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About rick

I run this little shop 'o horrors, located in beautiful Portland, OR. Feel free to drop a line.

Shrine of Taliera – Sessions 1 and 2

Introduction: this is a campaign set loosely in The Forgotten Realms following on the heels of The Lost Mines of Phandelver.  We are using D&D 5e.  For the most part I’m just using maps from Forgotten Realms, some locations, and pivoting off some interesting parts that I’ve come across.  This is a summary of the first two sessions that we had.

Having vanquished the baddies of Wave Echo Cave, the party returns to Phandalin.  As they return, the sky has turned, ash is falling to the ground, and refugees are making their way west to Phandalin from the east.  There are murmurings of a war brewing between northern and southern factions, in which undead are sacking farms and marching on the south, and rumors of dragons being called to face them from the south.  A cleric named Chandra Cleareye is among the refugees.  She has escaped from the Shrine of Taliera, where she had been among other clerics and magic users whose powers were being channeled by the northern powers.

In Phandalin, the refugees have grown the town dramatically, and are beginning to become unruly.  A ranger named Fennel Dyer appears to be something of the ringleader of the refugees, and is making some trouble for the local constabulary.  He chides the players, especially the local aspiring knight, Biff, calling him a “little lordling.”

To redirect some of those energies, Sildar Hallwinter arranges an archery contest, and ask the players to participate.  Mostana steps up to the challenge.

In the meantime, a great power has awakened inside Helder.  With great power comes great responsibility, so he wields it with care, introducing the flavor of plums to the townspeople.  Starting trouble?  Taste plums.  Selling good?  Have some plum.  You have a message for my buddy?  Sure, here’s some plum-flavor for your troubles.  Drawing a bow?  Plum in your mouth.  But wait…there’s no plum there, just the sweet-sour nectar enticing your tastebuds.

Mostana draws, shoots, and strikes with aplomb.  Pyr embeds himself with Fennel Dyer, and uses his proximity to set crosswinds in his arrows’ paths.  Despite those efforts, Fennel qualifies for the final round, and stands alongside Mostana, chiding him.  They face off, Fennel’s tastebuds glowing with the mysterious taste of plums.  Arrows fire, strike, strike, strike, strike.  Rounds pass.  When the bows are set aside, close measurement show that Mostana has hit closer to the center, and he is declared the winner.

Sildar breaks his conversation with Chandra to award Mostana his 50gp purse, and discuss the challenges of the Shine of Taliera with the players.  He asks them to investigate, and provides steeds for the journey to the Star Mounts, where the shrine lies at the southern end of the High Forest.

The party rests one more night in Phandalin prior to embarking, then hits the road.  They reach the ruins of Conyberry, where they make camp among sparse refugee camps.  They approach the largest group of refugees and ask of the war.  One peasant woman is grieving her children and husband lost to the army of undead that raided her farmhouse.  She is aware of a southern power, The Plurality, and the northen leaders, Lord Daureen and King Phau, but does not know much other than Lord Daureen’s rise to power was through cruelty and betrayal.  These travelers have been on the road for quite awhile, hailing from east of the High Forest.

Randy offers up his healing abilities to any of the refugees who may need it.  Among them is Tremen Bailham, who had been attacked by bandits near The Trade Way, and relieved of an important document detailing information about North’s plans for The Shrine of Taliera.  He joins the party, and they continue east along The Triboar Trail in the morning, making camp somewhat off the path near The Trade Way.

With the rising sun, a cabin in the distance throws a long shadow near a lone tree.  The party investigates, sending Pyr and Mostana as scouts.  They hear some rumblings inside, and the greater party is discovered as one of the bandits exits for a constitutional.  He hastily runs inside, then is joined by a number of other bandits.

A fight ensues while Tremen Bailham watches the horses.  Pyr makes his way onto the roof.  Bandits engage the party, and a larger, wilder man faces off with Mostana.  Biff, Randy, and Helder battle their foes, Biff being double-teamed against initially flaccid attacks, exchanging blows.  While they exchange blows, a sixth bandit enters the fray from the cabin.  Pyr leaps from the roof with a deadly blow, but whiffs it.  The sixth bandit, Senna turns to face him, slashing twice with her scimitar, and strikes with her dagger on the third blow.  Helder with his magic missiles and ray of frost dispatches a bandit, while Biff does the same with one of his, then turns to assist Pyr with his.  The ruckus continues, Helder takes care of the bandit attacking Biff, while Mostana battles his.  Randy assists with the wild one, which is putting up quite a fight, forcing Pyr to retreat.  Helder frosts his mustache, Mostana battles, and Biff struggles against the leader Senna.  Injured and outnumbered, Senna calls for the wild one to run, but seeing red he does not hear, or does not obey.  Eventually, the berserker falls in battle, and Senna throws down her weapon, yielding.

The party secures Senna and questions her.  She indicates the location of their ill-gotten horde, but has little information of use, being mere opportunists.  Inside the sparse cabin, they find the stash under the lone piece of furniture, a table.  Inside is 50gp and a scroll.

The scroll shows the mountains with a webbing pattern over them, and a date 20 days in the future indicating an event.  Tremen Bailham confirms that this was the scroll in his care.

They rest, guarding Senna, and have some philosophical discussions regarding the treatment of prisoners, as well as musings on the two factions they’ve become aware of.  They really aren’t sure if this Plurality is good, or evil, though the forces of Daureen sound pretty clearly bad.  “Well, more good for us then,” closed Helder.  They decided to leave Senna secured at the cabin, as she assured them that she would be able to free herself eventually, and that this was over for her, and they didn’t feel good executing a prisoner who had yielded (at least who they had invaded first).

After resting, they continued south, until arriving at a fork.  Tremen suggested heading south, as the two options would skirt the High Forest, one south, the other on the northern side.  They make camp, then ride south in the morning.  Later in the day, they notice a camp on a hill off the road to the east.  Mostana and Pyr move to investigate, but Mostana stumbles and makes a clattering noise.  At first nothing appears, but as they continue, a group of skeletons stands at arms atop the rise, and then more skeletons appear, perhaps a dozen.  They beat a hasty retreat, as four wolves are released on them.  At a dead run, the wolves are nearly upon them when Helder directs his spider staff to web the pursuers, entangling two of them.  They hear a whistle at the top of the hill, and looking up see a man in tan robes with a staff, his robe flapping in the wind, and the wolves halt their pursuit.

Collecting themselves after fleeing, Tremen suggests that perhaps the northern route would be the safer option, and they turn back, heading north.  Returning to the fork, they veer east.  Arriving at a river, the bridge is out.  Tremen is aware of The Stone Bridge, of dwarven construction to the south, and suggests that there may be fording to the north.  They opt for the bridge route, and head south after camp.  Making their way south, they see a half dozen skeletons guarding either side of the bridge, and approach under fire from the nearer skeletons.

As they battle the six skeletons on the near side of the bridge, the other six mount the top of the bridge, with only two skeletons remaining, in the melee, then another falls, as they are fired upon from the top of the bridge.  Biff dispatches the last one, and instructs the injured party members to retreat out of firing range.  He charges up the bridge under fire, and is joined by Pyr, who catches an arrow as he is struck by another.  Making their way up the bridge, they each engage three skeletons, as Helder works his way into casting range, firing magic missiles and rays of frost.  With some effort they clear the bridge, then make camp at the base on the eastern side of the river.

 

Beer and Dragons – Phandelver 4 and 5

Recap of the party’s latest adventures in Phandelver.  Spoilers below the fold.

Continue reading Beer and Dragons – Phandelver 4 and 5

Lost Mines of Phandelver – Session Three

This is the story of our little group’s journeys in the areas surrounding Phandalin.  Please be aware that spoilers lie behind the fold.

Continue reading Lost Mines of Phandelver – Session Three

Mathematica Data Visualization: book review

2999OT_Mathematica Data Visualization_cov_0It’s not one of the topics I cover here much, but I enjoy hobbying in computational analysis.  Mathematica is one of my favorite tools for this, and I’ve used it for a number of projects, including building a pretty nifty game with the goal of making the world a better place.  Related to that, I was given the opportunity to review a pretty cool book about Data Visualization in Mathematica, aptly titled Mathematica Data Visualization by Nazmus Saquib.  It a fantastic lightweight introduction to creating a variety of visualizations using.  It starts off with a general introduction to the topic, along with some of the ways of thinking about data, and then moves on to the practice and art of looking at data and sharing data.  The authors definitely channel Tufte and other greats in the field, sharing useful guidance for selecting color schemes, simplifying, and creating interactive visualizations.   They are not limited in focus, analyzing social graphs, maps and paths, economic data, lists, and the physical form of currencies in their examples that are drawn from real-world applications.  Overall, if this is a topic of interest I highly recommend Mathematica as a tool, and Mathematica Data Visualization as a guide.  Disclosure: while I was not compensated, I did receive an electronic copy of the book for review.  The book can be found here: https://www.packtpub.com/big-data-and-business-intelligence/mathematica-data-visualization

Session two: Exploring Phandalin

Wo5e Basic set!rn and Bruised after defeating Klarg and his minions, the party collapses in the cavern and recovers with a long night’s rest.  They search the cave for  treasure and clues about the whereabouts of their dwarven patron Gundren to no avail, only the spoils of a recent raid are evident.

Spoilers below the fold.

Continue reading Session two: Exploring Phandalin

Lost Mines of Phandelver – Session One

Hired by the dwarf Gundren Rockseeker to escort a supply wagon to the Forgotten Realms frontier town of Phandelver, the party comes across the wreckage of a goblin raid.

Spoilers below the fold.

Continue reading Lost Mines of Phandelver – Session One

Chess Opening Principles

Up front, I am far from being a chess master.  If you’re experienced enough to know that you’re not very good, we’d probably have a decent game.  But, I’ve done some research on chess openings, and played quite a few games, and would like to put together a quick, accessible summary of some sound opening principles.

These opening principles are guidelines: you will find plenty of exceptions as you play.  But faced with so many options, this should help to narrow them down.

What is the opening for?

In general, the opening is for:

  • developing pieces
  • protecting the king
  • controlling the center

One of the first things you’ll find as your game improves is that you are not trying to win in the opening.  You are just laying the foundations for a sound middle game.  As we learn in life, a strong opening is the key to creating your own luck.

The opening challenge

Almost all openings begin with either e4 or e5 for white.  This is a play for the center.  Black often responds in kind.  The key here is that white plays first.  That 1/2 move advantage is large for white, enough so that white and black typically have different goals in the opening: white’s goal is to secure an advantage, whereas black’s goal is to achieve equality.

The chess narrative

A chess match has three components: the opening, the middlegame, and the endgame.  Not so unlike a book.  And similar to a book, it can be a bit unclear as to when one ends and the next one begins.  So think of the opening as the part of the book where the story is established.  The characters get introduced, the major themes may be outlined, the world is described.  But more subtly, the pacing of the story may be set, the writing style and intentions laid out.

Similarly in chess, the opening gives players a chance to horse trade to achieve their desired narrative, which takes shape in the middle game.  In the opening, characters are introduced in the form of pieces being played to key squares.  Subtle differences can lead to a majestic and sweeping middlegame with valiant piece exchanges, or it can lead to a calculatingly tactical set of skirmishes for control of a single key square.

As you advance, you’ll discover ways to guide a game to become the type of game that you would like to play, which includes guiding a game to become the type of game that your opponent does not want to play.

The tactics

Here are some rules of thumb that I have found useful:

  • Don’t move a piece twice (this includes pawns) – it’s all about rapid development at this point.  Moving a piece twice is often a waste of time because the narrative has not yet unfolded.
  • Only move the King and Queen pawns eatly
  • Knights then Bishops – in the quest for efficient development, knights are often the easiest to deploy.  There are really only two squares where you’d want to move a knight: the bishop file, or the next one towards the center.  The Bishop has several more to choose from, so you may like to let the narrative unfold a bit before introducing this character.
  • Knights and Bishops then Rooks – the rook is very powerful, but takes time to unleash correctly.  Leave it home until you see where it will unleash maximum firepower.
  • Castle, please Castle – This protects the king, connects the rooks, and develops a rook, all in one move!  Just do it, do it early, and do it kingside.
  • When in doubt, castle – I like to get my development on as quickly as possible.  Usually at some point I’m not sure where I want to go next, so Bam!  Castle, done.  Castling when your opponent castles can help too.
  • Develop your side of the board – it’s dangerous across the border.  Your pieces will be subject to attack by lowly pawns, which will force them to move twice.
  • Play for the center – The four squares in the middle are the most strategic positions to own early in the game.  Play to them, support them, own them

The principles

Fast, solid development is the key to a strong middle game.  To think about the speed of a game, the notion of tempo was introduced.  While it is roughly the same as a move, there is a critical difference: you can gain and lose tempo over your opponent.  To gain tempo, you make moves that cause your opponent to waste moves.  An easy example of this is attacking while developing.  You make a move towards the middlegame, while forcing your opponent to react to you.  To give an idea of the importance of tempo in chess, black starts the game down one tempo, and overcoming that is one of black’s primary goals.

Controlling the center of the board allows you the most freedom while restricting your opponent.

A strong pawn structure is crucial.  Moving  just one pawn wrong can expose your king and cause you to waste tempi in protecting your line.  Try to leave the kingside pawns home to protect the king for castling, and delay moving the queenside pawns until you have a goal for them.

What’s next?

Play some games.  Get used to the tactics and principles.  Read further.  For reference, these are some good articles in the same area:

http://www.chess-strategies-tactics.com/chess-opening-principles

http://www.chess.com/blog/NimzoRoy/chess-opening-principles

Read books, play through some games.  I recommend studying Capablanca, as I find his games incredibly clear for such a high level.

Then, learn a few openings.  Two or three are good for a start…one as white, and then a black response to P-K4 and P-Q4 each.  I’m always amazed at how quickly games diverge from the openings.  But you will notice themes.

Southland Whiskey Kitchen

This post is guest-posted on Dave Knows Portland as well.

When Dave asks, it is imperative that you do the right thing. Especially when it’s “Hey, Rick, would you like to checkout this new restaurant that serves tasty BBQ and delicious grown-up beverages?” So, I did the right thing: show up to Southland for a preview of their tasty menu.

Southland is a new project by the folks who brought the Casa del Matador to Portland located just a couple doors down at 1422 NW 23rd. Not that other (awesome but totally different) Matador. The first thing you notice is the decor. As you may have noticed at their Matadors with the intricate ironwork, these guys are chronically attentive to detail, with a simple but elegant wood decor and some awesome light fixtures that I won’t endeavor to describe, as my effort will fall short so you should probably go check them out (but props to Hippo Hardware for providing the moody bulbs). The space has a large open air section facing NW 23rd, openings that were not there when it was the Clear Creek Distillery.

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The menu is heavily southern without many concessions to vegetarians, most of which live in the sides and salads. Vegans need not apply, unless you’re just looking to quench your thirst. Everything I ate was pleasing. There were two standout items: the collard greens, and the spicy shrimp with grits. The biscuit was a thing of beauty, and went nicely slathered with honey butter and brisket.

Eric (my date) and I disagreed on the fried chicken. There was consensus that the meat (we both had thigh) was juicy and tender, but butted heads on the fry. It comes down to a matter of preference, I like mine a bit crispier and spiced, and Eric likes it the wrong way. Don’t tell anyone but the fried chicken may become available in ‘n waffles format with the advent of a brunch menu.

They were nice enough to bring us key lime pie for dessert but I was so stuffed on main course items I only shoveled a couple quick bites into my mouth on my way to tour the kitchen. Please remember folks, we’re professionals, excelling at planning, pacing, and execution.

Okay. Now on to the bar. The wonderful, wonderful bar. The bar is wide. With whiskey. The only place in town I can think of with a comparable list is the Brooklyn Park Pub. Southland specializes in American bourbons, ryes, and whiskeys. A rough count or their list shows about 120 American selections. They appear to be well curated as well, a trait that reaches into the Canadian, Irish, and Scotch varieties as well.

We were served a variety of hard and soft mixed drinks throughout the evening. I was presented a Mint Julep just for walking in YMMV. The julep was great. I was parched from the long drive to NW 23rd from the office, and the crushed ice worked wonders with the classic refresher. It had a sweetness, but over the top for me, unlike the Southern Punch. My date Eric loved them both, but I tend to shy away from beverages with “punch” in the description. For the kiddies and DDs (can’t think of anyone else) they have their scratch lemonade. They make it from lemon juice and sugar. Again, super-sweet, but I think that’s how it’s done in the South.

Meal service closed with an Old Fashioned. Ah, back to my kind of drink. This was the most avante-garde of the bunch, with a big ice cube and a suspended cherry (next to the ice, not in it). The effect was of a somewhat deconstructed Old Fashioned, which you could drink from different sides of the ice for slightly different effects.

Happily, we got to checkout the kitchen, which was pretty classy with its mesquite grill and big ‘ole black smoker. It smelled wonderful in the back with the local apple wood smoking the meats, but I can see why they do their best to vent out and up, since some customers may object to a smoky meaty sauna.

I’m expecting Southland to pack a pretty lively happy hour, which runs daily 3:30-6pm.

They’re opening Thursday 10/11 at 11am.

 

MS Flight: they still don’t get it

Well, I have to say, I’m a bit sad.  I have really enjoyed MS Flight.  It seemed to be targeted at the casual Flight Simmer.  I suppose that would be me.  I like FSX as well, but it’s a bit clunky, and very full-featured.  When I feel like some defined missions or lightweight adventures, MS Flight is great.  The graphics and performance are nice on my system.

I just read today that they’ve cancelled the program, which is too bad.  I do hope for the best for the team behind MS Flight.

Carbon Cub above Alaska
Southern Alaska in my Carbon Cub over  beautiful scenery, but I can’t get into the cockpit!

The Pricing Model

I really appreciated the idea behind the Flight pricing model, as variant on the freemium DLC model.  Basically, you could download and play the game for free with a limited amount of scenery and planes.  The limited scenery consisted of one Hawaiian Island and a couple planes.  You could then purchase the rest of Hawaii, or a few additional planes.  Or they offered the bundle for 25 or 30 dollars.  At the same time, it was possible to purchase the bundle through Steam for $15, which I promptly did.

They later offered an Alaska pack as well, along with one additional plane.

The Content

Overall, the content is beautiful.  The water is beautifully rendered, shadows and skylines are great, and the towering cliffs look fantastic.  Scenery feels unique, not tiled.

The Gameplay

Well, it appears that the hardcore simmers aren’t too pleased with the gameplay.  They miss being able to fly anywhere.  There’s a shortage of planes, and no big ones, gliders, or helis.  There’s a limited amount of customization available.  And honestly, I think the hardcore simmers prefer a more spartan UI.

I’d like to be able to build a flight plan and use it.

The missions are fun and challenging, and I enjoy the occasional aerocache hunt.

So what’s the problem?

After so much experience with their Flight Simulator series, and success, why would MS discount the industry that they helped to create?  There are a ton of companies build around custom scenery, planes, add-ons, hardware, consoles, and chassis.  MS Flight doesn’t support any of them.  MS decided to go it alone.  Would the iPhone have been successful if Apple had squashed 3rd party apps?  It would still just be a phone that browses.  How could MS have missed this opportunity?  For relatively little work, they could have enabled 3rd party developers to release scenery, planes, missions, and more, through their proprietary “app store”, all the while, raking in the easy money.

Instead of raking in easy money, they chose to keep it closed and go it alone.  Well, it worked well for them in the 90s, why not now?

It’s tricky though

In the end, MS did bite of a pretty complex problem.  They attempted to take niche product and grow the market.  Unfortunately, they appear to have alienated their existing customer base by not offering something that appealed to them and snubbing their entire commercial advocate community.  At the same time, they offered a product to the commodity gaming market that isn’t exactly “fun”.  Flight simulators aren’t exactly a “fun” game, which is probably why they’re niche in the first place.  Rather than fun, they deliver an experience.  It’s occasionally fun, but that’s not what keeps me coming back.  It’s challenging and educational.  It puts me in places to see places around me from a new perspective.  It’s flying, and it’s not for everyone.

So what could they do better?

Rock, Paper, Shotgun has some good suggestions as to what could have saved MS Flight.  Among them are additional planes (such as gliders and helicopters).  While I’m pretty happy with Hawaii and Alaska for flying around in, I probably won’t be forever.  I enjoy using  Orbx’s Pacific Northwest scenery to explore the areas I most often go.  Sadly, this will probably never be an option for MS Flight.

The Steam thing was really confusing for me.  I purchased the DLC, then they made me install Steam and run Flight through there, and I don’t know why or what it meant.  Why not just offer the discount themselves instead of some weird bait-and-switch maneuver.  Oh, well.

Community.  I’ve flown a bit with others in MS Flight.  It was pretty fun.  Tools to help people be in a community would be handy.

Tools for the newb.  Flight simming is much more fun if you aren’t just flying.  Provide tools and guidance for building flight plans, and for connecting with experienced flyers.

The comments on this thread from passionate flight simmers are quite telling as well:

“If only MS realised from the start that it was us FREEWARE developers that really made the FS franchise it is today….. ” – 7107delicious

“Microsoft did without a doubt take their eye off the ball. We’ve been loyal to them for many years; this last go round we were treated like the unseen red-headed step children of the software world.” – Aaron aka Stretch

Conclusion

MS Flight is a great product.  The experience is quality, the visuals are solid.  But MS managed to not learn from their own experience, and from the successes of others.  I guess it’s just too bad that MS keeps making these silly mistakes over and over.  They continually release a solid product that is just subtly yet significantly flawed.

But MS continues to underestimate the power of community, and how communities react.  They seem to live in this world where they believe one action has no effect on another.  (their wooing of the OSS community is another wonderful tale I witnessed).  If you have a bunch of people who support you, at least let them think that you’re supporting them back.

Simplify

I’m embarking on a new mission with my family to simplify our lives and get out of debt. We’ve somehow managed to drive our credit card debt well into the 5 figures, and that’s not sitting too well.  We are working on becoming aggressive towards our debt.  Here are the initial steps we’ve taken to eliminate this burden.

  • Stop using credit cards
  • Move cc balances to 0% interest account
  • Kill debt with savings
  • Consolidate subscriptions
  • Question purchases
Debt in the cross hairs
This is where we’re at after an initial paydown, and the consolidation in progress.

 

Stop using credit cards

This has been a huge shift.  Enticed by my REI dividends, I’ve been using my REI card for years.  At first I had the intention of paying monthly, but then a large expense would hit, and it would carry.  The balance would cascade and build and then everything else was a drop in the pan.  Credit card is out of the wallet now.

I used my credit card to pay my subscriptions and have online for the Apple store, Amazon, Playstation Network, Google, and others.  It’s how I paid my gym membership, Netflix, and just about everything else.  Everything is being moved to our account at our credit union.  Almost everything is there now, but there are still a few lingering.

I use Mint to see what’s still hitting the credit card, then seek and destroy.

Move cc balances to 0% interest account

Since I’m not going to be able to annihilate my credit card debt in one fiscal quarter, I decided to take advantage of some 0% balance transfer offers.  For 3% of the total balance, I’d be off the hook on interest for a year.  3% is $300 for every $10,000 in debt you’re carrying.  The credit cards run around 12% give or take, so that same $10,000 costs about $100 per month.  So I transferred everything I wasn’t confident that I could pay down in 3-4 months.

Kill debt with savings

This one might be a bit controversial, but the interest on a savings account is much lower then the interest on a credit card.  So, we’re paying down the debt with savings.  I guess if we’re struck with an emergency we end up going back to the credit card, or hitting a retirement account.  But I think it’s key to eliminate this debt, so the snake will be eating its tail for the next year.

Consolidate subscriptions

We’re investigating ways to consolidate our online subscriptions.  For example, we both splurged on spotify accounts.  We now share one account, saving $10/mo. We also share a kindle account.   Now I need to figure out how to share our google account.

Question purchases

Still working this one out, but we’re taking a stronger look at our discretionary expenses.  No more “hey, this magazine looks like fun” types of expenses.  So far I’ve managed to cut this fairly dramatically, but still looking at drawing the actual numbers out of it.

Next steps

Well, I’d like to let the waters settle from these initial actions and make sure that we’re taking advantage of our new patterns.  But, my hope is to simplify our lives, and the space we live in.  Take an aggressive stance towards paying down the debt over the next year, and reign in expenses as a lifestyle.

Loving the Max

was just thinking about my commute since I’ve been riding regularly, and how much I enjoy my morning time on Portland’s light rail, the Max.

It’s really the only time of the day that I can count on to be my own time. I can read, write, get some work done, chat with strangers, or just stare blankly.

When I work, it’s without fear of interrupts, so that 30 minutes can be more productive than a whole day in the office. as far as production goes.

All this while I’m actually making progress towards a goal, which is getting to work.

And then when I ride home over the west hills, that beer tastes even better.

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Lompoc and their wonderful holiday fun

From Lompoc Holiday Beer Event 2011

I’ve always enjoyed Lompoc beers.  Many sunny afternoons have been misspent sitting on the porch at New Old Lompoc, and I’ve had quite a few pleasant cool-downs from soccer and riding at Hedge House and the brilliantly named 5th Quadrant.  Tuesday the good people of Lompoc held a tasting event for their holiday beers, and it did not disappoint.

Eric and I arrived early and snagged seats at the bar.  From there I was able to snag good glassware and chat up the bartenders (who also happened to be brewers, owners, or Dave).  And it was pole position for grabbing the freshly poured samples.  Which were ample.

Did I mention they only released 10 different holiday beers this year?  Ranging from the mellow Blitzen to the potent C-sons Greetings, from Jolly Bock to Barrel Aged Old Tavern Rat (thanks Don!), and a few outliers like the Brewdolph and Cherry Christman.  And to make Mr. Sandler happy, the 8 Malty Nights was offered for the Chanukah consumers.

Blitzen – very light for an xmas ale, some nice holiday infusions of cinnamon, clove, lemon, and ginger.  Cinnamon aromatics.  Really not much more than a wheaty pale with a light citrus  ginger, but for my taste it’ll sit nicely between heavier holiday ales.

Zach wanted to have a lighter holiday beer so he concocted fool’s golden w/ spices.  Infused by xferring through corny this year.

Nose: light clove and citrus.  A session holiday ale.  The food really brings it out.

 

Cherry Christmas 

messing around with wine barrels, bourbon barrel for the last several years.

base: golden, fermented in steel w/ sour cherries + sour willie.  released 11/29.  This will be the holiday ale beer.  light, fruity, maybe a little sour.

Brewdolph

Brian’s favorite.  belgian red, balanced, Ardennes yeast.  spicy, clove flavor.  Heavy clove nose. No adjuncts, amazing amount of clove.  Slightly sharp finish.  Lets you know you’re alive.

Holiday Cheer

Milder holiday ale with big body and full spice, based on the vanilla porter.  Sits on vanilla beans.  Use whole beans for real flavor.

Jolly Bock

holiday lager.  huge 7.3% malty.  caramel, a bit sweet, super drinkable 7.3 beer.

I really enjoyed this.  It had that nice crispness of a lager, and was really not overpowering despite the 7.3%.  I don’t know what the final gravity was but it finished nice and clean.

C-sons Greetings

Based on C-note, C-sons greetings basically upped the ante in every way.  100 IBUs.  Every 7 hops in the kettle, and every 7 in the fermenter for a dry hop in the C-sons.

Hearing Jerry talk about the original C-note was pretty fun.  It was too strong back in the day.  “If I can’t have 3 beers without lunch, it’s too much for your clienteele”  Based on c-note.   The name is based on 7 C-hops like centennial, cascade, and chinook used to make C-note (what there were of C-names  at the time).

Bourbon Barrel Aged C-sons Greetings

nose gives the bourbon barrel.  This was a fine beer, but I didn’t find the barrel did a whole lot to the flavor, since it tempered the hops quite a bit.

Old Tavern Rat

named after Don Younger, but “he would F***ing hate this beer”.  cellared for a year prior to release.  collaboration of Brian and Zach.   English style barley wine, not overhopped.  Sweet, but nicely balanced.

Bourbon Barrel Aged Old Tavern Rat 

great beer.  sweetcake barley wine, super nice bourbon vanilla, creamy body, lingers just enough to know it cares.  I’m not typically a fan of barley wines, but I took three bottles of this home with me.

8 malty nights

chocolate rye porter. This one was still pretty green, having just been pulled out of the fermenter to offer us all a taste and a preview.  That’s the kind of event this was…sorta, hey, check out the fun stuff we’re working on now!  Which is awesome.

Overall, it was a really nice evening.  Jerry, Dave, and the brewers shared tons of stories and secrets.  Everyone laughed a bunch.  Good times were had, along with plenty of beer.

Urbandig

My miha at Miho Izakaya
Roxy is totally into noodles, and so am I!

I’ve recently started contributing to a nifty new iPhone app called urbandig.  It is the app that I wanted when I was in NYC earlier this year.  It’s the app that I want when I visit Memphis and Denver later this year.  Basically, they’ve gone out and found people who know the city, or parts of it, really well, and gotten them to created nice little curated morsels of experience.  Portland’s urban dig experience has just been release, and in it you can enjoy my delicious noodle crawl, in which I explore some of Portland’s more exciting Ramen joints.

In addition to my fantastic list there are some on where to get a great microbrew, tasty pork, a cuppa joe, and much much more in our fun little town.

So far they feature NYC, LA, PDX, San Francisco, and Vancover, BC.  Austin, Chicago, and DC are in the works.  So I guess I’ll need to look elsewhere for my short term travels.

Head over to their site, or hit up your favorite app store to get it for your iPhone.

Working to drop a car

I’ve been riding the bike a lot lately, and it’s been great. It’s not just good exercise to ride for my commute, it’s also a far better way to relax than driving to and from work. I’ve been doing it so much lately (driven to work once since early August) that I’m kicking around selling one of the cars. We’re currently a 2-adult 1-baby 2-car household. I’ve registered for ZipCar account, though I’ve yet to use it. Happily there is a Zip Car parked two blocks from my house and another less than 1/2-mile from my office.

From Portland 2011

I’m growing more and more excited about dropping the Corolla, but am concerned about my resolve through the rainy season. Even worse than the rain, or perhaps compounding it are the wind and the dark. The wind make the rain wetter and the cold colder, and the dark just makes riding more dangerous. I suppose I should just suck it up and get on my bike. Every day.

Organic City Sounds on Beer

Nice little audio blog piece on beer in Portland, OR. Go ahead and take a listen. It covers the whole gamut from enjoying to making in our little beer mecca.

Dude learns portions

I struggle with portion size. I’ve known for a long time that my “stop eating mechanism” does not work. I love food, I love making food, and I love eating it. That makes for a dangerous combination when you’re trying to lose weight.

For one thing, the food that I cook doesn’t break down into easily identified portions. So, I’ve always just eaten too much.

The discovery that is helping me is that many premade foods are made in discrete portions, whether large or small. While I don’t plan to eat manufactured forever, it is really helping me gain an understanding of what a portion of a food means.

A frozen chicken burrito is ten points. That’s quite a few points for what amounts to a large snack or light meal, so the delicious chicken burrito will remain a guilty pleasure.

A Hebrew National hot dog with a slice of American cheese on a Flatout wrap with spinach and mustard is 9 points. Makes for a decent lunch, especially if I throw in a banana or carrot sticks.

A bagel with cream cheese is over 10 points. Holy cow. That makes a bagel portion like 1/2 bagel. So I have to ask myself: is the bagel really worth it? Well, I love bagels, so I’ll save them for a weekend when I have a few points banked.

And then there’s beer. A single beer is 5+ points. I suspect that microbrews are more, and they’re sold in 16oz pints. So, a pint of a good IPA is probably 7 or more. They go down easy, and so do the points. Wine is a bit under 4 points. So, I’m exploring red wines a bit more lately. Scotch is in the 3-4 point range as well.

So, I’m figuring out the give and take of portions. The tricky part is balancing all of these pieces, so I’m trying to figure it out. But the practice I’m getting from prepackaged food is helping me a lot.

How to poach an egg

Poaching an egg is really easy if you just know a few tricks to make it work. Since I’ve been doing WW I’ve been eating a lot more poached eggs since there’s no frying, but you still get a lot of the benefits: filling, low points, healthy, cheap, and goes well with lots of things.

Set some water to boil in a medium saucepan. The egg wants a little depth. Before the water starts boiling, right when bubbles start to form, turn the heat down to medium or medium-high. It should be just on the verge of bubbling, maybe a few gentle streamers. If the bubbles are too violent, they’ll break the egg apart and you’ll end up with a mess.

Add a splash of white vinegar to the water, and some salt. I think I got the white vinegar trick from Jamie Oliver, and something about it helps the egg stay together better.

Crack your egg on a flat surface, like a plate, and gently open it into a small bowl, something glass, ceramic, or metal that will allow easy pouring of the egg. If you break the yolk, toss the egg or do something else with it, because your poached egg won’t be very good. It’s okay, just grab another egg.

With a slotted spoon, swirl the water so you get a bit of a funnel to form in the middle. Another Jamie Oliver trick. I think this helps the eggs settle into one place.  Since the egg floats in water, the centripetal force has the opposite effect that you’d expect.

Holding the bowl as close to the water as possible, gently pour the egg into the middle of the funnel you formed previously, and just let it sit there for a bit.

I find that about 4 minutes is perfect for me. It gives a yolk that is slightly jellified but still runny.

I like to have my poached egg on a whole wheat english muffin with raw spinach and some sriracha sauce. Enjoy!

Heads up! North American Organic Brewers Festival

Just a reminder that the NAOBF is happening this weekend, starts at noon Fri-Sunday at Overlook Park.  This is my favorite brewfest of the year.  It doesn’t get crazy crowded, there are tons of fun beers to try, and it’s always an all-around good time.  I’m helping Dave Knows with his story about it this year, so double-stoked.  See you there.

Blue Point Toxic Sludge Black IPA

My brother and his sweet gf showed up at my place today.  Wisely, they came bearing gifts.  Wiser, they came in the form of tasty and interesting beer.  His lady is from Long Island, NY, home of Blue Point Brewing Company.  And a town called Blue Point.  Anyways, I’m quite impressed with the first beer I’ve tasted from them.

Personally, I prefer calling it Cascadian Dark.  But we know what they’re talking about.  This tasty treat out of Long Island has a chocolate malt aroma and a full body.  A deep caramel brown color, the appealingly-named Toxic Sludge carries a nice head.  The dark roasted malts are clean, but the roast lingers with a hint of coffee until my next taste.  There’s a nice balance of bitterness, I wouldn’t mind a bit more overt hoppiness, but really this is a delicious blend of bitter and sweet, perhaps lacking just a bit of crispness for the sweet body.  But sacrifices must be made.

Blue Point Toxic Sludge
Toxic Sludge in a glass

Impressively, Blue Point is donating a significant amount of the proceeds to a bird rescue for a wildlife response rescue.  Which is awesome.  And in doing so, they’re producing a delicious Cascadian Dark for people like me to enjoy.  Seeing as I’ll be on Long Island this summer, I have something to look forward to.

A nice selection

This is the second New York non-city brewery to impress me.  Southern Tier has some amazing brews, and I’m looking forward to trying more from Blue Point.

Thanks Joanne and bro (and family of Joanne).  cheers.

rick