Archive for September, 2010
I have a lot of ideas. Like most people, the majority of my ideas are unrealized, unrealistic or down right ridiculous. Although frankly, the differences between a ridiculous idea and a great one are often very subtle. So sometimes, you’ve just got to give it a try and see what happens.
A year ago, Christopher Mackenzie and I kicked off an idea that sounded great to us, but were fairly certain we were the only ones who felt that way. Chophouse Hijack. Born of the realization that most local restaurants had difficulty drawing patrons on weeknights, we decided it was a great opportunity to have a little fun, and get some people out and about in the middle of the week to support local restaurants.
The premise was pretty simple. We setup a time to go to a restaurant on a weeknight and take it over. We play our own music, bring in a band, bring in an artist, play board games, show some movies on a projector… whatever we want. In exchange, the restaurant gets a little extra business on an otherwise slow night of the week, and we get to have some fun.
We were pretty shocked when over 40 people crammed into The Olive on our very first event.
We played some rockin’ tunes and played them loud while the original “Aeon Flux” animated series was shown on the wall and patrons dined by candlelight. To our surprise, it was a great success! Pops Pizza was next featuring Luke Westberg on stand-up comedy detail and live DJ “Car Thief” (http://www.myspace.com/iamthecarthief) mixing some tracks. Scott Frese of Pops reflects, “it was one of the most unique ideas I have ever seen and it packed the house all night. Everyone loved it.” Over the next year we got together quasi-monthly and hit Spring Lake, Taste of Thai, Jimbeanas, The Pier and Fitz’s on 4th…packing the house on nearly every occasion.
So after what started as a quirky idea to have a little fun on a weeknight, Chophouse Hijack rolls on and will be celebrating it’s one year anniversary on Monday, Sept. 20. We’ll be going back to Spring Lake country club to celebrate, and while we ransacked them with a hijacking last spring and usually try to keep locations as fresh as possible… Chef Michael Mitchell and Sous-Chef Pete Magliocco made us the freshest offer we couldn’t refuse. Everything on the menu the night of the hijack will be locally sourced! Given that the fall harvest is upon us, it’s obviously a great opportunity to do something special. Of course, no reservations are necessary and Hijackers don’t need memberships!
While the final menu is still in the works for the event, some of the produce for the menu is being provided by John Wood Community College’s Sustainable Local Foods Farming program! This is an excellent manifestation of the community cooperation that the Hijacking concept has come to represent.
“JWCC is green in more ways than its school colors,” Tracy Orne, Director of Public Relations and Marketing at John Wood Community College, said. “Students can take a course or the full certificate and it’s not just about learning how to grow crops, it includes a marketing component for those entrepreneurs out there or who want to produce and sell food locally…it can be very profitable, keeps resources local and helps the environment at the same time.”
In addition to contributing the fruits of their labor to the menu, program coordinator Dave Camphouse will be on hand to answer questions and let you know a little more about where your delicious meal that night comes from. I’m certainly excited about the co-op and believe that its a perfect synergy of what their program and the Hijackings are all about.
We’re planning on having live local music throughout the evening, and are brainstorming on some other ideas to make the night even more special. Most of the ones I’ve come up with so far are pretty ridiculous and unrealistic, but that’s no guarantee that I won’t do it anyway.
To share your crazy idea, or to learn more about Chophouse Hijack, the John Wood Sustainable Foods program, get signed up for facebook notifications, or pledge your attendance for the event, go to http://www.chophousehijack.com and you’ll be redirected to our facebook page. You can also follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/chophousehijack .
Serendipity and synchronicity are phenomena that I encounter often. You know those little instances when the cosmos aligns for a split second and a song apropos to to the moment plays on the radio, or a letter from an old friend is found the very moment they call you on the phone.
Whether you look upon these often inconsequential moments as luck, cosmic alignment, a blessing or having no meaning at all is personal choice, I suppose; but I’d suggest that when it comes to art, these elements can often be important ingredients to discovering fun and creative experiences. Often, it’s the accidental, the unexpected, or the uncontrollable elements that are catalysts for great things. While the serendipitous circumstance I’m about to describe certainly isn’t new, and definitely isn’t a great thing, it was fun and interesting and cheap. Dirt cheap in fact.
One night, after a visit to The Crossing Thrift Store on 36th street, I left $3 lighter with a wonderfully inadequate plastic 35mm camera in tow. Sporting some ornamental dial like protrusions and logo reading “St. Ives” on the front, the camera appeared to be some sort of promotional item that undoubtedly accompanied a 90’s era bath beads gift set or assortment of hand lotions. At least it had a “New Optical Lens” according to an inscription. Frankly, that phrase raised more questions than it answered.
Although the camera came loaded with film that I was excited to get developed out of pure voyeuristic curiosity, the back hatch promptly fell off the second I walked out of the store and ruined the entire roll. Bummer.
After a brief lament over the death of what were surely long lost backstage photos from a sweet Night Ranger concert, I set on a quest to find some new film. A quick trip to Walgreen’s and a few inches of duct tape later, I was securely locked & loaded with a roll of B&W 400 film and a twinkle in my eye. I added a DIY 550 cord strap affixed to the camera’s eyelets via re-purposed paperclips and was off n’ shooting.
I snapped a few pictures here and there of nouns around my neighborhood, then displayed the plastic monster proudly on my living room shelf for a while. I told myself it was a strategically placed statement of defiance against the electrostocracy and beholden to my primitivist assertions of simpler times. Thankfully, I was in no mood for my own shenanigans. (5 points for a Futurama reference!)
A few months later, on my way out the door on a road trip to the mountains of Colorado I grabbed the dust laden petroleum glob and brought it along for the ride. For an experiment, I thought I’d use it to snap parallel shots of the photos I was shooting with my digital SLR and have a fun comparison between the results.
What I didn’t realize until I got the film developed was that the film advance mechanism, either through my own faulty loading or through the camera design, was sporadically failing to advance the film fully, if at all. I’m not sure what I expected for my $3 investment (it cost less than the film!) but what I received back after developing was even more fun and interesting than I’d hoped! I loaded the film, and I framed each shot, but what I had no control over was whatever else happened inside the camera. Shots were overlapped in multiple exposures, half in frame, distorted by light leaks and about as far removed from anything I’d originally intended as one could get. I loved it.
Sure, if it was my SLR and I was shooting with a print in mind, I’d be ticked… but I wasn’t, and the situation was prime for a stroke of random. I wasn’t thinking about it at the time, but what better way to truly capture a sense of the place and the tools than by letting them take part in the process rather than just being passive subjects for an artist to interpret? From now on, shooting with that camera will be kind of like trying to photograph lightning. Even though I’ve got the shot setup and planned, but there is always a huge incalculable factor in the equation.
We photographers typically like to control and prevent equipment mishaps in order to yield the most reliable results. But you can’t buy “reliability” with only $3… at that price “operational” is a bonus. But as long as you’re open to serendipity, and can occasionally allow yourself to be comfortable with elements beyond your control, then you’ll never have to pay for the fun.
I felt like I’d pulled-off a feat of alchemy.
Boil some grain in a large cauldron, add some leaves, finish with some pixie dust and let it sit in a basement for a month and you end up with a delicious golden elixir.
The tactile experience alone of steeping the grains, stirring the pot and quaffing the hops was magical to say the least; never-mind the delicious product of my labors.
Magical as it may seem, the art of brewing owes it’s very existence to science. Microbiology to be exact. Today I’ll discuss just one of the major ingredients to making beer, but often the most overlooked: Yeast.
Long before Louis Pasteur identified yeast as a microscopic living organism integral to the brewing process, the German Beer Purity Laws known as Reinheitsgebot limited beer ingredients to water, barley and hops. Until Pasteur came along, fermentation of beer was either spontaneously started from the presence of wild yeasts in the environment, or from adding some sediment from a previous batch to get the process going… but no one had a clue that yeast was the “pixie dust” that got things going.
Even though the Reinheitsgebot was implemented almost 300 years before people even knew what yeast was, our use of yeast for beverage creation pre-dates even the Reinheitsgebot by something like 5000 years.
A vessel discovered in what was once ancient Mesopotamia yielded a beer residue from 3100 BC. Beer is almost as old as humanity itself. In fact, some would argue that beer and human civilization are inextricably linked by our cultivation of grains and the understanding of complex processes to produce goods. Regardless, as magical as the process of making beer seemed to me, so too must the process have seemed magical in ancient Mesopotamia.
But it’s not magic; It’s microbiology. Most of us know that yeast are microscopic organisms that (just like when making bread) convert sugars into other compounds, the most useful of which are carbon dioxide and alcohol. Carbon dioxide is what causes dough to rise in bread making, and alcohol is what makes beer… well… beer. The other compounds and esters that are byproducts of the yeast metabolism lend flavors to the product, so yeast selection is very important to the brewing process. Therein lies the art of yeast selection in brewing.
There are typically two main types of brewing yeast: Ale yeast and Lager yeast. Generally speaking ale yeast brews at warmer temperatures and produces byproducts called esters, which can aid in adding the flowery aromas of apple, pear, pineapple, grass, hay or plums. Lager yeast brews best at lower temperatures and produces lower amounts of aromatics which better allow the flavor of the hops and malt to come through. In addition to esters, depending upon the variety, yeasts also can produce phenols which impart a spicy or clove flavor, or diacetyls which can create a woody or earthy flavor.
In the early days of Reinheitsgebot when spontaneous fermentation was the way to go, each region, or even town, could potentially have different strains of wild yeast present naturally that would lend to the different flavors of the beer. At that time, what your beer tasted like depended a lot on the luck of whatever yeast happened to be floating by on the wind.
Though the brewers in those days were not even aware of the yeast factor, brewers of today certainly are and take full advantage of that knowledge. Even the budget home-brewer can hand pick whatever yeast and associated flavor characteristics for their beer that they like. Dry yeast packets, liquid yeast vials and liquid yeasts with “activators” are all available for between $2-$10 a piece on the Internet. I get mine from Midwest Supplies in Minneapolis. Friar Tuck’s in Springfield, Ill., also has brewing supplies on hand.
But if you’re a real do-it-yourself guy or gal, then check out my quick guide on restarting yeast from your favorite off-the-shelf bottle conditioned brew! This can be especially useful when attempting to clone a particular beer flavor. You can view those instructions here: (Yeast Feast: An Easy Guide to Restarting Brewers Yeast From The Bottle)