January Tasting Notes


Olympic Provisions - Strata of kielbasa, yukon gold potatoes, apples, onions with sauce mornay; Smoked chicken salad, apple-fennel slaw on baguette: This strata wasn't as good as the one we had the first time we visited last summer, but it was still good. The apples were large chunks which was a little offputting in such a dish. It was also a little short on the mornay sauce. The sandwich was good except for the vicious amount of horseradish, which was not noted on the menu. Yikes. We like this place, but will probably order something else next time.

Ken's Artisan Pizza - amatriciana pizza, fennel sausage pizza, blood orange galette with vanilla gelato, chocolate espresso tart with pistachio and whip cream: The last top pizza place we go to in Portland ends up being what I think is my favorite. Apizza Scholls, Nostrana, here...it just depends on what's most recent in my memory. Both of the pizzas were excellent, with nice char on the crust, good flavor in the dough, fantastic sauce, and well-made and flavored meats. The desserts were fantastic, which shouldn't be a surprise because they probably came from Ken's Artisan Bakery on the other side of the river. The gelato was very rich and creamy with a nice Madagascar vanilla flavor. The tart's crust was extremely tough and coated with ground coffee for a fantastic after-dinner wake up call, but it's a good thing we shared both desserts; a whole chocolate espresso tart for one person could be a death blow with the richness of the chocolate.

Taste Unique - pollo mediterraneo, orecchiette with aged ricotta, Sicilian cannoli: Wifey and I have been faithfully visiting Taste Unique since not long after it opened, but we had never stopped in for lunch, so we rectified that. The sauce on the pollo mediterraneo (chicken with a garlic tomato sauce) was very good, so good you could taste the freshness. The chicken, though, seemed a tad cold - not sure why. It also came with a side of pan roasted cabbage, which was excellent. The orrechiette (pasta, translates as "little ears") was thoroughly enjoyable, as all of Stefania's pastas always are. The cannoli was stuffed with a pistachio cream I'm not sure either of us were too excited about. As usual, the focaccia was fantastic - the olive oil tasted like it had been pressed earlier in the week it was so fresh.

St. Jack - eclair, chocolate cake (gateau chocolat), latte with chocolate: We can't get enough of this place. This time we just stopped in for treats. The eclair had wonderful vanilla cream and was covered in a decadent serving of dark chocolate. While the pate a choux (the dough) was thicker than we've had elsewhere and gave it a distinctly different flavor, it was still well worth the few bucks. The cake was very good, but not everyone here likes hazelnuts. And the latte? With the housemade chocolate it really is just a mocha, and it was fantastic. Perhaps one of the best around, honestly. St. Jack also makes their own caramel sauce (and vanilla too, I believe - fifty cent add-ons to any coffee drink), so I think a caramel latte will be on the order next time. And sometime we need to go for dinner - the menu looks fantastic. Doesn't that gratin de macaroni sound heavenly?



New Belgium's Frambozen: In contrast to one further down this list, New Belgium does a raspberry-flavored beer just right. Not too sweet, not overpowering the rest of the flavors, this ale was a nice change. I couldn't sit and drink more than one probably, but I'd recommend it.

Goose Island's Demolition: Shrug. The Demolition is a very citrusy, very pale ale, with a lot of bubbly. The flavors were, well, fine I guess. Probably wouldn't buy another one.

Fire Mountain's Oregon Pale Ale: I grabbed this bottle off the shelf on a whim. I needed to grab a pale ale for a cheddar-ale soup (which was awesome!) and this just happened to be in the right place, plus I got to try something new. First off, this is not pale at all - it's more of an amber. I suppose that's how it gets called "Oregon Pale" - we don't do the super pale beers. The flavors were excellent and I can't wait to try their other brews - would definitely get this again.

Dogfish Head's Black and Blue: This ale was made with the puree of blackberries and raspberries, hence the name. Using fruit in beer has to be done just right, otherwise the fruit either overpowers everything else or it becomes a syrupy mess. This one must have had bad puree or something - to me the fruit flavors were a bit rancid. I poured out half the bottle, it was that bad. After trying and not liking three different Dogfish Head brews, I think I'm done with them.

Also, a return to Deschutes' 2009 Abyss got it's own review here.


Pacific Rim - White Flowers Sparkling Riesling: Ugh. We picked this up as kind of a New Year's drink, but like a previous bottle of Pacific Rim we bought a few months back it simply tasted bitter. There was none of the promised sweetness and came out tasting like a weak champagne.


Water Avenue - El Toro Blend: I'd heard of this place but never been there, so when we saw their offerings at Whole Foods we decided this one sounded good. The Toro blend has chocolate and caramel notes - if you have been reading for awhile you know that's what we go for - and is very, very smooth.

Stumptown - Columbia Las Mingas: Whole Foods and New Seasons were out of my favorite Hairbender on the same day - what are the odds of that?! - so we decided to try this one. Like the Water Avenue Toro it is very smooth and brought some chocolate (and supposedly a fruit I can't recall), but it fell short on giving a morning kick.


Misaki Doesn't Do Sit or Down

We love Misaki for a ton of reasons, but we also have no illusions about what she will or won't do. As a Shiba (like Akitas) they take a little more work  to learn the "normal" dog commands, and even then if it's something you really want to enforce you have to consistently staty on top of them. See, Shibas simply won't sit on command if they don't see a good reason to do so.

For us, that's totally fine. Misaki is one of the most polite dogs we have ever met. She walks nicely on a leash. She responds properly to "Leave it." She is friendly towards all people, even kids. She barks rarely, and when she does it's two at most (and they are oh so cute - wait, I mean ferocious) and for a good reason. She is tolerant of dogs, even the annoying ones who bark at her out on walks. She defers to us before going into rooms and responds to a "Wait" command if issued. She responds when we call her name.

But she won't sit on command, even with treats. To teach her that stuff would take serious focus and, honestly, it's not that important to us. We've accepted it.

Which, of course, leads me to a story.

We signed up for this Shiba Meetup group in Portland and they had a get together a couple weeks back in our neck of the woods. We decided to take Misaki, hoping she would be polite with all the other Shibas running around an indoor arena.

First she needed a bath, and I'm only mentioning that so I can share this picture:

Sure doesn't look like a Shiba who hates baths, does it? She claims to, then practically purrs as we rub her up and dry her off.

Meetup day came and Misaki was a good dog (she wondered why we possibly could have expected otherwise). She sniffed the other dogs and allowed herself to be sniffed - for the most part - but didn't really play, preferring to watch from the periphery the more rambunctious (read: younger) Shibas. Instead she made the rounds of the room, stopping at each and every human and allowing them to pet her wonderful self.

We kept an eye on her, just to make sure she didn't get any trouble. (I did have to snatch her from an angry dog who didn't want to be sniffed. She was all ready to defend herself, she told me, but I think she was secretly happy I saved her from doing so.) Then she snuggled up to this man, who had brought a very pretty sesame Shiba with his wife.

Wifey and I watched this exchange from about 10 feet away, far enough we could be detached but close enough to hear what he was saying. Right at this exact instant he's asking Misaki to "down." She, of course, is ignoring him and wondering why he won't just skritch her head. As the man asked a few more times, Wifey and I could barely contain our giggles because we knew she wouldn't do it.

Then I also overheard him asking her what she did do. Her only response to him was a grin as she leaned against his leg.

Yep, that's our puppy - so damn coy.

Now, lest you think Misaki isn't capable of learning these basic commands, I need to point out it's perfectly obvious she knows exactly what they mean. On occasion she will let her guard down and actually sit when asked, such as in this picture below.

Also notice we are outside and she wants us to throw the ball so she can fetch it. Yep, exactly - she's sitting because she knows we will throw the ball if she does that, not because we asked her to sit. Who is training who here?!

Sometimes we'll catch her doing a sit and then congratulate her: "Good sit Misaki!" She jumps up like she was stung by a bee. "I did not!" she seems to be saying. You get halfway through the praise and she's already up and looking at you like you have four tails and purple skin.

That sit above also isn't what she typically does. A typical Misaki sit - and this seems to be common among Shibas - looks more like this:

Notice the one back leg splayed out to the side and the other one tucked underneath. Apparently this is more comfortable than the rigid sit most dog owners expect. It's also a slight muscle twitch from lying down, which is of course more comfortable.

See? Even when our cute Shiba does a sit, it's on her terms. If she was my teenage daughter, I'd probably chide her for slouching in this position. "Sit up straight!" I was always told as a kid.

It's just further evidence no human really owns a Shiba. Nope - humans are owned by their Shiba.

And you know what? We don't mind one bit.


Apparently It's Been Ten Years

When the calendar turned to the first business day of 2011 I officially became a member of the 10-year club at the day job. At my place of work that comes with a couple nice benefits, such as a single share of stock (which will prompt quarterly dividend checks in the pennies), a lunch at some point for all employees having an "anniversary" this year, and an extra week of vacation.

Well, the week of vacation I get for this year. Then in the next four years I don't get it, then it returns permanently in year 15. Yeah, it's weird.

So I got this letter in the mail just before New Year's from our company's division president, a form letter (that he did personally sign - maybe eBay will be interested), congratulating me on my "accomplishment."

That word stuck with me, because what does it really mean? What is my accomplishment, really? I managed to go ten years without leaving for something better or different and didn't piss anyone off enough to fire me?

Yay me.

It's at points like this in one's career where we tend to stop, to take a look back over wins and losses, and then to look forward over our expectation as to what will come next.

I gotta be honest here - such introspection doesn't exactly fill me with joy looking in either direction.

I'd like to think I've done my job well. The benchmarks used for my particular job are very positive in my time in the position. But as I look forward, do I see a future where such a thing is rewarded?

Not sure I do. Perhaps this is a beginning stage of a mid-life crisis, but I'm not old enough for that - and I prefer to think it as healthy analysis. I've been in one job long enough to recognize the cycles in process, to accurately predict how things will play out, and be able to call the things that will annoy me in the life of a project before they even happen, because it's always true.

Perhaps that sounds jaded, but at the same time if it's true...

Part of this also is, I believe, my standards for what I consider a good life have changed. The paycheck is still important, but it's not the top thing on the list anymore (rest assured, it's still high). As I've grown older little things, items that weren't important at 22, are now much more so. And how I want to spend my time has changed.

Hell, I've committed myself to writing, which can be hard when you come home from work drained from fighting battles both unnecessary and fruitless.

Where does that leave me? I suppose the proper word with regards to work life would be "unsatisfied."

Ten years in, this "accomplishment" sure rings hollow. Hopefully the next ten years, whether at this job or somewhere else, leave me feeling more productive, valuable, and satisfied.

In the meantime, it's time to go take more pictures of Misaki and the cats.


She's Trying to Scare Me

Misaki has apparently decided it's funny to freak us the hell out.

She used to go outside after dinner to do her business without much regard for what's going on around her, taking her time to sniff as needed. Just a few weeks ago this all changed.

We don't know why or what sparked it, but Misaki has suddenly become very much on her guard when she goes outside, especially after dark. Instead of just running off the deck into the grass and bark dust, she now stops on the concrete walkway to take in the look and feel of the entire yard, like she's waiting for something.

There have been no other animals in our yard or encounters by Misaki we are aware of. Still, her actions seem to indicate she is super positive there is something to guard against.

First she looks off to the left.

Then she looks off to the right.

Then she prances off around the solarium, nose to the ground all the way.

Sometimes she will stop and sniff below the windows, at the latticework. This lattice covers all possible open areas at the base of the solarium and all around the deck, but she still sniffs and will occasionally stop and stare like there is something under there.

If there is, it had to fit through the lattice to get there. And it's probably hungry. But it's probably not a threat.

Then, after the solarium she does a walk around the yard (apology for the pictures, but they actually turned out pretty well for taking them with just a basic flash into darkness).

The outer part of the yard doesn't interest her nearly as much, though she still seems very focused.

Eventually she will return to the deck, again looking outward into the yard or staring into the lattice. She doesn't seem scared; instead, she seems more curious, or like she thinks there is something there we need to be aware of.

Sorry pups, but we haven't seen anything.

Then she started doing this in the house, staring at the heating and cooling vents. In particular the vent in the living room at the base of the cat castle is her favorite. Misaki sits a few feet back, absolutely focused - so focused, you freak her out when you touch her because she isn't paying attention to you.

Then she'll get up and move closer.

And closer, still 100% focused.

And finally, she will be practically face down in the vent. For hours.

We have no idea what she thinks she sees or hears in there. We can't see anything, and the furnace is new and doesn't seem be doing anything different than it did before. The cats don't seem to have any interest in what Misaki is tracking.

At first I thought there were bugs or something, maybe a mouse, but nothing has come up out of there. It's not the warm air she's after, because she sits there whether the air is coming or not.

She also started occasionally sitting at the other vent in the living room and the one in the master bedroom. The ones in the downstairs bathrooms she has no interest in, and she doesn't seem curious by the upstairs ones (which are in the ceiling, but still...). It's mainly this one vent, and it doesn't seem to have any relationship to the fact the cats sleep in the castle. She's there whether they are or not.

So what are you after, Pups? Is there really something in there? Should we be worried? Is it growing, like some weird alien monster? Are you the first and only line of defense?

Or is it something sneakier? Are you just trying to drive us crazy?! Wait...I think I'm on to you...

Then again, if this blog never has another entry, maybe Misaki was right.


Back Down The Abyss

Fourteen months ago I bought a bottle of Deschutes Brewery's Abyss, the 2009 version, and wrote about it here. I wasn't sure I'd like it because of how dark and how, well, stout it was, but I ended up thoroughly enjoying it.

Over the course of the past year I've tried a few other stouts and most of them haven't really been all that great to my palette. In the buildup to the Abyss 2010 release I read quite a few early reviews and found many of them talked about how 2010 was better than 2009, and that 2009 may have been the worst of the series (2010 is the fifth, I believe). Considering I enjoyed 2009 that made me excited for the 2010 version, which after cracking the bottle I did like it, though perhaps not as much as the hype.

But that got me thinking a little bit. After enjoying 2009 Abyss when it was released I went out and bought two more bottles to save, because like with the others in Deschutes' Reserve series these come with a Best After date. Well. 2009 Abyss hit the Best After in November of 2010, so it seemed like a good time to open one of the saved bottles to check out the changes in the flavor profile, if any.

That idea also filled me with a little trepidation, after finding out saving Black Butte XXI for a year didn't necessarily - to me - make it better. Still, I figured worth a try. Besides, last Monday was the NCAA national championship football game, and it seemed like a good time to crack a special occasion beer.

I've got one word for the aged 2009 Abyss: Wow! Even if my team had managed to win the game (this is where I pretend it never happened, like it seems like all other Duck fans are as well), this bottle would have been the star of the night. When fresh the flavors in this bottle had been sharp and distinct, the 14 months of aging not only mellowed them all out, but the smoothed edges now dance together beautifully.

All of the original flavors are still there - the coffee, the chocolate, the vanilla, the licorice, the molasses - and all are identifiable, both on the tongue and in the nose, but the complexity blending of the flavors makes it difficult to pick out just one at a time. You don't pick out chocolate; instead you get chocolate with a licorice background. You don't pick out molasses; instead you get molasses with an edge of vanilla.

This is a strong beer alcohol-wise, measuring in at north of 11% when it was first released. I thought it would pretty much end my night drinking this bottle, but unlike the Black Butte XXI - which absolutely became stronger through the aging process - Abyss 2009's alcohol was hidden without the same almost sickeningly sweetness. Perhaps this masked the impact of the alcoholic strength - or maybe I was just well rested and it didn't hit me as hard - but the strength of the beer didn't seem like other 11% beers I've had in the past. This includes the fresh 2009 Abyss, the aged Black Butte XXI, and the recent fresh Bourbon County Stout 2010.

For any beer bloggers and reviewers, both professional and amateur, who weren't as pleased with 2009 Abyss when it was first released, I strongly encourage you to open a bottle of 2009 if one was saved and try it now - you may change your mind.

Sadly I now have just one of these bottles squirreled away, waiting for a suitable drinking time. Hopefully 2010 will age just as well as 2009 did.


Welcome to Misaki's World!

Misaki has been pestering me for awhile now because she wants to have an online presence - something about building her brand. She really wanted a Twitter account, but I already have two of my own I have to maintain - the one linked to this blog and one for work - and since I'm going to be the one doing all the writing (at her direction, of course), I declined.

Instead I started her a tumblr blog, which can be seen here: Misaki's World.

It's going to be a fun little place, told with Misaki's voice, where we post one-off pictures of her and the cats (she promised to share), and perhaps other pictures that don't necessarily have a story to go with them.

It's not abandoning thing blog, it's just outsourcing some of the things that would be fun to do that don't seem to fit right. Here I'll still post pictures of them, but ones that have a story that goes along with them.

Now, you may ask, why can't I post one-off pictures with captions here? Well, I can, of course. There isn't anything that says I can't. But, in the 18 months I've been writing on this blog, I haven't done it once, because I feel like there has to be more to it than a picture and a sentence. That's me - has nothing to do with the blog per se.

Tumblr, on the other hand, seems perfectly suited to this kind of thing. Misaki can get her thoughts out there, pictures can be posted of her and the cats being cute, and we can reblog (a tumblr feature) pictures of Shiba friends we've made online. I will also post pertinent links from this space Misaki's World, if it makes sense (as in, is it about Misaki or does it contain a cute picture of her?).

Plus, I've been wanting to write a bit from her perspective, but in small doses. If I want it to be bigger, maybe Misaki will "guest blog" in this space at some point. But why her perspective?

There is something in how Misaki watches us, something almost motherly in her observation, like she feels we are doing things all wrong but no one is in danger of imminent dismemberment so she'll let us figure out our mistakes on our own. Kind of weird, actually, having a small dog who seems so intelligent (I mean, IS intelligent) and can be so eerily cognizant of our conversations.

She rolls her eyes or huffs at just the right point in a conversation where a human might. She guides us like a border collie with OCD when it's time to be fed/go somewhere/head to bed.

So what's going through her mind as she does these things? Those are the places I hope to explore in Misaki's World. So far she sounds like a bit of a diva - she's really not (at least, not a big diva), so I might tone that down a tiny bit. Is it taking anthropromorphism to a new level? Sure it is, but it's a fun creative writing exercise. I've added a link to the Shiba Blog Roll at the right, so be sure to check it out.

Did I say I wanted to write more on the book a little less just a few days ago? I did, but in all honesty Misaki's World is a quick thing that is more of a break than a focused endeavour. Updating at least once - sometimes a lot more - daily takes almost no time at all, and I may also, perhaps, do it from work every once in a while. Or not. As far as you know.

Hope you enjoy it!


New Year's Resolutions

Generally I think New Year's resolutions are pretty lame. Whenever I'd done them before or seen them done they usually are full of things one person can't possibly do in a year, are so vague they can't possibly be defined as successful or not (maybe intentionally), or so broad in scope one person couldn't do a thing about it.

I'm talking the kinds of lists that start with "lose 100 pounds, change jobs, train for a marathon" and then go to "totally change my life" and end up at "initiate world peace and end world hunger." Yikes. Perspective people, perspective. I mean, seriously, if one is at a point in their life where a list of resolutions is necessary, are they really going to progress to solving problems on an international scale in 12 months? Talk about ambitious.

In my mind resolutions have to be something you want to do, it's just that perhaps it hasn't been a priority, which apparently means resolutions are nothing more than adjusting priorities. These lists tend to be long, too, which is silly because it's impossible to completely restructure one's life when the majority of the things in your life will not change.

Still have to work. Still have to pay the mortgage. Still have to feed the furry kids and clean the litter box.

The amount of time that can truly be spent on this new change in priorities really is finite, so the list should be finite as well.

This year I have two resolutions. However, I think resolution is the wrong term, because they are really goals. Resolution doesn't imply any sort of plan, just a statement saying you are going to do something. What's the point? Without plans things never get done; is it any wonder resolutions fail?

Goal #1 - Lose Weight

In all honesty this is on the list every year, but it's time to really be serious. Since all goals need a plan, here is mine:

1 - Exercise more
2 - Eat less crap
3 - Repeat

It really is that simple. I'm not going to put restrictions on it beyond that, because in all honesty none of that matters. If I do those three things (with the most emphasis placed on number three) I will lose weight, be healthier, and be happier with myself. It's not asking for a lot.

Eat out less. Walk the dog daily. Use the weights, treadmill, and elliptical machine. I've done this before and it's worked. I've lost 30 pounds of a planned 50 twice now - I see the numbers creeping up again. I've also maintained that weight loss for a period of more than six months, so I know I can do that. It's just the finishing part.

More exercise, less calories and fat in, balanced meals...weight loss isn't rocket science. Once one begins to think it is, to overthink things, that's when it gets all screwed up.

Goal #2 - Finish My Novel

Yep, finish it. Ha! You know what? That implies I'm close, like I only have a few chapters to do before I'm finished. Let's revise that one.

Goal #2 - Write My Novel

That's better, and more accurate wording. When you are like me and have only written a single chapter, the goal should be to "write" first, "finish" later.

Writing my novel is also easier than I'm making it out to be in my head - I just need to do it. My issue is being able to focus. I have this idea that I need to be able to live in the world of my novel all the time to do good work, which is absolutely impossible while working two jobs, being a good husband, and making sure the little ones get all the love and attention they need.

I need to accept the fact these are the constraints I work under, and take advantage of writing time when I have it.

Perhaps that should really be the goal - accept constraints.

So, two goals for 2011: get healthier and write. By the time December 31, 2011 rolls around, I fully expect to mark them both as complete.

And I put it on the internet, so it must be considered truth.