Fried chicken, green beans, mac & cheese and rice & chitlins at Martha Lou's Kitchen, Charleston, SC.
Let's start with what Martha Lou's Kitchen is not.
Martha Lou's is not a place you drive by and say, "I've gotta try that someday." It's an airbrushed pink trailer on a rocky lot in a neighborhood you'd drive through with both eyes open. It's not a place you bring a big party. Four of you can cram into a booth if there's one available, but a dozen of you would likely create a standing-room-only environment. It's not a place you go if you're in a hurry. They pre-cook the sides and keep them warm, but if you walk in and sit down, you get waited on in the order in which you arrived, and they cook the food one table at a time. And it's not a place you talk back. The customer is only right when the customer's right, and Martha Lou Gadsden and her daughter Debra are pros – if they think you ordered sweet tea, you ordered sweet tea, not unsweet. And if they're not sure, they'll ask, because they're not interested in wasting the energy.
Now, here are some that Martha Lou's Kitchen is.
Martha Lou's is a place you either read about or were brought. And where you're welcomed as if you're home, and you're remembered, and appreciated and you leave happy, and certainly not hungry.
My parents were in the former group (they read about Martha Lou's). They went and had the best fried chicken they've ever eaten. My mother was starting a new job in a new town and asked if she could take a photo of a poster that had a prayer for today – something about making the most of today, because it's your choice and you can make it or waste it – and Debra just took it off the wall and gave it to her. And four months later, when they walked in for the second time, Debra made sure they got they same booth they sat at the previous time.
And so it was when we walked in a little after 11:00 on a Thursday morning, Debra hugged everybody and shoved us into a booth and took our drink orders and danced her way back to the kitchen, where she told someone who had walked in that she'd be happy to help him after she cooked for the two parties that had walked in ahead of him.
Martha Lou came in at some point near noon, and the place was already full, and she brought out our food on foam trays and then we all swapped trays because we had the right meat but the wrong sides. And we stopped talking because we were too busy eating, and then we stopped eating because our trays were empty, and then we sat in silence absorbing the experience.
Now you've read about Martha Lou's, so go if you're in town.
We've been in Charleston, S.C. for a week and change; I'll put in a couple of posts about some of the things we did, and we'll start with Holy City Brewing. Generally speaking, the beers were a little hoppy for my taste (more in-depth as the post goes on), but it was a pretty cool experience.
South Carolina's colonial constitution was written by John Locke; while some of the colonies were designed for the religious freedom of the founding colonists, South Carolina was designed for religious freedom, period. Charleston, with easy access via water and road, was a place a lot of people from a lot of different faiths came, and it still has one of the highest houses of worship-to-population ratios in the country. For those reasons, the city is frequently referred to as The Holy City.
Hence the name of the brewery.
Holy City is located in a former mechanic's garage – it has a two-bay garage for storage and a couple of tanks, and a four-bay garage for some tanks and a tasting area. There's also a shipping container they use for storage and an outbuilding with a restroom. It's not open to the public for very many hours, but definitely worth a stop when it is.
When we went by, there was a solo guitarist playing acoustic instrumental Phish covers and a family playing cornhole. Each guest is allowed one sampler of four 4-oz. beers; you can sit at the small bar or at 50-gallon wood barrels that serve as tables, or wander around the garage (that photo at the top there? yeah, there were, perhaps, a dozen people when we were there on a Wednesday afternoon).
The atmosphere was fantastic; I don't think I'd want to be there with a big crowd or when it's really hot out, but on a chilly evening with lots of space, it was great.
Now, the beers. I will start by saying you can taste every ingredient in each beer we tried – they were all very well-crafted and complex.
We started with the Pluff Mud Porter. Pluff mud is lowcountry mud with the texture of quicksand and the color of coffee with a little milk in it. Pluff Mud Porter was a little darker than that, and, thankfully, more liquid than actual pluff mud. It's a bit hoppier than I like my porters (I sort of like coffee porters, but my favorites are Scotch porters, like Middle Ages' Duke of Winship).
We then moved on to the Slanted Porch Pale Ale. If you've ever had beer with me, you know there are a couple of weeks in August when I enjoy some pale ale, but the rest of the year I'd rather not even smell it. (Basically, when it's really hot and humid, I'll enjoy one, but other than that an amber or lager is about as light as I like.) Slanted Porch, though, is among the most complex beers I have ever had; if it were a notch less sweet I'd actually have taken some home as a gift. On the plus side, they're going to continually modify the recipe, so the Slanted Porch we tried – with notes of hops, citrus and honey, isn't the same Slanted Porch you'll get if you try it in six months.
I don't like a lot of flavored beers, but Pecan Dream would make the short list (Ithaca does a nice Apricot Wheat). It starts with a really good brown ale as a base, and adds pecan. It starts sweet and ends nutty, which for me is the right way to go. I didn't like my first couple of sips because it was too sweet, and then the nut and the brown settled in together and it came out really good. Highly recommended, especially for spring and fall weather.
I don't know what you're feelings on chocolate beers are, but I've had a wide variety of experiences with them. Notorious P.I.G.: Mo' Chocolate Mo' Problems is another really good take. They do it with their porter (unfortunately – I already mentioned it was too hoppy for me), but the aftertaste is pure dark chocolate – the somewhat bitter sort of chocolate you bake with, not the syrupy sweet stuff you put on your ice cream. Big win for me.
They sell growlers and over-sized bottles, along with merchandise like t-shirts and truckers hats.
I'd say the beer is about a three out of five, but if you're into beer and into culture and want to see something cool while you're in the area, definitely stop by Holy City.
It's finally happened for me. Or maybe it happened a long time ago and I'm just realizing it now.
Twitter has become a giant time suck for me. I check it without purpose, just to see if anybody's said anything interesting. I write stuff here and there, and, in general, I've been following about a twentieth of the people who are following me.
I just followed something on the order of 100 new-to-me people on Twitter. A handful of them are people I know but for whatever reason hadn't been following. Some of them are complete strangers.
Some of them are just people whose bios sounded interesting. Some of them are people who do things I'm interested in.
From now until the end of March, I'm going to use Twitter only to listen and learn. I'll respond to replies and I'll favorite Tweets here and there that I'd like to refer back to, but I'm going to stop leaving the window open and reading the same Tweets over and over to see if anybody has said anything in the past twelve seconds.
So, I'm going to listen and learn and expand my Twitter network and perhaps, from that, my real-life network. I'm going to write long-form a lot more (including here; grab the RSS feed if you want to be informed when I post), and I'm going to spend the time that I'm just staring at Twitter now to do more important things.
If you have some Twitter folk I should be aware of while I'm re-ordering my Twitter life, please @ me or leave a comment here.
Here was a good afternoon project: peanut butter cups. They were time-consuming, but fairly easy to make.
Food you'll need:
• 2 boxes Baker's chocolate (I used 54% cacao, which has 6g sugar per serving; could probably have used darker for healthier)
• Fat (I used 2 sticks butter; if you want healthier, go coconut oil; you'll probably need about 8oz)
• Peanut butter (I used a kind that has peanuts and a little sea salt; use a regular brand if you don't mind the extra sugar)
• Some water
Equipment you'll need:
• Double-boiler (or a metal bowl fitted over a saucepan, pictured, like I used)
• Rubber spatula
• Muffin pan
Get your double-boiler going (or, if using the fake one, fill a saucepan about a quarter full with water and start getting it warm over medium heat). In the top part of the double-boiler (or the metal bowl), put half your chocolate and half your fat.
Once the water is starting to get hot (it doesn't need to get to a boil – it'll get there eventually), start melting the chocolate and fat, stirring with the rubber spatula. When it's liquid, pour evenly into muffin pan.
Put the pan in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, until the chocolate hardens. Spoon some peanut butter on (I'm a peanut butter junkie; I used a full 2-tbsp serving on each). You could, in theory, just use a dollop. I could not.
Repeat the first bit with the other half of your chocolate and fat, pouring the liquid on top.
Put back in the refrigerator for a couple of hours until it all hardens.
I mutilated this one taking it out, but this is what I got for the final product.
Here are thoughts on what I've read during the month of January.
Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species. Darwin's seminal work is primarily based on a combination of observation and speculation. Say what you want about creation vs. evolution and the scientific method, but Darwin went in, studied, and wrote about what he saw. I think there are a fair number of things we can take away and apply to ourselves today. Go read that post; it's too long to include in a brief summary like this.
Chuck Palahniuk, Damned. Long-time friends and readers will know I'm a big fan of Chuck Palahniuk's books. I've read most of them; I'll probably wind up skipping his portrait of Portland, Oregon, and the "remix" version of his novel Invisible Monsters, which essentially is an alternate ordering of the chapters (I have, however, been waiting for the film version forver – the prose comes together more neatly than did Fight Club, and while the message isn't quite as universal, it's at least as bold).
Our heroin in Damned is a recently-deceased 13-year-old girl who wakes up in hell, where she gets a telemarketing job and recruits new people to hell because, other than the bad smells and general grossness, it's not all that bad. The people are fun and you can do pretty much anything you want. Her parents are a business mogul and a movie star who do lots of fake do-gooder stuff (like show up to awards shows in SmartCars and adopt orphans from third-world countries right before film releases and then tuck them away forever at boarding schools). We get the story of her life, and we get to watch how she turns hell into someplace beautiful.
At its heart, this novel is a humanitarian and religious farce. Palahniuk's continuing in the right direction after bouncing back with Tell-All; I thought Pygmy tried too hard and had a lackluster ending, and I thought Snuff was a complete throwaway. Palahniuk's next novel is reported to be Doomed, a sequel to Damned.
Nick Hornby, High Fidelity. True story: In 1995, my college roommate, Joe, and I could only play one song together on guitar: Peter Frampton's "Baby I Love Your Way." Our outlet during finals week was to play it over and over; so much so that through the open window, we heard our neighbors scream, "No more 'Baby I Love Your Way'!" That's important to the story, because it's that song that reels our protagonist, Rob, a middle-aged record shop owner with a tough relationship history, back into love of music and love of love.
Also, it gave me the opportunity to recount a nearly 20-year-old story of younger-Josh silliness.
The thing I remember most from the film version of "High Fidelity" is Jack Black dancing in the aisles to "Walkin' on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves. That scene happens in the book – Monday morning, that song, everything. And for as fun as I thought the movie was, the novel is so much better. We go through Rob's self-loathing and self-discovery, we go through his break-ups and many more pints of beer than the film lets on.
Plato, Republic. Yeah, I know, between the Darwin and the Plato I didn't exactly do a month of light reading to open up 2013. I did get a major takeaway from Republic, but it's not what you think. Sure, there's the Allegory of the Cave, and Plato really lays out the design of how we think. But it's the way we get there that interests me. It's by way of conversation – Socrates speaking with Glaucon. We don't need to bury ourselves to have an epiphany. Sometimes, it's working it out in a group, or with someone else, that you really get the most important work done.
It reminds me that other than Wednesdays, when I play racquetball, work with a personal trainer and play in a tennis league, the only people I talk to are JB and the checkout people at the grocery store. I need to spend more time with people, expand my viewpoint.
Let's begin by noting that this is not a post about evolution vs. creation. It is by no means an assumption that either argument is right or wrong, and, truth be told, I don't find them to be mutually exclusive. I've recently read Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, and I've found a few things I think are worth taking away and applying to our modern world.
1. Generalization vs. Specialization. This is something that Buckminster Fuller writes about in Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. Fuller's take is that generalists are important leaders, and they'd best know where to find specialists. That is, if you know a lot about X, you're a great Xer. But I don't want you running the business I own, because we also need people who are great at U, V, W, Y and Z, and you don't know anything about those. What I want is someone who knows enough about U, V, W, X, Y and Z to recognize someone who is great at each – a generalist.
Darwin refers more to the survival of species. If you're a specialist as a species, that's fine, but you'd better really know what you're doing. If you're all about pollinating one plant and eating one species that would otherwise wipe out that plant, you'd better understand population control. If you eat all of your prey, you're simply going to starve to death. If you're a generalist, you have many more options, but you're a lot more spread out as a species – that's bad for safety. So pick your poison.
2. Use begets strength. We sometimes forget this, from a fitness perspective. We spend a lot of time sitting in our culture and tend to think, "Eh, I don't want to lift anything heavier than I need to, it'll just make me tired and lead to injury." But you're more likely to injure a muscle or joint you don't use regularly. Darwin was able to use this knowledge to determine why some creatures had strong hind legs or longer beaks.
3. Domestication vs. the wild. Your dog (yes, the one cuddling with you on your love seat) was descended from a wolf. We have DNA evidence of that. If you need further proof of it, introduce your dog to some strange dogs of different breeds – they will know how to play together and how to hunt together. But your dog, having a life of general safety, will take chances a wolf would never take, like playing in traffic. Domesticating animals takes many – but not all – of their instincts away. They lose some things in an effort to make them better pets. See also, No. 2.
4. Breeding. This is natural to follow from No. 3. In creating dog breeds, we keep certain traits in and leave others out. We can give them floppier ears, or make them run faster, or give them flatter noses, or make them mean (see this documentary; it's fascinating). Darwin recognized this early on. If you want your pigeons bigger, breed the two biggest pigeons you can find, then mate those pigeons with other big pigeons.
Now take a look at humans, and imagine what, with the culture we maintain, we're breeding into and out of ourselves. We're likely breeding in better resistance to toxins (great for those who enjoy eating Twinkies and drinking Gatorade, at least until they take out the BVO, not so great for the future effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation treatments). We're breeding in larger gluteal muscles (we sit a lot, and we want some padding back there). We're breeding in greater wrist strength (future generations will likely suffer less carpal tunnel). We're breeding out the ability to function without a screen nearby. [OK, not really, but damn, people, get off Twitter and talk to one another occasionally, he wrote as he constructed in his head the Tweets that would refer to this blog post.]
5. Species as an arbitrary designation. We, as humans, must categorize things. If we see a fir tree, it's a tree, but if we see a computer speaker, it's not a tree. Birch? Tree. Scotch tape? Not a tree. We do categories (trees, phones, paper), and then we have to break the categories down (pine, smartphone, construction paper). We do this for two primary reasons: (a) We need to be able to wrap our heads around our world, and categorizing is a great way to do that; and (b) we need a way to communicate &ndashl if I call something a "notebook" and you call it a "coffee cup," we're never going to be able to agree to which object the other is referring. But, Darwin points out, what we call things is fairly arbitrary.
6. Observation. We tend to be very wary these days of anything we can't measure. And it's hurting the progress of our knowledge. Darwin noticed things, because he looked at them. Story: I broke my nose playing baseball as a kid. The ER doctor came in and said, "Your X-rays are negative," and sent me home. Two days later, we went to another doctor, who walked in looking at another set of X-rays. "Your X-rays are negative," he said, and then looked up. "But I can tell by looking at you it's broken." Sure, your Klout score may be an 88, but that doesn't mean you're not an asshole. I have to look at what you're doing on social media to make that determination for myself.
Lesson: Stop relying on measurements; they don't tell you the whole story.
7. Community. For Darwin, this was an ecosystem, a group of animals and plants that needed each other to survive. For us, it's a reminder that we do need communities, interconnected systems that help us to live, and, more importantly, to thrive.
8. Nature and nurture. I mentioned in the introductory paragraph that I don't think evolution and creation are mutually exclusive; it's not a case of nature versus nurture. Both can occur, and my interpretation of his work is that Darwin believed that some aspects of species were a product of genetics, while others came from their surroundings. A dog will, innately, try to get into the trash (it smells food), but you can train it not to. The former is nature, the latter is nurture.
9. Isolation can be beneficial. If a species is getting wiped out in the wild, sequestering a few of its number in zoos or on wildlife reserves greatly increases its chance at survival. We deal with a lot of overwhelm – too much noise, too many screens, too much stuff – sometimes isolating ourselves is best for our individual survival.
10. Adopt new habits. Remember our specialists from No. 1? Sometimes they need to adopt new habits if they're going to survive. So, too, must we adopt new habits to thrive as the world changes around us. How many of us who learned BASIC in the 1980s, writing 150 lines of code to get a ball to move across a screen, thought we'd be able to give a telephone a couple of voice commands and send a video of our kids around the world in a few seconds? The world has a tendency to make vast changes around us, and if we want to grow with the world, we need to change our habits.
11. It's OK to be wrong. Darwin admitted that not only did he not know if a lot of the stuff he wrote about in Origin of Species was correct, he didn't even know if some of it was testable. We don't do nearly enough speculating these days, mostly because we're afraid to be wrong. Being wrong just takes a possibility of the table, but at least you're looking for something new.
What did I miss while reading Darwin? Anything you want to share?
today marks a year since we adopted rufus. we've been very quiet on the writing-about-the-dog front recently, mostly for privacy reasons.
but there are some things we wanted to share.
like he's doing well. he's far less anxious, though he still seems to have a little bit of separation anxiety. we're weening him off the crate, slowly (still obviously wanting it to be an attractive option, but not a requirement).
and i'm really grateful for a late-night companion; while jb sleeps, i work; rufus hangs out with me and doesn't complain (too much) when there's some play time in the middle of the night. we send jb off to work then go to sleep for a few hours and get the next day going.
Ed. note, disclosures &c — I work for Advance Digital, whose network includes several newspaper-partnered websites I mention here. All opinions are mine and not endorsed by my employer [full list of associated properties]. Any information about the company and its affiliates given here has already been public knowledge.
Let's start this off by talking about tablets. You know, iPads and Kindle Fires and such. If the third type of lie (statistics) is to be believed, half of American adults own a tablet. And 37% of tablet owners read news daily, on their tablets.
Overall, that puts at about 20% the percentage of Americans who read news daily on their tablets.
The only thing about that number that should be surprising is that it's so low. Of course, take into account your casual news reader (that is, someone who gets the bulk of their news from TV or radio sources), and I'm sure the number of people getting news on their tablets is much higher.
Again, this came as a surprise to no one. Here's a group of Knight Ridder folks talking about a tablet newspaper with interactive graphics and embeddable video and audio. In 1994.
So is the Pennsylvania Media Group, which has done a fantastic job covering things that matter to the local audience like high crime rates in Harrisburg and the Farm Show (Syracuse folks can equate that to the State Fair). And all that work despite the fact that the Patriot-News went down to three print days a week the first of the year.
Let me say it again. Technology is not killing news. It's killing newsprint. Here, in case you didn't get that:
Technology is not killing news, it's killing newsprint.
Fifty years ago, New York City's seven daily newspapers – that's right, seven – were in the midst of a 114-day strike. Vanity Fair has a great piece marking the anniversary. The central issue was technology, and the refusal to move to new technologies on the part of some at the papers killed four of those papers.
Back to that New York Times piece for a moment. That's the sort of artistic long-form journalism you couldn't do in a newspaper. And during that strike, newspaper people went off and became artists. Tom Wolfe. Jimmy Breslin. Nora Ephron. Gay Talese. Pate Hamill. And they, in turn, helped launch journalism as an art form, and 50 years later, someone like Fontezia Walker can take a creative writing class and make the rational leap to journalism as a career from there.
And so long as the stats on Internet usage are going to continue to grow, let's use the communications channels we have.
A lot has been said about what communications technologies like online chat, SMS and Twitter are doing to the English language. Shortcuts like "u" and "r" and "lol" and "brb" have spread into "icymi" and the ever-dreaded "yolo."
Is this bad for the English language? Some will say that proper English is still taught and tested and there are new books coming out all the time written in proper(ish) English. But ask college instructors what they're getting from their students – some of them are getting the caliber of work you'd expect from a middle school student.
See what I did there, with the "they're" and the "their"? I did that correctly. Did you have to go back to check?
Sure, there's always been a bit of a divide between formal and informal writing. In a formal setting, I'd never start a statement with "but," and I'd throw out colloquialisms like "see what I did there."
Online comic The Oatmeal regularly takes on grammar, giving us instructions on semicolons, using i.e. vs. e.g., and reminding us that "definately" is not a word, but "definitely" is.
This got me thinking, though. We've been speaking the current incarnation of the English language for just about 500 years now (the Great Vowel Shift wrapped up around 1550, but started closer to 1450). Noah Webster began standardizing spelling and punctuation in his first dictionary, published in 1828. So, we've been speaking this language for 500 years and it hasn't even been standardized for 200. Not only that, but we're adding more and more words every year, so English is still a growing language.
Two hundred years ago, it was OK to write "center" or "centre," to capitalize Very Important Words (like Tweet, apparently) you wanted to emphasize, to write run-on sentences without commas or hyphens, and in general to write paragraphs so long you'd lose your place on the page if the typeset didn't have enough white space.
With character limits in our communications and the advent of video as a mass-communication tool, correct written English is, for better or worse, something left for formal settings like print media and cover letters, though more and more businesses are content with a run of the mill cover letter (Dear sir or madam, I am applying for an administrative position with ABC Company. Please see the enclosed video introduction and resume. I hope we can Skype soon. Yours, &c.) and a personality test.
Fewer and fewer jobs require strong written language skills; if you're good in person or over the phone, people can accept SMS-speak in their written communication, because more and more of their written communication is via SMS.
So why not revert to covering only the basics in school, and leave formal written English as a secondary school elective or even a college course?
I don't know that I'm willing to go that far, but I definitely see an argument for de-standardizing spelling and grammar while we wait to see what the future of communications technology is. Maybe formal English will become more useful again, but maybe it won't.
If you're reading this, the world didn't end Dec. 21 (I'm writing this ahead of time, just in case).
I said last year that I was going to do two things: be more patient and get more face-to-face time with people. The more patient thing definitely happened. The face-to-face time thing, not so much, but there's good reason for that.
One thing I didn't know when I was writing last year's post was that I'd wind up managing five departments at the gym. I honestly thought when I signed on there in September of 2010 it would be a short-term job, but when it turned into a career proposition, I wasn't going to bounce around other low-paying retail positions until I found something I'm more passionate about. I took the opportunity and grew with it.
I had my frustrations, sure. If I hadn't needed a job, I probably wouldn't have gone there, and if they hadn't needed a manager, they probably wouldn't have picked me. I think it worked out really well for both of us, though.
But I'm back to news, now. It's where I want to be. And I spend a lot of time at home, and I drink a lot of coffee, and I laugh a lot.
The other big change this year was the addition of a black Lab called Rufus, a rescue dog we learned a lot from. Talk about an exercise in patience. This guy has torn up carpet, gone through a door, and in general came from the shelter with such an excitable personality and a really really bad case of separation anxiety.
He's been hanging out with me late nights, and he reminds both of us to play a lot.
I've already written about what's up for me in the coming year. Of the 12 things I gave myself to do in the year, I've implemented numbers 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 11 and 12, all in the first 6 weeks.
I'm spending New Year's Eve into New Year's day working. While I've tended toward the quiet for the Flipping Of The Calendar the past few years (and, honestly, didn't even make it to midnight a couple of times) I'm looking forward to it. It'll be a quiet night news-wise; most of our work, I'm sure, will be in college football and pictures of drunk people with noisemakers looking happy. I'll be cozy and warm, with coffee, JB and the pup. I can't imagine anything else I'd need.