Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Willie Morris on Steve McNair and the South

Mississippi is known for it's writers. When you look at a list of Mississippians who wrote books it's a veritable Who's Who of Southern Literature. The most famous Mississippi writers include William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, Larry Brown, Stephen Ambrose, Shelby Foote, John Grisham, and Willie Morris.

Willie Morris was born and raised in Yazoo City, Mississippi. After graduating from high school, he attended the University of Texas at Austin where he served as editor for the school newspaper. Willie was not popular with UT's administration because of his scathing articles against segregation, censorship, and the partnership of politicians with the local oil and gas interests. Willie was so disliked by the administration that UT did not acknowledge his winning of a Rhodes Scholarship with even as much as a letter of congratulations. After returning from his studies in Oxford, Willie worked for a small newspaper in Texas and served as editor of Harper's Magazine in New York City before returning to Mississippi. Willie was the writer-in-residence at Ole Miss for many years. One of his most famous pupils there was a law student that would sit in on his lectures. That law student, named John Grisham later released a "A Time To Kill" with Willie writing the forward. Willie Morris died of a heart attack in 1999, just a few months before the movie of his most famous work, "My Dog Skip" was released.

Willie was a giant football fan and loved keeping up with the in-state talent (note: I'm currently reading his work The Courting of Marcus Dupree which is about a talented MS running back) In 1994, a young man named Steve "Air II" McNair was setting records at Alcorn State. Willie went to visit and ended up writing this article for the New York Times. It's classic Willie Morris. It touches on some of the ideas and themes that consumed his writing: importance of the past, allegiance to a place, the power of land, the glory and disappointment of sports, the meanness and tragedy of racial injustice (I stole this from the Mississippi Writers Page). It's well worth a read.

While your at it, I strongly recommend reading "Is There A South Anymore" from a 1986 issue of Southerner Magazine. I love the part towards the end where he talks about what makes the South different: A heightened sense of community, manners, ritual, morality, white/black relations, and the continuity of our culture.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Remembering Steve McNair

My family came in this weekend and we got to spend a good bit of time together doing things in and around Nashville. Because we were enjoying the day with my three year old niece, I didn’t get to listed to much outside of kids music and if I got to watch TV it was typically Dora the Explorer or Clifford the Big Red Dog. On Saturday we headed down to LP field to watch the 4th of July fireworks from the east bank of the river. We were sitting outside of gate #9 when the family next to us turned on their radio to get the latest on the weather. The first thing that we hear was local sportscaster George Plaster’s voice declaring that Steve McNair had been killed.

Everyone within earshot was shocked and the word spread through the crowd quickly. Some people walked around to the north side of the stadium to look at his picture. The mood of the crowd quickly changed to match the darkening skies and rapidly deteriorating weather. I know that I felt like I had just taken a shot to the gut and still feel a little down about the whole situation. Tributes to “Air” McNair have sprung up all over Nashville and one the unpleasantness is resolved I hope we have the sense to celebrate his career by retiring his number (I know he is in the Ring of Honor, but I don't think that's the same thing).

Steve McNair was a hell of an athlete and a great man off the field. I always liked him because of his toughness, kindness, and giving spirit. I also held him in particular favor because he was from Mississippi. Here are a few things I will always remember about Steve McNair
1. His toughness: Steve McNair was a warrior. He constantly played, with injuries. I remember on stretch of games in particular where he had a bruised sternum. The pain was so intense that he wasn’t able to practice, but on game days he would suck it up and lead the team down the field.
2. Mississippi Pride: Many athletes from Mississippi, especially black athletes, forget about their roots when they finally make it big. In my opinion, Jerry Rice and Walter Payton didn’t give much back to their home state. This is probably partially because the racial environment was different back then. Steve McNair, along with Brett Favre and Deuce McAllister were a new breed of athletes that gave back to Mississippi and tried to make it a better place for everyone. Steve McNair always remained humble and never forgot where he came from.
3. Giving Back to the Community: Steve always did everything he could for kids and the underprivledged through the Steve McNair Foundation. He held free football camps for kids in both Nashville and in Mississippi and was heavily involved in the Boys and Girls Club. I’ll never forget him sending several tractor trailers full of food, water, and clothing down to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. What was amazing was that Steve just didn’t loan his name to the cause. He was actually out there loading tractor trailers and thanking people who were making donations.
4. Athletic Ability: Growing up I head about the ledgend that was Steve McNair. He played his high school ball at Mount Olive. At the age of 16, Steve led the school to a state championship, playing every down, playing the positions of quarterback, defensive back, punter, kicker, and return specialist. Later, before heading off to college I remember him breaking almost every NCAA offensive record at Alcorn State. While in college I drove to Memphis to watch the then Tennessee Oilers play the Baltimore Ravens in what was, for a time, the lowest attended game in NFL history. McNair has just taken the QB position over from Chris Chandler and Mississippians were driving in from everywhere to watch him play. He was probably one of the most prolific players the Titans has ever seen setting several records and getting the team within 1 yard of a Superbowl win.

There are many other things that I will always remember about Steve. Nashville and Mississippi have lost one of the “good ones.”

You will be missed #9.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Blogaroo Part 1: The bands

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about my second Bonnaroo experience. There were so many aspects to the weekend, so I decided to break it up into topics instead of giving a rundown of my daily activities. I guess the first thing I should write about is the music and other entertainment. Overall I ended up seeing 20 different acts. By seeing I mean I stuck around long enough to watch a few songs. Technically I heard more acts but I didn’t really want to list bands that I saw in passing.

My five favorite performances (in no particular order)
1. Wilco. Who would have guessed, right? I’ve always made it pretty clear that they are my favorite band. It was a much better performance than their last appearance at Bonnaroo (Jeff Tweedy was just coming out of rehab back then). To me the highlights were Hummingbird and Woody Guthrie’s California Stars.
2. Phish: I’d never seen these guys before and was pretty excited about it. They were the headliner on Friday and Sunday night. I can’t say they blew me away on Friday. Maybe it was because I was worn out after a long day and a stellar Beastie Boy’s show. Maybe I had too many beers. Regardless, I went back on Sunday and was blown away, especially when Bruce Springsteen sat in with them for a couple of songs. I think the best thing about seeing Phish is how passionate and wild their fans are. I think all the glowsticks flying through the air look cool too.
3. Jimmy Buffett: This show was originally billed as Ilo and the Coral Reefers (Ilo is a talented west African musican Jimmy discovered). Somehow Jimmy ended up playing as well. It wasn’t as rowdy as a typically Buffett show would be, but it was good regardless. I thought the highlight of the show was when Ilo expressed how 48 hours before the show he didn’t know if he would be allowed into the US, and expressed how happy he was to be in our country.
4. Beastie Boys: The last time I saw the Beastie Boys was on the Ill Communication Tour back around 1994. It still ranks as one of the best shows I have ever seen. The guys are a little older and don’t have the energy they did back then, but they still didn’t disappoint. The highlights for me were the debute of a new song “Too Many Rappers” performed with Nas and Paul Revere. If you were alive when Licensed to Ill was released and you don’t know all the words to Paul Revere then something is wrong with you.
5. Public Enemy: If I actually did rank the top five sets that I saw, PE would fall into either the #1 or #2 slot. They tore it up. Chuck D and Flav walked out with the S1W’s and announced they would start by playing every song off the groundbreaking album It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold us Back (ranked 48th best album of all time by Rolling Stone, and one of my personal favorites.

A few performances I thought were overrated.
1. Bruce Springsteen and the E. Street Band: Bruce puts on a very high energy show, but he is pretty cheesy. So is everyone in his band. This is the second time I have seen him perform live and I’m still not impressed. I tried to stick it out but left after he played “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Who the hell plays that in June? I kind of wish I stuck around so I could see him perform with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.
2. Animal Collective: I heard so much hype about Animal Collective, and thought they were pretty bad. Maybe they just aren’t a good live band, or maybe they need to play a later time slot.
3. Girl Talk: I love GT and have heard seeing him live is an awesome experience. I think if you get to the show early enough it probably is. If you don’t and end up in the back you kind of feel uninvolved. I was also a little irritated that the artists laptop kept cutting out and he had to stop the show a couple of times because people were getting crushed.

Five bands that exceeded my expectations
1. Hockey: I basically watched this band because I was too tired to walk to a different stage. They were actually pretty damn good. They had an interesting 70’s soul/funk sound. I really enjoyed this show and will probably buy their album.
2. Galactic with Trombone Shorty and Corey “Boe Money” Henry: Take one of New Orleans best funk bans and combine it with two of New Orleans best trombone players and you have yourself one hell of a party.
3. Ben Harper and the Relentless7: I went to see Ben Harper to kill a little time before MGMT played. I’ve always liked Ben Harper but get bored with his more gospel-like material. With the Relentless7 he just rocks out. Great show.
4. Bon Iver: I didn’t have high expectations about Bon Iver. His album “For Emma” has been lauded as one of the best of 2008, but I found it to be a little too slow and quiet. His live performance is nothing like that. They actually rock out. I got to the show a little late and soon wished I got there earlier.
5. Neko Case: I’m not a big female singer fan, but Neko sounded real good. I’m thinking about seeing her at the Ryman later this year.

Things I regret missing.
1. MGMT: I really wanted to see this band. Oracular Spectacular is pretty much dominating my CD player right now. Unfortunately I decided to take a disco nap and didn’t wake up in time. This is especially disappointing now that I know Drew Barrymore (Pic 15) was there.
2. Nine Inch Nails: I skipped this show because I had just seen them in October. Trent Reznor announced it would be their last North American show.
3. Phoenix: People were absolutely raving about this band. I checked the tour dates and every show is sold out.

There were several other bands I saw.
1. Crystal Castles: I really liked them but only cought two songs.
2. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Second time seeing them. Good show as always.
3. TV on the Radio: Second time seeing them. Great band. Good show.
4. Snoop Dogg: Pretty good as expected.
5. Passion Pit: I like their music. Live show was ok, but not outstanding. I liked the music enough to want to buy the album.
6. White Rabbits: Didn’t care for them but will give it another listen because Britt Daniels of Spoon produced their album.
7. Chairlift: Didn’t care for them.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


I've often declared how much I like the tacos at my local taco truck. It's pretty simple to order because every item is a dollar. The great meal you see before you came to a grand total of six bucks. For that low price I got a Jarrito's Mandrin Orange soft drink (my orange soda addiction continues), four canita (roasted pork) tacos and one cabeza (beef cheek) taco. The meal is garnished with pickled carrots and radishes and served with two types of sauce.
Can you find the beef cheek taco in the picture? It's actually the one in the front right corner. If you take a close look, you will notice that it's much "wetter" than the other tacos. The beef cheek was actually pretty good, once you got used to the consistency. It was very tender and had a mild flavor.

Update on the garden

All of my plants are doing great, with the exception of the cilantro. It tends to want to either wilt in the heat or grow straight up in the air without producing leaves. The tomato plants have stearted to produce little green fruit. I'm thinking in two or three weeks some will be ripe enough to eat.

The tomato plants are thirsty little guys. I have to put at least a quart of water in each one every night. I also bought some aqua globes which help a little, but just aren't big enough to make a difference.

I've got two empty 10" pots that I may try to grow something in soon. I'm thinking about trying some type of pepper, but have to read up a little more.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"The Latin Paradox" or "Why Are There No Ethnic Bums"

I may be treading on some controversial material here, but what the hell, it interests me.

While in Charleston, two of my friends went into a convenience store. One was Chinese and the other was a white guy. The man behind the counter was from Africa, most likely Somalia. My white friend had left his wallet at the house and my Chinese friend had to spot him. While paying for their merchandise, he made a crack to the Somali saying “White people, always looking to get something for free.” I thought it was humorous, but the Somali found it absolutely hysterical.

I didn’t really understand why he found it so funny until today. I was standing outside of a taco truck waiting for my dinner to be prepared. A black man approached me and the Mexican gentlemen standing next to me asking for money or cigarettes. We told him that we couldn’t help him and he eventually walked off. Once he left the Mexican turned to me and asked me a question in Spanish. When he figured out I didn’t understand he spoke in perfect English. We had a pretty interesting conversation. The Mexican was trying to understand why the only panhandlers he came across were either African American or Caucasian. He had never run across a Mexican or Hispanic panhandler, or one from Asia, the Middle East, or Africa. He was a little irritated that Americans tended to look down upon Mexicans and Hispanics when they tended to be hard working and (mostly) law abiding people.

The question has been churning around in my head for a few hours now. I’ve read some interesting articles on the internet regarding what is known as the “Latino Paradox.” Studies in major cities like New York and LA show that despite having a low socio-economic position (similar to that of African Americans) the distribution of homeless Latinos is much smaller than their percentage of the total population. Many attribute this to the importance of family and community in Latino cultures. If a Latino gets down on his luck there is a family member somewhere that feels an obligation to help his relative out. I also think the importance of family influences this in other ways. I never really thought about it, but Americans work hard to earn money to survive, buy more things, and develop social status often at the expense of family. Mexican immigrants tend to work hard because they value their families and want to provide for them, but they don’t seem to lose sight of being part of the family as well.

There are probably other culture differences that attribute this as well. If you have any thoughts as to why this Latin Paradox exists, please feel free to post them.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Eating Out: City House, Knockout Wings, and The Tale of Two Taco Trucks.

City House: This restaurant is located in the Germantown neighborhood and is the brainchild of Chef Tandy Wilson. The restaurant declares itself as an authentic Italian restaurant that prides itself in using in-season locally grown produce and meats. Although the emphasis is Italian, the restaurant also offers it’s take on traditional southern foods. I really liked the décor of the restaurant. It was simple yet classy, without being stuffy or overly elegant. I was a little irritated that our table was not ready despite a reservation and the water is served with no ice. I cooled out a little once I got my Sazerac, the official cocktail of New Orleans. This drink is made of rye whiskey, bitters, sugar, and herbsaint. I was really impressed by the menu and chose to go with the Tennesse pork plate. This dish had a sampling of house cured pulled pork and house made sausage. It was served with aruglula that was cooked in a similar fashion to greens. It was very good-a little salty-but this should be expected when using house cured pork products. My cocktail and entrée ran roughly $30, which I thought was a bargin. I was also impressed that 20 year old Rip Van Winkle, the top ranked bourbon in the world, was offered on the desert menu. I’d definitely eat here again.

Knockout Wings: I’ve been trying to dine my way across two of the “ethnic cooridors” on my side of town. Jefferson Street is one of them. This is a predominately African American part of town that is famous for being the home of two traditionally African American universities: Fisk University and the Tennessee State University. Back in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s Jefferson Street was one of the most well known black neighborhoods in the southeast, famous for it’s jazz, blues, and R&B scenes. Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, and Little Richard all played there. Eventually an interstate cut the neighborhood in half, and desegregation gave black Nashvillians the opportunity to shop in other areas of town. Knockout wings is located in the heart of this neighborhood. I ordered a dozen wings, half hot, half country. The first thing I noticed is that country means plain. The second thing I noticed was that the order only included drummies, there were no flats. The hot wings had decent flavor but didn’t blow me away and the famous biscuits were a little too sweet for my taste. Overall I found the restaurant to be a little overrated.

Charlotte Pike Taco Trucks: Charlotte Pike is one of the more diverse roads in Nashville. There are Hispanic, Korean, Indian, Vietnamese, and other types of cuisine offered on this street. I decided to start checking up some of the taco trucks located on this street. I’m not sure what the places true names are but I think the first one is called Tex-Mex and is located in about the 5800 block near the cluster of Vietnamese restaurants. I tried the steak (asada) and beef brisket bbq (barbacoa). They were 99 cents each and served with onions, cilantro, and a sauce. They were excellent, but upstaged by the truck in the 6300 block near the Sonic. This truck had a decent steak taco and a phenomenal carnita (roasted pork) taco. On top of that, the tacos were garnished with radishes and pickled carrots and they were only $1 each. I had a conversation with an acquaintance from Acapulco and he convinced me to go back and try some of the more exotic meats. In the near future expect reports on my experiences with tripe, beef cheek, tongue, and other strange meats!

Balcony Garden

Two weeks ago I decided to plant a balcony container garden. All of my plants were bought at Gardens of Babylon in the Nashville Farmers Market. I strongly recommend this business. They have a great selection and I found the employees to be extremely knowledgeable and friendly.

I already had two flower boxes that were going unused, so I decided to fill these with herbs. Each box contains two plants. One contains cilantro and curled parsley. The other contains basil and Greek oregano. I’ve also got a couple of potted plants. I’ve got two 10” pots, one containing a rosemary plant and the other thyme.

I also have a couple of tomato plants. I chose two varieties: Bush Champions and Juliets. The Bush Champion was recommended for container gardens because the plants are only 24” tall, but can produce full size tomatoes. What I didn’t know when I bought the plant is a determinant variety. This means the plant will produce one harvest, and then may not produce another. I would have preferred an indeterminate variety, or a plant that continues to produce all season long, but I really didn’t understand the concept at the time. I’m not sure what the Juliets will end up looking like. It’s often described as being too big to put into salads without slicing, but too small to be a “slicer” tomato. It’s an indeterminate variety so it should produce all season.
All of the plants have been doing very well. I used a little cilantro in some black bean and corn burritos I made the other day. I also combined some of the rosemary with goat cheese to stuff some chicken breasts. The tomatoes are doing very well. I moved them to larger pots, added gravel to improve drainage and staked the Juliets up. After reading a few articles I decided to add some companion plants-plants that have symbiotic relationships with each other. The bush champions now share space with some chives and the Juliets now live with some mint.

Here are some pictures.

I’m still trying to decide what to grow in the two 10” pots the tomatoes used to live in. If you have any suggestions let me know.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Best Parks in Nashville

On Saturday morning I went to the downtown library looking for a travel guide on Charleston. They didn’t have any on hand but I did stumble on a travel guide on Nashville. I had no intention of reading it, but I skimmed it over this morning to see if there were any major attractions I have missed out on. There was a section in the book regarding all of the nicknames this city has had or currently has. The list included: Music City USA, The Athens of the South, The Belt Buckle of The South, The Wall Street of the South (Nashville was a major player in southern banking before the shift to entertainment and healthcare) and The City of Parks.

City of Parks is an accurate description. The Nashville Parks commission states they manage 113 properties encompassing over 10,000 acres. In addition we have eight state parks the Nashville Metro area, numerous dog parks, and an aggressive plan in place to connect every part of Nashville through a series of urban greenways. Here is a list of some of my favorite parks in Nashville.

1. Centennial Park: (West End and Natchez Trace) I live two blocks away from Centennial Park and it is easily my favorite park in town. In my opinion, Centennial Park is the heart of the city. On any given day you can find numerous people taking advantage of what this area has to offer. The Parthenon, a replica of the Greek landmark that remains from the Exhibition, is its cornerstone. It houses the statue of Athena, a museum, and an art gallery. Lake Watuga is probably the second most notable feature and you can often find people fishing, feeding the birds, or relaxing on its banks. The park also boasts acres of green space, gardens, walking/running trails, and many other attractions. The park sponsors most of Nashville's key events including Earth Day, Movies in the Park, The Shakespere Festival, The Italian Festival, The Country Music Marathon, numerous chairity walks, and many other events. The park was added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1972. In 2008 Mayor Karl Dean announced a major initiative to restore and preserve the park.

2. Shelby Bottoms: (Shelby and 20th) Shelby Bottoms is amazing because its 810 acres of undeveloped land located in an area where land would probably sell for a hefty price. It has five miles of paved and unpaved trails making it popular amongst runners, bikers, hikers, and birdwatchers. On the weekend, I often ride my bike across the river through Shelby Bottoms, and into the Stones River Greenway. Shelby Bottoms is also located near Shelby Park which is popular because of its playgrounds, baseball field, lake, picnic areas, and boat ramps.

3. “Dragon Park”: (Blakemore and 24th) The actual name of this park is Fannie Mae Dees Park, but it’s better known as “Dragon Park.” When I lived in Hillsboro Village I was only a block away from this park. I’ll admit that there are nicer parks, but I think this one is probably the coolest one if you’re a little kid. The highlight of the park is “The Dragon,” a giant sculpture of a sea serpent covered with mosaic designs. A lesser known fact is that the park is also the home to Tennessee’s first “Boundlessness Playground.” The playground is the brainchild of a local mom who was concerned because there was no play area that was accessible to children with physical and developmental disabilities. Through her hard work and the support of her community “Lily’s Garden” was constructed and named after her daughter.

4. Radnor Lake: (Granny White and Otter Creek Road) Radnor Lake is a state park located in the Oak Hill community. The lake is actually manmade, it was constructed by a railroad company to supply water for it’s steam engines. Eventually developers tried to make the area into suburban tract housing, but the public prevailed and it’s now one of Nashville more popular parks. The area is always packed with walkers, hikers, and birders taking advantage of the several miles of paved and unpaved trails. The area also boasts a large selection of wildlife including birds, otters, and deer.

5. The Warner Parks: (Highway 100) Edwin Warner and Percy Warner parks are located in West Nashville, and when combined is one of the largest parks in the US. Currently the park is at 2,684 acres with negotiations underway to purchase another 324 acres of ancient forest from the HG Hill family. I don’t make it out to this park as much as I would like but it’s very popular. It has several miles of hiking and equestrian trails and hosts the Iroquois Steeplechase.

Honorable Mention: Sevier Park, Beeman Park, Hall Of Fame Park, Hamilton Creek Park

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Catching up on Restaurants: Old Timer’s Pit BBQ, Mirror, Satay, Paradise Ridge, and Kien Giang

A blog about food is long overdue. I’ve actually been to a couple of new restaurants over the past few weeks. Here is the update:

Old Timers Pit BBQ: Barbeque is one of my favorite foods. Nashville BBQ has typically disappointed me but after reading Ulika’s coverage of Old Timer’s I decided to give it a try. Old Timers is located in Bordeaux. For the non-Nashville readers, it’s not one of those places you just happen to drive through. You actually have to make a concentrated effort to end up there. I went there for lunch on a Saturday instead of ordering a combo I decided to get two sandwiches: a BBQ sandwich and a fish sandwich. The BBQ was decent. It was moist, but not too moist. My only complaint was that there wasn’t enough “bark” the dark, slightly charred meat from the outside of the pork shoulder. The fish sandwich (sandwiches tend to be a mainstay the in the Nashville African-American community) was gigantic. There were at least five fish filets on two slices of white bread with pickles and hot sauce. I’d definitely eat here again. I’m also interested in getting some cracklin’ here if they ever have any freshly cooked when I pop in.

Mirror: I met up with a friend a few weeks ago for Brunch at Mirror. It was surprisingly empty when we arrived at noon. I do not recommend the Bloody Mary, as it was one of the worst non-commerical mix bloodys I have ever had. My frittata with goat cheese and roasted vegetables was excellent. Mirror doesn’t blow me away, but it doesn’t disappoint either.

Satay: I love thai food and was pumped when Satay opened up in the old Wing Basket location near my house. I have mixed feelings about this restaurant. The menu is way too basic. If I remember correctly there were two soups, two appatizers, two salads, and two entrees offered. The food was very basic and very fresh, but very unremarkable. Even though it was pretty affordable and very convenient to my house, I doubt I will eat here often.

Paradise Ridge: I was still on my BBQ kick and had to run out to West Nashville to get a few things. While I was there I popped into Paridise Ridge Grille to try out their barbeque. I was pretty hungry so I got the rib and pulled pork combo with fried okra and white beans. The ribs were good. They were pretty meaty and served with a decent sauce. The pulled pork was excellent. I’d definitely eat here again.

Kien Giang: This Vietnamese restaurant is located in West Nashville in a part of town that has become spotted with Vietnamese, Korean, and Mexican restaurants. I’ve eaten here twice over the past few weeks. The first time I went I had an excellent bowl of pho (Vietnamese noodle soup). The only problem was that while I remembered to ask for no tripe, I forgot to ask for no tendon. I think that the tendon does add some flavor to the broth, but don’t really like it’s taste or texture. The second time I went I got Bahn Xeo, or Vietnamese pancakes. Although called a pancake the dish is really more akin to an omlet. You place a piece of the pancake in a lettuce leaf and season it with fresh basil and other spices. My Bahn Xeo was stuffed with bean sprouts, vegetables and shrimp. While the atmosphere leaves a lot to be desired, it has become one of my favorite ethnic restaurants based on the low prices and great food. Expect terrible service if you go.

Well, it’s dinnertime. I’m saving the three restaurants I haven’t wrote about for after my meal.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Weekend Update: Record Store Day, Earth Day, Bre Aid, Lollapalooza

1) Record Store Day at Grimey’s was awesome. I saw a great performance by the Avett Brothers, bought “It’s Blitz” the new album by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, bought “Separation Sunday” by The Hold Steady and 10 used CD’s (at an amazing $2 a pop). Nashville is pretty lucky to have several great music stores in my opinion. It should also be noted that Grimey’s got some pub in a recent Spin article about the 15 best indie record stores in America (side note: I’ve been to five of them including Goner, Grimey’s, Ear-x-tacy, Reckless, and Amoeba)

2) Earth Day was pretty cool. This event was definitely improved over last year. Exhibits of note included some cool electric cars, a neat booth about invasive species, and the local farmers. I also got to see some great performances by Autovaughn and Charles "Wigg" Walker and the Dynamites. I picked up a copy of Local Table while I was there, reading it makes me want to join a CSA (Consumer supported agriculture). These are programs where an individual purchases “shares” of a farm from a local farmer. In return the farmer gives the shareholder a portion of the harvest, equivalent to the number of shares the individual owns. It sounds like a great way to get fresh, local produce on a consistent basis. My worries are that I may not be able to consume my share fast enough and I could possibly get tired of eating the same vegetables over and over, especially in the winter months when fewer crops are harvested. My Earth Day Pledges were to sign up for a few kilowatt hours of green power with the local electric company and to get off as many junk mail lists as possible.

3) I think Bre-Aid was a great success. This event was a fundraiser for my friend Bre Andrews. Bre, who is 28 years old was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. She was 15 weeks pregnant at the time. Bre has been going to her treatments and is expecting to deliver in a few weeks. The treatments haven’t been cheap though and her friends and family have been rallying to help her out. It was cool to see her small town get behind her and put an event like this on. I’m guessing that somewhere between 300 to 400 people showed up for the event. If everyone contributed the suggested $20 then there was probably well over $6,000 raised.

4) Bought my Lollapalooza tickets today. The lineup didn’t blow me away, but it’s pretty solid. The bands that I’m most excited about seeing are mostly bands I have seen before like the Beastie Boys, Kings of Leon, The Killers, Band of Horses, TV on the Radio, The Decemberists, and The Gaslight Anthem. There are several bands that I’ve never seen I’m interested in, including Janes Addiction, Snoop Dogg, Vampire Weekend, Animal Collective, Of Montreal, and Fleet Foxes.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Flight of the Conchords!

I'm heading down to the Ryman on Friday afternoon to see New Zealand's fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo accapella-rap-funk-comedy-folk dou. I'm really looking forward to the show. I'm not quite sure what to expect, but it should be a good time. Enjoy a few videos:

The Most Beautiful Girl (in the room)

If your into it

And of course Business Time

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Pearls Before Swine: Danny Donkey

Danny Donkey is my favorite Pearls Before Swine character. Danny Donkey is a character in Rat's childrens book. He is minanthropic, loves to steal, has no morals, and only cares about drinking beer and smoking cigarettes.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Earth Hour update and another video involving light

Earth Hour was a huge success. Millions of people world-wide shut their lights off for an hour to make a statement regarding climate change. Nashville, which is trying to become one of the greenest cities in America, was one of this year’s flagship cities. I headed downtown for the event and it was pretty neat. Lower Broadway, where Nashville’s Honky Tonks (Country music bars) are located was almost completely dark. Iconic neon signs like the ones on Tootsie’s, Jack’s BBQ, and Robert’s Western World were darkened. Key structures like the Bell South Tower, Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge, Sommet Center, and Parthenon were nearly lightless.

Here is a before shot of the Nashville Skyline. Please remember the event was held on a Saturday and many businesses shut their lights off before leaving on Friday. Here is the after shot. Are they as impressive as I hoped? Not really, but I still think Nashville did a good job. Those clowns in the suburbs could have done better though.

Here is a link a Boston Globe photo essay showing monuments all over the world that went dark in celebration of Earth Hour. You can click on any photo and see it go from fully lit to dark. My favorite is the one of Las Vegas. It’s amazing to see how dark a city known for it’s neon lights was able to get.

In other light-related news, check out this video. Some shepards outfitted their flocks with LED lights and through some really well coordinated sheep-hearding were able to make some art and “animations”

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Trader Joes: Overrated! Give me a Rouses.

I don’t feel that my grocery buying habits are very different from the average American’s. I go to the grocery store once a week and typically prepare food at home for my weeknight meals. I try to focus my grocery buying to the outer wall of the store, buying fresh produce, meats, dairy, and bread. I try to steer away from the prepared and frozen foods but do have weaknesses for the convenience of frozen stir fry vegetables, canned soup, the occasional frozen pizza, and hot pockets (my drunk food). I do most of my grocery shopping at Kroger but have been also known to hit the Harris Teeter and Whole Foods. I do not like shopping at Publix because I feel that it’s overpriced. Nashville finally got a Trader Joe’s and I’ve always heard people rave about it, so I decided to stop in and check it out. After about five minutes in the place, I just wanted to put my shopping basket down and get the hell out of there.

I didn’t have a very extensive grocery list. I needed to get some basic staples and thought this would be a simple task. I was so wrong. The first issue was the spice section of the store was absolutely terrible. I needed to pick up a few seasonings for a pork dish I was planning on making. TJ didn’t even have sea salt. What kind of grocery store doesn’t have salt? It was already obvious I was going to have to supplement this trip with a stop at Kroger.

The second issue I had was around the meat section of the store. It’s small and there are no butchers or fishmongers visible. All of the meat is prepackaged. Most of the grocery stores I worked in did their butchering in house. Did TJ have an actual butcher that worked there or did it come in already wrapped in cellophane?

My third issue was that the store seemed to revolve around convenience. There were a ton of frozen heat-and-eat meals, which I don’t eat and lots of frozen meats. These are things I typically do not buy.

I will give TJ credit when it comes to produce. They don’t have an extensive selection, but it looked fresh and the prices were good. They also had a great selection of healthy snacks like nuts and dried fruits. I’m not a giant snacker, but if I was this would be appealing. They did have a great beer selection.

My verdict: The abundance of heat-and-eat foods and snacks reminded me of a convenience store. I wasn’t shocked when I found out that TJ’s had its roots in the Pronto Market convenience store chain. Thus, I feel that TJ’s was a convenience store with a produce section. I’m going to stay the course and make my groceries at Kroger. I just wish people in Nashville would get behind getting a Rouses here. They have the best business model in my opinion. The key word is local. The stores are locally owned and operated and sell locally grown produce, locally grown meat, and locally caught seafood (not an option in TN).

Pedestrians need to pay attention

The weather has been pretty nice the past few days. When the weather is good, I try to leave the car in the garage and either walk or ride my bike. On Wednesday, I rode my bike down to Broadway Brewhouse to have some drinks with some friends. On the way I noticed that the average pedestrian is pretty inattentive. My first observation of this was down by the Borders Bookstore on West End. A jogger was listening to her MP3 player so loud that I could hear it over my own (which was being played at a reasonable volume). The girl ran in front of a car that had the right of way and didn’t even know that she almost got hit. All I could do is look at the driver of the car and shrug my shoulders.

Later on my ride, I was heading down the sidewalk (which I will only do on the most congested streets) and saw a guy approaching me from the other direction. As is customary, each of us stayed to our right. This would mean that if we maintained course, when I rode by he would have been on my left. As I got near the guy, he darted into my path, grabbed the bars of a fence, and started staring at a building. The guy was totally oblivious to my presence and probably wouldn’t have even noticed me if he didn’t hear my bike skidding. I glared at him and he gave me a sheepish look.

The final incident was this afternoon when I was coming back from Lunch. I was behind a black hybrid and both of us were waiting to turn left onto Acklen Park Drive. We finally got the green arrow and started making out turn. A couple tried to dart across the intersection (they had long missed the walk sign) and almost got crushed by the hybrid. The hybrid almost got rear ended by me.

I started searching the internet to see if I could get any statistics on how many pedestrians get struck vs. how many bicyclists. Obviously, there are more pedestrians walking the streets than there are cyclists, but the number of incidents was pretty different. In 2007, in the state of Tennessee, there were 1,067 pedestrians involved in accidents vs. only 279 bicyclists. In Davidson County 228 pedestrians were hit compared to only 50 cyclists.

The moral of the story: while pedestrians do have the right of way, a car is typically going to win that battle. Pay attention as you walk and bike the streets.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Movie Reviews: In Bruges, Choke, and Inglorious Bastards

In Bruges: This film is about two hitmen trying to lay low in Bruges. One is excited about the sightseeing and the other is pissed that he has to hang out there. I was really interested in seeing this movie for two reasons. The first is because it was called a European version of Pulp Fiction, but main reason is because I really enjoyed my visit to Bruges a few years ago. Bruges is a quiet little medieval town in Belgium. I really enjoyed it because it’s a beautiful town and I like the pace of life. All the people there were really into were beer, food, and chocolate. I enjoyed the scenery in the movie, but found it hard to follow the plot. I give it a two out of five.

Choke: This is the second movie based on a book by Chuck Palahniuk, one of my favorite authors. It’s about a sex addict who supplements his income by pretending to choke while eating in restaurants. He also has to deal with an aging mother suffering from dementia. Like all things Palahniuk, it’s pretty twisted. I thought it was a good movie, but nowhere near as good as Fight Club. Great book though. I give it a three out of five.

Inglorious Bastards: This is an Italian WWII movie made back in the 70’s. It’s about a group of US soldiers who are heading off to military prison. They end up escaping and trying to flee to Switzerland, but are recruited to for a commando mission instead. I got it because Quinton Tarintino is making a film called The Inglorious Basterds. After watching this film I’m pretty sure the movies are not related. Not a bad flick. I give it a four out of five.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Restaurant Reviews: Coco’s Italian Market and Asian Market

I was under the weather for most of the week and never got around to going to the grocery store. I was able to live off the odds and ends lying around the house, but on Thursday I finally ran out of food and had to venture out into the world. I ended up heading down to the Italian Market, which has been bought by the folks who own Café Coco, and has been rebranded as Coco’s Italian Market. I was a little disappointed in this because I do not like Coco Café. To me their service is bad and their food is extremely salty. Coco’s Italian Market isn’t that different. I ordered the Bauletti, ravioli with spinach and alfredo sauce. Like most of Coco’s food it was extremely salty. I also ordered a muffuletta. It was ok-not as good as the original Italian markets though. It came with a side of pasta salad which was, guess what: salty. I wasn’t blown away by the food, so I don’t think I’ll be going back to this place.

I heard about an Asian market on the corner of Murfreesboro and Bell road that serves Filipino food. Like most Asian food stores, it’s a pretty shady place. What makes it even shadier is that it isn’t a true restaurant. It’s a card table with a bunch of crock pots full of Filipino foods. A decent sized serving costs $5. I ended up going with the Pancit Bihon, a very popular Filipino food consisting of stir fried rice noodles with some vegetables. Very basic, very safe.

I also got the kare-kare. This is a Filipino stew made of ox-tail, peanut sauce, and vegtbles. The version at this store did not include tripe, which I was thankful for.
I’m trying to get more in touch with my Filipino roots, so I’m definitely going back to this place. I’ve got to be careful though. I don’t want to end up eating anything too weird like Dinuguan (Pork Blood Stew) or Balut (Fertilized Duck Egg).

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Nashville Scene agrees with my position on lofts

The Bites Blog on the Nashville Scene agrees with me. Lofts are full of douchebags. The scene shares this joke with us: What's the difference between an apartment and a loft? Everything's exactly the same, except a pretentious asshole lives in the loft.

I also wanted to include this part of the Scene's Ubran Flats review:
The surprise came when I asked my dining companions if they would drive back to the Gulch for dinner at Urban Flats. "I love the food," one person said, "but I don't get in my car and drive to dinner at any of those suburbany-feeling places."
Suburbany? But this is Urban Flats. It's in the Gulch, for Pete's sake. It's full of stained concrete, glass and industrial-height ceilings. You think it feels suburbany?
Well, yeah, maybe a little—only because everything at Urban Flats is new and still has that just-add-water-and-pendant-lights sheen to it, like so much suburban strip-mall architecture. But the restaurant isn't a phony. It doesn't pretend to reclaim an old industrial space, as do so many new projects—which reminds again me of that joke about the difference between lofts and apartments.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Gulch and why it sucks.

I’m going to take this opportunity to vent a little about the Gulch. I’ve been spending more time than I like there lately and think it by far the most overrated area of Nashville. My reasons:
  • It’s way overpriced. A 600 sq ft condo with a poor view will run you $200K. Your association fee will run you another $200-$300 a month on top of your mortgage. You want assigned parking, get the checkbook out because it’s going to cost you as well.
  • It’s like living in a giant hotel. I’ve only been to a few units but my impression of the residential area is I feel like I’m in a giant Marriott hotel.
  • It’s basically the suburbs in the city. Why do people move to the suburbs? The most common reason is to raise children, which I can understand to an extent. In my mind it’s because they are scared of the city. They are scared of the possibility of crime and run-ins with people who are not like them. They want to be adventurous, but are scared to be. They are image conscious and have a manufactured sense of self importance. They want cool but it’s got to be new construction.

To me this embodies the mindset of those in the Gulch. It’s where suburbanites can live before they get pregnant and have to move to Brentwood. Let’s look at the similarities.

  • Image consciousness: In Brentwood you drop half a mill on a 4K sq ft home. In the Gulch you drop 200K on a 600 square foot condo. In Brentwood you park your car in your three car garage. In the Gulch you put in the private parking spot you dish out $100 a month for. The same Gulch-liver who brags about living in the ICON will eventually go on to brag about living in the Governors Club.
  • Chain Restaurants: Gulch-dwellers love to tell you about their restaurants. If you assess the situation you will see there is an abundance of national chains like Cantina Laredo, Sambuca and Urban Flat Breads. There are also a handful of regional chains Ru San’s and the yet-to-be-opened Casablanca Coffee.
  • Crappy nightlife: The best bar in the Gulch is the Bluegrass Inn, which is not frequented by most that live in the area. Outside of that they have Mai, a terrible ultra-lounge, and Sambuca, which is more restaurant than bar.

To me the Gulch is a soulless area for people who want the suburbs in the city. I’m glad we have it though because it keeps those shitty people out of my areas of the city.

Restaurant Reviews: Wintzell's Oyster House, Urban Flat Bread

Wintzell’s Oyster House-Mobile, AL: On my way down to Mardi Gras I stopped at Wintzell’s for a half dozen oysters and a shrimp po-boy. I’m becoming to establish some criteria for what I want in oysters. First and foremost, I won’t eat oysters in a non-coastal area. I’ve had two bad experiences with oysters in Atlanta, Ga so I won’t eat them anywhere where they aren’t fresh out of the water. Second, I want cocktail sauce and fresh horseradish. I don’t want you to give me some ketchup and tell me to make my own cocktail sauce. This is why I don’t eat oysters at Cooter Brown’s in New Orleans. Third, I want them to be shucked cleanly. I hate it when oysters have grime on them. The oysters at Wintzell’s met all of my criteria. They were also a good size, not too big, but not too small. I would definitely eat oysters here again. My po-boy on the other hand was a little disappointing. The first noticeable problem was it was not served on traditional French bread. It was served on some kind of weird wanna-be French bread that was covered in butter. Secondly, the shrimp were too big. I hate po-boys that are made of popcorn shrimp, but I also hate it when they just have five or six jumbo shrimp on them. I’d try Wintzell’s again, but I’m not getting a po-boy, that’s for sure.

Urban Flat Breads-Nashville, TN: Urban Flat Breads is located in the bottom of the Icon building in the Gulch area of Nashville. The Gulch is an area that has several higher end “lofts” and “flats” that have been recently constructed, thus the name. Our group ordered several outstanding appetizers: Lobster Mac and Cheese, Loaded Potato Dip, and Spinach Artichoke Dip. For my entrée I had an artichoke, wild mushroom, and Goat Cheese flat. It consisted of roasted artichoke, wild mushrooms, roasted red peppers, spinach, and goat cheese served on a whole wheat flatbread. It was outstanding, but I wish they would have gone a little lighter on the ranch-like dressing that topped it. Overall I liked Urban Flat Breads. I thought it was a great concept with a great menu. I also thought they had an excellent, but somewhat overpriced wine list. Many of the reviews I read slammed the restaurant for its décor. I’ll have to say I agreed with this. The décor is a little sterile and boring, although I did like some of the photographs of local landmarks. Would I eat there again? Sure. Will it work into my rotations of favorites? It could, but it probably won’t.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Mardi Gras Recap

After spending a few days back in Nashville I headed back down to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to celebrate Mardi Gras. Many of my friends were shocked when they heard we celebrated Mardi Gras on the Gulf Coast. They were even more shocked when I told them how many cultures around the world celebrate Carnival. Mardi Gras (called Carnival in most other cultures) was celebrated in Europe well before introduced to North America. It was also observed in the previous capitals of the French Louisiana Territories (Mobile and Biloxi) before New Orleans became an established city.

I got into Ocean Springs, Mississippi late Friday night and met up with my hosts: Dave, Heather, and their little boy Carter. Heather’s best friend Anna (my date for the Mardi Gras Ball) was also in town from Washington, DC. We didn’t get into much, we just enjoyed some of Heather’s homemade jambalaya, drank a few drinks, and had some great conversation. We knew Saturday would be a big day as we were going to a Mardi Gras Ball in Biloxi.

On Saturday, the girls went out to get their nails done while Dave and I watched the kid. Later we all met up at the Harbor Landing for lunch. The Harbor is a bar and grill located on the gulf. It’s got a great, laid back atmosphere. There are several patio tables and hammocks for lounging. Food-wise, the Harbor Landing is known for its picnic baskets that are sold to boaters, its po-boys, and stuffed burgers. I went with the Isla de Mujeres burger, which was stuffed with pico de gallo and cheese, and served with a handful of homemade potato chips. It was a fabulous meal served in a great relaxing atmosphere. After lunch we headed back to the house and the girls headed down to Shearwater Pottery for a little shopping. Shearwater is a pottery commune on the gulf. It was leveled during Katrina but it’s now back in business. They produce beautiful works that can be found in the homes of coastal Mississippians.

After a quick nap we started getting ready for the Revelers ball. We put on our tuxedos and evening gowns and took Carter to the sitters. We then headed to the Bankston’s house for a little pre-party. There were plenty of drinks and appetizers for everyone. I was pretty excited about several of the dishes that I never get to eat back in Nashville: marinated crab claws, Tippah county caviar, and corn and crawfish bisque. None of them disappointed. Say what you want about coast-folks, but we can cook a mean meal.

After enjoying a few drinks and making a few new friends, we headed down to the Coliseum for the Mardi Gras Ball. The ball is an event sponsored by a particular Krewe (the organization sponsoring the parade). In our case the ball was for the Revelers. When we arrived there was a long red carpet that led to men in white gloves and tails who escorted you and your date to your table. Once you got to your table you could hit the bar and wait for the announcement of the Tableaux. The Tableaux is the royalty of the ball cumulating with the King and Queen. The theme for this year’s ball was Disney related so each member of the Tableaux was dressed to represent a Disney movie. After the Tableaux is presented the dance floor opens and the drinks continue to flow. We all had a good time.

The next few days were relaxing and for the most part uneventful. We played at little tennis at a racquet club located on the bay and enjoyed the occasional adult beverage. We also had a great dinner at a Mexican restaurant which included me spilling a large margarita all over the table. The next big event was on Fat Tuesday, when we headed down to Biloxi for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Carnival Association/Krewe of Neptune Parade. We were lucky enough to be hosted by the Denton Family. We first met up at their house located near the parade route. Most of the people there had kids so they all played together while the adults (or bigger “kids”) enjoyed beverages and conversation. We later headed down to the Denton’s law firm which was located right on the parade route. We enjoyed some snacks and took in the parade. It was fun attending Mardi Gras with the kids.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast is a special place and attending this year’s Mardi Gras (my first on the coast since high school) made me realize how much I miss living there. It’s a special place full of special people. Maybe one day I can make it back there to settle down.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Restaurant Reviews: Steve's Marina, Ninfas, Acme, Mignon's, Camilla Grille

Steve’s Marina Restaurant (Gulfport, MS): I don’t really know much about this restaurant other than it used to be located on the water down in Long Beach. Katrina completely destroyed the place. Steve’s relocated to the old Montana’s/Homestead log cabin on Airport road until the new place is rebuilt. Atmospherically, it doesn’t work; a seafood restaurant shouldn’t be located in a log cabin. Our server might have been one of the most worthless people I have ever seen. The food was good though. My Shrimp Dianne was one of the better I have had and everyone else’s po-boys and gumbo looked great.

Ninfas (Baton Rouge, LA): I love Mexican food, but I hate it when people try to make Mexican upscale and expensive. If you have eaten at a Mexican chain that charges $10 for a plate of three tacos, you have eaten here. It was good, but not the kind of Mexican experience I like. I like my Mexican places to be shady. I want the staff to barely speak English. I want to wonder what kind of health score the place has. I don’t want to be waited on by some ass-clown from Nebraska who can’t pronounce fajita and I don’t want some dip-shit named Chet back in the kitchen making my guacamole. I’ll take Casa Fiesta or La Hacienda over this place any day.

Acme Oyster House (Metairie, LA): I’ve been to almost every Acme in LA. It’s a great place to grab a po-boy and a beer. This time I changed it up and went with the Oyster and Shrimp platter. It was good, but I’m going to stick to my Peacemaker po-boy in the future. I like Acme, and while it’s never failed me, I think I’m going to stop eating there. There are a million dining choices in New Orleans and there are many seafood restaurants that offer similar or better food at a more reasonable price. If you’re in the Quarter looking for something reasonably priced, quick, and tasty; then by all means, go to Acme. If you have the opportunity, go somewhere else. In the Metairie/Kenner area I recommend The Harbor, Kenner Seafood, or Bozos. If you’re looking to spend a little more try Drago’s in Fat City.

Mignon Steakhouse (Biloxi, MS): This restaurant is the upscale steakhouse located in the Palace Casino on the east side of Biloxi. My mom had a “comp” so I went with her and my dad. Typically, they would never eat at a place like this, but when it’s free they are definitely going to go and take advantage of it. The chef started us off with a complimentary coconut shrimp. We then tried two appetizers; the Kobe Beef Tetaki and the Biloxi Calamari. A passion fruit sorbet was served between courses. My entrée was the Kona Filet; a filet seasoned with Kona coffee and clarified butter, served with a lobster tail on a bed of sautéed spinach. I didn’t save room for desert. The total bill for the three of us came out to about $350. This is the second time I have eaten at this place and I think it’s pretty un-spectacular for an upscale steakhouse. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good. Way better than an Outback or a longhorn, but I’ve eaten better.

Camilla Grille (New Orleans, LA): This restaurant is located on Carrolton near St. Charles Avenue. It’s basically a diner with a variety of breakfast foods and sandwiches. We went here for some light night food after a night of drinking. It’s a pretty good establishment. I went with a Ruben and some fries. I wish I would have tried the burger. I didn’t know it, but it’s supposedly one of the best in New Orleans (I still think the best burger in NOLA is Port Of Call on Esplanade. This place suits my personality. It’s got a simple menu featuring burgers, steaks, and pizza. The only sides offered are salad and baked potatoes. They have a good selection of boat drinks and one of the better Bloodys I have had)

A few thoughts from the past few weeks

The last weeks have been pretty busy and life shows no signs of slowing down. Here are a few random thoughts from the past two weeks.

Nashville is Kid Friendly: I had some friends come into town for a convention and they brought along their three year old son. I never realized how kid friendly Nashville is. While they were here they got to visit the Martin ArtQuest Gallery at the Frist Center. ArtQuest is an interactive center where kids can learn about art. They can work with art educators and volunteers to create paintings, drawings, and other works of art and learn a little along the way. They also got to the Kids Zone at Nashville’s Main Public Library. The Kids Zone features some characters that sing, juggle, and read to the kids. It also offers a few puppet shows.

First Babysitting Experience: I had my first babysitting experience while my friends were in town. I watched their son while they went to a work event. It was much easier than I thought it would be. I took him for a tour of the condo and then we watched some Sesame Street. He ate a sandwich and played with his toys. Luckily, he didn’t have any accidents until right before mommy showed up.

Basements: I got invited to tag along to a house party in East Nashville. The party was held in a basement, probably the best basement I’ve ever been to. The family throwing the party was in the business of making costumes (elf ears, Klingon foreheads etc) so they had some wild stuff down there. The basement also had a great bar, a karaoke machine, and a old standup video game console (Prisoner of War) that had a computer installed with an emulator in it that allowed you to play any game you could imagine. The only thing that would have made this basement cooler was a foosball table.

South Louisiana: I love South Louisiana. I’d love to live there, but the job market is less than ideal for a man of my skill set. I do feel that I would fit in well there. South Louisianans enjoy many of the same things I do: Eating good food, having a big time, imbibing in one too many cocktails, fishing, good architecture, etc. I’m not saying I’m going to pack my bags and head there tomorrow, but I’m going to keep an eye on the scene down there a little closer than I have in the past.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Best Albums of 2008

This post is a little late in development, but it was one that I really wanted to write. I really enjoyed putting my list together last year. I didn’t think that this years offerings were as solid as last years, but here are my best albums of 2008 in no particular order.
1. The Hold Steady: Stay Positive. Remember back when we used cassette tapes and you could play one enough times that it would wear out? If my copy of Stay Positive was a tape it would have worn out about a month after I got it. I didn’t rank my favorite albums, but if I did, this would be at the top of the list: Favorite Track: “Lord, I’m discouraged”
2. The Gaslight Anthem: The ’59 Sound. My friend Marc convinced me to go see this band at the Exit-In. I absolutely fell in love with them. It’s hard to describe their sound, but I would tell you to imagine if Bruce Springsteen wrote songs for a soft-core punk band. Favorite Track: “Miles Davis& The Cool”
3. TV on the Radio: Dear Science. I bought this album pretty late in the year and wore it out while Christmas shopping. It’s one of the most diverse albums I purchased. At times it’s funky or jazzy and at other times it just rocks out. Favorite track: “Golden Age”
4. R.E.M.: Accelerate. Growing up, REM was one of my favorite bands. The band started putting out some albums that didn’t appeal to me in the 90’s so I grew apart from them. I heard great things about Accelerate and came across a used copy, so I picked it up. It ended up being one of my favorite REM albums. Favorite track: “Supernatural Superserious”
5. Neon Neon: Stainless Style. I’ve been into electronic and hip hop styles lately and this album definitely suits my tastes. This is actually a concept album. Every song on it is about John DeLorean the designer of the DeLorean DMC-12. Favorite track: “Michael Douglas”
6. My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges. The boys from Louisville put together a hell of an album. It’s much more upbeat than Z. Favorite track: “Aluminum Park”
7. Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend. I almost left this album off my list because it got overexposed. I hear songs from it everywhere: TV Shows, ball games, etc. It’s very Paul Simon-esque with the afro-pop sound. Favorite Track: “Wolcott”
8. The Walkmen: You and Me. The staff at Grimey’s Records raved about this album so I picked it up. I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a really unique and cool sound. I really dig the vintage organs. Favorite Track: “In The New Year”
9. The Black Keys: Attack and Release. This album intrigued me because Danger Mouse helped on the production. I wanted to see what he could do with a bluesy two-piece. He didn’t disappoint. The Black Keys are able to get more noise out of two instruments than most bands can get out of four. Favorite track: “I Got Mine”
10. The Raconteurs: Consolers of the Lonely. I purchased The Raconteurs first album and wasn’t all that impressed. The second album is totally different. I’m now convinced that Jack white is a genious. Favorite track: “Carolina Drama”

Honorable Mentions: Kings of Leon-Only the Night, The Cool Kids-Bake Sale, Coldplay: Viva la Vida

Albums I need to purchase or give another listen: Cut Copy-In Ghost Colours, Bon Iver-For Emma, Forever Ago, The Killers-Day and Night, Girl Talk-Feed the Animals, Santogold-Santogold, Fleet Foxes-Fleet Foxes, MGMT-Oracular Spectacular

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

First Kiva Donation!

My coworker and good friend, Shane, recently gave me a $25 gift certificate to Kiva is a person-to-person micro-lending website that allows the average person to loan small amounts of money to entrepreneurs in the developing world. In many developing countries banking, if available, isn’t like it is in the US. The terms and conditions of a loan are rarely fair. Kiva allows you to loan money to an entrepreneur in the developing world through partner organizations at low (relatively) to no interest. The partner organizations are responsible for finding the entrepreneur, promoting them through the Kiva website, and being the distributing the loan to them. The partner organization cannot use the funds themselves in any way..
Kiva is not without risk. A wise lender will research their entrepreneur and partner organization, and Kiva’s website will assist you with this. There is a chance that the borrower could default on your loan. I haven’t seen too many defaults. Most of the defaulted loans I have found were either the result of inefficient partner organizations or due to circumstances outside the borrower’s control (war, death, etc.). In order to help mitigate risk, donations are made for $25. This allows the risk of default to be spread across numerous lenders, rather than a single lender.
My loan went to a 59 year old Peruvian woman named Paquita. Paquita lives in a town called Pucallpa in Eastern Peru. Paquita has been making a living washing clothes for the past 20 years. She has been able to earn enough to help put her six kids through school and buy a house. She has always washed clothes by hand, but now that she is older she cannot wash as quickly as she used to. Paquita plans on using her loan to buy a washer so she can keep working. She is borrowing a grand total of $400 and plans to begin repayment in five months. This is Paquita’s second loan through Kiva. Her loan sponsor is PRISMA. PRISMA is a Peruvian, nongovernmental organization that’s purpose is to strengthen the capabilities and opportunities of Peru’s poor and vulnerable by giving them the tools for sustainable social and economic development. PRISMA has loaned over two million dollars through Kiva and has a 0% default rate. I can’t say that I’m exciting about the average interest rate of 58% that they charge, but I guess it’s better than the local Peruvian interest rate of 120%.
I’ll keep up with Paquita though the Kiva website and post any updates on the blog. I’m really interested to see how this pans out. I’ve committed to at least matching Shane’s gift to me if I like how things go.

Movie Reviews: Slumdog Millionaire, Planet B-Boy, Toxic Avenger

Movie Reviews: Slumdog Millionaire, Planet B-Boy, Toxic Avenger
Slumdog Millionaire: This movie was nominated for 10 Oscars and totally lives up to the hype. This is by far the best movie I have seen in the past 12 months. It’s got a great fresh story, awesome music, and great acting. I would say this is a must see.
Planet B-Boy: I put this on my Netflix que because 1) I like documentarys. 2) I think breakdancing is damn cool. Back in the day I used to wear out my copies of Breakin’, Breakin 2: Electric Bugaloo, Crush Groove and other breakdancing movies. Planet B-Boy is the story of B-boy crews from around the world preparing to compete in the World Breakdancing Championships in Germany. It’s got a great story and some of the movies these crews pull off are absolutely sick. If your interested in this you should also check out Red Bull’s BC One website.
The Toxic Avenger: What can I say. I also have a thing for B movies. The Toxic Avenger is one of those “must see” (or not) cult films. It’s the story of a nerdy janitor who falls into a vat of toxic waste, mutates, and ends up fighting crime while pursuing his love interest: A hot blind chick. Sounds like something you can relate to right?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Restaurant Review: A Taste of Russia

On Friday, my friend Sarah and I headed to Taste of Russia down in Cool Springs. I heard about this restaurant when it was reviewed by the Nashville Scene. It’s actually owned by a Ukrainian, but Taste of Ukraine did not sound as appealing, and UKRAINE IS WEAK! Sorry, I just had to get that out of the way. Taste of Russia is tucked away in a very generic looking suburban strip mall on Caruthers.

We took the Scene’s advice and did it tapas style and shared several dishes. We started out with two appetizers: Drankini, which are thin potato pancakes served with a drizzle of gravy; and the Eggplant Rolls thinly sliced eggplant stuffed with cheese and tomato. Both were excellent. They then brought out the Stroganoff and Borsch. The stroganoff was acceptable, but didn’t blow me away. I’d never had borsch before and found it to be pretty tasty, and you couldn’t even tell that it had beets in it. Our desert, and quite possibly my favorite dish, was blintzes with farmer’s cheese and preserves. I also enjoyed a large bottle of Slavutych, a Ukrainian beer. All of this (22 oz beer, two appetizers, entrée, soup, and desert) cost us a total of $40. I’m really looking forward to going back. I reread the Scene’s review and I’m interested on trying the Kiev Cutlet, Pelmeni, and the Zharkoe.

Please note the Scene’s review is spot on. Although the food is excellent, and the service is attentive, the kitchen does need to work on its timing. Dishes are going to come out at random times and in no particular order. Although I found it odd, it wasn’t annoying and it didn’t taint my experience in any way.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bacon Explosion: This is not health food

One of the sports message boards I read had a discussion on the Bacon Explosion today. This culianry delight is basically bacon filled with italian sausage, more bacon, barbeque rub, and barbeque sauce and then grilled. Can't you feel your arteries hardening just looking at it. The instructions to making your own Bacon Explosion can be found here. I like how they recomend serving Bacon Explosion on a biscuit, just to make it a little healthier. This dish intrigues me because it involves many of the things that men love: bacon, meat, grilling, and burning shit. The only manly things that are missing are: booze, strippers, midgets, monster trucks and monkeys.

"The Four Food Groups: Bacon, sausage, cooked bacon, barbeque sauce/rub"

On a related note, I had a conversation today about the Monte Cristo sandwich (AKA: The Funnel Cake Sandwich). How the hell did they come up with this thing. Let's take a ham/turkey/cheese sandwich, fry it, and cover it in powdered sugar and jam. Who the hell came up with this thing? How high were they? Why isn't bacon (or ranch dressing involved, obese america's other obsession). Wikipedia seems to indicate that the Monte Cristo comes from a French sandwich called the Croque Monsieur. I don't buy that because there is no sugar or jam involved.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

English Only Defeated!

Well, the unofficial results are in, and it looks like English Only was defeated by over 9,000 votes. I couldn't be happier.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Vote NO to the "English Only Bill"

"This thing is mean spirited. It's going to hurt us in terms of business
recruiting, and it's going to be used against us in terms of business
recruiting. It does not help us with tourism," Gov. Phil Bredesen

I am technically an “immigrant.” Although I was raised as an American since the day of my birth, I was born on foreign soil and became a citizen of this great country by naturalization, not by birthright. I’ve also spent a six years of my life as an outsider living in foreign countries. It was my experience that the natives of the countries I resided in did everything within their power to make sure I felt welcome and that my basic human needs were met. I believe it is our responsibility to do the same. As an immigrant and American that has lived abroad, I am extremely offended by the “English Only” referendum that we will vote on this Thursday. This referendum would prohibit any Nashville government business to be done in a foreign language. I find this referendum to be xenophobic, an unnecessary waste of taxpayer money, and completely distasteful.

Immigrants to any country understand that the first step in advancing financially, politically, or socially is to learn the local language. There were many Vietnamese immigrants living in my hometown of Gulfport, MS. The only ones that I knew that could not speak English fluently were the oldest generations (think “boat people”) that never had the opportunity to learn. These people made sure that the future generations of Vietnamese-Americans learned the English language. My father works in construction. Many of his co-workers are legal immigrants from Mexico and South America. They do their best to learn English so they can advance in their careers and build a better future for their families. Many people think that most immigrants are not willing to learn or speak English. This is a fallacy as the majority of foreign language households speak English. There is no need for us to try to force our language upon people who our new to our country. They have the desire to learn it themselves.

I believe that there are no financial benefits to this bill, and that it’s actually costing us more than we could save. The bill is ambiguous and largely unenforceable. Even the supporters of the bill do not have a clear understanding of it’s impact. Many articles and blogs I have read indicate the bill wouldn’t be saving the taxpayer much.

Even if the bill did save the taxpayer a little money, I don’t think it could offset the harm done to the city’s image. It’s extremely difficult to be a progressive city in the south, but if passed this bill will set us back decades. Do you think that if the English Only bill was passed Nissan would have relocated it’s North American headquarters here? To me this bill says “you’re not welcome here” to immigrants and I have yet to see any scenario that explains how this bill will help our city attract and retain new businesses.

I also wonder if Eric Crafton, the primary proponent of this bill, has some kind of hidden agenda. There has been no disclosure as to who is funding this campaign and Crafton has pulled out of debates regarding this issue. In a January interview he told the New York Times that he wanted this passed because “I happened to see a state legislature meeting in California where several of the state representatives had interpreters at their desk because they couldn’t speak English. That’s not the vision I have for Nashville.” This statement may have been less than truthful as retracted this statement when concerned citizens reported to the Times that calls to California’s Chief Clerk of the Assembly revealed “To our knowledge; every person that has been elected to the legislature since 1850 has known how to speak English. The only time we’ve had a translator present is in the rare instant when a foreign dignitary is delivering an address to the Assembly.”

If you are legally able to vote in Nashville I encourage you to vote NO to both amendments. Many key figures have spoken out against “English Only” including Governor Bredesen, Mayor Karl Dean, Former Mayor Bill Purcell, The Tennessean, The City Paper, The Nashville Scene, TheNashville Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Nashville Chamber of Commerce. (A full list can be found here)

In closing, I’d like to share a quote from local attorney and the Nashville Scene’s 2008 Nashvillian of the Year George Ramos :

“It is unfortunate that Mr. Crafton is resurrecting this divisive battle that ultimately will benefit no one. There are many things in life for which we do not need yet another law, and an English-only law certainly is at the top of that list. It's just not necessary here in Nashville in 2008. Somehow, Nashville has managed to survive for over 200 years without such a law.

Newly arrived immigrants don't need a law to tell them that they will more effectively overcome the many economic and social barriers they face with a knowledge and command of the English language…. Rather than
proposing a largely symbolic but ultimately ineffective law that only serves to make the integration process harder, Mr. Crafton, if he truly wanted to help, should be advocating for more resources to improve and increase the number of English classes for immigrants. Such classes are too scarce and overcrowded at present. They are overcrowded with immigrants who are doing everything possible to learn the English language and to make their lives better in this, the greatest and most accepting country in the world.

We will come together to show that there are many other humane, respectful, dignified and truly Christian ways to assist our immigrant population in the integration process. Mr. Crafton's divisive and ultimately ineffective law, on the other hand, will only serve to polarize our community. It will accomplish nothing tangible.”

REMEMBER: Vote AGAINST Ammendment#1 and Ammendment#2 on THURSDAY, JANUARY 22