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Friday, April 12, 2013

In his study of the form that masochism takes in modern man, Theodor Reik puts forth an interesting view. Masochism is more widespread than we realize because it takes an attenuated form. The basic dynamism is as follows: a human being sees something bad which is coming as inevitable. There is no way he can halt the process; he is helpless. This sense of helplessness generates a need to gain some control over the impending pain--any kind of control will do. This makes sense; the subjective feeling of helplessness is more painful than the impending misery. So the person seizes control over the situation in the only way open to him: he connives to bring on the impending misery; he hastens it. This activity on his part promotes the false impression that he enjoys pain. Not so. It is simply that he cannot any longer endure the helplessness or the supposed helplessness. But in the process of gaining control over the inevitable misery he becomes, automatically, anhedonic (which means being unable or unwilling to enjoy pleasure). Anhedonia sets in stealthily. Over the years it takes control of him. For example, he learns to defer gratification; this is a step in the dismal process of anhedonia. In learning to defer gratification he experiences a sense of self-mastery; he has become stoic, disciplined; he does not give way to impulse. He has control. Control over himself in terms of his impulses and control over the external situation. He is a controlled and controlling person. Pretty soon he has branched out and is controlling other people, as part of the situation. He becomes a manipulator. Of course, he is not consciously aware of this; all he intends to do is lessen his own sense of impotence. But in his task of lessening this sense, he insidiously overpowers the freedom of others. Yet, he derives no pleasure from this, no positive psychological gain; all his gains are essentially negative.

(Philip K. Dick, Valis, 81-82)

Monday, April 08, 2013

I've had a long-held belief regarding the presence of a consciousness in all things, but I had a thought late last night that caused a slight shift in my understanding of it.

Assuming there are infinite universes and an infinite number of planes of existence, it occurred to me that the physical nature of those universes and planes truly may be just sensory information. That is, none of this may actually exist anywhere than in our shared consciousness.

Now that I'm on the subject, assuming a consciousness exists in all things, it seems that we exist in order to know experientially what our greater consciousness/god knows in itself. In other words, if physical existence in itself exists only in our shared consciousness, call this our shared manifestation of a different way of knowing. To me this fits nicely with the way a lot of our behavior works. The dichotomies of male/female, passive/assertive, etc. suggest that we long to experience these spectrums even if it's not through ourselves personally but rather through someone close to us.

There's literally no way to discuss this without sounding insane (or at least new agey), but it does occur to me that if a part of me that exists on another plane wanted to express itself in our world it wouldn't be able to do it to anyone who wasn't at least a little bit insane.



Saturday, July 02, 2011

Cocktail Bars

Working on DH has been the most challenging and most rewarding thing I've done in my life so far. A lot of the thrill of doing this is the idea that we're making an effort at bringing something new to people in town. This is a huge challenge for a city who knows what it likes and isn't particularly interested in changing its mind about it. But I have a lot of faith in Houston, and I think we can really contribute to raising the consciousness and enjoyment people have with casual dining.

J and I were talking about, in a market sense, the challenge to consumers about the product we're selling. With familiar commodities, if you can beat your competitors on speed and price you'll always win. With luxury items, you're in search of an educated niche market who is willing to sacrifice speed, cost and necessity--which makes the emotional product, education, and the overall experience extremely important.* We realized early on that we're selling a higher-quality niche product to consumers who may or may not be educated with a longer wait time for more money. Potentially rough waters ahead.

For example: We've put together a fantastic, original craft cocktail list with house-made syrups, bitters, tinctures, and high-quality spirits. We're extremely fortunate that we live in a time and place where this kind of thing is starting to be accepted again, but it's still an uphill battle. At the moment we have a number of decisions to make along these lines:

For a number of reasons, vodka of all kinds and simple highballs (any spirit and any sugary soda, vodka and anything, etc.) don't get much respect in the craft cocktail community. Because the craft nature of our bar is critically important, we have a decision to make. Do we "water down" the overall experience by offering these simple highballs and spirits to those who ask for them? Or do we, as a hospitality-focused business accept that some people won't "get" what we're doing immediately and find a way to serve (some of) the things they want while still maintaining our standards for quality?

These options represent two schools of thought, both with genuine merit. There are potentially great benefits to be found in holding your ground, alienating people who don't "get it" and embracing those who do or are open-minded enough to be taken for a ride. Making a statement, sticking to your guns, and not budging will definitely breed die-hard loyalists over time.

But given that education is so important in creating this market, I have a hard time seeing the sense of alienating anyone so quickly by barring vodka or high balls altogether. If I were a Jack and Coke kind of guy, and was offered a nice George Dickel 12 on the rocks and a cane sugar Coca-Cola in a bottle, that would get me thinking that this was a different kind of place. And the next time I came back, maybe I'd think I could try something new.

There certainly is a place for bars that "don't do vodka" and won't make a bourbon and coke, but that's another part of the beauty of the marketplace--each place fulfills their own role in what they offer. For us it seems best to take the approach of bringing people into the fold instead of forcing them to take what we want to give them.

*I don't know if this is a thing, but I often refer to the "emotional product" as a huge part of the brand experience. Chuy's, Starbucks, Nike, Apple--they all sell their emotional product very well.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

My list of American musical geniuses:

Charles Mingus
Harry Nilsson
Thelonious Monk
John Coltrane
Captain Beefheart
Bob Dylan
Les Paul

And while I love Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, (and everyone at Sun in the 50s and 60s) I hesitate to put them on this list. I'm more likely to put someone from Stax (Booker T., Otis, Sam Cooke, Ike Turner, I could go on). Ray Charles probably comes closest but I have to admit I haven't gone through as much of his work as I should.

This list provided, I have to admit that I haven't been able to think about music much lately, and this is just off the top of my head. Someone please tell me a bunch of people I've forgotten so I can distract myself for awhile.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

What I have in common with LARPers

From 12-Bottle Bar (a fantastic project):

If I were to equate us to the world of Tolkien (and why wouldn’t I?), 12 Bottle Bar is “The Hobbit”. Some of you might not care for “The Hobbit” one lick, and that’s fine. Some will follow along with zeal but never crack the Rings trilogy or the even more arcane “Silmarillion”. Some will wait for the movies (in this analogy, for Cheesecake Factory to offer a Vodka Sazerac). Still, a rare few among you will dive-in head first and spend the remainder of your weekends cocktail LARPing, which is really what all those mustachioed, suspender-wearing, neo-Baroque mixologists are doing. And that’s the beauty of it. There are no rules, only discovery.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Been listening to the new Strokes album, Angles, a lot since it came out. Like First Impressions of Earth, it has its moments. At its best, it's reassuring that the band that so many of us loved ten years ago can still make songs that make us happy. At worst it seems forced--both in terms of its "hipness" and its modest experimentation.

I thought I liked it quite a bit, but then I went back and listened to Is This It, and I realized how far Angles had fallen. The best tracks on it aren't as good as the worst tracks on their first album.

But sometimes you have to experience something else in order to get back to your roots, and I guess I hope that's where go next. The question that comes to mind now is: "The Strokes are to my generation as ______ is to generations past?" There's definitely a comparison there, but I can't figure out exactly who fits the bill.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bitters, Tinctures, etc.

I'm working on my first experiment in creating bitters and tinctures for cocktails. I started by buying a bunch of spices and herbs from Revival Market. One of the more interesting finds was some salt from a mysterious salt mine in Galveston called "Jurassic Salt"--the clerk tells me it's over 250 million years old.
A couple of things I've been thinking about while getting started on this:
Cocktails are like cover songs: You should only make them if they improve on the original or take it an entirely different direction. I've had a number of bourbon-based cocktails or Aviation gin-based cocktails that made me wish I was just drinking a good bourbon or Aviation martini.
Similarly, I have a concern about this whole endeavor: The world of tinctures, infusions, and decoctions comes perilously close to the world of crappy fruit- and vegetable-infused liquors. These infusions rarely improve on the original, and they usually start with a low-quality spirit. My plan is only "season" cocktails with tinctures and homemade bitters.
All that said, the important thing for now is to keep an open mind and put an emphasis on experimentation.
First, an important distinction between tinctures and bitters, because they are actually very similar:
Bitters is "an alcoholic beverage that is flavored with herbal essences and has a bitter or bittersweet flavor," according to Wikipedia. They commonly have an alcoholic strength of 45% ABV. They seem much more common for cocktails and alcoholic beverages.
Tinctures, by contrast, have a stronger association with health benefits (as described here). Wikipedia says that "a tincture is an alcoholic extract (e.g. of leaves or other plant material) or solution of a non-volatile substance (e.g. of iodine, mercurochrome). To qualify as a tincture, the alcoholic extract is to have an ethanol percentage of at least 40-60% (80-120 proof) (sometimes a 90% (180 proof) pure liquid is even achieved).
Aside from having a specific "bitter" flavor, the big difference seems to be with solubility. That being the case, I'm not sure if what I'm making would be considered bitters or tinctures, as I'm using 190-proof grain alcohol for all of them.
Here's what I started with:
- Jurassic Salt
- Fennel seeds/Cardamom seeds, this is the only one that I mixed while it sits. I think they complement each other well.
- Star Anise, the classic bitters ingredient, delicious licorice smell
- Long Thai Peppercorn, I've never seen these before. They look pretty cool and they smell delicious. We'll see how it turns out. I was thinking of trying a salt and pepper tincture, which might be interesting.
- Hot Curry, who the hell knows. We'll see.
- Lavender, reminds me of using Creme de Violette.
- Black Mustard Seed, I'm really hoping that this will bring out some flavor when it's concentrated.
- Thai Chilies, this came from the idea of doing a Sriracha bitters. Eventually I might get all the ingredients in Sriracha and put them all together.
- Cinnamon, seems like a given.
- Jamaican Allspice, Joey had an idea for a Jamaican cocktail that sounds incredible so I thought this would be a good start.
- Pistachio nuts, Who the hell knows. Could be awesome.
- Poppy Seed, Seems like a given.
- Orange, I used the peel of two clementines for this one.
- Apple, Again, I only used the peel and the seeds. I've read that the sugars in fruit can overwhelm the bitter flavors brought out of the peel.
My method is pretty simple: I add about half the jar with the herb/spice I'm using, and fill the rest with grain alcohol. I seal the jar so the alcohol doesn't evaporate, and then put the contents in either a brown paper bag or a cabinet so light doesn't hit it. They say you should shake the jar every day to extract the most of the herb's essence. The total time should be about two weeks. I'll update later with results!