Thursday, July 28, 2016

Inspired By Reading Book Club: The Fault In Our Stars

A friend of ours, Andrew Thornton, started up a virtual book club a few years back called Inspired By Reading.  Like most book clubs, each month a new book is read, but instead of just talking about the book the members of the group are challenged to create something inspired by the book.  Most of the members are artists--especially jewelry designers--so this is a very visual take on the classic book club.  I've taken part sporadically, but my wife pretty much gets every month's challenge done.

This month's book is John Green's The Fault In Our Stars.  The book was turned into a movie that was actually well done and kept very close to the source material.  But I suggest reading the book instead!  The book is told from the point of view of Hazel, a teen who is in treatment for thyroid cancer.  Hazel meets a young man, Augustus Waters, in a support group meeting and the resulting relationship is one of the most real and poignant that I've come across in all my years of reading.  Oh, and spoilers: you will cry like a little baby when reading or watching this.

As a pediatrician, I spent my share of time in residency taking care of families (not kids--families) undergoing cancer treatments and bone marrow transplants.  These are the sickest kids you will ever take care of in my line of work, many balanced chronically on the knife edge of life and death.  I would never give up my memories of that aspect of my training, but it was the most difficult thing I've ever done in my career.  The emotional and physical toll that the process takes on the patients, their families, and yes--even on their health care providers--is astonishing.  On the positive side, kids and teens are remarkably resilient, both physically and emotionally, often handling things much better than adults do.  I felt that the book really captures the emotions and situations of these teens in a way that feels true and isn't just calculated for cheap sobs.  The teens' take on their doctors and nursing staff isn't always complimentary, but this also feels very real to me.

So, how can I take inspiration from this book?

My first effort relates to Augustus' family.  His parent's home is littered with all sorts of cross-stitched samplers with inspirational sayings that they call "encouragements".  Taking a quote from Hazel's favorite book An Imperial Affliction, I made my own "encouragement" for her!  I had to first make a background in Photoshop CC to imitate fabric.  This took quite a bit of effort, but I figured it out via tutorials on the web.  I next downloaded and altered a cross-stitch font and made my own paint brush using one stitch.  I went a little overboard on it, but why not!

My next effort was related to Hazel's lungs.  She needs to be hooked up to oxygen because--in her own words: "my lungs sucked at being lungs".  I drew a pair of shoddy looking lungs and then did a clipping mask overlay with a shot of smoke that I had previously taken.  I then gave the lungs a bit of an outline glow and embossed texture to differentiate from the black background.  Not my best work, but I was trying new techniques!

I had other ideas, but ran out of time.  Read this book.  Seriously.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

No Need For Modesty: Modist Brewing Review

Based on the number of disappointing first visits to new breweries I've suffered through over the past few years, I now rarely visit a brewery unless it's been open over 6 months.  Every once in a while I hear enough positive reviews from people I trust, that I'll break this rule and check them out.  Modist Brewing is one of these breweries.  Open since April 2016, this North Loop brewery is located very close to Fulton's taproom--giving you just one more reason to visit the area!

The brewery was started by four friends: Keigan Knee (head brewer), John Donnelly (head of sales), Eric Paredes (chief manager), Kale Anderson (operations manager).  I haven't met these guys but I'd like to!  Their website set-up and pictures certainly point to a great sense of humor...

This particular Saturday, we had two friends in from Colorado and wanted to show them around some of our favorite watering holes.  Since we were already at Fulton, we decided to sprint through the rain to the Modist Taproom.  Why not right?

The open and spacious taproom was busy but not insane, with only a short wait for beers.  The brewery itself is off to the right as you come in the door, a colorful bluish glow reflecting up from the floor upon the shiny stainless conical fermenters.  There's also an open patio area that was empty on this trip due to pouring rain.  At one point I thought I saw someone riding a bike around inside the circle of equipment, but by the time I grabbed for my camera he was gone--like a strange hipster brewery ghost.

The Beers

I can be in the fanciest taproom ever, but if the beer doesn't please me I'm done.  Let the beers stand for themselves... I rate on a 0-5 scale with 3 being a decent beer, 4 a favorite, and 5 is the best in its class.  I'm a tough grader.

1) Toats:  A 4.8 % ABV beer made with 60% oats.  60% oats??!!  Wow.  Deep amber to orange color.  Aroma and flavor I get citrus fruit, intense maltiness.  Medium mouthfeel.  Somewhat astringent finish to it.  3.75

2) Smoove:  5.5% ABV, salted caramel lager.  A very interesting take on the salted caramel craze, using caramel malts and sea salt in the brewing process.  For this review I've brought in a guest reviewer...

Ode to Smoove Beer
By Smoove B, Love Man

"Girl, this beer was made for Smoove.  With a color and glow like your sweet caramel skin, this makes me want to take you in my arms and then into my giant round bed with the mirrors on the ceiling.  The sweet sweet taste of milky caramel fairly explodes from my glass, reminding me of you, my one true love.  You know what I'm talking about.  You remember the Love Man.  And the Love Man remembers you.  After stalking you across the veldt of my mind, taking you down with my lion-like majesty, I finish this ode to a graceful beer.  I finish with a salty surprise on the end like the leftover sweat of our love, or the briny taste of Smoove's tears as you leave me once more.  Damn!"

Thanks Smoove B!  I couldn't have said it better myself.  I like the crisp lager finish on this one.  I give it a solid 4.

3) 100% Wheat:  A wheat beer using 100% wheat.  I had to ask our bartender how they managed to make this without clogging up the mash-tun.  Bonus points to her for knowing the answer--she said they have a hammer mill and special equipment to handle the fine grind.  Wheat has no husk, so can't be used like barley to act as its own filter--making beers with more than 50% wheat very difficult to handle without creating  a thick solid mass of wheat glue.  So by using a fine grind and (I'm assuming here) a special fine filter, they can get better extraction of sugars and get around the clogging issue.  Some of the large macro breweries use this technique, but I don't know of many other craft breweries doing it.  I'm guessing this is how they managed the 60% oats in Toats as well.

The beer was well hopped and citrusy with a hazy appearance.  4

4) Phresh: 4.5% ABV tart ale with Ella, Equinox, and Hull Melon hops.  I picked up crazy melon flavors like honeydew, as well as grapefruit, with a hint of melon rind funkiness.  Slight tartness.  A unique beer for sure and very rePhreshing (trademark that!)  I actually hate melon, but this beer uses that flavor in a perfect way. 3.75

5) First Call: A pale lager infused with Two Cousins Espresso.  This version was also infused with vanilla bean.  I picked up insane light roast coffee aroma off the bat.  Flavor was similarly overtaken by fresh cold-press coffee.  I picked up mild vanilla and some maltiness on the tail end.  Wow!  Other than Birch's Coffee Chocolate Golden Ale I haven't had a better light colored coffee beer.  This was the winner for the whole group of us.  4.5

6) Wasteland:  Made with 60% Rye (see a pattern yet?) and Apollo, Cascade, and Columbus hops.  This is a rye IPA with a dry spicy and citrus zing.  The finish is a bit rough and astringent for me.  My least favorite of the group but still decent.  3.5

Forget being polite to new breweries.  These guys had been open 3 months at the time of this tasting and and are putting out high quality and boundary pushing beers!  Most are lower gravity beers, allowing one to have a couple beers before rolling out, and all are very drinkable.  They are making good use of their special brewhouse to use those accessory/adjunct grains to their utmost.

We had a great time here, hiding out from the increasing rainstorm, sipping finely crafted beers.  I would love to go back and highly recommend them.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

2016 PhotoChallenge, Week 27: Portrait - Abstract

At the end of last year I discovered  This is a small group of photographers who set forth a weekly challenge to other professional and amateur photographers.  What I was drawn to with this weekly assignment is that is pushes you to try new techniques and get out and take pictures on a weekly basis.  I'm taking part again this year and will also do a quick blog post about each of them.  The rules of the challenge do require that these are new pictures, not from your back catalog.  With my busy work schedule, I may not be able to get out each week and do this, so I will likely add a few of my older photos on the blog--taking the opportunity to look at the plethora of pictures I've taken and actually do some processing and weeding.

2016 PhotoChallenge Week 27: Portrait - Abstract

This past week's Photo Challenge is an abstract portrait.  I'm really not into portrait photography.  I realize that this is most professional photographer's bread and butter, but it really doesn't float my boat.  On the other hand, as someone getting into the hobby I do know that this is a glaring blank spot in my skills.  Abstract and Photoshop, however, I am good at!  For this shot I set up my tripod in the mostly dark basement, then hooked up my light without a soft-box to give a more harsh and shadowed look.  I set my camera up for remote trigger and did many shots of me wearing my steampunk goggles and bowler hat.  Because, why not!  

Once I found a shot I liked, I imported it into Photoshop.  I used a separate layer of a photo I took of some tree bark at decreased opacity and blended them.  I then erased the tree bark effect on that top layer everywhere except for my face.  I also took the whole picture and turned it to Sepia tone with Lightroom tone curves. 

I'm pretty happy with the result and have a new Facebook selfie to use!  

Oh and here's an old one just to add something different!  

Monday, July 11, 2016

A Spirited Trip: Tattersall Distilling

In my ever expanding quest to visit and document new (and old) craft breweries, I occasionally get a chance to visit a distillery. With craft beer booming, one of big new rising trends is in craft distilling.  I usually look at distilled products as being fairly homogeneous these days: an example is Ireland, where nearly all their major Irish whiskeys are distilled at one place.  Much like the sad state beer was in in the 1980's to 1990's, there's now plenty of room for small, local, craft places to find a foothold.

One new-ish Twin Cities distillery is Tattersall Distilling in Northeast Minneapolis (Nordeast to his friends) located in the historic Thorp Building.  The building used to be the production facility for large fire doors, and had a period of use in WWII as a secret military equipment manufactory.  Now the aged building hosts a distillery, several artist studios, and soon Strike Theater!

The distillery is located around the back of the building, somewhat hidden unless you're looking for it.  There is some parking in a dirt lot behind the place, but it may get crowded on a Saturday afternoon.  The place is pretty massive, with a large old-looking wooden bar taking up a good portion of the indoor tasting room.  Large glass panes separate the distilling area and barrel storage from the tasting room, but everything is easily visible from within.  There's plenty of seating inside, but also a large patio area with some umbrella'd tables for shade in the hot sun.  Food trucks are often present to take the edge off!

Arty shot of the view from the patio

The first time we stopped at Tattersall was during Art-A-Whirl, a crazy neighborhood wide "block" party, art show, and festival that is simply amazing to take part in.  At that time Tattersall was teaming with people and was SRO.  Normally Sj and I would have probably just taken off, but very quickly a waitress found us in the crowd and took an order, not forcing me to wade into the press of humanity at the bar.  Bonus points for having an active and large enough staff to properly handle such an event!
More recently we took a couple of cocktail loving friends from Colorado (Heather and Lorelei) to visit on a Saturday afternoon.  Again, the place was very busy, but not as extreme as during the festival.  The back half of the taproom seemed to be set up for a party, but it was winding down by the time we got there.  We did wait a while at the bar for our drinks, but it was worth the wait!

Our server this time was Dan Oskey, co-founder and Twin Cities celebrity bartender.  A little known fact of distillery tasting rooms in Minnesota is the fact that they can't serve any liquor not distilled on site.  Sounds fair right?  Sure, until you realize that a huge proportion of mixed drinks involve accessory mixers like vermouth, flavored liqueurs, etc.  This pretty much limits bartenders to fruit juices, simple syrups, and bitters.  J. Carver Distillery in Waconia (my town) makes up for this a bit by making their own infused simple syrups, but are still unable to make a classic Manhattan!  Tattersall has really taken this to the next level by making their own versions of Creme de Cacao, Triple Sec, and more for mixing.  They also make digestive bitters like Amaro and Fernet that can be sipped on their own or mixed into drinks for an added herbal kick.

I had a bourbon-based cocktail which was quite good and surprisingly refreshing on this warm but overcast day.  We each got something different and shared a bit to get to try them all.  I've only recently begun to experiment with cocktails, so I'm no expert on this field!  I do know that all of these drinks were well balanced, smooth, and complex.  Not rocket-fuel like a few places we've been to!

Overall, we were all very impressed with the service, the vibe, and especially the drinks.  I will highly recommend it as a stop in Nordeast...on your way to the Indeed taproom perhaps?  I also look forward to having a cocktail here before a show at Strike Theater once that gets going.

Friday, July 8, 2016

A Whale A Week: Jester King Nocturn Chrysalis

Now in my second year, A Whale A Week is my challenge to try (with an array of beer loving friends) a rare beer for every week of the year.  Last year I had a great time with this and have continued it for 2016.  Not every beer will be a truly "white whale" beer, but all are hard to find and a treat to try!  I've been kind of bad about keeping up on this the past few months--maybe I should rename this to A Whale Every Other Week...

Jester King Nocturn Chrysalis Blend 2

Jester King Brewery is a wonderful brewery out of Austin, Texas specializing in sour beers.  Their beers eschew classic Belgian styles and really chart their own course, but still have the quality and complexity that good sours should have.  I've reviewed their Atrial Rubicite HERE for a previous Whale A Week.  

Nocturn Chrysalis starts as a sour red ale, and is then barrel aged with a large amount of fresh blackberries.  For this second batch (April 2014) they used Marionberries from Oregon.  ABV is 5.9%, Final Gravity 1.000, pH 3.3. The beer has a score of 93 on Beer Advocate and 99 on Rate Beer. 

Cast of characters: Me (homebrewer for over 25 years, lover and brewer of sour beers); Sarajo (my wife and fan of sours); and fellow Jack Of All Brews member and award winning brewer Josh Welch. 

Nocturn Chrysalis 


Eric: Mellow blackberry aroma.  Light tartness.  Hint of sweet berry.  Light sulfur notes.  Brett--funky leather as it warms up.
Josh: Strong smells of wet hay, slight solvent, light jammy fruit.  


Eric: Deep red to nearly magenta.  Persistent wispy off-pink froth.  Excellent clarity and ruby sparkles.
Josh: Slight white head.  Good clarity.  Nice purple color from the fruit.  No legs, rolls easily in the glass.


Eric: Ooh!  Up front very dry and tannic--almost leathery.  Middle of taste coats the tongue with dry berry and cherry pit flavors.  Finish lingers with distinct blackberry, funk, and oak tannins.  Spritzy and has a very light mouthfeel.  Dry but not astringent.  Fruit still shows through nicely despite age and dryness.  Not overly acidic.
Josh: Less aggressive than the aroma.  Dry, light acidity, effervescent.  Modest apparent sweetness.


Eric: Wow!  I really love this use of blackberry!  Dry but mellow and the fruit is really present.  compared to last week's Beatification which was all acid and little brett, this one is mostly brett and mild acid.  Refreshing, palate cleansing--makes me want to keep drinking it.  4.75
Josh: 4.5
Sarajo: Tart and refreshing.  4.5

Overall Score: 4.67

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

2016 PhotoChallenge Week 26: Outdoor - Water (Long Exposure)

At the end of last year I discovered  This is a small group of photographers who set forth a weekly challenge to other professional and amateur photographers.  What I was drawn to with this weekly assignment is that is pushes you to try new techniques and get out and take pictures on a weekly basis.  I'm taking part again this year and will also do a quick blog post about each of them.  The rules of the challenge do require that these are new pictures, not from your back catalog.  With my busy work schedule, I may not be able to get out each week and do this, so I will likely add a few of my older photos on the blog--taking the opportunity to look at the plethora of pictures I've taken and actually do some processing and weeding.

2016 PhotoChallenge Week 26: Outdoor - Water - (Long Exposure)

This past week's challenge was to capture the motion of water using long exposure (slow shutter speed). By leaving the camera's shutter open longer it collects more of the water's motion resulting in a blur of white, while the background (not moving) is kept sharp.  I actually took a landscape photography class at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum taught by John Penoyer the day prior to the challenge being posted.  The day was brutally hot, windy and sunny so wasn't ideal for these shots.  However, the next day was less terrible and I went back out to test out my new skills.  As I was walking to my car I checked the weekly challenge on my phone and was pleasantly shocked to find this particular one waiting for me!

This technique requires a few things and special settings to make work.  First off you need a tripod to keep the camera in the same position. Any movement (doing it by hand) will often result in a blurry effect of the whole shot.  Also movement by wind can affect things--many of the shots I took looked great but the tree limbs in the foreground were blurry from having been tossed around by wind.  You will need to set your ISO low (100 ideally) to keep down noise in the photo, but also to allow for longer shutter speeds.  Smaller aperture size will also allow less light in and allow for longer shutter speeds (I used from 16-20 on these shots).  There was still enough light on the day I was shooting that most of my shots ended up being overexposed even with these settings so I added a polarizing filter:  this will cut glare from sun, as well as darken by up to 2-3 stops--giving me a bit longer on shutter speed.  

1) Moss and Falls:  This is my favorite of my shots.  This is actually a man-made waterfall, but sure looks great!  I feel that the cascade of water looks pretty good in this one.  

2) Small Fall:  This is further downstream from the previous falls and is really only a trickle.  I upset a female Cardinal bathing in the pool below this but had my camera settings too weird to get a good shot.  I did darken the rock in the foreground with Lightroom since a ray of light was making it way to bright for the shot to look good. 

3) Step-Off:  This is another tiny man-made falls near the Koi pond.  Not my favorite shot but captures the water motion. 

4) Wachlella Falls:  I took this one in Oregon recently.  Without a tripod I actually hand-held this one while crouched on my hands and knees to minimize shake.  I'd love to visit again with my new skills and equipment!

5) Abstract Koi: While set up to take pictures of the Japanese Garden waterfall (those didn't turn out) I kept being distracted by the movements of koi in the pond just below me.  I aimed my camera down and kept my long shutter speed settings.  The trails of fish and things floating on the surface of the murky water ended up looking pretty cool!