Sunday, December 28, 2008

Eclipse of the Moon (Pie)

Move over, Moon Pie. There's a new kid on the block, he's from Korea, and his name is Choco-Pie.

I first saw the Choco-Pie about two years ago at one of our local Super H Marts, an Asian superstore featuring everything from bok choy to cosmetics. While browsing in a back aisle one afternoon, I came across this interesting looking package of something resembling Moon Pies. I bought a box, took them home, and was surprised to find that they were delicious. I say "surprised" because I have not seen a serious Moon Pie contender in over thirty years.

Other than their country of origin, there are a few differences between Choco-Pies and Moon Pies. Choco-Pies come individually wrapped in foil, not cellophane, packages to keep them fresh. Their texture is somewhat softer than a Moon Pie, and there is not to my knowledge the double-decker option provided by Moon Pies. I have not seen Choco-Pies in any flavor other than chocolate (of course), unlike Moon Pies, which offer banana and vanilla flavors in addition to the original chocolate variety. Nevertheless, the Choco-Pie coating is rich and dark, and an entire box of twelve pies sells for just under four dollars. I have yet to find them anywhere else in Atlanta but at Super H Mart.

Being somewhat curious about all this, I did some web research and found that Orion Confectionery, the company which makes Choco-Pies, actually supplies them to Korean soldiers once they have completed their first week of basic training. The market for the pies is growing steadily -- in fact, over twelve billion of them have been sold worldwide, and let's face it, twelve billion of anything is a lot.

I think this is another one of those cases where globalization is here to stay. But in this instance, I believe that there will always be a place for Moon Pies...after all, they are a Southern tradition. Life without Moon Pies (even if you don't eat them) would be something like the South without just wouldn't be proper in the least.

So, if you're a Moon Pie nut like me, go ahead and try a Choco-Pie. Just don't tell Aunt Bessie about it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Eight Feet Under

We just returned from a Thanksgiving trip to my wife's parents' home in Boston. For some reason (probably under the influence of large amounts of red wine) we decided to drive the 2,200 miles up and back. It was a very long haul, replete with the usual highway adventures, but that is material for another blog posting. What I really want to write about this time is "the cellar", my in-laws' basement. I love that place.

Here in Atlanta, the most common form of basement is the "daylight" variety, which is in effect a terrace level with a door to the outside. Basements are quite common here, and many are beautifully finished as media or recreation rooms. Our own basement is, at least for me, the best place in our entire suburb to watch a movie. But "up Nawth", many basements are called "cellars" and are actually dug out rooms below the main house with limited openings to the outside. They can be spooky places, indeed. In the exquisite documentary TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", one particularly memorable episode involved Buffy being changed into some kind of rodent and taking cover in a real cellar, where she promptly shape-shifted back into a human female, the consequences of which are another story altogether.

What I truly like about my in-laws' cellar is that is it REAL. There are shelves of packaged foods, newspapers ready for recycling, a clam pot, a washer and dryer, old books, scores of National Geographics, and a hobby room, in which my father-in-law builds incredibly detailed scale models of airplanes. At some point in every trip, my mother-in-law will ask me to fetch something from or carry something "down cellar", and I always enjoy this. To me, the cellar is like a microcosm of life at ground level, effectively a time capsule for stuff that you need at some point but which doesn't get top billing.

Don't get me wrong -- I truly enjoy my finished basement with all its accoutrements, and I can think of no place I'd rather watch a film. But when I'm in the mood to get down with it and go underground, give me that Massachusetts cellar.

Under and out.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New Jersey to New Delhi

One of the most interesting things about hosting a blog is seeing where all your visitors come from. In the past few months, I've noticed a trend (and you thought I hadn't been watching). It seems that my most frequent site visitors are from New Jersey and India.

First of all, let me just say thank you to all of you for repeatedly checking out my ramblings here on Whole Bean. Writing is a hobby of mine, and I realize that these topics are usually all over the board, but it is nice to see that someone out there likes the site enough to come back for more. I can only hope that my writing is as entertaining for you as you would like it to be.

My good friend Joe is a transplant to Atlanta from New Jersey, and he is always fascinated to see his home state appearing on my site tracker log. And personally, when I've visited New Jersey in the past, I've had a wonderful time. I may not know everything there is to know about NJ, but I do know that:

1. It's called "the shore", not the beach.
2. Jug handles? Traffic circles? I understand.
3. It's hard to find better Italian food anywhere else on earth.
4. The people have a great sense of humor.
5. You can't pump your own gas.

And of course, I have tons of friends from India as well. I truly find it inspiring that you guys halfway around the world have somehow landed at Whole Bean and that you come back from time to time. I am fascinated by the culture of India, some might say obsessed, to the point that I have a growing personal collection of Bollywood DVD's, favorite Indian stores, and even my own kurta. Gotta love that! I said I knew a few things about New Jersey -- well, I know the following about India:

1. Just because two of you are from India, you may not necessarily know each
other's languages.
2. Food needs to be enjoyed with three senses: smell, taste, and touch.
3. There are beautiful beaches.
4. Sharukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, and Bipasha Basu are very wealthy people.
5. India mixes some of the best house/techno/club music on the planet.

So to all of you, regardless of where you're from, a sincere thank you for visiting my blog. I'll do my very best to keep you entertained!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Bollywood Backup Plan

By the time I heard the news, all the excitement was over. A Bollywood strike, which began on September 28, was called off on October 3 when film and TV executives agreed to the demands of striking industry workers. Whew...that was close. Apparently, a number of employees had gone without pay for several months, and the whole issue just came to critical mass. Personally, I'm glad it was resolved, since I have a strong affinity for these movies, and any disruption of their production would cause me tremendous angst.

However, situations like this point to the fact that a backup plan is needed, and I believe I have just the answer. Here you have lots of people out of work, many of them very nice-looking (that is parenthetical), in need of food and shelter. And here also you have my house with a couple of extra rooms. Put two and two together, and the answer is obvious.

Bollywood actors and actresses...the next time something like this happens, do not worry about where the next meal is going to come from. Just catch the next flight to Atlanta, give me a call on my cell, and I'll get some rooms ready. We'll have martinis, spicy finger foods, and our own Bollywood festival right here. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm here for you.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Left Turn Permitted

Not too long ago, I read a story about an elderly couple who planned their neighborhood driving in such a way that they totally avoided making left turns, the theory being that they did not feel safe making lefts and preferred instead to take a more relaxed approach to local navigation. This is curious yet understandable, given that people often do not heed traffic signals, to put it mildly.

Here in Atlanta, a city known for its challenging driving, we are seeing a new trend -- people aren't afraid to turn left, that is, until they get into the middle of an intersection, by which time it is entirely too late to back up without incurring significant automobile damage, elevated tempers, and the nightmare of an insurance claim. But why is this?

Just the other day, as I approached a busy local intersection, a motorist two cars in front of me literally stopped 2/3 of the way through making a left turn, leaving the guy in front of me and yours truly hanging out there, hoping for the best. On any given day, the line of traffic making a left turn will slow to a crawl as some driver up ahead, having approached the intersection at light speed, will now slow to a crawl while making that dreaded left turn. The more people in line, the more likely this is to occur. Come on, people.

But I have some theories as to why this is happening:

  • Perspective. Things just don't look the same when turning left as they do when turning right, and to some people, this in and of itself is fascinating and bears closer examination.

  • Gas Prices. Hey, when it costs over four bucks a gallon, who is rushing?

  • The Roller Coaster Effect. Certain people think, while turning left, that they are on a roller coaster and that the car will move by itself to the left with no driver intervention.

  • Text Messaging. Let's say that your good friend Tracy just sent you a text message. Well, you can't simply ignore it, even if it comes in the middle of an intersection.

  • I'm sure there's a good reason for everything I'm seeing, so why am I kvetching? Anyway, I need to run to the grocery, but each of the four closest stores requires a left turn. Oh, no...I can't...wait...I don't have to go...that milk only went out of date yesterday.

    Tuesday, September 2, 2008

    Even the Crazies Have to Eat

    I suppose that when you get right down to it, strange is in the eye of the beholder. I'm a fairly flexible guy -- I live in a big city, and certain things are just taken for granted. In most cities, there are neighborhoods that have a reputation for hosting the more theatrical types. They're entertaining to visit, and in many cases, they make downright nice places in which to live. Our suburban neighborhoods come with their own rather predictable casts of characters. The suburban versions drive minivans, drink Yellow Tail wine, and play a lot of golf -- that sort of thing.

    But lately, there seems to have been an unusual development, or maybe it's just that it's always been there and we've only now started to notice. It appears that at certain times of the day, generally the later the better, you've got a whole different cast appearing in the revue. My daughter noticed it first. One night, we were out and about in the suburbs when we decided to stop into the Kroger supermarket for a few items. We made our purchases, and when we got back to the car, my daughter said, "Wow, Dad...did you notice all the sketch people in there?" Well, as a matter of fact, on that particular night, I certainly did. Indeed, it was hard to miss them. They weren't ordinary sketch, they were a cut above.

    The same thing happened again the other day at the BP station. We were sitting there in an overtly suburban neighborhood when two odd people in a late model luxury car pulled up for some overpriced gas and started wandering around the pumps -- not really pumping any gas, just browsing, if you will. But hey, it was all good. They weren't bothering anyone, and strange people have to fill up their gas tanks, too. At least that's the way we see it. There are certain things that everyone -- regardless of planetary origin, costume, or mental stability -- just has to do.

    This stuff is to be expected, because it's not like we live in the middle of nowhere. In fact, Atlanta is often more like being in an ant colony, albeit one with nice landscaping. There are just so many people around that some of them are bound to be out there on the fringe. Any of you who have been here recently know that we probably have at least one of your transplanted relatives living among us. Hopefully, it's one you like, because otherwise, it's probably one of these people that we're seeing meandering about the cookie aisle in a state of delirium.

    Speaking's 10:30 PM, and I need to go to the Kroger, but I guess I'd better pick out something a little bit flashy to wear. After all, you never know who you're going to run into over there.

    Tuesday, August 26, 2008

    Introducing the Dilano

    OK. You saw it here first...for real...the introduction of a brand-new coffeehouse term. I made up this word, and I think it's simply smashing. Besides, this site is called Whole Bean, and I have a reputation to maintain over here.

    Have you noticed as of late that Starbucks has started placing little green stirrers with fancy tops on the counter? They're almost like regular stirrers, but they serve a dual purpose: not only can they be used as genuine stirrers for tall cups (grande and venti size cups are too deep, mind you), but they can also be used to seal the little hole through which you sip your coffee. This is extremely useful when you're carrying a hot cup of coffee (or two) in your car. No spills, no mess. Truly, an inspired invention on the part of SBUX.

    Well, I have yet to hear these stirrers called by any specific name, so I've coined my own term. I shall hereafter refer to them as "dilanos". "Dilano" sounds like "Milano", which is, of course, a modern northern Italian city. Since there are so many Italian espresso roasts and references out there in the coffee world, "dilano" seems quite appropriate in this context. Plus, the word sort of rolls off the tongue, as in, "Excuse me, Donatella, but would you please grab a few dilanos for the car?" I totally like this word, but of course, I'm partial.

    So the next time you visit Starbucks (especially if you use the drive-thru) for a to-go cup of your favorite premium brew, ask for a dilano. Try it, and see what happens. At first, the barista might be confused, but over time, this term will catch on and make its way into common coffee parlance. As Men's Wearhouse founder George Zimmer would say, "I guarantee it."

    Wednesday, August 13, 2008

    The Nagel Ladies

    If you were alive in the 1980's, you must have known of Patrick Nagel. Even if you didn't know his name, you almost certainly knew his work. The stylish Nagel Ladies became pop culture icons in that decade and can still be seen displayed on the windows of salons across America.

    Patrick Nagel's technique was somewhat systematic. He began with an art-deco themed image, then removed elements which he felt were unnecessary. The result was typically a highly stylized, linear, dark-haired female figure, often dressed in various shades of purple and blue. His images were heavily influenced by Japanese woodblock prints. Probably the most popular Nagel image was the one which graced the cover of the Duran Duran album Rio. The look of the Nagel Ladies was always savvy and seductive.

    What is not widely known or remembered about Patrick Nagel is what happened to him. As it turns out, Nagel was found dead in his car of a heart attack in 1984 at the age of 39, immediately after participating in a 15-minute aerobic event to raise funds for the American Heart Association. To say he was in his prime would be an understatement. His images were everywhere at that time.

    Whenever I see a Nagel print, whether it is on a magazine cover, in a gallery exhibit, or on the window of a salon, I am immediately transported back to the 1980's. In that stellar era of The Me Generation, Big Hair, Ronald Reagan, and Valley Girls, the Nagel Ladies were a breed apart. They represented a certain polish and sophistication which began to emerge in the 1980's after two decades of letting our collective hair down.

    So the next time you head in for a manicure at the nail salon, take a look at the prints on the window and give a quick wink in the direction of Patrick Nagel. He put a little pizazz in our lives when we needed it.

    Monday, August 11, 2008

    Goodbye, Soul Man

    I was saddened to hear yesterday of the passing of soul music legend Isaac Hayes. Isaac was a key player in the Memphis soul music scene of the early 1970's. I will forever recall the first time I heard "Theme from Shaft", sitting in a Lamar Avenue grocery store parking lot eating my lunch while on break from my minimum-wage cashier job. For a time during my teenage years in Memphis, you couldn't turn around without hearing the name Isaac Hayes.

    My father's friend Perry Allen was Isaac's business manager during the glory days of Hot Buttered Soul and Black Moses. Perry hosted his own jazz/blues radio show on WDIA and was a local authority on the Memphis soul and R&B music community. He would bring me promo copies of Isaac's albums in big yellow envelopes. In those days, it was a bit unusual for a white kid to listen to Isaac Hayes albums, but I guess I was hooked on Isaac from the beginning. His music, lyrics, and unique sound could only have been born in Memphis.

    Some of Isaac Hayes' best vocals can be heard on the Black Moses album, a double set released in 1971, in the heyday of the "Memphis Sound". Isaac's deep baritone voice had a way of working its way into your psyche and staying there. Years later, I could still hear in my mind the languorous line in "Ike's Rap" that goes, "If some chap would rip you off me, I wouldn't be responsible for my actions thereafter."

    Ah, Isaac. You were truly one of a kind. We will miss you.

    Wednesday, August 6, 2008

    The Dreaded Check Engine Light

    I own a 1998 BMW 328i convertible. It's a wonderful car most of the time, and I truly enjoy driving it with the top down and the music cranking. But for the last few years, it's been playing a rather nasty trick on me. Lately, it's gotten out of control.

    Many BMW's, mine included, are equipped with an on-board computer that tells you when even the slightest thing is wrong with the car -- a failed brake light, low windshield washer fluid, low coolant, a tree frog one mile ahead -- that sort of thing. But in addition to this computer (which, as a fellow owner once told me, "does not lie") the car is equipped with the dreaded Check Engine light.

    I hate Check Engine lights. I know they serve some kind of useful purpose, but I recall one day when my rented Chevrolet broke down on the outbound Kennedy Expressway express lanes (limited access, of course) at 5:00 PM on a rather chilly day in Chicago. I was on my way to O'Hare Airport to catch a flight back to Atlanta, and many motorists were quite upset with me. But one fellow, who looked suspiciously like Woody Allen, stopped to help. When he saw the Check Engine light on, he said in a voice loud enough to be heard in Milwaukee, "Oh, no! It's got one-a-dem idiot lights!" Somehow, we got the thing running, and I actually made my flight.

    My BMW takes a different approach. Each year, metropolitan Atlanta requires that all vehicles built since the Stone Age have an annual emission inspection performed a few weeks before the license is renewed. If the Check Engine light is illuminated, the vehicle will not pass inspection, no way, no how. Of course, my car, sensing that an emission inspection was imminent, has for the last four or five years (except this year) fired off its Check Engine light about two weeks before the license was due to expire, sending me once again to Steve at German Motor Works, who diligently scans the possible causes and generally ends up replacing the gas cap. BMW's tire of their gas caps very easily, or so it seems.

    But this time, as I said, it has been different. This time, the Check Engine light has collaborated with the Airbag Sensor warning light and the omniscient on-board computer to make my life a true service hell. I finally took the car to the dealer, who methodically performed all the tasks required to turn the lights and warnings off. And that worked fine until the next day, when the on-board computer fired up a false warning for low coolant (again) and, you guessed it, the Check Engine light snapped on, not to be outdone by the computer. Oh, and by the way, the dealer replaced the gas cap -- this is my third or fourth one, I can't remember exactly which.

    The car is now back in the shop, and I'm driving a loaner Honda Accord. I don't know much about Hondas, but I'm pretty sure I saw a Check Engine light on the dash. I may cover it with a piece of black tape tomorrow.

    Saturday, July 26, 2008

    A (Red and Green) Chile Vacation

    The week before last, we took a family vacation to New Mexico and Colorado. It had been many years since I had been out West, and I always find it refreshing to see that part of the country again. When I was younger, I would escape the Memphis heat to spend months at a time in California with my aunt and uncle at their house north of Los Angeles, and we would spend many days horseback riding, hanging out at Zuma or Point Mugu Beach, or driving up into the mountains. In 1975, three of us drove from Memphis to California and back on one of those "coming of age" trips (see The Pinto Chronicles). So I guess this heading West thing has some special significance for me.

    I am a person who typically finds it difficult to relax, but this vacation was an exception. As soon as we boarded the plane to Albuquerque, I switched gears and truly enjoyed the experience. I won't go into all the vacation details, because putting that in a blog is akin to showing you my latest 500 slides after a filling dinner, but suffice to say it was everything a family vacation should be. We got to spend time with my good friend Tim (from seventh grade) and his wife Susan in Albuquerque, then headed up to Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, then on to Durango, Colorado, and Mesa Verde National Park. The scenery was out of this world. I've dropped a few pictures in here, as you can see.

    We often stay at bed and breakfast inns, and this trip afforded us several opportunites in that regard. Should you ever find yourself out New Mexico way, be sure to check out innkeepers Dee and Marie at Delmar En La Cienega, just south of Santa Fe, and Joe and Lisa at Casa Europa in Taos. You will feel in both places as if you are among long-time friends. Delmar offers beautiful views of rolling high desert, and Casa Europa's Lisa bakes afternoon snacks that will make you seriously think about relocating to Taos.

    And of course, after a trip away, I was so happy to be back in Atlanta with my peeps. But that's another blog entry all on its own. For now, I'll just have to go find some green chile peppers to keep that New Mexico spirit alive.

    Sunday, July 6, 2008

    Economie au Lait

    This morning, I witnessed the sagging economy brought home. I stopped for a quick Americano at my favorite local coffee shop, Cafe au Lait, here in the north suburbs of Atlanta. Without thinking, I arrived a few minutes before the shop actually opened, but the proprietor, having seen me many times, promptly served me up a piping hot 16 oz. Americano and a small cinnamon roll. I was going walking, after all, and I needed some sustenance. At first, I felt a little self-conscious sipping my coffee and reading Creative Loafing while the owner moved the outdoor cafe tables and chairs into place, but the delightful zing of the coffee put that to rest.

    I asked the owner how business was going this summer. The shop is adjacent to a local high school, and during the school year, both the counter and drive-thru lane are jammed each and every weekday morning. And on any given fall, winter, or spring weekend, the shop has a good crowd by 8:30 AM. But the owner said that business was slow this summer. Expenses for everything are soaring: milk, labor, supplies, you name it, to the extent that even Starbucks is affected. In those early morning moments, I could tell that something at the cafe was on hold, and that we were marking time until the sunnier days returned.

    The thing is, Cafe au Lait is a beautifully appointed little shop with some of the best coffee in Atlanta, and ironically, it is just what the neighborhood needs in these stressful times. In fact, I've taken people there when they've had bad days just to cheer them up, and it has always seemed to work. I know that the economy will eventually turn around, and I hope that when it does, Cafe au Lait will have a long line at the counter and plenty of double chocolate muffins on hand. I love those things.

    Monday, June 23, 2008

    Rich to Rico

    It's all in a name, I guess.

    When I was growing up, I always went by my proper name, Richard. Sure, some of my relatives referred to me as "Ricky" or "Rick", but most people stuck with the sure thing -- Richard. My mother always reminded me (and other people) that my real name was Richard, and she preferred that everyone use that. And, I guess, so did I.

    When I went to college at Northwestern, on Chicago's North Shore, "Richard" became shortened to "Rich". This happened because Chicagoans (with all due respect) cannot use a first name longer than one syllable. For example, if you typically go by the initials "AJ", you will find even this shortened in Chicago. "Yo, A! We're all going to Mike's place. You wanna come with?" That's how you would be addressed in Chicago.

    So for many years, against my wishes (well, I never corrected anyone), I went by the nickname "Rich". I never really liked it, because I thought it was somewhat artificial. "Rich" does not roll off the tongue -- it sort of forces itself out, and it seems to end too soon. It's like you're meaning to say the full name "Richard", but you have to put on the brakes to avoid hitting the next syllable.

    All this was finally put to rest last year. My friend Marc at work, being somewhat fluent in Spanish, told me one day that my nickname in Spanish would be "Rico". When he said it, he rolled his R's (which is, by the way, something I cannot do). I liked the sound of it, so Marc started using it all the time, and other people in the office followed suit. One group in particular, new friends from India, immediately adopted Rico and have called me nothing else since. Soon, old friends started picking up on this and calling me Rico as well. And in a final markedly affirmative statement, even my wife addressed me as Rico one day when we were out shopping.

    And so it has stuck. I now appear to be Rico in almost every social context, except for our dinner club, and I'm sure that they'll begin using it after we make that next batch of Swamp Breezes.

    I like the nickname Rico very rolls off the tongue quite nicely, unlike my old nickname, which I seem to have forgotten.

    Wednesday, May 14, 2008

    Gallery to Ghetto

    Back in December of 2006, I happened to notice that my friend Keith had purchased a new cell phone from T-Mobile. He said it was a "Smartphone". I didn't know at the time what that was, but I was intrigued by the pretty little Windows display and the full keyboard. My tiny Samsung was getting a little flaky, so I decided that it was time to go shopping.

    After some online research and a few in-store visits, I settled on the Cingular (pre AT&T) 3125 Smartphone, which was billed as the first Windows Smartphone in a flip-phone format. I had read several online reviews of the 3125, and one in particular caught my eye. When the designers of the phone were asked about its unique appearance, one of them said:

    Besides thinness, we wanted to really create a sexy device that would fit in at a gallery opening as it would a board room, to show that smart devices need not sacrifice form for function.

    Well, what could be better than that?

    I purchased the phone, went back to the office, and showed it to Keith the next day. He was impressed by its compact size and clear display, but when I pointed out the article I had read, he was amused by the phrase "gallery opening" as it pertained to the phone. Keith immediately declared that he had been outclassed in phones, since his phone was, in his words, not suitable for a gallery opening.

    Things went along quite well for about a year, until my 3125 began to exhibit some rather strange behavior. The first feature to falter was the keypad backlight, important for making phone calls at night or inside some buildings. Then I noticed that at certain times, all sent email messages would disappear. Finally came a battery cover issue, in which the cover would loosen and the phone would reboot itself (being a Windows device, this is to be expected).

    At any rate, it soon became necessary to place a piece of tape on the back of the 3125 to hold the battery cover on and to prevent missed calls. And actually, that's where things stand now: the phone has gone from gallery to ghetto, although not quite all the way to ghetto, at least as long as the tape holds.

    Of course, Keith's phone is humming away just like the day he bought it. I think that with a little polish here and there, he can take it to a gallery opening. My phone, least I'm using invisible tape.

    Saturday, April 5, 2008

    Holy Holi

    Last Sunday, I had the unique opportunity of experiencing my very first Holi festival. Holi is a Hindu holiday celebrated in India and Nepal, typically in February or March. It celebrates the triumph of good over evil and is a time when people set aside their animosities toward one another and renew relationships. It sounds like something we all should do more often, come to think of it.

    My good friend Neharika invited me to Holi a few weeks ago, and I was immediately fascinated. Part of the celebration involves throwing brightly colored powder on each other, and I asked Neha if the powder would come off. She assured me that it would "come off with my next wash". So, Neha and her husband Mayank graciously picked me up from my home last Sunday morning and took me to a local festival in suburban Smyrna.

    When we arrived, the damp, chilly weather had delayed the start of the festival, so we hung around for a while, nibbling at savory snacks and trying to keep ourselves warm inside a large tent which had been erected for the festivities. In fairly short order, a DJ appeared and the music started. Oh, I forgot to mention that dancing is also a big part of Holi.

    So by 11:30, I was covered in colored powder, and we began to dance. Now, if you have never heard modern Indian music, let's just say that it is quite "spirited". Once the dancing began, I was quite glad to have embarked a couple of years ago on a strict walking regimen. Otherwise, I would have given out after the first ten minutes or so. But as it was, moved by the spirit, tasty samosas, and a Diet Coke, I was good to go. For about four hours!

    At some point during the festival, while we were all dancing as if our lives depended upon it, it occurred to me that this was the most fun I had had in quite a long time. This was the diametric opposite of my Solid State on a School Night experience, but yet like it in some ways. We stayed at the festival until about 4:00 PM, when we all finally gave out and headed home.

    I am grateful to friends from half a world away who take me under their wings and include me in experiences like this. The whole time I was at Holi, I felt as if I were part of an extended family outing, even if my hair was pink and blue. And you know, almost all the color is gone -- nine showers later.

    Happy Holi, everyone.

    Thursday, March 27, 2008

    Days of Beer and Lithuanians

    Sometimes, a building means so much more than just bricks and mortar.

    Such was the case with our favorite local sports bar, the Jocks & Jills location in suburban Alpharetta, which closed its doors shortly after St. Patrick's Day last year. At that time, I posted a blog entry detailing the immense pain and suffering that this shutdown caused our after-work P-Council and lunch groups.

    Today, while on the way to another favorite replacement haunt during the lunch hour, we noticed that not only is our old place still closed, but now it is being demolished. There is a pervading air of finality about the entire J&J experience.

    You might wonder how one place could hold so much sway over us? It's simple -- J&J served as a repository of memories which could never be replaced. Memories such as:
    • The day that Mike told me we simply had to visit J&J because they had these two cute Lithuanian waitresses working there.
    • The six dollar (including drink and tip) Thursday Men's (plus Tanya) Lunch Special. It had started at four dollars, climbed to seven, then came back down to six when business fell off a few years ago.
    • Anthony's incredible repeating lunch order: a turkey sandwich with fresh (never cooked) jalapeno slices and french fries.
    • The night that we used J&J as a launching pad prior to our first P-Council field trip to see "Borat".
    • Lunch pizza, the crust of which never seemed to be quite done.
    • Our regular lunch waitress, Rachael, who always took good care of us. Rachael wrote our entire order down on a napkin most days.
    • The time Allison tipped Vaida a dollar, even though she only had a glass of water. Allison did it for our sake, she said.
    • Our annual Christmas Stocking Dump, where we traded silly gifts with each other before the holidays.
    • Rich changing the channel on the TV in the men's room from ESPN to Lifetime.
    We don't always know all the reasons why these sorts of things happen, but we do know that tearing down Jocks & Jills means the end of a historic chapter in our lives. So thank you, J&J. Thank you, Rachael. Thank you, Vaida and Inesa. We will always remember you.

    Friday, March 14, 2008

    Coffee Snobs

    For some years now, I've had a reputation as a "coffee snob". Prior to the advent of Starbucks and Caribou, this phrase would have made very little sense to most people, but now it's rather common. It refers to a person who will not drink "ordinary" coffee like Folger's, Maxwell House, or Hills Brothers, but rather prefers to shell out the $1.50 or more for a cup of joe at a dedicated provider. But there's a reason we coffee snobs do that.

    On an icy cold Chicago morning in 1981, I picked up the morning paper to find a wonderful article about coffee. The central concern addressed in the article was why your own coffee never tastes as good as that in a restaurant (well, most restaurants, anyway). The author of this article summed it up by saying that most people simply do not use enough coffee when preparing their morning brew. The article also suggested that for maximum flavor, it was best to buy whole bean coffee and grind it just before brewing. We bought a grinder, began adding more coffee to our mix and found that, indeed, following these steps resulted in a much more robust, satisfying cup of coffee.

    We went along at that pace for several years, trying first one coffee, then another -- A&P's Eight O' Clock blends and Chock Full O' Nuts seemed to be our favorites. But then I began to try darker roasts of coffee, and that's when the fun really started.

    We lived in Charlotte for two years back in the early 1990's, and for one of our Christmas parties, I mail ordered (there were no shops in the city yet) Starbucks coffee and served it at the party. I lost count, but I know that I made at least eight full pots of both caffeinated and decaffeinated, all of which was consumed that evening. People kept asking, "What kind of coffee IS this?" Many of them had never heard of Starbucks but simply loved the bold taste of this coffee. And the rest is history, as far as Starbucks is concerned.

    Coffee can be roasted for varying lengths of time, and what most people do not know is that the longer it is roasted (i.e. the darker the beans appear), the less caffeine and acid it contains. As coffee is roasted, it loses its moisture -- this is why you often see oil on the surface of dark roasted beans. In addition, the roasting process causes caffeine to break down chemically. That cup of espresso that we all find so stimulating actually contains less caffeine ounce for ounce that a light roast cup of regular coffee. It's the dark roast taste (and its being ground to a powder before brewing) which gives espresso its kick.

    Almost every morning, my friend Rachelle and I head over to the cafeteria in our adjacent office building to get a cup of Starbucks. On rainy mornings, one of us will generally stop to pick up two cups at the Starbucks drive-thru. A few weeks ago, as a joke, our friend Mike posted a sign at Rachelle's desk which read "Coffee Snob", complete with a cartoon picture of a (six-fingered) woman drinking a cup of coffee. At my desk, he posted a sign saying "Quasi-Coffee Snob...Will Drink Office Swill", with a picture of a rather bohemian looking guy. I liked this, and I took it as a testimony to the fact that I've done my homework.

    After all, where do you think I got the name "Whole Bean" for this website?

    Wednesday, March 5, 2008

    Solid State School Night

    Last Thursday night, I headed to Karaoke Night at the Wild Wing Cafe in suburban Alpharetta with a couple of my P-Council friends. I must admit that I had never to my recollection been to karaoke in a public setting, so I was somewhat intrigued. When the local band Rock Mafia opened the first set by launching into Metallica's "Enter Sandman", one of my favorites, I found myself drawn (with the assistance of an enthusiastic friend who literally pulled me) to the stage to watch them close up and to feel the kick of the bass drum and the insistent drive of the amplifiers. It was not the first time I'd done this.

    Back in the 1970's, I played guitar with a mess of garage bands and one regular crew in Memphis. In those days, amplifiers such as my big old Kustom, covered in padded black Naugahyde, had gone "solid state", which meant that there were no vacuum tubes to blow out and ruin a performance. Back then, I got a taste of how it felt to get up in front of a crowd when you knew exactly what you were playing, when the amps were cranking and there were no shorts in the cabling, just driving it and feeling the response from the audience. It's an extreme rush, to say the least. But I digress.

    Thursday's karaoke experience was, shall we say, lively. It's been a while since I've been inside a place quite that crowded. Wild Wing wasn't exactly Bob's Country Bunker in The Blues Brothers, but it wasn't that far removed, either. There was no chicken wire in front of the band, so I suppose you could say that it was reasonably safe overall. We only had one untoward experience, and the perpetrator eventually apologized for his rather bizarre comments to us, so that was all good in the end. I thought for a moment that things might get out of control and that I would perhaps witness a barfight, but fortunately, that did not come to pass.

    We were treated to performances ranging from the sublime to the outright odious. A young lady did a very passable interpretation of Guns 'n Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine", and then shortly thereafter some guy shouted "Let's do metal!" and launched into what I think was a Fuel song. An Asian kid accentuated his vocal performance with some bizarre gyrations, all the while his pants chains swinging in time to the music. Someone sang Aerosmith's "Dream On", which I probably have not heard in twenty years. Through all of this, Rock Mafia did not miss a beat; in fact, I was quite impressed when the band not only knew when to play, but when not to play, the mark of truly good performers.

    If you can stand a place like this, you really do see some terrific musicians. Today's guitar players are privy to tons of gadgets which we didn't have in the old days. Every once in a while, I head down to Guitar Center to check out all the technology and while there, I see kids who can play the hair off a dog -- it is truly amazing. So it's reassuring to see a band like Rock Mafia, young guys giving it their all and performing truly decent covers of music all the way back to the 70's, playing it with the same passion that we did. Nicely done, Rock Mafia.

    Oh, and by the way, I never have worn chains on my pants.

    Thursday, February 21, 2008

    In Search of the Green Fairy

    What a week! By the end, I was almost considering absinthe. Now, you may say, isn't that a bit edgy? Perhaps, but then again, almost everything makes it to Whole Bean eventually.

    Absinthe, nicknamed "the green fairy", is an anise-flavored alcoholic beverage originally distilled from the wormwood plant. Developed in Switzerland as a medicinal elixir, the drink gained popularity in the late 1800's during a period when problems in French wine production forced imbibers to look elsewhere. Its reputation as a "vivifying" potion which could boost the mind and spirit resulted in absinthe becoming a fashionable afternoon drink in Paris, New York, and New Orleans. Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec were said to be particularly fond of it.

    But by the early 1900's, absinthe had become quite controversial. Sales were banned in the United States beginning in 1912, and the restrictions were not lifted until 2007. A quote from a Wikipedia article sums up the reasoning behind the ban:
    Due in part to its associations with bohemian culture, absinthe was opposed by social conservatives and prohibition supporters. It was portrayed as a dangerously addictive, psychoactive drug, and the chemical thujone, present in small quantities in wormwood, was blamed for these alleged effects.

    Further qualitative analysis in recent years has indicated that absinthe is no more dangerous than ordinary alcohol, and most likely, its psychoactive properties have been overstated. The original recipe for absinthe has been modified, using different methods, by a number of distillers worldwide; in fact, these new variations can now be sold legally in many countries. However, due to its inherent toxicity in large doses, thujone content is now strictly limited in commercially-produced absinthe.

    The whole thing is somewhat curious. Ever since I visited "The Old Absinthe House" in New Orleans one evening in 1987 for a night of blues, I have wondered exactly what happened to this strange brew. Interesting stuff, it is.

    Friday, February 15, 2008

    Valentine's Day Gone Wrong

    As is the case with many things, it all started so innocently.

    A friend of mine volunteers as a chef's assistant at Whole Foods and helps to teach cooking classes. She is one of the store's top volunteers, working several sessions per month, sacrificing her personal time for the advancement of culinary science. One such class was held last night, in the waning hours of Valentine's Day. This class was attended by 13 couples who thought they might treat themselves to something a little different this year.

    The intentions were good all the way around. The problem was that the chef conducting the class, although pleasant when interacting with the class participants, was quite rude to the staff of four volunteers assisting her. Throughout the evening, when asked this question or that, the chef would snap back a curt reply, often bordering on downright hostility. The class had started at 6:00, so by 10:30, when everything finally wrapped up for the evening, the prevailing atmosphere was one of relief that this dreadful thing had finally come to an end.

    At 10:30, there were four volunteers left, and my friend, who incidentally is not much of a drinker, realized that consuming the leftover champagne by the glass was a much too slow road to true inebriation, and she opted instead to drink it straight from the bottle.

    I think that next year, my friend will probably opt to make something special for Valentine's dinner, something a bit more predictable -- reservations, perhaps.

    Saturday, February 2, 2008

    Instant Taj Mahal

    I am still amazed that I can be sitting here in Atlanta and receive an instant cell phone MMS picture of the Taj Mahal. Yet, this happened a couple of days ago when my friend Tim, visiting in India for "the" wedding (see below), sent me this gorgeous photo. Thanks, Tim!

    Sunday, January 27, 2008

    9,056 Miles of Best Wishes!

    For about three more hours from the time of this posting, Atlanta and Chennai, India, will be on the same calendar day. This is very important, because today, January 27, is the wedding day of our good friends Meenakshi and Tarun! We have all been looking forward to this day for many months.

    The wedding ceremony itself was held earlier today in Chennai, but receptions and celebrations will continue for several days in three different cities in India. I received the first wedding picture (at right) on my cell phone last night.

    "MJ" and Tarun should be back in the United States sometime next month. Best wishes, guys! We'll see you soon!

    Tuesday, January 22, 2008

    Second Day Snow

    It almost never happens in Atlanta: enough snow to last until the next day. But just such an auspicious event occurred this past weekend, when a quiet, steady snowfall on Saturday deposited enough whiteness to last until Monday evening. The TV weather reports, of course, had a field day. Storm Watch 2008! Buy milk and bread now!

    My next door neighbors truly got into the act, building a tiny snowman and perching it atop their mailbox. I like's a sort of winter sentinel, a gentle reminder that the weather can change on a dime.

    Saturday, January 19, 2008

    Sugo, Sugo, Sugo!

    This past Thursday evening, a group of us from work decided to meet for P-Council. The Council has been off schedule as of late, due primarily to the holidays and a fairly heavy year-end workload. After some deliberation, we chose Sugo as our meeting place. Sugo is a family-owned restaurant with three locations in the Atlanta area, and our friend Tim, having visited there often, highly recommended it. Since Tim has dined all over the world, we trust him.

    When I arrived at the bar, our friend Keith was already there. I ordered a grapefruit cosmopolitan, an interesting twist on one of my favorite martinis, and was impressed by the lightly tonic quality combined with a tasty cosmopolitan base. Tim arrived shortly, and since he was a regular, we were soon visited by the son of the owner, who provided a brief overview of the family history.

    It seems that somewhere back along the line, Greek and Italian families came together and started combining elements of both cuisines. Several family restaurants were opened in the Northeast, and in the Nineties, the family decided to bring the business to Atlanta. It is obvious that these people know their food. But not only that, they also know how to serve guests and make them feel truly welcome.

    After spending a few minutes at the bar's comfortably appointed lounge area, we were shown to a table, and then the true treat began. The owner came to our table, introduced himself, began to tell us a little more about the family history, and then launched into a prosaic description of the dishes being featured that evening. By the time he had finished, we were in awe. Every ingredient and sauce was described in detail, and it became something of a task to decide between all the wonderful alternatives.

    I chose a dish called Pernice's Chicken. Heavens above...I have never eaten anything like this. Allow me to lift the description from the menu, because I cannot do it justice otherwise:

    "Pernice's Chicken - Dressed with a touch of tomato basil sauce, Prosciutto di Parma ham, caramelized onions, dates, spinach, pecorino romano, and provolone cheese. Served atop basil and black pepper papparadelle pasta tossed with roasted parsnips, caramelized radishes, figs, cherry tomatoes, cremini, portabello, and oyster mushrooms."

    Not only was the food superb, the service was phenomenal. The owner's son stopped by as we were dining to check on us, and our server, a very pleasant and hospitable young lady, dropped back over to our table several times to discuss the food and to tell us a little about herself. An enterprising art student, she has great plans for her future. I hope to see her work in a gallery someday!

    In Atlanta, we have many restaurants that try so hard to provide the "ultimate dining experience", and every once in a while, we find a true gem. Sugo is one of those. Our entire visit was so much more than just a dinner. It was like being welcomed into a family's home to dine with them. This restaurant is so "with it" that it even features its own blog entitled "A Day in the Life of a Family Run Restaurant".

    Hats off to this wonderful establishment. I cannot say enough good things about Sugo.

    Wednesday, January 9, 2008

    The Hypnotic Effects of HGTV

    Is it just me, or is there something about HGTV that puts everyone who watches it regularly into a trancelike state? I'm not saying it's unpleasant or anything, but I've noticed that for many people, watching these shows is somewhat like eating potato chips -- you can't stop at just one. HGTV, for those of you who may have been living under a rock, is a cable TV network devoted to home and (increasingly less) gardening projects. Many of the programs feature remodeling of houses to sell, rearranging of existing furniture, determining a home's market value, etc. It's strange, but once you start watching these 30-minute programs, it's hard to stop.

    Of course, there's a local interest factor. We live in Atlanta, and one of the programs features Trading Spaces designer Vern Yip, who lives here in the city. Often, we'll be able to pick out a house that we know is somewhere around here, simply by the appearance of the design elements and the landscaping. For Canadians, there's HGTV Canada, but here in the USA, we see some of its programming as well. Californians can marvel at what it takes to buy a basic small home in Marin County, and Chicagoans can imagine what it's like to live on top of the El tracks. There's something for everyone.

    HGTV has a new commercial for itself which shows couples watching programs and playing along, with comments like "Yeah, I don't like house #2...why did they pick that?" We all find ourselves doing it. On New Year's Eve, we were hanging out with friends when they commented that they too leave the TV on HGTV for hours at a time, progressing steadily from one show to the next.

    Personally, I think the people at HGTV have hit on something. Yes, TV offers plenty of crime dramas, second-rate comedy, and reality television, but HGTV is a strangely soothing alternative. You can turn it on, walk away for ten or twenty minutes, then either come back to a "fixed" house or a completely new program. It's like watching the soaps, but no one gets hurt, runs away, or is abducted by aliens. And now, you can even watch HGTV in high definition. Which is really nice, especially when you're looking at an old blue shag carpet that they're ripping up and you say to yourself, "Isn't that a potato chip I see stuck down in there?"

    Friday, January 4, 2008

    Happy New Year from Whole Bean!!!

    What better way to start the New Year than with an energetic track from the 2007 Bollywood hit movie Om Shanti Om? Enjoy!

    Get this widget Track details eSnips Social DNA