Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Equine Encounter

Sadly, because it had rained so much during the weekend, the horseback ride Wendy and I had scheduled for Sunday morning was cancelled, but it did finally stopped raining on Sunday so we were able to do some other activities. The first one was roping, 'cause, you know, you never know when you might need to lasso a cow. I was not a natural at this, and most of my throws came nowhere near my target, but I did manage to finally get the rope around the fake cow before my hand succumbed to the impending rope burn.

After roping, we went for a little walk around the grounds in search of the dead tarantula that was rumored to be near the rock labyrinth, because those are the sorts of things one does in Texas.
more pencil maze than "labyrinth"

The main event for Sunday before leaving was the Equine Encounter. Since we didn't get to do the horseback ride, Wendy and I decided to join the group doing this activity, which didn't involve actually getting on a horse, but instead, communing with a horse. It was an interesting and lovely experience. We started by sitting in a circle with the horse wranglers, Keith and Si, and they gave us an introduction to horse psychology, behavior, and instinct. They told us that horses are incredibly sensitive creatures which read and react to human body language, and that horses will assess the emotional state of
the humans around them and react accordingly - they will mirror our feelings. If we are skittish and afraid, they will act skittish and afraid, if we are confident and strong, they will not defy us. Keith and Si spoke for a good long while giving us this interesting overview, and then the 7 of us in the group talked a little bit about ourselves, who we were, how we were, and what we were feeling about getting into the arena with a horse. It was a really lovely and surprising "group encounter session" before actually getting anywhere near the animals. In the arena, we were given a long whip and taught to control the horse's gait and direction using the tiniest movements, attitude, and strides behind the horse (the whip was never used on or near the animal). I was the second one in the arena and I was supposed to stay in the center while my horse, Ramp, circled the perimeter. I was suppose to stride around the ring, cutting him off and making him change direction, and I was to do this by just taking a few steps, holding out the whip, and holding a posture that told him I meant business. I'll be honest, it wasn't easy. I wasn't always sure at which angle to head toward him and I was a little confused, and I definitely felt that Ramp knew this and he was confused too. But by the end of it, I was getting him to switch when I wanted him to switch, I felt more in control and I felt strongly that I was controlling him. The last step is to drop the whip, turn your back to the horse, and if he trusts you, he'll come right over and stand behind you; he came right over and stood behind me.


It was a terrific way to end a stay in Texas. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Austin City Limits

On Saturday night, after the tequila tasting, we headed in to Austin. Dinner was scheduled in town for 8:30 but a bunch of us went in early to look around. Once our shuttle dropped us off near 6th Street, people went in different directions; Wendy, Val (one of Wendy's co-workers), Val's sister Lauren (Val's +1 for the trip), and I ended up at Kung Fu Saloon where we had drinks and played Jenga, skeeball, and Connect Four, because that's what you do at Kung Fu Saloon.
there appeared to be a trend of writing on the Jenga pieces,
so I added my 2 cents. 

Dinner on Saturday night was at Fixe which serves "elevated Southern cuisine." As much as I love fried chicken and such, Southern food is not what I would have chosen for dinner that night (or any night) but 1) when in Texas... b) it was spectacular food, and iii) I think I consumed more food that night than during any entire week this month.

We started with bone marrow toast which I wasn't going to try because I've had bone marrow before and it's just too... too... anatomical for me. But what came out was so pretty that I had to try a bite. It was very complex, and included bits of caviar, onion marmalade, and several other flavors, but I do think I can safely skip any dish with bone marrow in the future.
bone marrow toast
Next came the crispy beef tendon, which I also planned to skip because... really? beef tendon? If I'm squeamish about bone marrow, how am I going to eat beef tendon? But they came out looking too delicious to resist, which they were; I ate several but I didn't feel good about it.
this is what happens to a cow tendon when it's deep fried. Who knew?
And then came the most delicious biscuits I've ever had, followed by creamy grits with kale and soft-boiled egg, deviled eggs with trout roe and pickled cabbage, and some incredible twice-fried boneless chicken thighs that were spicy and spectacular. And all of that was before we even got to our entrees. I must note here though, to indicate just how good those biscuits were, when Emily, one of Wendy's co-workers was asked by the server what she wanted for her entree, she replied, "another order of biscuits, please."

grits, a perfect soft-boiled egg, kale, and romesco sauce
It was a totally reasonable request. I ordered the NY strip steak which was served with creamed collards in a sort of au gratin fashion, but by the time I got it, I was so full that I only had a few bites (it was delicious) and took the rest to go. You might think that meant I had no room for dessert, but you'd be wrong. I ordered the chocolate truffle cake which was served on a bed of salted pretzel and toffee crumbs, and even though I was terribly stuffed, it was worth force-feeding myself half of that, since Wendy, thank god, ate the other half.

Wendy and I and most of the gang managed to roll ourselves back into the shuttle after dinner, while others went out to hit the scene on 6th Street. We got back to the resort around midnight with barely enough energy to heave ourselves into bed.

I wish I could say I skipped breakfast on Sunday morning... I can't, but I did go to the gym in the morning before eating again.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Deep in the Heart of Texas

When Wendy offered me a free trip to a resort in Texas completely out of the blue, it didn't require a lot of thought before I accepted! We arrived last night with the rest of her office admin staff and their guests for their annual work retreat. Working for the big man in town (Bill Gates) has its perks and this is one of them. Having friends in high places has its perks and this is one of them! Unfortunately, there's a hurricane off the west coast of Mexico and that storm is causing rain and rain and a bit more rain in these parts, so the bad weather continues to follow us, but as the saying goes, the worst weather at a resort in Texas still beats staying home on the couch. I may have just made that saying up, but it's not untrue.

We got in last night and had time to relax a bit before meeting the whole gang for dinner. There are 20 of us in the group, and while "corporate retreat" implies that work or at least some meetings might be required of the 10 staff members, that's not the case - this is a mini-vacation for everyone.

Dinner was a fun and lively meal which started with a delicious sparkling wine and ended with premium tequila. In between, I had a lovely fresh salad with roasted beets (there is a garden on the premises which provides much of the produce for the restaurant), beef short ribs, and chocolate-pecan pie.
beef short ribs, roasted corn, polenta, and okra...
...followed by chocolate pecan pie
an empty pool in the pouring rain - sad!
Saturday morning Wendy and I got up a little on the late side (we finished dinner around 11pm) and I went to the gym then took a walk around the grounds (umbrella in hand) before meeting Wendy for lunch, which we managed to squeeze in just before our massage appointments at the spa. After the spa, we had a bit of time relaxing in our room before heading to a tequila tasting event.

There have been incidences in my life when I got up close and personal with tequila, but those days are long gone and I'm comfortable with that. This event seemed interesting though so I sat in and took a few sips of some very complex tequilas, most costing several hundred dollars a bottle. Tasting the best of anything is always fun and interesting, but truth be told, a chocolate tasting would have been more up my alley.
Jose Cuervo on the far left - purely for contrast

This was my favorite, clear, smooth, distilled by a woman in Mexico, $200+ a bottle.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Another October, Another New Yorker Festival

And it rained and it rained and it rained. I'm seriously considering spending the first part of October 2016 on a Mexican beach. This was my tenth consecutive year in New York for the festival and while the October weather in those years has ranged from frigid to perfect to downright tropical, this was the wettest trip to New York I've ever had. Wendy and I had a good time though, and all of our events were interesting and entertaining -- Jim Gaffigan interviewed by Andy Borowitz; Malcolm Gladwell talking about the "riot threshold" as it pertains to school shooters; Jason Segel interviewed by Michael Schulman; an interview and performance by Reggie Watts; and Melissa Macfarquhar talking about people who feel a compulsion to good for others, often at great personal sacrifice. We also went to the Gagosian Gallery on Madison Avenue to see some Richard Serra drawings, did some shopping, met up with my friend Molly at what sadly turned out to be Manhattan's loudest bar, ate delicious food, and walked and walked and walked around Manhattan in the rain, until Sunday, when the sun finally came out - just in time for us to head home. Great trip though: Wendy is always good company, I found a really cool silk shirt at a Trina Turk sample sale for $29, got a lot of exercise by walking for miles, our tiny Chelsea apartment was cute and comfortable, Jason talked about Muppets, Jim talked about Hot Pockets, Malcolm's talk was frightening and thought-provoking, and Reggie Watts' performance was fantastic.
Room was tiny... 
...but the building had this awesome hallway and ceiling.

Things said during the Jim Gaffigan interview: 
  • On his comedy being mostly about family life, and not swearing in his act - "If you're offended by what I say, you have mental problems." 
  • "I'm going to be the weird uncle."
  • "I think there's a lot of anger behind comedy."
  • "What else about bacon?"
  • "I like being a dad, it's the most important thing I'll fail at."
Malcolm Gladwell talking about riot thresholds and school shootings.
In the riot threshold theory, shooters no longer have to be "deeply disturbed," they simply have to have a low enough threshold to want to participate. He said that Eric Harris who was the mastermind of the Columbine school shooting "wanted to start a revolution; the other kids [who participated] just wanted to join it."

Things said by Jason Segel: 
  • "A bunch of weirdos make a family." - quoting the Muppets
  • "You don't need permission to write."
  • "I isolated myself from the voices in my head that told me I was not capable of doing this." - on playing David Foster Wallace
  • "You can't do much more than be nice to the people around you and do the best that you can."
  • "I try and be really honest between 'action' and 'cut.'"
  • On feeling old: "The other day, I went to dinner and they told me they weren't serving dinner yet; it was 4:45pm."

1 World Trade Center; new home of Conde Nast; location of Reggie Watts event.
Cool building near 1 WTC.

Reggie Watts is an indescribable talent. I knew of him when he lived in Seattle and was in a band that I loved called Maktub. He moved to New York to do comedy, was successful at that, and ended up being picked to be late night talk show host James Cordon's band leader - which might be a misnomer because I think he and his keyboard and his looping machine might be the entire band (need to check out that show one of these days).

Here are some things either said or rapped by Reggie Watts during the event:
  • "I got some pastries, gonna cut 'em in half, cuz nobody needs a whole croissant."
  • "I mostly go home and have an edible marijuana treat."
  • "You have no kidney."
  • "West Coast is kind of a pussy" - on moving from New York to L.A. 
But perhaps the best line of the whole weekend came from the bartender at O'Hara's, a very down-home, local-feel, non-glossy pub a block from the WTC, where Wendy and I stopped for a drink before going to the Reggie Watts event. This place was the complete antitheses of every other place we'd been, there were no $16 cocktails (I had a $6.50 glass of wine, Wendy had a Guinness which I think was 5-bucks); guys were dressed in jeans and t-shirts instead of suits, and the decibel level was such that we could have a conversation without screaming above the din, because there was no din - just a mix of normal voices and classic rock. It was here that we heard the best thing of the weekend. Wendy and I were both sporting sleek hairstyles that night, and we both had scarves tied jauntily around our necks; when we approached the bar, the bartender took one look at us and asked, "What airline do you ladies work for?" Given the bar's downtown location, putting it between La Guardia and JFK, she was absolutely sure that we were flight attendants.