12/28/2011

Third Draft Finally Finished

If there is one thing I've learned since I sat down to write a novel, it's the need for patience.

(Notice I said "the need for" and not that I learned patience. Still working on that.)

As I sit here and look at the date on my computer, I can't believe I started this novel a year ago. A freaking year?! Are you kidding me?! No wonder it takes even professional authors so damn long to put out a new book. Here I am toiling through it as a fourth priority (behind family, first job that pays the bills, and second job that also pays) and it's taken me a year to finish three drafts of a single novel.

Oh yes, the third draft is done. And it's better than the one before it, which is really all one can hope for, right?

For me, the third draft was the first real re-writing I had to do. The second draft was more cursory, but the third...a bomb went off in that one.

I completely wrote out one character and greatly minimized two others. I raised the profile of a fourth. The narrative changed, drastically, and it became a couple shades darker. The ending is completely different. My protagonist, for the lack of a better term, grew a pair. This version of the book, I feel, flows better.

Then again, I haven't read through it with a red pen yet - that will be the fourth draft, after the new year. I need some time to breathe, charge the batteries.

But back to the need for patience.

I always want to work on the book, because I want to finish it. I mean, doesn't everyone want to finish what they are working on? To be able to say "I did that"? Sure, but my stark reality is it has to fit into the schedule, and the schedule is pretty packed.

Perhaps I mentioned this before, but I'm not a student of the "write with any fraction of time you have" school. That works for some people, but all it does is frustrate me. Which, of course, leads directly to how it takes a year to get through the third draft of a 71,900 word novel.

Now I can check that step off the list and move on to the next one. Maybe someday someone will even get to read it.

12/27/2011

Mmm...Tacos at Mi Mero Mole

Sometimes you try out a new place and everything works. Mi Mero Mole, on SE 50th and Division, is that place.

Mi Mero Mole - with the awesome URL of mmmtacospdx.com - is owned by Nick Zukin, the same Nick who is the Zuke in Kenny and Zuke's Deli and Sandwichworks, and who also has gained quite a following in the Portland food scene via Twitter (@extramsg) and articles (like this one on burgers), plus the portlandfood.org messageboards.

However, his first love is Mexican food and Mi Mero Mole specializes in one thing: guisados. What is that, you may ask? It translates roughly as "stew," but there's more to it than that. In Mexico City guisados come in literally hundreds of different flavors and they are served on tortillas. (Don't kill me if this isn't 100% accurate, there isn't a lot of information out there about them.)

Mi Mero Mole (roughly translates as my own mole, or can be interpreted as the same sentiment but more forceful) has a menu that changes every so often, featuring a few of the different guisados at once. Check the menu link and you can see how many will be in rotation, plus others.

The building is not well signed, so unless you know where it is you may miss it. There is a sign in the window that says "Albierto," but not one that says "Mi Mero Mole" that either of us recall seeing. Mi Mero Mole is also not officially open yet; instead, until sometime in January this is considered their soft opening. Given the pedigree of the owner and the food involved it was already on our short list, but then they did a special where we could get a dozen tamales to take home for $24 (more on them later), so we figured we'd get dinner too and check it out.

The decor is minimalist, but still a little homey - think relaxed neighborhood hangout. The current menu is on a chalkboard on the left when you walk in and you order at the register, then your food is brought to you. All of the tortillas are made fresh and there is a small salsa bar if you feel like adding some to your meal. They serve beers, cocktails, and non-alcoholic drinks. Each guisada can be ordered as a taco, a burrito or as a plate, which comes with sides of beans and rice. Currently meat guisados are $2.75 each and vegetarian ones are $2.50, but that may change when the official opening comes.

Wifey and I started off with an order of chips and guacamole, just like we did at Mextiza. Mi Mero Mole's guac was more traditional, but still very creamy and quite tasty. The chips were excellent (perfectly salted!) - I could eat a bag of these without stopping. However, they seemed to be best fresh; we ate them throughout the meal and towards the end they got a little stale. Shrug. They were awesome.


Funny story: Nick actually took our order and brought us our food. We happened to sit at a table without ideal lighting and when he saw us getting ready to take some pictures, he asked us to wait, went behind the counter and grabbed a small light, and let us use it to take pictures. We need to get one of those - thanks Nick!

We ordered four guisados - the taco version - in all. Wifey and I split each one and as you can see by the pictures each taco was well-filled. The first two were albondigas (beed and pork meatballs stuffed with boiled egg and stewed in chipotle tomato sauce) and pollo con nopales en salsa verde (chicken and cactus paddle - prickly pear - stewed in tomatillo and serrano sauce.


Both of those were excellent, but the pollo con napales was on another level. Neither of us had ever eaten prickly pear before and the cactus added so much flavor - it was amazing. I could go back and eat four of just those.

The second plate was rajas con crema (roasted poblana chiles with sauteed onions in a sour cream and aged cheese sauce) and cerdo en adobo (pork in a sweet and sour chile sauce). Again, both of these introduced us to new flavor profiles and were outstanding.


It's a good thing we liked the cerdo en adobo, because that was the same flavor as the dozen tamales we ordered. They were still warm when Nick handed us the tray, and when we got home we opened them up.


Aren't they pretty? They looked so damn good I wanted to try them that night, but the four tacos and chips left both of us pretty full, so we had them for lunch the next day. Here's a look from the open end of the tamale.


And with it unwrapped and split down the middle.


Simply put, these are amazing. The masa used to wrap the filling is the best I've ever had. Neither of us claim to be experts in Mexican food, but we like it and did spend a week eating Oaxacan food in Huatulco a couple years back, so we'd like to think we can recognize good stuff - and this is fantastic.

Frankly, Mi Mero Mole is a must-visit - and it's not going to hurt your wallet. For a dozen tamales, four tacos, and the chips and guac my total bill was $37.75 plus tip - and $24 of that was the tamales. Where else can you get a fantastic meal for two people for $14?! Even if the prices do go up, Mi Mero Mole would  be considered steal.

Since I'm reviewing this place so close to Mextiza, I know a question that may come is how the two compare. They don't, actually. Both have excellent food and I'd go back to either one, but I'm getting a different kind of Mexican food at each one.

If I had to choose one though, it would be Mi Mero Mole. We'll be going back for sure.

12/23/2011

2011 Pac-12 Bowl Season Picks

I'm late. Arizona State played yesterday in the first bowl game of the year involving a Pac-12 team and I didn't make my picks. Whoops.

Between the day job, the second job, and trying to finish the third draft of my novel, things get forgotten. What can I say? Gotta prioritize.

After correctly choosing Oregon to win the inaugural Pac-12 title I'm 64-27 on the season heading into the bowl season, one that looks very, very rough for the conference.

For what it's worth, I would have picked Boise State to blow the Sun Devils out, so I'll take a W. After firing Dennis Erickson - well, actually before firing him - that team was a mess. A 6-6 mess of a team matching up with the #7 team in the nation and one of the best in recent history? My cat predicted the blowout.

This is also the first loss of a Pac-12 bowl team that left them with record below .500 on the season.

On to the rest of the bowl games (rankings in parentheses - AP, USA Today):

California v. Texas
Holiday Bowl
12/28/11, 5pm, ESPN

Cal has been up and down all year, as has Texas. Texas has more talent.

The pick: TEXAS

Washington v. Baylor (15, 16)
Alamo Bowl
12/29/11, 6pm, ESPN

Washington couldn't control the better teams of the Pac-12, how can they expect to do any better against Heisman winner Robert Griffin III?

The pick: BAYLOR

Utah v. Georgia Tech (30t, 29)
Sun Bowl
12/30/11, 11am, CBS

Utah got better as the season progressed, they should stand tall here.

The pick: UTAH

UCLA v. Illinois
Fight Hunger Bowl
12/31/11, 12:30pm, ESPN

UCLA does not deserve a bowl game, period. They will be 6-8 when this over.

The pick: ILLINOIS

Oregon (6, 5) v. Wisconsin (9, 8)
Rose Bowl
1/2/12, 2pm, ESPN

The Ducks need a win in a bowl game badly and should match up well with Wisconsin. I figure the Ducks defense will stop the Wisconsin offense more than vice versa.

The pick: OREGON

Stanford (4, 4) v. Oklahoma State (3, 3)
Fiesta Bowl
1/2/12, 5pm, ESPN

Stanford is a tough team and Andrew Luck is a great leader, but the defense will not be able to handle the high scoring Cowboys. Remember what Oregon did to them? OK State will do the same

The pick: OKLAHOMA STATE

---

Projecting a 2-5 record hurts, but can you really disagree? The only one I'm even on the fence about is the Cal pick, just because you have no idea what they will do in any given week. Rough, rough matchups for the conference. If USC had been bowl eligible then everyone would have moved down a notch and the matchups would look a little better, but they'd still be tough.

12/21/2011

Cookie, Cake AND Pie!

There is a blog I follow written by a Seattle artist who goes by the name of CakeSpy. Some of you may be familiar with it, but if you are not I urge you to check it out. She has fun with baking, trying all sorts of things I think would be interesting to have a bite of but usually wouldn't be willing to try myself.

Until now.

Everyone loves pie, right? And chocolate chip cookies? And who doesn't love a good cake? Well, what if you COMBINED THEM ALL INTO ONE MONUMENTAL DISH OF AWESOMENESS?! That would be good, right? You'd be interested?

Well then, let me introduce you to Cookie Cake Pie. No, I'm not kidding, and yes, it's exactly what you think it might be.


And the thing is, it's insanely easy to make. Ideally you make all the components on your own, but you don't have to and it will still be pretty dang tasty. We had one last frozen, 8-inch pie crust I bought at Immortal Pie and Larder's going out of business sale, plus we also had frozen homemade cookie dough balls (this is our favorite recipe, a Jacque Torres adaptation) and frozen homemade buttercream frosting. All I needed to do was buy a Betty Crocker rainbow chip cake mix and we were in business. The picture above is the finished product.


And with frosting.

I would like to point out that Wifey made this and surprised me when I came home from work one day. I love her so much. :)

Also, she differed from CakeSpy's recipe just a tad. The original recipe calls for putting the pie crust, cookie dough, and cake mix together and baking it at the same time, but if you look at the pictures the finished product seems exceedingly gooey (and I like gooey). Instead Wifey pre-baked the crust (about 12 minutes on 425 degrees), then added the cookie dough and baked it for another 20 minutes (at 350 degrees), then added the cake mix for a final 30 minutes (of course, actual times will depend on your oven).

That way when you cut out a slice you can see each of the elements is nicely baked, but not overdone. (By the way, click on the picture below so it fills up your entire computer screen. You're welcome.)


This. Was. Delicious! Yes, it was absolutely super sweet, but that's to be expected. Take a small slice at a time, share with friends who will be in awe of your baking cred, and freeze the rest for another day.

Now what does one do with half a box of cake mix? Make cupcakes of course! But wait, what if you have an odd amount of leftover cookie dough balls too? No worries, CakeSpy has you covered. Of course I mean cookie dough stuffed cupcakes - what else?!

Once again, these are super easy to make. You already have the cookie dough and if you just made the entire cake mix, you have that too. Just fill cupcake pans 2/3 full and drop roughly half the normal amount of dough to make a cookie into the middle of each. It should look like this:


(Those two on the top right didn't get a cookie dough ball - they ended up as boring normal cupcakes.)

Wait, can you not see clearly how it should look? This next picture should help you. (Click it and make it bigger! Impress you coworkers with the deliciousness!)


Cook them normal cupcake time (from the box) and they come out looking like...well, normal cupcakes.


Frost them up and they still look normal.


Then you take a bite or cut them in half - and EXPOSE THE AWESEOMENESS!


These, like the cookie cake pie, were excellent. Seriously, where the hell has this been my entire life?

We've eaten things similar to this from a bakery, but I was amazed at really how easy it was to make. Try it out on your own, you won't be sorry.

Hmm...maybe next time we use a Devil's food recipe...

12/14/2011

A Visit to Mextiza

Wifey and I decided to try out a new Mexican restaurant out in North Portland - Mextiza on North Killingsworth. Mextiza is owned and operated by the same chef who runs Autentica, generally regarded as one of the best Mexican restaurants in the city. This place is more casual than Autentica and boasts a very reasonably price lunch menu.


We started off with an appetizer: Guacamole with thick tortilla chips, topped with cheese


Look at that guac; doesn't it look smooth? It was - very, very smooth. And fantastic. Those chips were as thick as a pita chip, but with all the flavor of a tortilla chip. The cheese they were topped with was just sprinkled and made quite a mess. I'm not the tidiest eater anyway, but that cheese was all over the place.

My main dish was the Pollo Rostizado - Rotisserie chicken with pineapple, served with spicy potato salad refried beans and Oaxacan cheese.


I'm not real sure why I got the beans instead - the waitress wasn't clear on that - but they were good. The chicken had rich flavors with a nice amount of spice. There were a ton of onions (the darker strands are the pineapple, which I didn't figure out until I ate them), but it all worked. I'd definitely recommend this.

Wifey ordered the Zuisas - Green chile and tomatillo sauce enchiladas with chicken, Oaxacan melting chese and cream.


These were also very, very good, with plenty of onions as well. The sauce had a very fresh flavor to it and we both love Oaxacan cheese (since our trip to Huatulco a few years ago), so it was a winner.

Food was very good, prices were reasonable, and the service was, um, passable. Our waitress didn't seem very sure of herself or the dishes she was serving, but perhaps that's a byproduct of it being a new place. It wasn't bad, just a little confused.

We would definitely recommend Mextiza and would go back. It also made us more excited to check out Autentica, one of the many places On The List. (The list is quite long.)

12/02/2011

2011 Pac-12 College Football: Championship

Nothing like finishing the season on an uptick. If Colorado hadn't pulled off an amazing upset in Utah in a game that, had the Utes won, would have pushed them into the Pac-12 championship game I would have managed a 7-0 week. Instead I went 6-1, probably my best week since preseason, pushing me to 63-27 on the season.

And now, thanks to the aforementioned Colorado upset, we have unranked 6-6 UCLA - blown out 50-0 by USC last week - visiting Oregon tonight at Autzen Stadium in Eugene at 5pm Pacific on FOX. Yes, those same Ducks who are 10-2 overall, ranked 8th overall by the Associated Press, and ranked 7th overall by the ESPN Coach's Poll.

For everyone that was overly excited about USC being punished for whatever Reggie Bush did while a "student-athlete", this is the result. How bad are things at UCLA? Sure, they are technically the Pac-12 South champions because of SC's ineligibility, but 6-6 earned coach Rick Neuheisel a pink slip. He will coach tonight, but even if they win he's out and won't coach a bowl game. And if they lose? UCLA supposedly is a top team in the conference (snort) according to tonight's matchup, but a loss leaves them 6-7 and technically not even bowl-eligible. However, they applied for a waiver to the rule and the NCAA inexplicably said they could still go to a bowl even with a sub-.500 record.

Bet that game will be well attended.

The winner of this inaugural Pac-12 championship game, of course, goes to the Rose Bowl and will face the winner of the inaugural Big Ten (yes, that conference with 12 teams) championship game (Saturday at 5:17pm on FOX, Wisconsin at Michigan State in a matchup of 10-2 teams).

If UCLA wins... Wow. First off, that would be a monumental upset and, one could argue, a good reason Neuheisel should KEEP his job. Secondly...there is no second. The likelihood of that is pretty close to zero. The Bruins aren't fast enough to keep up with LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas, but what the Ducks need to do is pounce quickly. UCLA has nothing to lose and will play that way, so all the pressure is on Oregon. In games like this the longer the favorite allows the underdog to stay close the more confidence the underdog gain and the more stress the favorite faces. Scoring first and second, quickly, could end this game very early.

Prediction: Oregon 56, UCLA 10

12/01/2011

Deschutes Abyss 2011

It's fall, so that means it's time for another installment of Deschutes Brewery's The Abyss. This beer, while a stout which I don't always love, has become an annual event on my beer calendar (as you can see by me also writing about the 2009 version here, and again here aged, and the 2010 version here).

All have been good, and the 2011 is no different. On the nose Abyss gives you coffee and licorice, then pours rich, thick, and dark into the glass. So dark, actually, that even the bubbles are caramel-toned, and the liquid leaves "legs" like a good wine.

I have no idea why it looks like a face is reflected in my glass. It's somewhat disturbing.

The flavor profile layers as the beer warms, giving molasses and a touch of chocolate with the coffee and licorice. I also felt I found the tiniest bit of tobacco.

As usual The Abyss is a very, very, very good beer. Grab it now, before they sell out. I picked up two bottles - one to drink and one to save - from the Deschutes pub in Portland's Pearl District ($12 each). Some of the local bottle shops placed limits of two and three bottles, but the pub has cases to spare. And, if you go there fairly soon, you may still be able to get Abyss poured for you on the nitro taps. I haven't tried that yet, but plan to eventually. (Oh, and another thing - Deschutes gift cards don't expire. I had one in my wallet for two years and it was still good, allowing me to get my two bottles for $8 out of pocket. Nice.)

Speaking of that bottle to save...here's some beer porn for you:


Who's up for a vertical?