Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Paul Talks About Beer for Money

"The Week of Paul" continues ... This time he explains how he got paid to do something he does for free at least three times a week-- talk about beer.

Walking around Union Square the other day, Diane and I were approached by a hipster in a plaid hat, tight fitting shirt and ironic pants. The question was posed:

Hipster: "Do you like beer?"

Me: "Do I?!?"

Hipster: "Do you want to get paid for drinking beer?"

Me" "Would I?!!"

Very soon I was writing down my contact info to be called later to participate in a beer marketing study.

After undergoing an extensive interview over the phone with one of the representatives from this company, I (but not Diane, alas) was chosen to participate in a focus group to share my opinions on beer.

It turns out that there was no actual beer to be drank at this focus group. It was just two hours of them introducing a name and paragraph marketing write-up of various fictional 'concept' beers to the focus group and having each of us give our thoughts on it and if we would consider buying it at a bar or grocery store.

Although I felt sort of duped (I swear that hipster told me that I'd be drinking beer at this thing), I was happy to give my opinion.

As many know, I brew beer, so I've probably got more opinions than the average person on what beer is, should be and could be. (Editor's note: And more opinions on beer than the average person wants to hear! Hehehe.)

Some of the marketing concepts I dismissed out of hand, such as 'Extra Virgin IPA'- a beer that was supposed to be made from the 'first pressing' of hops.

I pointed out that beer hops aren't used in multiple 'pressings'- they're used only once, then discarded to become compost or hog food with the spent grains of the batch- even commercial breweries do this. I said that I could not in good conscience support a beer concept that relied on duping people into believing they were getting something special based on a fictional brewing process.

Another beer concert was 'LocAle'- I liked the name and the idea of this, but the marketing write up, 'all local ingredients, locally grown and brewed in a local brewery' made this beer impractical.

I love the idea of a nationally available 'Philadelphia Style Beer' brewed in Philly, but there's no way that beer can completely comply with the whole locavore gimmick that's sweeping the nation.

I pointed out that hops only grow in certain regions of the country (not in the south for example) and that barley isn't generally grown right outside of major metropolitan areas (I don't think there's too many amber waves of grain around NYC).

One concept I liked was the fictional 'Global Grains'- beers from parts of the world that we normally would not associate with having beer. For example, a sorghum beer from West Africa or a lime and coriander beer from Thailand.

Part of this concept though was to send people over to those countries and help the locals build a brewery, bringing money and jobs into the local economy.

That doesn't seem commercially viable since it takes a massive amount of capital to pay for building the brewery and the supply chain and training the locals as well as paying any necessary bribes for permits and so forth. Also- I'm not sure if alcohol production is the best thing for thoroughly depressed areas of the world.

Anyway- I liked the idea in theory and would order a Thai or African beer if I saw it in a bar at least once (maybe not twice).

Overall- It was a kind of fun way to spend two hours, and the $90.00 I made helped ease my anger at having no beer to drink. I would, however, have gladly done this as a public service to make sure that 'Extra Virgin IPA' never comes into this world.

Read more from Paul at his blog, Presidents by the Book.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Paul Goes to Space and Back, Kind Of

I have no doubt that my husband thinks that every week is "The Week of Paul," but this one actually is. This week we learn what he's been up to. Today we visit space, Wednesday we drink beer and Friday it's off to a Turkish bath.

Enjoy, and then don't forget to visit his blog, Presidents by the Book!

I had the opportunity to take advantage of living in New York a few weeks ago and attended the annual Isaac Asimov memorial debate at the Hayden Planetarium.

This is an annual debate put on by the American Museum of Natural History's space department and covers themes on space that change from year to year.

This year the theme was "Moon, Mars and Beyond: Where next for the manned space program?" The panelists had varied backgrounds and included the retired head of the U.S. Air Force Space division, writers from academia and the head of the Mars Society, Robert Zubrin.

It was moderated by Neil deGrasse Tyson, the well known astrophysicist that comes on the Colbert Report to promote the study of space and is a common speaker on the History Channel's "The Universe."

Neil deGrasse Tyson

The major points of debate that Tyson put forth were:

1) Should humans attempt to colonize Mars?
2) If we colonize Mars, should we first attempt to do the same on the moon?
3) What forms of technology should we use to to both travel to and colonize Mars?
4) Who should lead the way in space exploration? NASA, private corporations or a more international coalition?
5) What is the best way to structure the funding and leadership of NASA to meet the goals of space exploration?

The debate veered in several interesting directions, such as the difference in the way NASA is run between now and the 1960's when we made it to the moon in a few short years through the Cold War-era Apollo project.

It also included a celebrity appearance by phone of Buzz Aldrin who it seems has become sort of senile since his retirement. Neil deGrasse Tyson told the national hero five times that they were running out of time and he just kept talking about his theories on the best ways to go to Mars like he didn't even hear him. I guess I can forgive that though- he'll be remembered like Magellan or Marco Polo hundreds of years from now.

Some of the most entertaining moments came at the very end at the question and answer session with some people who were clearly disturbed taking the microphone. Their questions ranged from accusations of complicity by the NASA members in government conspiracies to not so much questions, but statements on 'cover ups' that the U.S. government has perpetuated against its people.

One interesting fact I learned there- the United States will retire its shuttle program this year and will outsource getting American astronauts into space to Russia. Not sure how I feel about that- the Cold War may be over, but I think that we should still control our own destiny on when, where and how we get people into space.

Overall, it was three hours well spent. (I can feel Diane's eyes rolling as I'm writing this.)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Shopping in New York: A Tale of Inconvenience

Last week I was put in the odd position of describing Meijer to my co-workers.

After a few false starts, one asked if it was like Wal-Mart. Yes, I replied, but better, nicer. Wal-Mart with a touch of Target, I finally declared.

It started when a co-worker was trying to wow us with the sheer variety of items she once bought at a bodega. I refused to be wowed. I don't remember her shopping list, but it was something of the beer-potatoes-batteries-toilet paper variety. Where else could one leave with such an assortment?

Meijer. Except there, you also could get a computer desk and your pictures developed. So there.

I have written many a post rhapsodizing over Meijer and (especially) Kroger, but I do have to admit that bodegas probably offer the most in sheer selection of any store in New York. This, however, comes at a literal price. Except for the fruit, vegetables and a small selection of non-perishable goods, everything is generally much more expensive. And you'll never find the variety of a Meijer. In fact, Meijer's jewelry counter is probably larger than any single bodega.

Nowadays it's fruits and veggies from a bodega, meat from a meat market, other groceries from a grocery store. Medicine, toothpaste and paper towels from an actual pharmacy.

So long, one-stop shopping.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I Scream, You Scream for Free Ice Cream

At 48 degrees, Tuesday wasn't exactly ice cream weather. But the weather's always perfect for free food.

So even though the afternoon was gray and drizzly, after work I hopped a few stops north to the nearest Ben & Jerry's for Free Cone Day. I knew the line would be long, but I didn't expect this:

The scoop shop is on the far left of the photo. The line wrapped around the building to the NYU flags on the right. I estimated about 200 people in front of me, but these guys were pros. In 15 minutes I had my very first taste ever of Cherry Garcia.

It was too cold to linger, so I broke an unwritten rule and took the cone on the train. It was gone by the time I transferred lines at Canal Street.

Ben and Jerry's got me right where they wanted me when Paul and I visited the factory last year during our weekend in Vermont. I'd never had their ice cream before, but now the very thought of it makes my mouth water.

Even still, I'm a Ben and Jerry's novice. This was only the third time I'd ever had it. I tried strawberry cheesecake during the factory tour, and a few weeks later Paul and I got a carton of something else, although I can't remember the name. One of the ingredients was chocolate dinosaurs, and can you ever go wrong with chocolate dinosaurs?

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Little Spring in Our Steps

Spring officially started Saturday, but it awoke from hibernation a few days earlier.

As soon as the thermometer hit 60 earlier in the week, there was a noticeable difference on the streets. If there were roses, people may actually have stopped to smell them.

I first noticed the change in myself. I walked more slowly-- I strolled. My gaze, generally focused on the sidewalk, moved up a few feet. And when I got home from work on Tuesday and the sun was still out, I seemed to be viewing my neighborhood with new eyes. I had forgotten how pretty the buildings along 77th Street really are.

On Saturday, with the mercury at 70, Paul and I packed up a blanket and the newspaper and walked to Bay Ridge's Owl's Head Park. We basked in the sun and followed it up with a mile-and-a-half walk around the neighborhood.

Welcome, spring, and many happy returns.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Korean Food, at Home and on the Town

Korean food at home

One of our favorite restaurants in New York is Woorijip, just a few steps away from Macy's flagship store, in the heart of Koreatown.

I've written about the buffet before, and it was even better than I remembered when we had supper there earlier this month. Is a potato croquette Korean? What about the sushi that seemed to have tuna in it? I don't care; it was good. In any case, the beancurd and kimchi pancakes were authentic.

Our Saturday night meal inspired Paul on Sunday and he made his first attempt at Korean food. Yum. Why go out to eat when I have my own personal chef at home?

Korean food on the town

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

When I open my gourmet pancake restaurant,
my green shamrock pancakes will be on the menu every March.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Rain, Rain, Go Away

The rain showed no signs of letting up.

There I was, standing at the exit of my neighborhood Associated grocery store, watching it pour. I was a mere six-minute walk from home, but that kind of stroll feels much longer in pounding rain ... and I didn't have an umbrella.

Paul, who had a raincoat with a hood, made a run for it, but me in my silly wool coat (it wasn't raining when we left home!) stayed behind with about eight other shoppers, anxiously scanning the skies. Each time the rain let up in the slightest, it only seemed to rain even harder a few minutes later.

Rain. It's so much more of a hassle here in New York than it was in Ohio. It ruins plans. It prevents plans from being made. It makes me irritable.

This bout of rain started Friday, and the next day was joined by gusts of nearly 70 miles per hour. Havoc ensued, with trains delayed and thousands left without power. Even the Staten Island Ferry was halted for a time on Saturday night.

Paul and I hunkered down, not once leaving the apartment. An umbrella was no defense against a storm like this, and our car was parked about five blocks away. We were stranded.

In Ohio? No big deal. Living room to attached garage to vehicle to destination. Make a run for it in the parking lot. I rarely even bothered with an umbrella.

Back to the grocery store. I left my perch at the store's exit when the rain seemed to slow, only for it to come pouring down about half a block later. I found some shelter in a church's stairwell for a couple of minutes, and the rain slowed to a sprinkle.

Finally home. And I didn't leave the apartment all day.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Reading About New York, in New York

This month I read two books set in New York.

The location was all they had in common. "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer was a frequently funny drama about a boy trying to come to terms with his father's death in the 9/11 attacks. "Chronic City" by Jonathan Lethem was an everything-is-not-what-it-seems tale, laced with marijuana.

Reading the books back to back made me consider how many others I've read that are set in the city. Some I picked out after we moved here, like "Washington Square" by Henry James, and "Motherless Brooklyn," also by Jonathan Lethem.

But I'm sure I read most before I ever dreamed I'd live here. In fact, I think my first introduction to New York by book was The Baby-Sitter's Club book #18, "Stacey's Mistake" (what does it mean that I knew the book's number but had to look up the title on Amazon?). I still remember the scene when Stacey watched a cockroach crawl across her bedroom floor.

I feel like I know the city well enough now that it really adds something to the whole "reading experience," to use a yucky term. I can not only picture the neighborhood, street or location in my head, but also infer what the author is trying to tell me about characters by placing them there.

Before we moved here, I can remember having that experience while reading only one other book-- "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio," set in my hometown. But even that wasn't quite the same. Sure, I recognized street names, but there was no hidden meanings when this or that neighborhood was mentioned. Heck, there were no neighborhoods to mention.

One book I recently read that is set in New York, however, left me with a bad taste in my mouth: "Julie & Julia." At the very beginning, the author moves from Bay Ridge to Long Island City, in Queens. That's fine, but did she have to bash my neighborhood as she sped up the expressway?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

An Art Exhibit Minus the Art

When Paul and I went to the Guggenheim Museum last weekend, we went not to view art, but to be art.

The occasion? An installation (?) by Tino Sehgal.

The Guggenheim's rotunda was entirely cleared of all artwork, the walls completely white. We were the art. When I write it like that, the exhibit seems like a rip-off. Why spend time or money on a piece of art I can find in my mirror?

But it was more than that. The museum describes the exhibit like this:

"Relying exclusively on the human voice, bodily movement, and social interaction, Sehgal's works nevertheless fulfill all the parameters of a traditional artwork with the exception of inanimate materiality."

In fact, the so-called artwork "can be bought and sold, and by virtue of being repeatable, they can persist over time."

Here's out it worked. Near the start of the exhibit, a child (a more "permanent" part of the artwork) introduced herself to us and asked us what we thought progress meant. The conversation continued until a woman in her 20's or so took over for the girl. We got passed from person to person, the abstract conversation continuing through about five people and 10 minutes. Looking throughout the museum's space, it was difficult to determine who were the visitors and who were the people hired to keep the conversation -- and the pace -- moving.

It's difficult to explain-- this New Yorker brief explains it much better (and explains what you see toward the bottom left corner of the photo above).

I'm still not so sure that this is art so much as theater. But I will admit that the experience made me think more than any piece of canvas ever has.

The long line to the Guggenheim.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Famous People I've Seen in New York


That's not strictly true. I've seen David Letterman and Barbara Walters, but only in the confines of their TV show sets. But I have absolutely never run into a star or even a D-list celebrity in the streets of New York.

I'll occasionally be asked if I've had any chance encounters, both from people in Ohio and those in New York. We'll compare notes-- a reality show star seen here, an actor seen there. I have nothing to add.

Remember the writers' strike in autumn 2007? When all of our favorite TV shows went off the air for a couple of months? That was just shortly after we moved here, before I got a job. I still regret not making my way to Rockefeller Center to see Tina Fey and the like take to the streets.

Now I have to depend on luck. And since -- like most people around here -- I tend not to look anyone in the eye, I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Grand Central Station, All Lit Up

I haven't been in or by Grand Central Station enough not to light up when I see it, and that's especially true at night.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

An Ode to Ryan Maguire's

Ryan Maguire's Ale House was the bar of choice for my coworkers long before Paul and I started joining them almost a year ago.

Why? A great choice of reasonably priced beers, nice bartenders, a good jukebox and plenty of space. And it's only five blocks from the office.

Until last week. An early morning fire destroyed the bar.

I'm sorry for the owner and the employees. I'm sorry for the people living in the apartments above (four hospitalized, and all expected to fully recover). And I'm sorry that a place with so many good memories literally went up in smoke.

New York has thousands of bars. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands. But it might as well have about three, because that's the number I frequent with any sort of regularity. Sure, New York has quantity. But the diamonds are hidden, and in Ryan's we had found one. Now it's back to the search.


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