CD Review: Wind Down

I’ll preface this post with two things:

1. I work at Starbucks. Therefore, I’m very familiar with the content of this post.
2. While a trained journalist, I have never written a music review and therefore have no idea what I’m doing. Or truly, exactly what I’m talking about. Yay interwebs.

Going back to point one above, I’m a barista (with some managerial power, but not much). If you’ve ever been into a Starbucks, you’ve undoubtedly heard the music in there. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, often times very WTF, it’s all handpicked. And trust me, if it annoys you, it annoys we baristas at least 10-times more … given that we have to listen to it all day, every day that we work.

That being said, the company occasionally comes up with compilations and playlists that I absolutely ADORE. The trance/electronica/chill playlists are often my favorites. Back when I first started with the company, they had a CD compilation out called “Sundown: Music for Unwinding.” It has become one of my (and my husband’s) favorite CD’s ever, and the tracks burned onto our iTunes have high play numbers.

This year, along with the winter launch of probably one of Starbucks’ best ideas ever, the Blonde Roast (mmmm, Veranda), the company came out with the Wind Down playlists for in-store use and the CD Wind Down to sell.

Before even listening to it all day at work, just looking at the CD intrigued me and I bought it before even knowing what was on it. While such rash decisions can often times be bad, this one was good. I love this album and while I may never adore “Wind Down” as I do “Sundown,” it’s going to come close.

Starbucks bills the compilation as such:

log off, power down and move on.
A soundtrack for easing into the evening, this international array of electronic-embellished selections unfolds like nightfall, creating moments for reflection as the end of the day draws near.

And my thoughts, track by track:

Frou Frou – Breathe In
A fantastic start to the CD; it hooks you with the very first track. I get to really enjoy the great bass lines from my ancient (ca. 2001) stereo system … that really does do bass well, I might add. Plus it’s just a cute song in general – “because I love you,” a repeating point of the vocals. Maybe it’s just because I’m married (four months!).

Alif Tree – I Feel Blue
In general, I’m a sucker for any song with some quality piano, and this one starts off with some groovy piano before the bass kicks in and the jazz infused with electronic hints lulls you with a chill groove. In terms of tempo/feel, a slight step back from track one.

Ennio Morricone – Amore Come Dolore (Needs Remix)
As someone who watched a lot of spaghetti westerns as a kid (thanks, Dad) and adored “Ecstasy of Gold” on Metallica’s “S&M” album, I love me some Morricone. This upbeat shift in the playlist has the repetitive groove so often found  in the electronic genre (that can be headache-inducing even for some fans of the genre), but the depth of Morricone’s work makes it an enjoyable track (and the hubby’s favorite on the disc).

Groove Armada – Tuning In
Easily my favorite  of the bunch. Starts off awesome and just never lets you down. Lyrics hit you right away  and then Groove Armada lays down a funky bass line that you ride throughout the whole song. Yes, I subtly groove to this song at work whenever it comes on.

Minus 8 – Elysian Fields
Continuing on the upbeat groove, this track seems to me that it’s almost meant as a background one, not really picking up until about the 2:30 mark. That’s not to say that it isn’t good, but it’s almost … forgettable. The liner notes mention that it’s meant to establish a noir-ish mood … something I can understand. The track would be good as the background layer to a scene in a black-and-white film.

Tosca – Natural High
This track is where the disc starts to wind back down a bit. The electronic variations of, for lack of better phrasing, oscillating sounds reminiscent of video games, provide an interesting hook that keeps your ear trained to the music, instead of letting it slip away into the void.

Slackwax (Featuring Anna Leyne) – Close to My Fire
Another mellow groove, accentuated by the throaty vocals of Anna Leyne. While all the songs on the album  have their roots in electronica, Slackwax adds to the mix a song that would almost be more at home in a jazz club than a dance club. Probably the song that would most appeal to people not fans of the electronic genre.

Thievery Corporation – Lebanese Blonde
The sitar (pretty sure that’s what that instrument is) hooks you from the start and takes you in to what is an extremely well done, multi-layered track with enough depth to drown in. Luckily, we’re not talking water here, but music, and it is an incredibly enjoyable experience to sit back and listen to this track. It also breathes some more life into the playlist, leading us to the next track.

Moby – Natural Blues
While “South Side” and “Porcelain” perhaps got the most widespread recognition off of “Play,” I will argue you any day that either this or “Run On” were the best tracks of that CD. Moby sampled vocals from a 1937 spiritual song that end up being the perfect glue to bind the lyrical beats behind them.

Boozoo Bajou – Night Over Manaus
Starting with what I can best describe as tribal sounds, “Night Over Manaus” almost seems to be too many things at once. I love how the track has a lot of depth, but the beat base is almost too much. I can see the appeal of this track (it would be perfect at this underground dance thing I went to in Boulder a few years back – “hippie dancing” is how my friend described it), it’s not a song I could listen to over and over – a stark contrast to the rest of the album. In my opinion, the best part of the track comes near the end, when the whole tempo of the song shifts faster, and the varying grooves seem to fit together a lot better.

Moodorama – Behind the Scenes
First, let’s ignore how much I love the name “Moodorama” (because I do). The song’s elements make you listen to it, to see its depths and wonder what intrigues it contains. The track will slow down, only to come back with a force that brings you back into the present. Aptly named, “Behind the Scenes” makes you consider the shadowy places not often seen, but that one oft desires to know.

Propellerheads – Winning Style
While “Elysian Fields” could be part of a black-and-white detective film, “Winning Style” could be at home in a movie as well. The film could be as varied as something from the “Ocean’s” series or something from the ’70s. The track has a retro feel and a steady beat that you ride out the rest of the disc with.

Book Review: The Botany of Desire

I first read Michael Pollan this past year when I picked up The Omnivore’s Dilemna. It was a book both Brandon and I had been thinking of reading and then watching “Food, Inc.” just solidified our desire to read it.

The Omnivore’s Dilemna was awesome … and I may read it again just so I can review it here. However, this isn’t going to be about that. It’s going to be about another tome of Pollan’s, The Botany of Desire.

Brandon checked out The Botany of Desire from the library and I stole it from him because it sounded interesting. Take the synopsis from the back of the book:

Every schoolchild learns about the mutually beneficial dance of honeybees and flowers: The bee collects nectar and pollen to make honey and, in the process, spreads the flowers’ genes far and wide. In The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan ingeniously demonstrates how people and domesticated plants have formed a similarly reciprocal relationship. He masterfully links four fundamental human desires – sweetness, beauty, intoxication and control – with the plants that satisfy them: the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato. In telling the stories of four familiar species, Pollan illustrates how the plants have evolved to satisfy humankind’s most basic yearnings. And just as we’ve benefited from these plants, the plants have also benefited at least as much from their association with us. So who is really domesticating whom?

As with The Omnivore’s Dilemna, I really enjoyed The Botany of Desire. I adore Pollan’s writing style, particularly his knack of turning a phrase.

My two favorites:
“Sweaty, vegetal, and sulfurous, the place might have been a locker room in the Amazon.”
“… equally disreputable tomato.”

The last one mostly because I love tomatoes and thinking of them as disreputable amuses me highly.

If you want to know about corn sex, go read The Omnivore’s Dilemna. However, if you want to learn any of the following, go pick up The Botany of Desire. Now. For it contains:

– the history of the apple
– the TRUE story of Johnny Appleseed (far cry from the Disney cartoon of yore)
– why tulips became so damned popular
– the answer if you ever actually truly wanted to know what a meme was or how it came about
– the effects psychoactive plants may have had on culture/history of religions/etc.
– how forgetfulness may actually be a *good* thing
– more on how now, after I’ve read The Omnivore’s Dilemna and seen “Food, Inc.”, any time I see or hear “Monsanto Corp.”, I want to stab something (like hearing how if he wanted to replant his super-special potato sample, he’d be breaking federal law
– why mashed potatoes are all a body needs to survive
– how potatoes were once vastly inferior to wheat
– and so much more

I’m typically a fiction girl (I blame reading too damn much boring non-fiction in college), but I’m really starting to like non-fiction books as they relate to food … particularly if there’s a bit of history involved (marginal history nerd). The Botany of Desire is one such book.

On Tebow/the Broncos

While I am a Colorado girl (and, even rarer, a Colorado native), I confess I’ve never been much of a Denver Broncos fan.

Sure, I’ve been to a Broncos game or two (none within the last two decades, however) and casually watched them at home. I vaguely remember watching them lose in Super Bowls when I was a kid – get home from skiing and go to one of the neighbor’s houses for a Super Bowl party to watch them fail and fail again. I also remember them winning their two Super Bowls when I was in early adolescence (but still didn’t much care).

I’ve always been more of a hockey girl. The Colorado Avalanche was the first local sports team I fell in love with. I always had a casual flirtation with the Colorado Rockies, which developed into something stronger in 2007 … when the casual fandom of the Boston Red Sox I acquired in college disappeared completely in favor of my hometown team. And the Denver Nuggets (or other myriad professional lacrosse/soccer/indoor football teams)? Meh.

But Denver (and Colorado and really, the vast majority of this “Western mountain region”) is Broncos territory, and I’ve never been a part of it.

Until now. Sort of.

Football is a sport I can watch without really knowing what’s going on. I typically don’t like watching a sport unless I know what’s going on. Hockey, baseball … easy. Basketball I get lost and don’t even get me started with soccer. But football … football I can watch with only the vaguest clue of what’s going on. (Granted, it might be more of a vague clue, but you’re going to have to ask the husband if that’s true.)

The Broncos have become a talked about team because of their fairly polarizing quarterback, Tim Tebow. If you’re familiar with sports, you probably already know who he is. If not, well, a friend linked to this Gawker article on facebook, which does a decent job of explaining it.

In short: highly religious quarterback for the Broncos; played college at Florida; famous for “Tebowing” (getting down on one knee and praying while other crap goes on around him), outspoken pro-life advocate, etc. Football people will tell you he’s not all that good, due to crappy throwing mechanics with his arm (kind of important if you’re a QUARTERBACK), but from what this extremely casual Broncos/football fan can see, he’s been good at helping his team believe and bringing them together, something the Broncos have needed for a while.

This has been called the worst article about Tebow ever written. I would agree … if it were meant as an actual article and not just a blog/opinion piece. If you read the comments, people think the author is advocating Tim Tebow for president; I didn’t get that. I interpreted Matthew Dowd’s piece as using Tebow, and the way he leads the Broncos, as an example as what to look for in our country’s next leader*. I can admit that perhaps Dowd went about his point the wrong way, but I don’t disagree with his point, let’s just put it that way.

Yet if that’s the worst article written about Tim Tebow, ESPN’s Rick Reilly might have the penned the best. True, Reilly has made a career about writing either feel-good pieces like this or snark. However, in a world where the vast, vast majority of stories about athletes outside of athletics are about athletes doing bad, bad things (rape, murder, etc.), it’s nice to hear about one who puts things outside the realm of sports higher than him. That yes, it is truly just a game when it comes down to it.

I partially wish that Tebow (and others) could do the same without having religion so present, as religion can be (and is) so polarizing.

And I really wish, hope and pray that Tebow continues to live by this example and not fall to the temptation and bad press that so many of his peers have.

 

*My political thoughts are … definitely for another time. Probably when I get sick of stuff come campaign season.

New Year’s Eve at D Bar

Going on from our first year of dating, every year on New Year’s Eve, my now husband and I have usually gone to Rodizio Grill, a Brazilian steakhouse. While delicious, you get so much food that it really is a once-a-year place. Normally, not a problem, but we chose Rodizio as the location for our rehearsal dinner.

We definitely could have done Rodizio again, but the idea didn’t sound that appealing to either of us.

Enter facebook and the feed from one of our favorite restaurants, D Bar Desserts. It posted that it was doing a multi-course meal with a champagne toast, party favors and an optional wine pairing. While neither of us really are foodies, we have enjoyed almost everything that the D Bar staff (including owner Keegan Gerhard) has thrown at us. So, we took a chance and went and were so glad we did.

Dinner started at 10pm and contained six courses – three savory, three sweet. The three sweet started at midnight along with our champagne toast to ring in 2012.

In short, it was a blast. Due to being, well, essentially regulars there, we were given seats at the bar for the dinner so we got to see Keegan and his staff create our desserts throughout the whole night.

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Before it got busy.

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Creating the first sweet course.

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Making mango caviar.

As I mentioned earlier, we started off with three savory courses.

The first was a petit savory souffle, described as such: “fallen blue cheese pecan souffle * braised kurobata pork belly * bacon caramel.” While I’m not the biggest fan of either blue cheese or pecans, the souffle was delicious. It was light and the husband was “very pleasantly surprised” with it. The kurobata pork belly (kurobata is the pig equivalent of either kobe or wagyu beef) was heavenly and I seriously could have eaten a whole plate of it. The bacon caramel was I believe the drizzle on the plate; either way, this course may have been the best of the six.

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The second course was diver scallops two ways. Since there were two of us at dinner we each received one of the ways. One way included “b’nut squash risotto * brown butter beech mushrooms * burnt orange caramel beurre blanc.”

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These were mine. You could definitely taste the beurre blanc – well, taste a lot of butter, actually, but this course was a foodgasm, plain and simple. There wasn’t a single thing I didn’t like about this dish.

The second version of the diver scallops included “cioppino style crusted scallop * mussels * charred tomatoes * pearl onions * grilled zucc.”

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This was Brandon’s (the husband’s). We both enjoyed it, but he honestly said it wouldn’t be something he’d order again. (I’d order mine in a heartbeat.)

The third and final savory course was honestly the most disappointing for me – the Chinese 5-spice beef tenderloin with “lemon basted yukon golds * grilled baby bok choy & knob onion * brown butter soy.”

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I don’t really recall what all five spices were – some were essentially pumpkin pie spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves) and I believe fennel – but they overpowered what was otherwise a really well-cooked delicious piece of beef. I think I have more taste buds than the average person and sometimes, it works as a disadvantage. This course (as well as the next) are examples of that. The potato was disappointing as well. It felt a little undercooked and dry (easy to happen with a potato). I felt that this dish had huge potential (glancing at the savory menu, it looked to be the only thing I normally would have ordered) and fell short.

As we had our champagne toast at midnight, we had our first sweet course, titled Citrus & Pink Stuff.

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While pretty, it seemed unfinished. We watched Keegan making these all night and at one point they seemed finished (though simple). Then, we saw what they were supposed to look like:

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With the addition of the orange slice(s), it suddenly became perfect once again.

Described as “yogurt panna cotta * winter compote * micro sponge * prickly pear sorbet,” it was an assault of a ton of different flavors that was almost too much for my poor tongue. Our waitress described the micro sponge (that pink fluffy thing in the back) as “tasting like Barbie,” which was actually pretty accurate. That flourescent pink blob on the dessert was the prickly pear sorbet which, if possible, tasted as bright and outrageous as it looked (almost overly sweet). I enjoyed the simple combination of the pink whipped cream, the panna cotta and the winter compote together and would have been happy with just those three items.

Well, that, and seeing the glitter (or non-toxic glitter-like substance) in the pink drizzle on the plate. (I love sparkly.)

The second sweet course was Chocolate & Mango – “chocolate (3) * white chocolate mango * chocolate crumble * mango caviar.”

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This was my favorite sweet course. Weirdly enough, I loved the chocolate crumbly bits the best. Brandon, when asked to revisit his thoughts, said “delicious. Great way to finish off the night.” And I agreed.

If you’re still following along at home, you may recall I said six total courses (three savory; three sweet) and yet I’ve only shared five. That’s because the six and final course was taken to go – Petit Fours: “bon-bon * guimauve framboise * pate de fruit.” We haven’t gotten a chance to eat them yet and I neglected to take a picture of them plated, but I’m sure they’re good.

Overall, the NYE experience at D Bar was well worth the money spent. While we didn’t adore every dish we had, it was great eating outside the box (for lack of a better mangled phrase), trying dishes and eating things we normally wouldn’t have eaten (or chosen to eat). The atmosphere was also wonderful – we made conversation with those around us and hell, the entire restaurant (staff included) did the wave several times. Where else would you see that?

Money, time and lack of sleep (work at 5:45am the next day) well worth it.

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Post the First

Welcome, all.

This will basically be an adventure blog. Kind of.

Right now, I’m envisioning this as a place to put thoughts about travels, roads, restaurants, movies, books, crafts, food, etc. Life, in other words, but without hopefully a lot of the mundane.

In other words, a girl exploring life.

(Technically a woman, but eh. You’re only as young as you feel, right?)

An experiment, to be sure, but here’s hoping it’s at least entertaining.