Japanese person. Trust me on that.


They look great, actually. And they were good, though I think the pork to onion ratio was a bit off - too oniony in my mind.

Overall this was a good meal and we would go back. Heck, they gave us a coupon for 10% off our next visit, so there is no reason not to. Also, despite the cost of the ribeye skewer, the total cost for the meal was only $34 including tip - not bad at all.

I read on the PortlandFood.org posting for Shigezo it was referred to as a "Japanese Red Robin." After going there I can see it. Lots of families there, large menu with all sorts of things - something for everyone, and the food may be a little mainstreamed rather than traditional. That's not a negative, it's just on observation I can agree with.

Like I said, we'll go back and would recommend it to others as well.

11/10/2010

Class Begins Today

So while I never really got any answers to my questions about the value of online writing classes, I signed up for one anyway.

And while when I did so it seemed like the beginning was a ways out, the tricky thing about dates is anything in the future always becomes now at some point. Today is that day.

I have to be honest, I'm a little freaked out. I mean, sure, it's a community school class online through a the local community college. And no, I don't get a grade for it or really anything else other than a yes, you took it, when it's all over. No one will care if I do well or not, and in fact it's more of an exercise than anything else anyway. I will get out of it what I choose to put into it and demand of it, as little or as much as that ends up being.

Still, it freaks me out a bit. I haven't attended a class that had any meaning to me since my last week in school at the University of Oregon, which was, well, a while ago. I'm not used to being a student, I have no idea what to really expect, I don't know how an online writing class works, and inexplicably I'm sitting here wondering if what I do will be good enough.

And if it's not, by whatever standards that are either imposed on me or by me, then what?

Wifey tells me - and I will admit this is probably true - I'm putting too much pressure on myself and I will have fun and learn lots.

Intuitively I know this to be true, yet still...

It's just been a long time since I had a first day of class.

If you had asked me at my time of graduation from the green and yellow if I'd ever be back in school I would have said I doubt it. Now, over 10 years later, not only am I in class again but I'm starting to really think about it again. You know, if I could afford it and if I could make the time for it in my already very hectic schedule of working two jobs, loving my family, and doing my own writing (like this blog).

It'll probably be great, but it's that sense of the unknown, the same unknown that was always there on a first day of class, a small sense of trepidation lingering in the back of my mind, that has me being a bit cautious. Will I be able to keep up? Will anything else suffer for me to get assignments done?

Who knows. We shall see.

At least my family is rooting for me!

Misaki says "Ganbatte Dad!"

Thanks pups! So to my wife, the dog, the cats, and everyone else who has offered the encouragement, let's see what happens next.

11/09/2010

Japanese Curry at Kale'

If there is one Japanese dish that is quite loved in our household - among many that we love - it's Japanese-style curry. And as it so happens, there is a place in the Goose Hollow section of downtown Portland, near Civic Stadium (yes, I am going to keep calling it that), called Kale' (pronounced Kah-lay).

According to Kale's website curry was introduce to Japan from English visitors coming from their lands in India, and the Japanese then added their own twist on it to make it uniquely Japanese. If you have eaten both Japanese and Indian curries, you know the difference in flavor are quite pronounced, but in presentation and consistency they are very, very similar.

One interesting thing - at least to me, the guy with a degree in Japanese - is that while the name of the restaurant is Kale', the Katakana characters (seen below under the "e") read as "ka-rei." Katakana is the written language used for foreign words adopted into the Japanese language, and for "curry" Japanese kept the "r" sounds. My point is I don't know why there is an "l" in the Kale's name. But that is something only intriguing to someone who knows Japanese and has an interest in linguistics; it has nothing to do with the food.


From the outside Kale' looks like it used to be a dentist's office or home. Inside the dining area is quite homey. There are plenty of tables, and for a weekday lunch it wasn't busy at all. In fact, I believe we were the first customers of the day and only one other person arrived before we left. In the picture below the front door is to the left and to order, you cross through the dining room and to the right is another room where you make your order, pay, and pick up your food when it's ready. You also bus your own table in that same area.


In addition to the finite menu - the three types of curry being beef, original (without beef), and doria (more on that in a bit) - Kale' also serves Caffe Vita coffee and has an espresso bar, of which we did not try out.

We decided on the beef curry and the curry doria. The doria is curry - beef or not, up to you - covering a generous amount of rice which is then topped with cheese and baked for ten minutes to give it a crusty cheese topping, almost like a lasagna. Kale' also offers your choice of cheese - cheddar or mozzarella - or you can have half of each as we did.

The owner, Makoto Yoshino, took our order. He's extremely friendly and is willing to explain any piece of the menu, which for a lot of people will be very helpful. Sadly, it really doesn't seem like Japanese curry is very common in restaurants (maybe I'm wrong, but I don't recall seeing it all the time, especially when compared with something like tonkatsu or gyoza, widely considered Japanese food staples).

He even said he'd bring the doria out to use, because it's very hot. So we made our order - both dishes were less than $15 - and went back out to the dining area to wait


The beef curry came out first. It may not look like a lot of meat, but that's because it had been simmering in the curry so long it literally had become part of it, rather than something in it. The depth of the flavors is fantastic, to me better than any I've ever had. We make curry somewhat often at home, but we typically used a base for the roux that comes in a box from Uwajimaya. That curry also has more of a yellow color, but this one was a vivid reddish-brown, indicative of the seasoning and multiple layers. Curry can sometimes be a little salty too, but this had great balance.


Then the doria came out. Neither of us really had any idea what to expect because the idea of cheese on our curry was quite a foreign one. I don't know if they do this in Japan - I know the one place we had curry in Osaka during our trip three years ago didn't - or if it's something to appeal to the American palate. Whatever the reason, we don't care, because it is damn good. Oh, and hot. Seriously. If you order this, be prepared to wait the 10 minutes for it to cook and then another 10-15 for it to cool so you don't burn your tongue. And don't touch the plate!

I will admit, it's not something spectacular to look at...


...but take our word for it - it's fantastic.

Our curry lunch at Kale' was one of the best we've had in a while. The flavors were fantastic, the service was great, and we will absolutely be going back.

And, before you leave, drop your business card in the box for a weekly drawing for a free meal. Yep, now we're definitely going back!

11/08/2010

Biwa's Late Night Menu

Last time Wifey and I went to Biwa for another great meal I promised we'd be back to check out the late night menu. Last week, that's exactly what we did.

Ostensibly the visit was to check out the burger, the one Nick Zukin (of Kenny & Zuke's) rated fifth in Portland in his epic Burger Quest earlier this year. The burger, though, is only available on Biwa's late night menu, which means between 10pm and midnight Sunday-Thursday and 11pm and midnight Friday and Saturday.

Normally I make a point not to eat after 9pm any day of the week, but sometimes you have to make a sacrifice.

Our server started us off with a seaweed salad, which included daikon. We've received this on each of our three visits but never taken a picture before. It's really quite pretty to look at, and not too salty despite the soy-based marinade.

We also ordered a cocktail, which if I recall correctly was called "apple tasting." It was sparking white wine with apple jack (apple cider liquor) and a berry-infused sugar cube. The cube kept the bubbles coming for the entire length of dinner. We weren't sure the picture would turn out, but it actually did pretty well. It was a good drink, though I don't think it was good enough to order again.


We were planning to order the gyoza because it's just so damn good, but apparently that's not something they are guaranteed to have - Biwa was out by the time we got there. Sad.

Instead, our only other dish besides the burger was the curry rice. It comes with half an egg, pickled vegetables (carrots and shiitake mushrooms), and also very generous chunks of chicken breast in the curry (and veggies). Also, as you can see, more green onion than any normal person would know what to do with.

To be honest, the pickled vegetables were a little odd when combined with the curry, which was a nice medium on the hotness scale. The roux of the curry itself was very flavorful and nicely balanced, but the pickled veggies just stuck out too much. I liked the addition of the egg - wasn't anything I'd had on my curry before - but Wifey wasn't all that thrilled with it. Overall it was a solid dish, just be warned about the pickled vegetables.


The star of the night, predictably, was the Biwa burger. What makes it unique is a kim chee-infused mayo along with a layer of chashu pork (their menu spelles it "chasyu") - pork belly seasoned and grilled to a nice crunch. It comes on a very substantial bun, which is good because the medium-cooked burger (note, they suggest medium-rare but we opted for medium instead) was still very juicy. It also came with sides of pickled vegetables and a potato salad. Both were fine, though the potato salad tasted a bit of mustard and something else I just couldn't quite place - not something I'd order on its own.


Would you look at this bundle of deliciousness? Wifey really liked it for the simplicity, and the mayo was infused just enough to add flavor without being overbearing. To me the pork wasn't substantial enough - I barely got that flavor over the beefiness of the burger. I'll also say, though, that I'm being really picky here, because it was very good. I mean, doesn't it look fantastic?


One other very minor negative tidbit: Wifey and I each ate a half of the burger and I believe one half was pinker than the other (of course, that ended up being Wifey's since she likes it cooked a little more than I do), so it didn't seem to be cooked evenly.

Still, very good, and definitely worth breaking the normal rules of feeding times for every once in a while. We'll be back for sure, and hopefully next time they'll have some gyoza left.

11/05/2010

Pac-10 Week 10: Do We Have Separation?

For the past few weeks I've been making picks based on the theory the Pac-10 cannot be predicted. So far that's gone okay. I went 5-0 last week for my first perfect week in a while, putting me 43-12 on the season.

But we learned some things too. We learned California is a pretender and with their senior quarterback Kevin Riley out for the rest of the season after hurting his knee against Oregon State they didn't have anything left. Considering they weren't great in the first place, they may be lucky if they make it to a bowl game this year.

Washington is another school where the writing may be on the wall. Can anyone tell me how that team who was absolutely destroyed by Stanford managed to beat USC and Oregon State? This week they are without their quarterback Jake Locker as they visit Autzen Stadium; with Locker they have a shot anywhere, but without him they will be severely exposed.

Meanwhile Oregon State seems to be getting better every week, even on the defensive end, as they do every year. Arizona has also shown they don't miss much with quarterback Nick Foles nursing his own injury.

And SC? Well, they are still a dangerous team, but they just don't have the IT factor anymore. Maybe next year it will be back, but this year they are clearly vulnerable.

THE TIERS

Tier 1 - Oregon

Tier 2 - Stanford

Tier 3 - USC, Arizona, Oregon State

Tier 4 - California, Arizona State, Washington, UCLA

Tier 75 - Washington State

Oregon keeps taking the best everyone has to offer and spitting all comers out. Against better teams - like Stanford and SC - they stayed relatively even for a half before the speed of their game play just ran the other team out of gas. Stanford is still a clear number two, but the next group has split up a bit. It will be a surprise to me if anyone in Tier 4 makes a bowl game. Maybe the Sun Devils...maybe, but they need seven wins to be bowl-eligble because two of their four game from FCS schools (like the one #2-ranked Auburn is playing this week).

SCHEDULE

On to this week's schedule. As always, all game times are Pacific time, followed by the network and the pick. Also, the network and whether or not it's on TV is for Portland - some games may be televised regionally, so if you live in a home market, check your local listings. Rankings are in parentheses (AP, USA Today). The BCS rankings will be ignored for now (and no, not because of what they have done to Oregon).

12:30pm - Washington at Oregon (1, 1), ABC - OREGON
1pm - California at Washington State, Fox Sports Northwest - WASHINGTON STATE
4pm - UCLA at Oregon State (28, NR), Versus - OREGON STATE
5pm - Arizona (13, 13) at Stanford (10, 12), ABC - STANFORD
7:30pm - Arizona State at USC (30, *), Fox Sports Northwest - USC

* USC is not eligible for the USA Today Coaches Poll because of NCAA sanctions.

The Oregon pick is a no-brainer - that game is really how much will the Ducks win by. And yes, I did pick Wazzu, you are reading that right. I just don't think the Bears have what it takes for whatever reason, and the Cougars can be scrappy. This may be the Cougs' only chance at a Pac-10 win until they play the Huskies.

The Bruins simply aren't that great and the Beavers seem to get better every week. OSU is a little banged up, but it shouldn't matter. SC is going to have some frustration they vent on the Sun Devils.

As for the game of the week, Zona-Stanford, remember how previously I talked about how teams have to get lucky sometimes? The Wildcats are not lucky this season. They get Stanford and Oregon on the road after a loss at home to Oregon State, and they have the injury to Foles. The cards are just not dealt their way this year.

UNDEFEATED WATCH

As mentioned above, Auburn is playing a FCS team this week in Chattanooga, so a win is practically assured.

Boise State will play another team who is undefeated in the WAC in Hawaii, but at home they should run the Warriors out of the stadium.

The game of the week - maybe even better than the Zona-Stanford tilt - will take place in Utah where the fifth-in-the-BCS Utes will host the third-in-the-BCS TCU Horned Frogs. It's the last regular season game of 2010 that will feature two undefeated teams. The winner will have a shot at a BCS game, the loser will not, simple as that.

This game is at 12:30pm on CBS College Sports (meaning most people don't get it, and to me that means it's not in HD - lame) and I guarantee I'll be clicking over to it just as soon as Oregon goes up on Washington by three touchdowns. Maybe earlier.

MISAKI

Misaki is not impressed with the idea of a Bruin, so of course she is picking the Beavers.

Misaki: SQUINT!

Squinting is what her and the cats do when they are overly exasperated with human lameness. This was her response when asked if the Bruins have a chance.

11/04/2010

Goose Island's 2010 Bourbon County Stout

It's been well documented in this blog, if you read the beer-related posts, that I'm a sucker for bourbon barrel-aged porters and stouts. Why? I honestly have no idea. I'm not a bourbon drinker and I don't go out of my way for bourbon drinks (though I have a couple in the cupboard, mostly for cooking with), but the flavors of bourbon I seem to love.

Bourbon caramel. Bourbon-infused whipped cream. Bourbon vanilla (which, yes, I know, is named for a place and not the drink - Ile Bourbon which is now Reunion and controlled by France off the coast of Madagascar). And, of course, bourbon beer - I'm all over it.

Last year I tried Goose Island's (based in Chicago) 2009 Bourbon County Stout and thoroughly enjoyed it. The chocolate, coffee, and caramel flavors of the beer were well balanced with the bourbon of the barrel. And while some beers of this variety can be lacking when it comes to bourbon, this one was definitely not.

I only had one issue with last year's version: the size. As you can see in this picture from Beer Advocate the 2009 version came in a 22 ounce bottle, which, for a beer that is 13% alcohol is one hell of a lot of alcohol. How much? Well, even though I spread it over two days, I could have sworn I wrote about it but apparently not. Hmm...

So if that's my only complaint, you knew I had to try the 2010 version, right?



When it appeared at New Seasons last week in a 12-ounce bottle that sealed the deal - into the cart it went. How kind of Goose Island to address the only issue I had with an otherwise perfect bourbon barrel-aged stout.

Unfortunately I can't do a side by side taste test because I didn't pick up a 2009 to save - and, well, because I wouldn't remember anything from it anyway - but I do feel the 2010 version may be even better. The bourbon is prominent but not overdone. Fresh from the fridge the chocolate and caramel flavors were clear to me, but as it warmed up the coffee became a lot stronger.

The alcohol is still strong, but in a 12 ounce bottle it's not as overpowering. I cracked this for the Oregon State football game last week with full intention of hopping on the treadmill for the later Oregon game. Needless to say, after this bottle was empty that did not happen.

Bourbon County Stout is definitely a beer to be sipped, enjoyed, celebrated, and maybe even split with a friend depending on what you plan on doing the rest of the day.

But that's not all. Oh no - Goose Island apparently has more versions of Bourbon County Stout. Bourbon County Vanilla? Bourbon County Coffee? Rare Bourbon County? Yes, please, these I need to try. Unfortunately I'm not overly sure I'll be able to find them in Portland when they are released, since they are limited and may not make the trip from Illinois. Might be time to delve into the secondary market for beer...

I have to say, Goose Island's other offerings seem pretty tasty as well. I've had a Matilda before (and thoroughly enjoyed it), have another in reserve, and many of the others look worth a try as well. Citizens of Chicago, you have quite a gem on your hands. Goose Island also does sodas, something else I'm going to keep an eye out for.

Give it a try - I wholeheartedly recommend Goose Island, and plan on working my way through their entire library of offerings.