Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

31 August, 2013

Next Door Brewing Is Now Fully Armed and Operational

Next Door Brewing had a soft opening yesterday and The Dulcinea and I availed ourselves of the opportunity to check out the latest purveyor of brews in Madison.

Unfortunately, The D forgot her camera so no photos.

Next Door's layout was very open and spacious. The bar and dining areas are separate yet connected via an expansive opening in the wall. It was well-populated and the brewhouse was off of the bar's seating area. Communal seating is the order of the day in the dining room with a couple long tables and one very large raised one. There were also a couple smaller tables for those parties not feeling particularly social or perhaps not wanting to inflict a small child onto undeserving strangers.

We were seating at the raised table and were soon joined by a friendly older couple. The ladies were denizens of the neighborhood and keen to check out the newest addition to the area. The crowd here was mostly older and seemed to be comprised of locals. There was also a smattering of families with young children. The D remarked on how different the atmosphere was in contrast to that of Karben4's opening night. A lot fewer 20 and 30-somethings looking to overdose on hops. There was no music playing and televisions were locked in cabinets awaiting a sporting event. Less of a bacchanalia vibe and more of a sense of people wanting to relax and usher out the work week.

We had originally planned to sample Next Door's beer and then head out for a repeat performance at La Taguara but opted to sample the gastro-grub. I'm a complete sucker for onion soup and so ordered the white version on offer. It was a bit lighter than the more familiar version made with beef stock but still tasty. The D began her meal with the sauerkraut sausage balls which were comprised of pork sausage and Stalzy's kraut. The nuggets of porcine goodness were then breaded with what appeared to be panko and then fried. Very tasty stuff. The kraut added just a touch of tartness.

The pork shoulder sandwich had an Asian twist with kimchi sauce while the chicken sandwich looked to North Africa for inspiration with housemade harissa. Both were delicious. For dessert Next Door offers Calliope Ice Cream and we went with the Hot Peanut Butter which was tastilicious.

The menu isn't staggeringly huge by any means but is goodly-sized and offers a fair variety of dishes. Bonus points for using dark meat chicken in the Chicken and Tarragon salad. Samara Kalk Derby will no doubt be disappointed. More bonus points for not offering pizza or deep-fried chicken strips.

The beer list featured four brews: a cream ale with oats, a pale ale, a mild, and a golden ale. The D went with Wilbur!, the cream ale, while I had, Les, the mild. Wilbur! was similar to Spotted Cow although a bit smoother and less fruity. Les was a real treat. Smooth and malt forward yet with English hops accenting the whole affair. I was impressed because A) it was a wonderful change of pace to taste earthier English hop varieties instead of the ubiquitous citrus/pine resin flavors in fashion and B) it was a true session beer at 3.8% ABV, if memory serves. It was a hot day, I was eating a meal, and Les was not bashing me across the tongue clamoring for attention. Brewmaster Keith Symonds gets kudos from me for not coming out of the gate with a beer menu that is the equivalent of a Zak Snyder movie. There were no C-hops lying in wait to drown you in alpha acids nor was there a Belgian quintuple Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. Instead the brews were light and easy going - wholly appropriate for the weather - and complemented the communal ethos of the place which Symonds says is about chatting with people you don't know. Who wants to sit next to and try to strike up a conversation with someone getting shit-faced after a few sips of bourbon barrel imperial barleywine?

From food to beer to ambience, Next Door is carving out its own niche in the both the food and beer scenes. With opening day apparently having gone off without too many problems, we can now look forward to finding out how well breastfeeding fits in with the communal atmosphere.

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30 August, 2013

A Sneak Peek and Two Interivews of Interest

Errol Morris' next film is The Unknown Known, a profile of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and he has released a sneak peek.

Looks to be entertaining.

Terry Gilliam's latest film, The Zero Theorem, is scheduled to open later this year. It's about a computer genius who is directed to solve the titular mathematical problem which would give the answer to life, the universe, and everything.

The Playlist has a nice interview with Gilliam about the project.

It’s a very hard thing to describe as far as storytelling but there is a man who really wants to be on his own even though his work is about a very big question; whether the universe is in control or chaos. He just wants to get away from people and everything, just be alone, and yet he’s not allowed to be. Some of that is good and some of it is bad. He discovers his humanity in the course. Where he ends up is a surprise.

It looks suitably bizarre. Should be good.

Another good interview comes courtesy of Filmmaker magazine. This time around the subject is visual effects artist Douglas Trumbull. He talks, amongst other things, about working with Stanley Kubrick on 2001 and Terrance Malick on The Tree of Life as well as his new film process that builds upon IMAX.

I’m working on a film right now that is an experiment for the process where we are shooting 3D, 4K and 120 frames per second and will project at 10 times the brightness of cinemas... The movies will be so unusual that they won’t make any sense on your laptop, television, tablet or cell phone. My objective is to go totally weird and make something people feel is really worth going out to a movie theater to see.

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29 August, 2013

Will America Ever Break the Habit?

After our invasion of Iraq turned up no weapons of mass destruction in that country, President Bush did a little bait and switch with bringing freedom to the Iraqis brought out as the prime motivation for our Middle Eastern incursion. "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands," he said in 2005. This notion of bringing liberty from the barrel of a gun was nothing new. Walter Nugent points this out straight away in his Habits of Empire: A History of American Expansion when he notes that Thomas Jefferson, well-known advocate of individual freedom, envisioned the United States as an "empire for liberty". "But imperialist he was," Nugent says of the Founding Father.

Nugent splits American imperial ambitions into three phases. The first is the acquisition of the lower 48, the second is the empire building done in the Pacific Ocean as well as the Caribbean & South America, and the last is the post-WWII era which utilizes more indirect methods of control. Each of these phases, Nugent opines, are undergirded by a sense of American moral pureness and superiority. American expansion is always accompanied by proclamations that we are committing a moral right and never justified on selfish grounds such as economic gain or for strategic concerns.

The bulk of the text is devoted to how the original Americans expanded their 13 colonies into what is today the continental United States. I recall a fair amount of high school American history class – everyone knows the Louisiana Purchase and “Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!”, for instance, but Nugent goes into some depth here. He begins with Transappalachia. America was able to play the English, French, and Spanish off of one another and gain favorable borders after winning its freedom. The desire to expand had to do with a lust for land and profit-making but there was also a strong sentiment that would later be known as “manifest destiny”. Even the earliest Americans felt that they had a divine mandate to exercise dominion over the land.

One of the great things about the book is how Nugent provides a fairly detailed political and historical context for events. For example, rather than simply saying that the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1793, we learn about the pressures facing everyone at the bargaining table. The English colonial secretary, the Earl of Shelburne, was facing empty coffers and a need to split the Americans from the French. Meanwhile in Paris the French foreign minister was desperate to have the Americans honor their treaties with his country. Over in Spain, King Carlos III was attempting to get on the good side of the Americans as their newly formed country now abutted the Spanish Empire.

Subsequent chapters deal with the Louisiana Purchase, the disastrous War of 1812, the acquisition of Florida, Texas, Oregon, etc. The treatment of Indians is well-known and Nugent doesn't cut America any slack in this regard. But he doesn't dwell on this topic either. Much more emphasis is placed on the stratagems and subterfuges used by the men who have run this country. For example, the ink was barely dry on the Louisiana Purchase when future president James Monroe and diplomat Robert Livingston started claiming that the deal included West Florida when they knew damn well it didn't. Soon Jefferson and Madison were spouting the same nonsense. That autumn insurgents took the French fort in Baton Rouge and Madison seized the moment to declare West Florida as belonging to the United States - much the chagrin of our erstwhile allies who had played such a significant role in helping the colonists gain their freedom.

One of things that drew me to reading Habits of Empire was watching John Sayles' Amigo, a film about America's venture in the Philippines at the tail end of the 19th century. I realized that I knew precious little about how my country ended up with all those islands in the Pacific.

It started with a search for islands that could act as the maritime equivalents of rest stops for trade ships. Then the military, in the form of the Navy, and the guano industry aligned interests and in 1856 uninhabited guano-rich islands were declared fair game by the Guano Islands Act at the behest of the American Guano Company. The Midway Islands followed in 1859. Samoa involved chicanery. The natives didn't have a monarch who had authority to cut deals in a manner that Westerners were accustomed. So the United States basically went out and found one.

Hawaii is a very sad tale. Americans moved in and initiated reforms which would benefit themselves. Whites established industries such as sugar and soon Hawaii was home to a wealthy white elite that owned most of the land. In the late 1880s King David Kalakaua's policies weren't rigged in favor of the upper classes so they fomented an uprising and forced Kalakaua to the real power over to them and the government cabinet they populated and controlled. Voting was restricted to landowners, most of whom were white. Pearl Harbor came under American control, laws were passed that mandated all schools to teach in English only, et al.

We gained the Philippines after defeating the Spanish. Many American politicians viewed the Filipinos as savages, unable to rule themselves. And so the American mission there was one of “benevolent assimilation” backed by “the strong arm of authority”. Unsurprisingly, the same people who didn't want the Spanish in their homeland also didn't want Americans there. A tense occupation collapsed into war when an American soldier killed two Filipino soldiers and then yelled, “Line up, fellows. The niggers are in here all through these lines.” A day later 59 Americans and some 3,000 Filipinos were dead and a war was on.

Nugent gives scant attention to his third phase of American expansion as he considers it to be ongoing but this does invite the reader to look at how phases one and two resonate today.

One of the most obvious continuities is the use of questionable assertions or outright lies to enter into war. The sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in 1899 as a pretext for war echoes in the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. In the Philippines Americans tortured Filipinos. The most notorious form of torture was the so-called “water cure” which we call water boarding today. In that same war the American military gathered civilians and placed them into areas around various villages with the warning that, if they left this zone, they were putting their lives at risk. Nugent notes that this “tactic also prefigured the 'strategic hamlet' policy that the Americans would use decades later in Vietnam.”

The episode in the Philippines also demonstrates how America has traditionally viewed itself as being superior to other nations. The notion that the “savages” couldn't rule themselves was tweaked a little for our Iraqi incursion. Bush did not describe the Iraqis as unfit for democracy, but instead claimed that America was doing God's work in bringing democracy to an oppressed people. Despite the change, the American paternalism remains the same.

Finding the man named La Mamea to act on behalf of the Samoans doesn't seem all that different from America propping up friendly dictator the past several decades. And on and on it goes. This country has lied, stolen, cheated, betrayed allies, and killed in the name of expansion and exerting its influence. And nearly every time it has been done under the guise of moral rightness and with the supposed approval of the Judeo-Christian deity.

Habits of Empire is a real eye-opener. It provides overwhelming evidence that we Americans should be highly skeptical of the foreign policy claims of our politicians and to ignore their grandiose claims of American exceptionalism. Underneath all the moral rhetoric, America has proven to be motivated by greed just as much as any other empire.

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Madison's Bland Skyline

The Guardian has a neat photo quiz of cities around the world. The skyline of Doha, Qatar really caught my eye.

It reminded me of just how bland Madison's skyline is by contrast.

(Photo found here.)

The Capitol and the convention center stand out but most of everything else is a boring box of 8-10 stories. I got my hopes up when I read that Curt Brink is looking to demolish some structures on the 900 block of East Washington. He proposed Archipelago Village back in the mid-aughts which featured a 27-story skyscraper and designs "influenced by the architecture of Stockholm, Sweden, and Central Park West in New York City." Ten out of ten for style, in my book. There is at least the prospect of some new buildings that are at least aesthetically interesting.

Perhaps the time has come to revisit the laws which limit building height around the Capitol. If Brink and his co-conspirators want to build a 20-story colossus on the 900 block of East Washington, let them. Is the view of the Capitol going to be more severely impaired than if the building were erected a block away where it would be legal? Let's keep the dome visible from some vantages but a blanket ban within a certain radius seems counterproductive. If density is efficient from various urban planning perspectives, limiting height uniformly limits density. Pack those people in, I say. In addition to a better skyline, it may spur improved and expanded public transportation and perhaps get that near east side tech corridor off the ground.

But don't forget the green spaces.

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Stalingrad Trailer

There's a new trailer out for Stalingrad, an epic 3D IMAX love story set in the midst of the Battle of Stalingrad. It looks to be a really intense experience. Unfortunately director Fedor Bondarchuk apparently reckons himself the Russian Zak Snyder with actions being slowed down in media res. Too bad.

It has a Columbia Pictures logo in the opening so it will presumably get a release here in the States.

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27 August, 2013

A Very Curious Gargoyle

The Paisley Abbey near Glasgow underwent some renovations in the 1990s and ended up with a really neat gargoyle, one that H.R. Giger would approve.

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Wie sagt man "Haute couture" auf Deutsch?

Bavarian fashion will be all the rage if Chicago's Erika Neumayer has her way. She is the proprietor of Rare Dirndl and is selling handmade nouveau Bavarian clothing. But these aren't your Großmutter's dirndls.

Her dirndls have names like "Acid Rain" and "Wicked Garden" along with ones featuring Nirvana and Soundgarden song titles. Neumayer also makes trachtenhemden, those plaid shirts men wear with lederhosen.

It all looks very nice but, unfortunately, my budget dictates haberdashery more like this.

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26 August, 2013

Venezuelan Home Cookin'

Due to a distinct lack of any desire to cook on Sunday in the heat, The Dulcinea and I headed over to Madison's newest (and first?) Venezuelan restaurant, La Taguara which opened earlier this month on the 3500 block of East Washington in what was formerly Dimitri's Gyros. Other than Hugo Chávez and that Caracas is the country's capital, I have to admit to a lot of ignorance when it comes to Venezuela. So why not learn a bit about their cuisine?

The space is steeped in the blue, red, and gold – the colors of the Venezuelan flag. One poster proudly proclaims that the country is home to the tallest waterfall while another notes that, while Venezuela may be equatorial, it features a variety of climates from desert to alpine.

Other than that there would be a lot of corn involved, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Would it lean towards Mexican food or perhaps be similar to the Peruvian food I'd eaten here? The gentleman behind the counter proved to be a wonderful guide to the two perplexed customers who stood before him. To say he was friendly is like saying that Lady Gaga is a bit of a show-off. He was welcoming, explained the menu, and even gave us free samples of the passion fruit juice, tamarind juice, and the sugar cane with lime juice. (All three were very tasty.) He may have been a complete bastard before coming to Madison but he has sure got that Midwestern nice thing down pat.

Here's the tamarind juice:

We were told that many people are turned off by the color. Doofuses. This stuff is grand with its mellow plum-like flavor.

I ordered a Fresskolita.

I ordered it simply because it was the first item listed under Venezuelan sodas. Apparently it's the most popular soda in Venezuela. I was told that, if I ask someone about Venezuela and he or she doesn't mention this stuff, then I can rest assured that they are not from Venezuela. It tastes like cream soda with a dash of bubble gum. Curiously tasty.

As an appetizer I ordered tostones which are smashed green plantains fried to a crisp.

They were nice'n'starchy and who doesn't like fried starches? They came with guasacaca which is a cousin to guacamole. While avocado-based, it's much less viscous and has a wonderful smack of tartness from vinegar. This stuff belongs on every table. The tostones also came with a side of picadillo salad which is pica de gallo ohne the chilis. Plenty of lime juice and cilantro here which was fine by me.

The D ordered Cachapa con Queso y Cochino Frito.

What we have here is a corn pancake folded over Venezuelan cheese along with pork served with more of that fantastic guasacaca and sour cream (nata). The pork was crispy which meant it was a little on the dry side but this is apparently the intent of the dish. The pancake made up for it and it was spongy with the cheese adding moisture. There wasn't an overabundance of the gooey cheese but that was perfectly fine. Hack off a piece, dip it in the nata and/or guasacaca and you've got a perfect fatty mess on your palate.

Not only did I order the most popular soft drink in all of Venezuela, but I also got the country's national dish, pabellon.

Shredded beef is accompanied by black beans, rice, fried plantains, and an arepa which is a corn cake. The rice and beans weren't heavily seasoned but good. While the beef had what looked like minced red pepper, the seasoning took a back seat to the flavor of the meat. My fried sweet plantains found themselves dipped in the guasacaca leftover from the tostones and were great. Silghtly crispy on the outside and warm and sweet on the inside. The arepa was served plain and it too found its way in guasacaca or had some picadillo salad placed atop it.

I was a bit surprised at how simple the food was although perhaps I shouldn't have been. And I don't use “simple” here in a derogatory manner. The seasoning was just not complicated. A little salt & pepper, some peppers, garlic, and onions. Everything seemed to be peasant food, so to speak, made with the staples of the Venezuelan kitchen. Rice and beans – how much more basic can you get? The brighter, more sprightly flavors came from the guasacaca and picadillo salad which added citrus, tartness, and fresh greens to the mix. I felt that I was eating Venezuelan comfort food and loved every bite.

The D grabbed an order of quesillo on her way out the door. Think flan. Oh, it was rich,creamy, and just delectable.

Back in June I pondered why children's menus are generally the culinary equivalent of the Yugo. Earlier this month my question was answered up at Slate. I bring this up because La Taguara gets good marks from me on their kid's menu. Yeah, it's heavy on hot dogs, which are also on the adult menu, but it also has mini empanadas and a smaller portion of pabellon. And there's nary a chicken nugget/tender to be found. Good on them.

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The Case of the Disappearing Pizza

Somebody forgot the Categorical Imperative.


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You Don't Brew a Radler

Earlier this summer I read that Schell was going to be releasing a grapefruit radler. Well, it finally came out but I haven't tried it yet because it's not a radler. It was very disappointing to read that it has 4.6% ABV and basically followed Leinenkugel, Sam Adams, et al. To paraphrase a friend of mine, you don't brew a radler in the same way that you don't distill an Old Fashioned. You mix a radler. Schell's “radler” isn't even what I would consider a session beer. What gives? Don't get me wrong, Schell makes some very fine beer. Indeed, bottles of their brew have been adorning my refrigerator all summer. But their “radler” is a fail.

Since it turned into summer again, I bought me some radler fixins this past weekend.

To be honest, I prefer Capital Lake House for my radlers but Jenifer Street Market had none. (?!) So I went with the next best thing. About 50/50 with the Totally Naked (but 60% soda and 40% Lake House). Grown Up Soda is some fine soda. More tartness and less sweetness.

Good stuff, Maynard.

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21 August, 2013

UW Cinematheque Announces Fall 2013 Schedule

This autumn should be a hoot because the UW Cinematheque will fill screens with the Teutonic goodness of Werner Herzog's cinema. But wait! There's more!

Check out the schedule here.

Other highlights for me:

Eraserhead - David Lynch. What more need be said?

Fantastic Voyage - make a nice mango cream pudding for this one and watch Raquel Welch in all her glory.

The Hidden Fortress - Kurosawa. What more need be said?

Drug War - I read some good things about this film by Johnnie To when it screened in Chicago.

Plus more from Howard Hawks, Emile de Antonio, Jean-Pierre Melville, Michelangelo Antonioni, et al.

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20 August, 2013

And So It Begins: Doctor Who's New Adventures

After Doctor Who went off the air in 1990 Virgin fiction editor Peter Darvill-Evans obtained the rights to publish original stories for the series. The Virgin New Adventures kicked off in 1991 with the promise of "stories too broad and deep for the small screen". The series continued for six years and 61 titles. Some of the authors were associated with the TV show in its final years: Andrew Cartmel was teh script editor for Sylvester McCoy's era; Ben Aaronovitch wrote Remembrance of the Daleks and Battlefield for the small screen while Marc Platt is responsible for one of my all-time favorite Doctor Who stories, Ghost Light. Virgin also recruited some authors who eventually work on the new series. Indeed, Russell T. Davies, the man who resurrected the show in 2005, contributed Damaged Goods to the NAs. Paul Cornell adapted his NA, Human Nature, for the Tenth Doctor and Martha while Kate Orman's Night of the Living Dad became "Father's Day". But it all began with the Timewyrm Quadrilogy.

Timewyrm: Genesys by John Peel was the first NA to be published. The Doctor and Ace travel to ancient Mesopotamia where they meet up with Gilgamesh and the titular villain. The Timewyrm was once a woman Qataka from the planet Anu. Her experiments with mind control were not welcomed by her people and so she was put to death. Before her execution, however, she managed to offload her own mind into a snake-like cybernetic body which fled Anu. Qataka's people followed her and managed to destroy her ship but she was able to get away in an escape pod. The pod landed in ancient Mesopotamia and she adopted the name Ishtar.

While the Timewyrm is a pretty neat villain, the rest of the story is very middling. The Doctor and Ace don't resemble the ones walking across the field in the end of Survival that much. At times their bickering read more like Sixie and Peri than Seven and Ace. The story involves a lot of running back and forth between the cities of Kish and Uruk and visiting the temples at each. Dealing with Gilgamesh here and having skirmishes with the Timewyrm there. Frankly, I didn't find very much breadth or depth here. Gilgamesh is a hyper-generic cliché who wants nothing more than to eat heartily, fuck all the maidens he can, and smite his enemies. On the plus side, he has a Neanderthal named Enkidu as his companion who reminded me of Nimrod from “Ghost Light” which I had watched not long before reading the book. While Enkidu is not a particularly well-developed character, he does have a couple conversations with Ace about his loyalty to that goombah Gilgamesh. Ace reacts very badly to the social mores of the time she finds herself in and these conversations at least hint at something interesting, namely, the relativity of cultural norms. It's not a theme that is deeply probed by any means but it was nice to see it pop up.

For the most part the characters here are cardboard cut-outs and the cities of Uruk and Kish are Potemkin villages. Peel doesn't manage to make these places come to life. Uruk was the metropolis of its day yet the book is unable to convey this and sticks to a couple buildings and various hallways just like the classic series did. Indeed, most of Timewyrm: Genesys comes across like a very generic story from the 1970s. About the only things here that would have felt out of place in the TV show was Ace using a wee bit of profanity and an adolescent priestess named En-Gula wandering around in a profound state of undress.

The story ends with the consciousness of the Timewyrm escaping into the TARDIS circuitry which is ejected by The Doctor. Unfortunately for him, the Timewyrm melds with the circuitry and takes on the ability to travel in time and space.

While Timewyrm: Genesys was not a good start to the NAs, Timewyrm: Exodus improved matters considerably. DW stalwart Terrance Dicks does a nice job of writing the Seventh Doctor and Ace, characters which he never wrote for television.

The TARDIS takes our heroes to London in 1951 but they find that things are not as they were recorded in the history books. Here Hitler won World War II and Britain is something like a Nazi protectorate. Paramilitary Freikorps units roam the streets hassling Jewish merchants and basically acting like they own the place. The Doctor resolves to find out how history was diverted and put it back on the right course.

The Doctor and Ace have a run-in with the Freikorps but manage to bluff their way out of arrest with The Doctor posing as a Nazi official. They then witness a man being stabbed who passes an envelope to The Doctor before plunging into the Thames. They are eventually turned in by an informant and meet one Lieutenant Hemmings who figures into a later book. Hemmings tries to get the travelers to talk and admit they are with the resistance but fails. Instead The Doctor and Ace go free posing once again as a Nazi official and his assistant. Curiously enough, a (the?) TARDIS materializes near him at one point, he enters, and is whisked away.

In order to kickstart the process of getting history back to where it should be, our pair travel back to 1923 where they find Adolf Hitler during the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. Much to Ace's incredulity, The Doctor saves the future führer. They meet up again in the 1939 of this alternate timeline in Nuremburg and The Doctor becomes an aide to Hitler.

Timewyrm: Exodus is something of a sequel to the Second Doctor television story “The War Games” in that it features the return of The War Chief, a fellow Timelord, who is disguised as Doktor Kriegslieter here. He is out to mess with history yet again. Like The War Chief, the Timewyrm had the same idea but her plans took a turn in the wrong direction when she became trapped inside of Hitler.

Unlike the previous book, the dashing back and forth around Germany and London here is a lot of fun. I mean who doesn't like to see Nazis and their sympathizers being deceived at every turn and imploding? The characterization is a bit thin but Dicks manages to bring Hitler to life well. He's not portrayed as simply being evil incarnate but as a human being with foibles like the rest of us who is extremely evil. That The Doctor aids Hitler brings up a lot of moral questions but, unsurprisingly, the book avoids them. While Dicks may not mine the moral landscape here, he does treat The Doctor's actions with some seriousness. They didn't feel cartoonish and Dicks at least acknowledged the dilemma.

Timewyrm: Exodus may not be a great story but it was genuinely a lot of fun. It had a brisk pace but not too brisk. It was a hoot to read as The Doctor toyed with Adolf Hitler. In addition we had The War Chief's machinations and Dicks kept us guessing about how the Timewyrm fit into things. In the end The Doctor frees her from Hitler's body and sends her off into the Time Vortex.

In Timewyrm: Apocalypse the TARDIS again brings The Doctor and Ace to a new world in pursuit of the Timewyrm. This time it's the planet Kirith. The natives live seemingly perfect – too perfect, perhaps – lives. Their history says that the previous inhabitants destroyed themselves in nuclear war and that they, the current inhabitants, were rescued from a primitive state by the Panjistri and given civilization.

The Doctor and Ace rescue a young man named Raphael who had been pondering his memories of a friend that he supposedly never had. Ace befriends Raphael and they eventually head out on a little adventure to the harbor where they discover a Panjistri genetics lab with a very large and very mean experiment inside. Meanwhile The Doctor is shown some ancient ruins that are, in fact, not particularly ancient. The Panjistri have obviously pulled the wool over the eyes of the Kirithians.

It turns out that Kirith and its inhabitants are merely part of a grand experiment being carried out by the Panjistri who reside on the planet's nearby moon. The Panjistri are led by The Grand Matriarch whose body is inhabited by the Timewyrm and is trying to delay the destruction of the universe as predicted in the prologue of the book which dealt with the mathematicians at Logopolis. Of course her plans are foiled by The Doctor and she is once again banished into the aether.

Timewyrm: Apocalypse just never really clicked with me. Kirithian society was rather bland – just another bunch of “primitives” for The Doctor to enlighten. The Grand Matriarch is something of a badass and had a suitably convoluted stratagem for achieving universal domination but she and the Timewyrm come into the story too late for them to rescue the story from its doldrums.

Timewyrm: Revelation completes the quadrilogy and establishes an identity for the New Adventures that is all its own. The first three novels were essentially souped-up stories from the television series but this novel takes Doctor Who somewhere new. It has an antecedent in The Ultimate Foe but it takes that adventure in The Matrix to a whole new level. Imagine if The Pilgrim's Progress had been written by Philip K. Dick. This is Doctor Who's The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.

It opens on Gallifrey where a hermit sits underneath a tree tending a flower before moving to the village of Cheldon Bonniface in 1992 and St. Christopher's church. Inside the Reverend Ernest Trelaw converses with two new parishioners, Peter and Emily Hutchings. Oh, and St. Christopher's is inhabited by a spirit, an intelligence named Saul who is familiar with The Doctor. No one there, including Saul, can shake the feeling that The Doctor will arrive soon. And in a Perivale schoolyard, a bully named Chad Boyle has decided that he's had enough of a classmate named Dorothy – our future Ace – and so he kills her by bringing a brick down on her head.

With the introductory material out of the way, the TARDIS lands in Cheldon Bonniface sometime in the middle of the nineteenth century. The Doctor reacquaints himself with his old friend George, an innkeeper, over a game of chess as Ace retires for the night. Her sleep is disturbed when she is attacked by a figure clad in an astronaut suit – I couldn't help but think of “The Impossible Astronaut” here. Ace flees into the woods but soon finds herself on the surface of the Moon. For his part, The Doctor discovers that George is in fact Hemmings from Timewyrm: Exodus whom we last saw entering a TARDIS which immediately dematerialized. Hemmings believes he is in the employ of a Norse god while the astronaut turns out to be Chad Boyle who is intent on stalking Ace. Plus St. Christopher's is brought to the Moon for good measure.

And thus it begins.

I will forgo any more plot synopsis and instead focus on author Paul Cornell's writing. The rest of the book only gets more surreal and I really appreciated the bizarre tale he wove here. There is a scene early on in the TARDIS which foreshadows the rest of the story. In it The Doctor enters the room with a couple of mugs of hot cocoa and he converses with Ace about dreams. Our Time Lord is very pensive and the scene has a patina of melancholy that gives it a fragile beauty. There's no running down corridors here but instead it just has a mood that I can relate to.

As Ace evades the murderous intent of her childhood nemesis, The Doctor is forced to confront his conscience in the form of his previous incarnations. If you think the new series pioneered The Doctor having any sense of guilt or affection for his companions, think again because it's all in here. At one point The Doctor concludes that the only way to make things right is to have Ace die but he relents and resolves to find another way as killing her, even for the greater good, is simply not the right thing to do. He cannot let that happen after having seen the fates of Adric, Sara, and Katarina. The Doctor dealing with pangs of guilt provides a relatable emotional core for the story around which the surreal action can take place.

On a stylistic note, I really like the presence of St. Christopher's and its inhabitants on the moon. They make for something akin to a Greek chorus. Scenes there occasionally heighten the tension but also provide some respite from the action, the emotional turmoil, and the surreality of the main story. They provide welcome breaks allowing the reader to contemplate the tale and add their own little brand of weirdness into the mix.

All in all the Timewyrm saga is a mixed bag. I am hoping that the New Adventures continue in the vein of Revelation which delves into The Doctor's psyche, his relationships with his companions, and throws in a surreal tale to boot. These elements make for a far more interesting “adult” vision of Doctor Who than merely adding some nudity and profanity.

Next up is the Cat's Cradle trilogy.

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Kim's Noodle to Pull Up Stakes

While enjoying a plate of chow fun at Kim's Noodle on Monona Drive the other day I was directed to a sign which noted that the restaurant is moving to West Washington in October. It shall also be rechristened "Viet Bistro".

Was the street construction killing them? Or was perhaps business was just slow generally?

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19 August, 2013

Berghoff Reinvents Itself: Germaniac Kotbusser

Earlier this year the venerable Berghoff underwent some remodeling. Owner Ben Minkoff brought in a couple of consultants who designed new labels and reformulated the brand's beers in order to elevate them above their less than premium status and into craft territory. Minkoff gets credit from me for not abandoning Berghoff's focus on German style brews and the reorg even begat a new line of special brews called the Überbier series. The first entry is Germaniac, a Kotbusser-style ale.

What is a Kotbusser? It's a northern German pale ale that presumably originated or was popular in the city of Cottbus. The Kotbusser was formulated with wheat and oats, in addition to barley, and had honey and possibly molasses. From what I can piece together of the beer's history, it went the way of the dodo in the late 19th century after Germany became a country and the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot became the law of the land. You can check out a Kotbusser recipe from 1853 over at Ron Pattinson's blog. Note the absence of molasses and the low hopping rate.

One of the consultants brought in by Berghoff was Randy Mosher, a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to brewing has he writes about tasting, brewing, memorabilia, and apparently just about anything related to beer. His book Radical Brewing contains a recipe for Kotbusser so Germaniac was likely his idea.

Germaniac is a pretty beer, pouring a light gold color and clear. There was a modicum of bubbles in my glass and my pour produced a small head which went away all too quickly. My nose caught a sprightly grainy aroma along with some spicy hops and a sweetness that reminded me of creamed corn.

On the tongue Germaniac has a medium body that was fairly smooth and a bit creamy – no doubt due to the addition of oats to grain bill. I was a bit afraid that Berghoff's move towards craft and words “pale ale” on the label meant that this was going to be hop bomb but I was pleasantly surprised. The malt shone through first and was very bread-like. Being an ale, there was also a hint of fruity sweetness that was accompanied by some earthy flavors which, I presume, are from the honey and molasses. All of these made for a nice ménage à trois. But it wasn't long before the hops made their presence known. As in the aroma, the hops here were the noble, spicy kind and provided a nice counterpoint to the rest of the flavors.

The hops also gave the beer a dry finish and left a lingering grassy taste. As I drank, I noticed that Germaniac didn't leave much Schaumhaftvermoegen and what there was didn't stick around for long.

Junk food pairing: At 6.3% A.B.V. Germaniac is no session beer so bust open a box of Chicken in Biskit crackers for some padding.

I really enjoyed Germaniac but I made the mistake of drinking it on a rather warm summer day. This is more of a spring beer, to my taste – something to alternate with New Glarus' Cabin Fever. It has a little bit of heft to it for those days when Jack Frost is on the run. Still, I liked having both the malt and hops up front as well as the subtle accents the honey and molasses bring to the table here.

It was a very pleasant surprise for me to have Berghoff resurrect an extinct northern German style of bier. Perhaps Minkoff's next beer will be a Breyhan. I won't hold my breath but I do look forward to tasting what they come up with. Best of luck to Berghoff on trying to ingratiate themselves into the craft community. Beer Advocate's Germaniac page has no reviews and the geniuses there have made an epic taxonomic failure by categorizing it as an American Pale Ale so it seems that Berghoff has a long row to hoe.

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15 August, 2013

Mass Quantities of Beer Consumed at Olin Park 2013 Edition

The weather couldn't have been better for this year's Great Taste of the Midwest. Very temperate with the sun being hidden by clouds every so often. Next year will either be a monsoon or 100+. Mark my words.

Everyone has their own approach to the GT. Some are out for rarities while others look for those massive whirlwinds of flavors like imperial stouts aged in a pickle barrel with lingonberry, cubeb, and haggis tapped through a hop rocket of brett-laced coffee beans shat out by a palm civet. There are those who seek out breweries whose beers are unavailable at home or perhaps breweries who are new and foreign to their palates. Plus there are a host of other stratagems too.

My own plan is to map out German styles, rye beers, and a selection of other brews that sound interesting. And there a few breweries that I hit every year. Oh, and I plan to avoid the long lines at Three Floyds, Bell's, and whatnot. I was tempted to wait in the Surly line this year but opted out. Too much good beer around to wait very long. Plus you always discover interesting brews as you wander around or run into a friend who makes a recommendation. Or you may run into Tyranena's Rob Larson dressed as a satyr.

I tasted 30+ beers and my palate was treated to some incredibly tasty suds. It's difficult to choose favorites and I refuse to label one particular brew as the best. Having said all this, I do want to note some highlights.

The first beer I drank was served from one of these guys.

The folks at Metropolitan brew German-style lagers and do it well. I have missed out on Arc Welder in years past so I was determined to have some this year. I was not disappointed.

Arc Welder is a rye dunkles which combines one of my favorite styles with one of my favorite adjunct grains. This was fantastic. The roasted malt was complemented very well by the spicy rye flavors with hops helping out on a dry finish.

The folks at Lakefront were throwing a disco party.

I wouldn't normally stop at the Lakefront tent but they had Dan on top. Dan was the first entry in their My Turn series and it's a Baltic porter.

Another great beer full of roasted grain goodness with a heft of sweetness and a bit of hops in a (rather futile) attempt at balance. I am still kicking myself for not having bought some of this. If anyone knows of some bottles lurking around, please let me know. They also had a rum barrel Eastside Dark. Pretty tasty but I have to admit that the rum was overpowering. But I like rum.

I drank every Berliner Weiss I could find and there were some really tasty takes on the style. The one that really stood out for me was from the folks at Flossmoor Station.

It was one of the most sour Berliner Weisses I've ever had but what made it interesting was the pronounced lemon flavor. Light,citrusy, and refreshing, it was a fine summer beer.

Tenth and Blake may be the crafty arm of the MillerCoors conglomerate, but they make a fine Berliner Weiss and the novelty of having the Schuss come in the form of tapioca balls a la bubble tea. I went with kiwi this year.

Although I don't have a photo, their sour apricot ale was also very tasty.

New Albanian had a good dunkel and a funky banner.

They also featured an accursed smoked porter that would have made H.P. Lovecraft proud. I didn't sample it but I cannot doubt the unutterable flavors that must have lurked in its stygian gloom. Plus there was a blasphemous poster for it that was filled with eldritch symbols of non-Euclidian geometry. Cthulhu fhtagn!

We wandered over to the real ale tent but I didn't find what I was looking for. However I did spy Red Eye's lemongrass blueberry rye.

I was really impressed with this stuff. The blueberry in the aroma was enticing. It was very smooth and found a perfect balance among all the flavors. It was nice to see a fruit beer where the fruit didn't overpower everything else.

Other fine beers worthy of mention:

Metropolitan's zwickel. Full of yeasty deliciousness and very fresh in contrast to the odd German zwickel that appears on store shelves. A much-underappreciated style, in my humble opinion.

Hopfentea, a Berliner Weiss steeped on tropical tea from Perennial. A wonderful mix of sour, fruit, and herbal flavors.

White Winter Winery had a meadjito that a friend of mine recommended but they were out by the time we got to the tent. I sampled their cranberry mead and it was light, just dry enough, and tasty.

Speaking of meads, the charnel house that is B. Nektar was pouring the spectral Necromangocon which merged honey with the foetid taste of mango and the loathsome miasma of black pepper.

Zanzigz had a nice sessionable rauchbier while Barley John's had a good roggenbier.

The Great Taste was an absolute hoot. The weather was perfect and, as I do every year, I ran into people I knew and chatted with people I didn't. I had one of my favorite foods, an Italian beef, thanks to the FIBS cart. And, of course, I drank lots of great beer and mead. There seemed to be less frat boys puking their guts out this year although a couple of them decided to hit on two pulchritudinous former co-workers of mine as we were chatting. The ladies' uninterest was palpable. Too bad those guys didn't get the message.

Lastly, apologies to Jon(?) from White Winter Winery. He was handing out meadjito recipes when I asked if he knew about mead or was just a pretty face handing out business cards as I was looking to ask about the 9 year-old bottle of their raspberry mead I have in my cellar. Turned out he knew a helluva lot about mead. D'oh! Hopefully he won't hold it against me. For too long, anyway.

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The Pre-Great Taste of 2013

The Great Taste festivities kicked off for me last week on Thursday when the friendly folks from Vintage showed up at Dexter's to put a face on their tap takeover. Brewmaster Scott Manning arrived with his minion, Clint, in tow a little after three o'clock.

Truth be told, I started the evening with a Rogue Farms Dirtoir Black Lager because I love dunkels and just couldn't resist. The bartender thought my choice was odd as I was wearing a Vintage t-shirt. It was a fine brew, full of that roasted grain flavor that I crave. After finishing it off I made the switch to Vintage. I started with Scott's Grodziskie, a.k.a. - Grätzer Ale because 1) I asked that he brew it, 2) it's incredibly tasty, and 3) my significant other began her evening with, if memory serves, a Honeycrisp Brandy Dedication which is an abbey dubbel aged in an apple brandy barrel that weighs in at 10.8% ABV and immediately pronounced that I was the designated driver. (That stuff was good too.)

I next tried the Hibiscus Saison-Barrel Aged w/Brett. (It's actually a blend of mostly hibiscus saison with some wee heavy.) Beers laced with brettanomyces are something I am still trying to figure out. I've had a couple on different occasions and, while I finished each bottle, I saw no reason to open another. However, I found that the Vintage saison was incredibly tasty. I enjoy the untainted version of this beer and discovered that this one had a pronounced strawberry flavor which went perfectly with the floral aspect. Clint was kind enough to explain that they used a strain of brettanomyces - bruxellensis - that was light on the popular horse blanket flavor. No doubt sitting in old apple brandy barrels added to the deliciousness. It was light, fruity, and floral with a hint of sour/mustiness - just perfect summer beer.

I am surprised I'd never met Clint before. Scott must have mercy on him as the guy is always gone when I'm at the Vintage instead of slaving away. I hope he didn't get too mad at me when I told him that Tippy Toboggan was one of my favorite brews and that I'm looking forward to the next batch. (I think I used the word "fuckin'" in my description.) He got that look on his face that reminded me of the flower pot of petunias in Hitchhiker's. You see rye coagulates during the brewing process which makes for a lot of work - presumably for him - to keep from having a vat full of an oatmeal-like substance. Sorry, Clint.

A few more highlights of the night: My friend James had Petrus Aged Red which is a Flanders Oud Bruin. Fantastic stuff. Loved the sour cherry flavor. Dexter's pretzel twist was great. The menu states that it comes with a choice of "Stone-Ground, Dusseldorf[sic], Peppadew, Habanero Mustards, and/or Nacho Cheese". Luckily they had horseradish and it cleared out my sinuses. Fine stuff. What kind of philistine puts nacho cheese on soft pretzels?

Coming soon at Vintage is a Baltic porter (begged & pleaded for by yours truly). I am hoping Scott keeps the name he's been using – Uthbert. It will feature smoked wheat left over from the Grätzer Ale. Robin Shepard's taste buds with thank me (and Scott and Clint) while Scott and Clint will thank me when Shepard declares Uthbert beer of the year giving Vintage the honor two years in a row.

On Friday we headed to 608 as Capital was taking over the taps and there was the promise of brewmaster Brian Destree in attendance. On tap were Capital Dark infused with coffee, mint, and vanilla; Appleanche, a doppelbock with apple; and Capsized given the hop rocket treatment.

I started with the Dark infusion. It was a good...malt beverage. The mint was very prominent followed by the coffee with the vanilla bringing up the rear. I liked it as a mint julep malt beverage but I love the dunkles and all of that roasted grain goodness got drowned out by the other flavors. I guess I should note that the infusion was done via hop rocket.

Here's Appleanche:

The Dulcinea loved the stuff and I enjoyed it as well but methinks my tongue was tainted by mint. I tasted fresh apple cider first with it giving way to a bit of malt and some hops at the end. It was good but I suspect the beer aspect will be more apparent when my tongue is fresh. There was more hop flavor than malt. The stuff comes out in bottles soon so I'll be able to try it again and render a final judgment. There was also Capsized IIPA with a Citra hop rocket but I didn't try it.

I chatted with Brian Destree for a bit and found out that Pumpkinataur Wrex will be returning this autumn and that he has a brown ale aged in rum barrels in the pipeline. That is due in January/February. He also mentioned that this year's Eternal Flame was going to be revamped. Instead of a vertical doppelbock, it's going to be an imperial stout with chili. He remarked something akin to, "It'll be different but it will still be hot." I hope I got all that right. For whatever reason, I neglected to ask about the fate of the whole vertical beer project.

I have to admit a certain disappointment at hearing that the Eternal Flame project seems to be dead in the water. On the other hand, it is quite obvious after only a few words that Destree is enthusiastic about his trade. He commented on the Capsized hop rocket with paternal pride and, overall, just seemed excited about the new brews that will be appearing in the coming months and the opportunity he has to, at least in part, remake Capital in his own image. More power to him.

Oh, and 608 did not have horseradish. Soft pretzel and no horseradish? Forsooth!

We ended Friday evening with a brief venture to the Capital Tap Haus where they had some Mutiny IPA infused with pineapple and grapefruit. I shit thee not: I drank a whole pint of an IPA. The fruit flavors were rather muted to my taste but I liked the combination.

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14 August, 2013

Look at these Katzen

Just look at these troublemakers. Lying around in a box looking cute as they plot subterfuges.


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12 August, 2013

And now something competely different from Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog doesn't want people to text and drive so he has made a 35-minute PSA called "From One Second To The Next". It starts out with a sad tale from right here in Wisconsin, Milwaukee to be exact.

Cell/smartphones are forged by Lucifer himself.


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06 August, 2013

Schell's Schmaltz's Alt: The Mud Ducks Strike Again

Notice the proper glassware in the photo.

The altbier hails from the Rhineland and is most closely associated with Düsseldorf these days. It's not a particularly popular style in the United States and, from what I've read, it's considered something of a regional specialty in Germany. The altbier is an Obergäriges Lagerbier, a top-fermenting lager beer. I've read that the altbier is a descendant of various medieval brews which I've come to regard as true but such a broad statement as to be meaningless. Like the koelsch, the alt is the product of a Reinheitsgebot but not the one in Bavaria that everyone is familiar with. This one in the Rhineland forbade the brewing of bottom-fermenting bier. My guess is that, as lagering became more and more popular, laws were enacted to protect the established breweries that didn't lager their bier. This is pure speculation on my part. But lagering was trendy and the brewers in the region split the difference.

Truth be told, I've never had an altbier from Germany. The Malt House occasionally gets a barrel of Uerige but it seems that every time they do, I am either busy, too lazy, or simply forget that they have it. I have tasted a handful of American iterations of the style and it seems that American craft brewers consider the style to be an ale and skip or skimp on the whole lagering process. Thusly a lot of the fruity flavors formed during fermentation remain.

I have recently become enamored of Schell's beers and figured that I'd give their alt a go.

Schmaltz's Alt pours a deep copper. You can see this if you hold your glass to a light. Otherwise it appears a very dark brown, almost black. I got a nice foamy head that stuck around for a while. I was rather disappointed in the distinct lack of Schaumhaftvermoegen. It just slid down the side of the glass. There is a moderate amount of bubbles in the beer. The aroma leans heavily towards caramel but my nose caught toasted grain as well.

The caramel and toasted grain carry forward into the flavor where they are joined by a fruity, plum-like taste as well as that of more heavily roasted grains that give a slight coffee flavor. There are no fruity esters to be had here. Schmaltz's has a nice malty flavor with the caramel being most prominent. While the taste leaned towards sweetness, it was never cloying and had a medium mouthfeel. Some balance is provided by noble hops. I say "some balance" because the hops are a bit faint. You can certainly taste them but they are relegated to the background for the most part. My understanding is that altbiers are generally hopped like a Bohemian pilsner whereas Schmaltz's has much fewer IBUs. But there is no doubt variation in hopping in Düsseldorf so it's probably not fair to say that Schell's take on the style is way off base. It finished with a spicy dryness courtesy of the hops.

While a bit more hops would have been nice, this is a fine bier. (Metropolitan's Iron Works Alt is a good example of malt-hop balance.) The malt takes center stage here but it isn't cloying like most domestic alts I've had. The Schell's website say it's 5.1% ABV which I believe is just a smidgeon above the stuff you get in the Rhineland but the hop dryness and aging have made this stuff eminently quaffable.

Junk food pairing: Schmaltz's Alt pairs well with warm soft pretzels lathered with bacon-horseradish dip.

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05 August, 2013

Best Historical Marker Plaque Thingy Ever


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"Rumor has it he might even be a landowner"

I don't know how I missed this.

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