Obey the Sticky Buns

The title just conflates my two worthwhile Saturday activities--going to Flour Bakery, and then hitting the Shepherd Fairey exhibit at the ICA, at the invitation of A. & Guy.

I previously tried to eat the purported best sticky buns in Boston, but arrived too late that time. But this time, they had a big tray of them--perhaps there is less traffic on a weekend, vs. the weekday working crowd?

Oh man... those look really yummy. And the first bite was a case of, "Oh that's pretty tast... oh crap that's good!" The surprise to me was that sticky buns usually seem to be a caramel-goo-topping-delivery-system, with minimal attention to the pastry/dough portion. But in this case, the dough had the perfect chew, texture, mouth feel, butteryness--everything! (see this review for similar details). A wash-your-face-in-the-bathroom-after snack... but definitely worthwhile.

Nope, I didn't eat both of them--I saved the other for Guy.

I then met up with A & Guy for the ICA Exhibit--if Sherpherd Fairey's name doesn't immediately ring a bell:

Oh... yeah... gotcha.

I definitely remember being somewhat puzzled and bemused by the OBEY/Andre the Giant has a Posse stickers and stencils when they were popping up in Boston during my undergrad days.

The show is a full exhibit and retrospective of his work going back to 1989 (when he was still at RISD). His works are classically anti-war anti-establishment lefty-artist, but with full knowledge of the commercial aspects of creating art. Check out this archive of many of his prints--several of them are on display. But one great thing about his wall-size murals--you can get up close, and see the intense texturing and layering in his collage artworks--something lost in the smaller versions. There are also videos presented that include interviews with the artist, as well as scenes from his studio, creating the silk screens and huge collage murals with his crew. Like I noted during my MASS MoCA visit, I often find the process as fascinating as the finished work itself.

Also, Fairey put up a bunch of his works up outdoors around the Boston area, if you don't want to head to the ICA.

View Larger Map

Bookmark and Share

We wrapped up our day together with lunch at the Boston Sail Loft, and then headed our separate ways. A pretty good day.


Margarita Party!

A busy and fun Memorial Day weekend--included dinner-and-movie-night at Amie & Guy's, helping R. wire up a ceiling fan at her apartment, and heading out to visit Bird & Jen in NH. Jen provided the meals, and I decided that it was fine time to explore another classic cocktail (like my previous party)--the margarita.

I understand if your first response is dismissive--I have long considered the margarita the alcoholic slushie that you order at Thank Chili It's Bennigan Tuesday's when the beer selection is too crappy. But I started reading about good tequila, as well as margaritas. I won't bore you with background-of-tequila stories--here's the Wikipedia link if you care. But this New York Times article ("In Tequila's Layers, Hints of Sea and Spice") does a wonderful job touching on the basics. The classic story of the origin of the name: One widely circulated creation myth credits a bartender who some versions say worked outside Los Angeles and others place near Tijuana. He reportedly concocted the drink for a starlet who could only drink tequila but didn't like its taste.

But anyway, after reading the article, my first reaction was: "Holy crap, why do people buy crap 'rita mixtures?!?" Look: a margarita has three friggin ingredients (plus the garnishes of salt and lime):

2 ounces silver tequila
1 ounce Cointreau
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice

Yep... no high fructose corn syrup, no FD&C Yellow No. 5. Simple and clean... booze + booze + juice + melt water... mixed right up in the cocktail shaker--cheers!

[Photo credits: Jen--additional photos from the weekend here--includes yummy home-made bagels (!!) and infrastructure dorkery!]

Seemed like the perfect drink to welcome in the summer.

We also tried some straight tequila--the Herradura Silver (3 Stars out of 4--"Beautifully balanced, restrained and elegant, with mineral, salt, herbs and cucumber flavors." according to the Times review). The sweetness intrinsic to the drink was pretty interesting. I had not given tequila--excuse me--decent tequila--the benefit of the doubt of a straight tasting, as opposed to oh-god-please-mask-that-friggin'-taste shots with lime and salt.

However, the three of us ended up emptying out about 2/3 of that 750 mL--I definitely had a slow morning the next day. But I've recovered enough that if folks are interested, I'd be glad to try another one of these parties!



Some of you might find this amusing--via Tappan's blog--Genderanalyzer:

We created Genderanalyzer out of curiosity and fun. It uses Artificial Intelligence to determine if a homepage is written by a man or woman. Behind the scene, a text classifier hosted over at uClassify.com has been trained on 11000 blogs written by men and women. In our lab it seems to works pretty well, we want to see how it performs on the web!

Fair enough, I was curious enough to try it out on my blog--the website determined:

We guess http://bats22.blogspot.com/ is written by a man (52%), however it's quite gender neutral.

Interesting, huh. You can provide feedback on whether it was right or not--based on that, the batting average is:

As for my gender-ambiguous blog results, perhaps my emphasis on infrastructure dorkery is tempered by the fact that I use the word 'lovely' too often? Perhaps I should write more posts that include the words, "penis penis penis penis penis penis!!!"

Um, yeah. Probably not.


Western Mass Vacation Part III: A Last Note

Sorry about the length of that last post, on MassMoCA and North Adams. Hope that you'll find it entertaining if you chew your way through it.

But one quick last item. While I was visiting MassMoCA, I wandered off to one empty-looking corner of the museum. Most of the major galleries were named for major contributors... but this one made me smile--a blank wall in a stairwell, reading:

Huh... is this what happens when you donate, but not enough to warrant a gallery? Or is this a threat that the museum uses--"If you won't bump your contribution, we're naming an emergency exit for you!"


Western Mass Vacation Part II: And Out of the Woods

Just a rundown of the second half of my Western Mass vacation, after returning to civilization. A few museums, restaurants, and other highlights--see the section headings to skip or read.

Western Gateway Heritage State Park

I made my way to North Adams, to hit MASS MoCA, but arrived in the late afternoon and needed to kill off a few hours. What would be better than a little dusty neglected museum about the Hoosac Tunnel? I walked in there, and had visions of resentful bored teenagers glaring at their parents, texting away.... zomg like so lame :P :P :P. I, on the other hand (being the dork that I am), ate it up--a mix of history, politics, economics, and the story of digging a 5-mile railway tunnel through a mountain in Western Mass with Civil War era technology. Yow. You know when you go into the museum and there's that one guy watching the documentary film? Yeah... I was that guy.

Some of the innovation was just incredible--e.g., they dug the tunnel from both ends, and just using compasses, transits, and plumb bobs, the two tunnels met within inches. Remember: 5 miles. Wow. If you look at the diagram below, they had to "transfer" angles up through those sighting towers (on the mountaintops) to the excavation sites. The two tunnel segments are also both angled slightly upwards, to allow for drainage from the wet rock--so they had to account for that angle as well.

The tunnels were bored using blasting and drilling--the huge boost in productivity going from black powder to nitroglycerin, or from hand-hammering charge holes into the rock to pneumatic hammers (which have the added benefit of introducing fresh air to the rock face, so your workers don't pass out).

The politics were also fascinating--the conflicts and resentments between urban and rural (Eastern and Western Massachusetts), as well as the forces for and against the tunnel. The real conflict was between those who wanted to extend the northern Massachusetts rail line (through Greenfield and North Adams) west to the Erie Canal (via that tunnel), vs. the southern Massachusetts rail line:

The Western Railroad led by Chester Chapin, which ran a southern route through Springfield and Pittsfield, opposed the Hoosac Tunnel and its northern route through the state. They successfully lobbied to block state funding of the tunnel in 1861, which bankrupted Haupt and temporarily stopped the project.

Man... it kinda shocks you when anything ever gets done by a representative government, doesn't it?

But basically, by the time they got the tunnel up and running, traffic through the Erie canal was starting to fall off... and that's why those Southern Massachusetts towns are bigger than the Northern Mass ones... economics, eh?

Taylor's Fine Dining

After a hotel room and a shower, the New York Times travel section directed me to one of North Adams nicer restaurants--hey, just about anything would be a step up from freeze-dried beef stroghanoff, eh?

The town has a nice little downtown, but it is decidedly blue collar/post industrial/manufacturing. The ambiance was nice, but I soon found out that they closed and reopened the restaurant a few weeks ago, after "tuning" the menu.

This meant switching from higher end dishes to a menu that included burgers and roast beef sandwich au jus. And I was asked if I wanted fries with my pan-seared duck breast. Ah well. Just a bit sad when you see a place need to get "dumbed down" because of who goes there. In comparison, there are probably three better restaurants within walking distance at home. At least it was tasty... and I had a Bass, then a Guinness.

Cup and Saucer

On the other hand, this place, for breakfast, was a serious win. A classic bustling lefty coffee shop, with a kickass breakfast menu. A big cup of coffee, an egg-and-tomato bagel with red pepper pesto, and home fries. Nom nom nom.

As an example of their good goofiness--pasta coffee stirrers, which supposedly have less of a carbon footprint than a plastic or wooden one. The calculations seems a bit questionable (farm raised wheat, etc.), but hey, they're pushing in the right direction.


And finally, the museum. I've been meaning to go to this place for ages--especially when I was driving Boston-to-Waterloo during grad school. But it's really not at a convenient stopping point. For those of you who don't know the back story, the building is an unused brick mill complex (as well as a former superfund site) that was given a bunch of economic redevelopment money as a new art museum.

Some lovely pieces there--such as Natalie Jeremijenko's Tree Logic--four suspended maples, trying to fight their way back to phototropic and geotropic normalcy:

Some of the spaces are just enormous, lending themselves to really striking displays (such as Simon Starling's The Nanjing Particles

But the big crowning exhibit is their huge Sol LeWitt retrospective. I can just imagine the thought process how this happened:

"Huh... we have a great big new modern art museum, with lots of wall space and not much in it."

[think] [think] [think]

[light bulb!!!!!!]

The result: three floors of Sol LeWitt! More LeWitt than you can shake a roll of masking tape at!

For background, LeWitt's thing was large wall drawings, given as a set of directions as opposed to only-pieces-created-by-the-artist. He likened it to musical composition--a set of directions, that can be executed and interpreted by various sets of artists. Quite compelling, and some pieces were elegant, or sublime, or whimsical. Although I found his middle-period big-blocks-of-primary-color stuff a bit underwhelming. But his "squiggle" drawings were a case of "step forward... look... step backwards... look... repeat."

What's great is that they had a video on how these 105 wall paintings were put together, by a team of LeWitt collaborators and students.

I am a great big geek, in that a lot of the time, I find the process of creation--technically--as interesting as the art itself. For instance, sure, it's a lovely Rodin sculpture--but what was his workshop like? Lost-wax casting of bronze? How the hell did he get this finish texture?

But this got me thinking of other bizzare LeWitt takeoffs that should be done. For instance, I was wondering if you could get infrared or ultraviolet paint that reflects in different spectra? Then you could paint a wall that looks completely blank, but if you looked at it in the appropriate spectrum, it would show up.

Also, since farmers now have GPS-enabled combine harvesters, I was thinking you could make a ginormous crop-circle-size LeWitt out in Midwestern corn fields. I would definitely be amused.

Wrapup and Conclusions

On the drive back that evening, I took Route 2 all the way home. On the way, I stopped for dinner in Greenfield--at Tofu A Go-Go: ALL VEGETARIAN CAFE!!! HERALDED UNIVERSALLY AS THE LITTLE VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT THAT COULD! VEGETARIAN - VEGAN - MACROBIOTIC It seemed like such a delightful stereotype that I had to stop in--the spinach and cheese quesadilla was pretty tasty. Finished a bunch of postcards, and hit the road home.

Overall, the non-camping parts of the trip felt a bit like "the hipster tour of cool Western Massachusetts cities"--Northampton, Williamstown, and then Greenfield. Incidentally--Local Burger in Northampton--strong recommend. Not that going to those towns was a bad thing... but again, it felt a bit like a stereotype.

Made it home on Saturday night, and took Sunday to recover--I decided a day off to recover from a vacation was a pretty smart plan.


Western Mass Vacation Part I: Into the Woods

I've done plenty of road trips criss-crossing chunks of the Northeast--but I've always looked out at the landscape flying by at 70 miles per hour, and thought, "Man... it would be nice to be out in that landscape."

Well, the first part of the vacation trip was just that--I went out to Western Massachusetts for a class (on "The Lost Art of Steam Heating," if anyone is curious), and then took a few days off, to hike around Mount Greylock--the highest point in the Commonwealth.

It was two solid days of solo camping--I have to admit that despite all of the trips I've been on (Yosemite, Saguaro National Park, Badlands, Big Bend), I've never gone off on my own. I thought this would be a valuable experience--I've always gone with other, more experienced hands (Leper, Bird, Drea). I wanted to find out if my knowledge, skills, or equipment were woefully lacking somewhere. Yeah, Jess, I know--"Two days, big whoop." ;) Think of it as a test run.

First bit of news upon arrival: the road to the campground is closed until Memorial Day.

So that meant getting to the campsite was a 1460 foot uphill hike with full gear. Wow.. that hurt.... but holy cats--the view. This was up to a campsite that overlooks the peak (Greylock), with a beautiful view of the valley below.

That night, I was pounded by rain--it actually kept me awake long enough that I only woke up around 11 AM. But wait... I'm on vacation... by myself--who cares! Glad that my tent's rain fly worked just fine. But going back to the overlook, I looked out at the mountain peak:

Huh. Just a bit fogged in. Probably not the day to enjoy the panoramic view of three states offered at the peak. However, there were several short day hikes to try out--such as out to a waterfall--really going strong with the previous night's rainfall.

I was amused to see the sign at the falls: DANGER: FALLS IS END OF TRAIL. Huh... bet there were a few people who were dumbasses in the past, eh?

All sorts of random neat things seen in the woods while hiking. For instance, many of the rocks have very distinct marble (I think) inclusions in their seams.

Also, a tree stump with a juvenile tree growing out of the middle of the old one. No idea if it was the same species or not.

As usual, a few examples of the golden hour making hack photography look nice.

Nice weather the next day--so I made it up to the summit by about lunchtime.

That tower is The Veterans War Memorial Tower--It takes the form of a perpetually lighted beacon to honor the state's dead from World War I (and subsequent conflicts). The light used to be the strongest beacon in Massachusetts, with a nighttime visible range of up to 70 miles.

As for lessons learned--well, a two-person tent is nice and roomy, but it's a lot of weight to haul up solo. Also, "strike anywhere" matches my ass--it's a good thing I brought up the whole matchbox, otherwise it would have been two days of sucking on dehydrated food and cold press coffee. Speaking of coffee--a coffee press is lovely for car camping, and sharing with friends... but when on the trail, it's going to be instant from now on--both the weight, and the cleanup. Composting toilets were a lovely available luxury at that campsite.

Also, as horrifying as freeze-dried powdered eggs sound as a concept, they were a tasty protein boost for breakfast.

As for the solo camping experience: it was actually very isolating. Since folks can't drive in, I was the only camper there--I had the entire 14+ site campground to myself. I saw the ranger there once, who was doing road maintenance. I probably saw half a dozen people total over those 48 hours (and exchanged about a dozen words).

Overall, it was very nice--I would recommend it highly to any of my introverted and/or misanthropic friends. No human contact for that long was actually a rather nice experience.

But no real epiphanies, resolutions, or great self-disoveries here. And nothing that makes me suddenly want to go full-house Thoreau-Walden-Pond (from the Wikipedia article):

Thoreau summited and spent a night in July 1844. His account of this event in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers described his approach up what is today the Bellows Pipe Trail. Scholars contend that this Greylock experience transformed him, affirming his ability to do these excursions on his own, following his brother John's death; and served as a prelude to his experiment of rugged individualism at Walden Pond the following year in 1845

[EDIT: R. referred to this as my 'Unabomber camping trip.' Made me laugh, so I had to share that]

Also, no forty-days-in-the-desert-style revelations (anyway, I don't think I can afford to take that much vacation time). Plenty of time thinking... also ended up singing to myself a lot. Spending an evening lying on a picnic table, starting up at the darkening cloudy skies. Definitely something I'm planning on doing again sometime. Either solo, or with friends--I'm happy with both of these options.


A Quick Update (SF Visit)

Just a quick update before I head out of town again--I flew back from the Bay Area on Sunday night, and I'm heading out tomorrow afternoon to Western Mass. The California trip was a work trip (although I did get to see some folks)--but this Western Mass trip is V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N. Man... I friggin' need it. I looked at my timesheets, and realized that I haven't taken a long weekend or any non-weekend day off since the beginning of the year. Ergh.

I managed to schedule dinners with two lovely and brilliant women during my trip out there: Tamarindo Antojeria Mexicana with Jess--small plate tapas-like Mexican in Oakland, followed by beer at The Trappist, as well as Moroccan Café Zitouna (Tenderloin-ish) with Paramecium Woman.

In addition, my work colleagues and I went to Camino in Oakland, near Piedmont--utterly fantastic. Fresh, local ingredients with a menu that changes every day, amazing decor, great drinks. The appetizer of fava beans with ricotta was lovely. The local colleague who recommended the place mixed and applied the earth plaster used on the walls--they paid him in restaurant gift certificates, and got him hooked.

Also had a few dinners with Perlick--hey, you can't win them all. Ouch! Sorry P. The selections were actually great--Tied House brewpub in the South Bay, and Eric's Chinese on Church in San Francisco.

Okay, well besides eating... I took a half day off on Friday to hang out in the city. First of all:

Excuse me... but this is May in the Bay Area. There's a reason why I left my raincoat behind at home. This is the month with an average rainfall of 0.54" in May. And it apparently decided to fall during my two days off in town. Ah well.

However, it didn't hamper my visit to the California Academy of Sciences--a Renzo Piano design, recently opened. A green building--lots of neat features, a few silly things, but overall a great experience. The New York Times architecture review is what popped it up on my radar to begin with; a slide show is available on that page. That trip warrants its own blog post, actually. Aesthetically, a pretty neat space--bare concrete walls with towering spaces, two spheres inside the main space, forming the planetarium, and the rain forest exhibit (i.e., climate controlled).

And of course, I go and check out things like the waterless urinal. But hey--check out the aiming point built in to the porcelain!

One wing was a global climate change exhibit. They had a pretty neat teaching tool--a literal "carbon balance"--they provide instructions on how to move the weights to account for your driving habits, use of public transportation, plane flights, and home energy use.

And a self-portrait in the Foucault pendulum:

Saturday, Perlick drove us out to the Hunters Point Artists Open Studio--it's an abandoned naval base in San Francisco that is rented out as cheap studio space for artists. Very neat art (for the brief time we managed to stay there)--painters, photographers, mixed media.. the whole bag. The atmosphere of the abandoned naval base was also quite memorable.

The images of the huge gantry crane got me hooked....

I ended up searching the web, and found this great Flickr page--by username Lost America, who seems to do a series of things like this:

In 2004, I was granted night access to the long forgotten and neglected, Hunters Point, Naval Shipyard. Over the course of 5 consecutive full moons I photographed in every corner of the nearly 500 acre facility. Originally opened as a commercial shipyard in 1870, the land was seized by the US military in 1942 and transformed into a vital repair base during WWII. The Navy closed the base in 1974 and most of the area has remained uninhabited ever since.

Stories of widespread radioactive contamination, it's location in one of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in San Francisco and many locked and patroled gates have kept the base out of the public eye for decades. There are dozens of abandoned buildings. Warehouses, offices and drydock pumphouses, some dating all the way back to 1870. These are some of the oldest buildings in San Francisco, just abandoned and forgotten. Giant gantry cranes stand rusting alongside the broken and flooded drydocks. On the hill above the dockyards is a residential neighborhood. Built in the 1920s and 30s and seized by the Navy for officers housing, it has also been abandoned for 30 years. The streets look like a post apocalyptic movie set. The entire relic strewn base is just minutes from the downtown of one of the west coast's largest cities.

Worth a quick check if you had a moment.

But for those who I failed to see on this visit--I will be back out in the Bay Area around June 15th for work! Hope to see you then!

Anyway, like I said before, this trip out to Western MA is for a class on steam heating, checking out MassMoCA, and going hiking in around Mount Greylock. Actually, I don't think I've been this unprepared for a hiking trip ever... did a quick grocery run this evening after work. Stove has fuel, though. Maybe I'll come out of the woods, maybe I won't... check back on Sunday. ;)