Friday, July 31, 2009

like fiats

Silvia is no longer the steamy chick she was when she arrived. She's still oh-so-hot and makes an excellent espresso, but that extra, more ephemeral quality that divides good from great has failed.

Tech support says a temperature sensor is broken. They're shipping a new one, and fortunately, opening up the machine and installing it will not void the warranty.

This is, interestingly, just like computers. They either fail immediately, or they last a decent lifetime.

But in the meantime, no lattes...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

lots o latte

My Rancilio Silvia arrived Monday and since then I've been cloistered in the kitchen like some mad scientist. I took apart my Braun grinder and adjusted the burrs down to get espresso fineness (and while I was at it, cleaned it for the first time in years.) I pushed on the bathroom scale to get a feel for 30 pounds of tamping pressure. The odor of burned grounds pervaded the kitchen. Glasses of sadly flat hot milk with a cap of stiff foam got tossed.

It took some self control not to practice more than 3 times a day, but I dislike tachycardia more than I like lattes. After a few days I found the right combination of grind and tamping pressure to pull an acceptable espresso shot. This morning, by luck, I did the right thing with the steam wand and got a beautiful microfoam, and immediately tried my hand at latte art.

Friday, July 10, 2009

[review] Kingdom Come, J. G. Ballard

JG Ballard is probably best known for Empire of the Sun, which was put to the screen by Steven Spielberg. Most of Ballard's books have to do with ambivalent relationships with ambivalent women, but his last few novels focused on suburban dystopia. Kingdom Come is one of these, and its black comedy had me laughing out loud. From reviews of Ballard's work, general opinion is that this is the best of these newer stories.

Plot. Richard Pearson's father is one of the fatalities in a gunman's rampage at a huge shopping mall in the suburb of Brooklands, a town off the M25. Richard, a recently fired advertising executive, comes to Brooklands for closure and instead finds a mystery.

The gunman, a mental patient, is released due to lack of evidence -- a few witnesses placed him elsewhere in the mall during the shooting. As Richard speaks with the police, a doctor who had treated his father, the gunman's psychiatrist and his father's solicitor, a picture begins to emerge about the role of the mall in the lives of suburbanites. There is either hatred of this shrine to consumerism, or love of it. The mall, a vast, self-contained mini-city with three hotels and its own TV channel, sponsors weekly sporting events that result in drunken rampages against the immigrant residents of Brooklands. Ballard twists this into sublimated hatred of those who are using a different economic channel than the Metro-Centre mall.

Richard, in search of his father's killer as well as trying to get a grasp on a man he barely knew, is drawn into the war between mall-haters and mall-lovers. The mall becomes an ideology unto itself, and only chaos can erupt.

Review. This is satire with a pit bull's bite. It's completely over the top, hauling in heavy-handed comparisons to the development of Nazi Germany. But at the same time one senses in the details a little too much underlying reality, a genuine potential for suburbia to behave in this way. The funniest scene, to me, was the trio of giant animated teddy bears, the anchor point of the mall. They, too, were shot by the gunman, and the mall patrons leave shoals of flowers, jars of honey and get well cards at their feet. (You just know this would happen in real life, and almost certainly has.)

Ballard's writing is a bit choppy. There might be a jump of days or a few weeks between chapters, with an unrealistic lack of continuity in Richard's knowledge. The loyalties of various minor characters are not often clear. Also, at one point, the mall's public relations manager, Tom Carradine, is referred to as 'David Carradine' a few times -- an editor's oversight that will hopefully be corrected in future editions. One senses from this that Ballard wrote it in rushes of inspiration. But overall, a good and memorable book I want to hang onto next time I need a good laugh at suburbia.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

sometimes we find happiness

in the smallest things. Well, maybe not so small, because if they give us happiness they become larger, more significant, in our minds.

There's someone I love deeply who I can't have in my life, but we spent some time together today. We completely avoided the subject of not being together -- something we've done almost constantly for the past year, something that coats all our conversations with tension and frustration. Sure, it was an artificial peace, but it was peace nonetheless, and a semblance of the relationship we'd had before.

A small thing, but to be appreciated nonetheless.

Monday, July 06, 2009

When Brits rap

If the English do rap, they should never, ever stoop to imitating American rap. Below is the very finest example of what British rap should be: about tea. (Plus a great piano riff)

The artist's name is Elemental.

And some lyrics. (I'm not sure of all of it...)

Love a cup. I would -- ah, god YES. Oh that is gorgeous. Yeah!

I need a cup of the brown stuff the shade of an acorn
Made warm by the same source that I take my cakes from
Using a tea pot, a mug or fine china
Being hooked up to IVs, and constant supplies

But a drip for my urges might verge on perverted
for an earthy brown tea I’m certain it’s worth it
With Sherpas who work herds and use a fresh fountain
I deserve brews from Peruvian mountains

I’ve slurped up a cup from an elephant’s trunk
with a couple of monks who utterly stunk
I’ve had bourbons with sultans and creams with queens
and I’ve bathed in Earl Grey -- I’m really that keen
And missionaries dismiss me for my single epiphany
The difference between him and me is a simple sip of British tea

So when times are hard and life is rough
You can stick the kettle on and find me a cup

Now when I say Earl Grey, you say: yes please
Earl Grey: yes please
Earl Grey: yes please

When I say Assam, you say: Lovely
Assam: Lovely
Assam: Lovely
When I say ooh, you say ah
Ooh -- ah
Ooh -- ah
Ooh -- ahh

I’ve been around the world in 80 brews
to see the place you take me to
to make the brew that tastes like
the cream cakes made by angels do

I’m not the same as you, get shaky with aim
To swig amazing fluids, but don’t make it the same
Now using fine leaves picked by pretty maidens
in a bag knitted by a seamstress who lives in Copenhagen
Brewed up in a pot made of semi-precious metal
And then let the blessed contents settle
in my very special kettle

Now when I say Oo, you say: long.
Oo: long
Oo: long
When I say herbal you say: no thanks
Herbal: no thanks
Herbal: no thanks

Mmm... no... no, I want... I want milk in it.
Strong though -- I want to see that spoon stand up!

If you’re tired of tea, then you’re tired of life
Ah I’m madder than a hatter, it defies my might
Liken me to Earl Grey, Assam, or Ginger
Lapsang, Soushong, raise my pinky finger.
Keep your sodding coffee in a proper copper coffee pot
and spot me lobbing teapots at your poncey rotten coffee shop
coffee clocks, nodding off
lost a plot, sodding off
Need some caffeine, tannin, and a Battenburg to top it off

Cut them off a different block
A different lot can take their pay
On 80 cups a day, I haven’t slept for 80 years!
You can say I’m mad with tea or, or just say I’m mad.
Oh, you can’t stay any longer? Oh... actually, I’m, I’m quite glad --
All the more Battenburg for me
I can barely pour, my hands have got a bit shaky from caffeine.
Oh, I love it though.
I’d sell my own grandma for a cup.
Well, I’d sell *your* grandma for a cup.