June 28, 2012

What in the goddamn hell?!?

Something very, very strange is going on right now.  Something I have never experienced in my fair city in the many years I have lived here.  It is about 6pm where I live, and the current temperature is a whopping 108 with a 13% humidity level. 

Why is this strange, you ask?  Because I live in the midwest.  Where summer typically consists of long hot stretches in the mid to sometimes upper 90's, along with the always-present sky high humidity that makes you want to take your own life.  Temps in the low 100's happen here and there, but 108 is a whole different ball of wax.  That's freakish hot.  That is abnormal in these parts.  The air is usually so damp and thick here you can barely breathe, and sometimes you can even see it.  I mean, even on the driest, coldest winter day we don't have humidity levels this low.  Seriously, this is weird.  It's like Arizona up in here.

So I'm not only enduring the hottest temperature I've ever experienced here, but the lack of humidity is what really throws me off.  I realize the two go hand-in-hand and feed off each other, as I'm a big weather geek, but it's still weird to me.  What's stranger is that about 10 minutes before, it was 107 with 14% humidity.  Like it's changing momentarily.  As if it's just going to keep getting hotter and drier until we spontaneously combust. 

Despite my fascination with this whole thing, and despite appreciating these non-existant humidity levels that are giving me the best hair days of my life in this town, summer can suck it.  I mean, really?  I just came off the hottest, most humid summer on record, was completely denied winter, and now this?  What in tarnation is going on in this world?  And of course, it will only get worse.  Temps in the 100's will remain for about the next 5 days but the humidity is due to start rising in the next 24 hours.  It's going to be 108 again tomorrow.  Mothergoddamnfucker. 

I have very low tolerance for heat, people.  This shan't be good.

June 23, 2012

Booze Reviews.

It's summer, which means the world is livelier, which means people are more social and wanting to get out, which means that there's more stuff going on, which means that I'm consuming more cocktails.  I don't know if all that connects in your brain but it does in mine.  At the risk of sounding like a lush, here are some discoveries I've made in the world of booze that are worth a try:

The night of the Chinese lantern festival (see last post) I met my friends beforehand at a wine bar down the street.  After a not-so-satisfying glass of Grenache, I decided to go for something totally different that would be much more refreshing and hot weather-appropriate.  Enter Sofia Blanc de Blanc in a can.   Champagne is fucking awesome to begin with, but put that elixir in a single-serve, portable can and provide a short, matching bendy straw to go in it and I'm a quick sell.  In my excitement about this can of pure genius, I neglected to get a photo with the juice-box-like straw.  Trust me, it was extremely cute.  Although the concept kicks ass, I opted to drink it from a proper champagne glass simply because I was in a bar and not at a picnic and I could.  It is a lovely, light sparkling wine that is high on the fruitiness scale and also rates perfectly on my sweetness scale, which would be very slightly sweet.  Not too dry, not too sweet.  Just right.  I think I paid $7 for this, and don't let the seemingly tiny can fool you (or the cryptic metric volume of 187ml).  My friend also got one and poured it into a wine glass and, to our surprise, we found it equaled a normal size glass of wine.  Optical illusions are cool. 

I love a good front porch, and I love sitting and enjoying a nice summer evening on a front porch.  It brings back fond childhood memories of summers with my aunt and granny, who lived in an old home and didn't have central a/c, so we pretty much sat on the front porch every night and played games and listened to the baseball game on the radio.  We would say hi to the evening paper boy when he came around (who I had a crush on), and wave at the neighbors as they came and went.  Front porches are a lost art and that is why I very much appreciate a good front porch experience when I have one.  Bear with me here, there is a point to this story.  On the Saturday of the Belmont Stakes, a friend and I decided to hang out at his place, make fajitas on the grill, and have margaritas.  It was a really nice evening with a great breeze so we went out to the front porch to hang for a bit and pretty much never left.  We even watched the race from out there by keeping the front door open.  It's the first summer he's had this house, so it actually was the first full-on experience of The Porch for any extended period of time.  His porch kicks ass!  There was all sorts of shit going on out there.  We chatted with 2 sets of neighbors, exchanged waves with random people walking/driving as people did in the days of yore, and got scoop on a crazy guy at the end of the street who supposedly has guns and later proceeded to speed by as he gave my friend, specifically, a death stare.  Not sure why because he's never seen the guy before, but even though he looked like a legitimate gangster we had not a care in the world.  Why, you ask?  Because of Tequila.  In particular, the wonder that is Camarena Silver.  We sipped batches of frozen lime margaritas pretty much all night long and I have to say, it was the best tequila experience I think I've ever had.  I don't consider tequila a very good friend, and I don't particularly like it much, except for a good margarita, of course, or maybe a tequila sunrise.  I have enough margarita experience to know that expensive tequila does tend to be smoother and better tasting, however since I'm no connoisseur and a I'm not doing shots it's not worth the extra money to me.  I've found a few cheap tequilas that are usually my go-to, but we didn't have many options to choose from on this night, so we went for the Camarena.  I think it was maybe $15, and it provided the most perfect buzz that never crossed that line that tequila usually tends to cross.  Maybe we just paced ourselves well, but there was a point in the evening when we realized we were 2/3 of the way through that bottle and we couldn't believe that A) we had drank that much tequila, and B) that we weren't drunker than we were.  It's weird how one night you can drink 2 beers at happy hour and feel it enough that you have to stop, and then another night you can somehow drink alcoholic-level-quantities of tequila and feel fine.  But I digress.  Anyway, I highly recommend this stuff.  It's fairly smooth (from a strong margarita standpoint), tastes ok as far as tequila goes, and get this - both of us had NO hangover at all.  I literally sprung out of bed the next morning with a burst of energy and not the slightest hint of a headache.  This stuff is a miracle.

There are many times I'm not in the mood for beer.  Usually that means I get some sort of vodka drink, but in the case of a party, it's easier to bring beer.  That's where cider comes in handy.  Especially outside in the summer when you want something refreshing.  I'm a huge fan of ciders and have tried many of them over time.  The great thing about cider to me is that I have yet to meet one that I don't like at all.  Unlike beer, where you can take a risk and find out the hard way that it's way too hoppy or wheaty or whatever, and then you feel like you wasted money.  For whatever reason, me and ciders just jive so I know that even if it doesn't end up a favorite, it'll be drinkable.  A while back my favorite local watering hole started carrying Fox Barrel ciders.  All of their ciders are made from pears, which happens to be my favorite genre of ciders.  I like strong fruitiness, and I find that pear ciders tend to have that quality.  Ace pear cider is another excellent one.  I have tried both the Apricot Pear and the Blackberry Pear and both are delicious.  Both have a nice amount of sweetness that is not overdone, but I'd say the Apricot is just slightly less sweet.  The flavors in both were, for the most part, natural-tasting compared to other fruit-flavored drinks.  One of the big risks of flavored beers, ciders, liquors, etc. is that the flavor tastes overly fake.  It sucks when that happens.  These didn't have that, so that was good, but the Apricot once again was just slightly better in this category for me as well.  I think I paid $4 for a bottle of this.  I'm curious how much a six pack would sell for.

Last but most certainly not least is Stag Ice.  I can't seem to find a lot of info on this stuff, and my favorite aforementioned watering hole is the only place I've seen it for sale.  I first noticed it there a few visits ago, and was intrigued.  I inquired about it, both to my friends and the bartender.  But I was wary.  I was intimidated by it's dark, scary logo.  I left it alone.  Yesterday I was there again, and again I found myself wondering about this slick, black and silver, hard ass 24 oz. can of freaking Stag.  I'm not one to shy away from cheap beer whatsoever, but it's pretty rare for me to drink a Stag.  There are several other cheap beers I will go to first.  Stag, I'm sorry to say, is somewhat of a last resort.  So I'm at the bar yesterday and I started asking about it again.  My 2 guy friends, who always get 24 oz. cans of something when they're there, refused to get it.  They said it was terrible, although applauded the alcohol content.  I tried talking the guy next to me into buying one so I could have a sip.  I figured if he could drink giant cans of disgusting, puke-inducing Busch, then he could handle a Stag Ice.  He referred to it ominously as "Black Ice".  I was more intrigued.  He said "that shit will take you to another dimension".  It almost sounded like a dare.  Hey, I wasn't driving so....Sold.  This beer cost $3 for a 24 oz. can with 5.9% alcohol volume, so I figured even if I didn't finish it, even if tasted like the ass of beers, I could somehow get $3 worth out of it.  And you know what?  I did.  It really wasn't that bad.  If you go into it accepting that it won't be good but will be just tolerable enough, you'll be fine.  But pace yourself, my friends, because this shit will knock you on your ass if you aren't careful.  I'm a little ashamed to admit I polished off the entire can, but it took me a while to do it.  Even drinking it extra slowly, it was a fairly potent buzz that I could absolutely see taking someone to a different "dimension" if they either drank it too quickly, or drank it later as opposed to earlier in the evening  - the latter which I'm confident would be a recipe for disaster and is probably what the guy next to me at the bar had done sometime in the past after he had a few Busch's and got up the nerve to try it.  I can't say I'd go out of my way to buy this stuff again, but you never know.  As far as the guy sitting next to me goes, I think he was initially impressed by my bravery, but ultimately appalled that I drank the whole thing. 

One last recommendation.  Although I haven't had it in a while, another great summer drink for any rum lovers out there is Barcardi Limon and iced tea.  Delicious, refreshing, the tea helps balance the dehydration from the alcohol (in my mind, anyway), it has antioxidants, and it's low-cal (if you don't sweeten the tea). 

End of booze reviews.  This is not making me look good.

June 17, 2012

Made in China.

I went to a super cool Chinese lantern exhibit the other night.  From what I read, it is rare to see such an authentic display outside of Asia.  The various lanterns were spread across the gardens, and the lights were turned on as the sun set.  It was quite beautiful.  I almost enjoyed it in the daylight a bit more, because then I could see the detail.  Most are made of wire with silk overlay.  Many incorporated recycled products, such as plastic bottles, tiny glass bottles filled with colored water, and Chinese porcelain dishware. 

There were a lot of dragons, seeing as it's the year of the dragon as far as the Chinese are concerned.  The display below was at a focal point of the gardens, with two dragons on either side of a blooming lotus flower.

The whole thing is made of porcelain dishes.  China, if you will.  As the sun started to set there was a small lighting ceremony of sorts, where they played Chinese music and the dragons moved their heads and blew smoke. 

There was a whole series on Chinese opera masks.  They were in a rainbow of bold colors, each one symbolizing the emotional state and personality of the character.  I rather liked this one:

A Qilin is a Chinese creature composed of different animal forms, some real and some mythical.  Despite their look, they are peaceful, but if need be will defend evil by shooting flames from their mouths.  They are symbols of protection.  Although this picture doesn't do it justice, this one was especially pretty in the sunlight, as it is made of hundreds of tiny bottles filled with colored water. 

The four-faced buddha was one of my faves.  This thing is 233 feet tall. 

It wouldn't be Chinese without a panda:

Also one of my faves was this walkway, lined with flying asparas.  They are celestial beings that fly without wings, if you can believe that.  They symbolize grace and elegance.

Here's a koi fish in the pond.  Aren't koi Japanese?  Anyway, the animal you see was seated next to a fisherman trying to catch that fish.  One Jiang Tai Gong, a former prime minister, who helped overthrow the Shang dynasty.  He was a bad ass.  He was said to wait patiently, fishing with no hook, believing that the fish would come on their own volition when they were ready.  Which I guess is sort of like the equivalent of fish suicide. 

Below is the nine-dragon mural.  I learned during this venture that the number nine is sacred to the Chinese.  It was the number of the Emperor.  Chinese dragons have scales in multiples of nine, and there are nine forms of the dragon.  Two of the most famous nine-dragon wall murals are in Beijing.

Last but not least, I shall leave you with the cherry blossom tree.  There were a bunch of these scattered all along a narrow walkway.  At first I didn't even realize it was supposed to be a cherry blossom.  It almost looks like a flowering cactus.  I love how cartoonish they are. 

June 7, 2012

34 Long Ass Years.

Affirmed, 1978.  The most gorgeous shade of chestnut you'll ever see.

The last Triple Crown winner was Affirmed in 1978.  I was not quite 9 yet, but I have faint memories of it.  I was young, but I understood what I was witnessing.  This was thanks to my father, who loved horse racing.  Throughout my childhood, every spring he was the reason I saw every Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes race.  My mom wasn't into it, nor were my siblings, who were much older and probably out with their friends anyway.  These were times that were shared by just my dad and I, and they are special memories for me, as I only had my dad in my life for 17 years.  Great memories also because the 1970's was the greatest era ever for horse racing, making what we shared that much more special.  That decade saw THREE Triple Crown winners.  Something that likely won't happen again.  The first of those was the Secretariat, who still holds the fastest Kentucky Derby time ever.  Think about that for a second:  Secretariat was so goddamn fast that not one horse has beat his Derby time for 39 years.  In a way I'll be sad if it ever happens, but then again, I hope to hell I'm alive if it does.  In 1977 we had another Triple Crown winner with Seattle Slew, who is probably the most well known horse of all-time thanks to his super-awesome name and stunning good looks.  Did you know that Seattle Slew also retired undefeated?  Yep, he did.  Then, of course, in 1978 Affirmed became what is now the last horse to win all the marbles.  An achievement so difficult that we have yet to see another one in 34 years.  And that was such a great adventure, because Affirmed and his horse bestie, Alydar, were duking it out neck-and-neck down to the wire in each of those three races, like two little boys doped up on sugar who just got loose from their parents at an amusement park.  Here's video of that race, one of the greatest, most exciting horse races ever, in my opinion. 

As you might imagine, I'm just a little bit excited about this Saturday's Belmont Stakes.  I've been let down multiple times in the last 34 years, but it's hard not to be overly hopeful that we are on the verge of history in the making.  I'll Have Another won the Derby beautifully, coming from way back in the pack to haul ass down the stretch and breeze past Bodemeister, a heavy favorite.  Then in the Preakness, I about shit my pants when I'll Have Another won in a photo finish with, you guessed it, Bodemeister.  I'm telling you, we have another Affirmed/Alydar situation going on here.  Oh, and add in the fact that I'll Have Another was a horse fairly ignored and sold on the cheap (relatively speaking in the world of Thoroughbreds), with a rookie jockey the owners discovered by accident.  Which all makes for a suspiciously perfect story for a Triple Crown winner that the world hasn't seen for 34 years.  Plus, his name kicks ass.  Please, oh please, let this be the year.

If you didn't give a rats ass about Saturday's race before you came here, I hope you're excited now.  You should be.

** UPDATE**:  Well, perhaps I never should've posted this yesterday.  I hope I'm not a fucking jinx.  This morning it was announced that I'll Have Another has been scratched from the Belmont tomorrow, due to a leg injury.  I am completely crushed.  If you're anything like me, you know it sucks royal ass when you've gotten your hopes up for a potential Triple Crown winner, only to see the horse blow it at Belmont.  But the one thing that sucks even more ass is when the horse is scratched before the Belmont.  So, not only is the potential for a historical moment gone, but so is any excitement and enthusiasm for tomorrow's race.  I hate to say that, but it will really be a let down.  I'm fairly confident most people who care would agree.  What the hell are they going to show now during all the pre-race coverage?  That starts almost 2 hours before race time, which seems earlier than normal to me, but I figured was because we had a potential Triple Crown winner on our hands.  I was all excited about the flashbacks to the 70's, Affirmed's journey, the Affirmed/Alydar story vs. the I'll Have Another/Bodemeister story.  DAMN IT.  It will be interesting to see how they fill those 2 hours now, other than telling us about the injury.  I hope they still show the other stuff.  It will give me something to be excited about.  Universe, you suck.  Thank you for ruining my weekend.