Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The art of the café pickup

If you're like most people, you spend a lot of time in coffee houses. So why not make the most of it by trying these ways of getting a conversation started with that cute person ordering a cappuccino in front of you?

1. Ask the right question. Is “Coffee, tea or me?” the right question? No! “It's shocking how much I overhear people saying this—and with a straight face,” says Brandy Marshall, a coffee jock in Phoenix. “So far, it hasn't worked.” The truth is, clichés never work, so don't use them. If you can't think of something original to say, just ask a normal question like, “What are you having?” or “Which do you like better?” These are much less cheesy and provide easy introductions into cozy conversations.

2. Find common ground(s). “People meet all the time because they either like the same weird combination drink or one is fascinated by the other's order,” says Tony Snipes, a barista in Raleigh, NC. “You won't get anywhere saying, 'Wow, you like hot chocolate, too?', he notes. “But if you have slightly oddball tastes, you could have an in. Or, frankly, if you just like plain old black coffee, that's odd enough these days to make the grade, too.”

3. Ask for some expert advice. “I'm always amazed at the vast array of options available at my local coffee and tea joint,” says Seattle-based Virginia Burroughs. “I couldn't decide what to get the last time I was there, so I asked the cute guy behind me in line what he recommended. I didn't care for his suggestion, so he offered to buy me another drink. We have our first date this weekend.”

4. Try sharing. Coffee houses get crowded, but use that to your advantage. Ask if you can share a table. It worked for Jay Baldwin of Spokane, WA, who shared with two women. “As we began drinking our coffee, I commented on the Body Shop shopping bags that they both had and asked, 'whatcha buy?'. They both started pulling out scented candles and hand lotions for me to smell and try out. The married girlfriend went home, and the other one and I had a great time shopping (a little) and going to a movie afterward.”

5. Do the java jive. What's a coffee house without a soundtrack? “I'm always jamming to the music, and a few people have asked me who the band is or something,” says Austin-based Trina Nash. “It's a non-threatening way to start talking, and if I like the person, there's plenty else to talk about.”

6. Make your introductions. “Behind the counter, we're always getting to know our regulars,” says Constance Ruiz of Denver. “But they don't often get to know each other.” If there's someone you see at your local café on a regular basis, introduce yourself. “I see you here a lot. I'm...” is an easy, straightforward way to start chatting. And even if you don't date, this new friend could introduce you to your true match.

7. Make 'em laugh. “I'm not the most suave guy on the block, so I have to try harder,” admits Robert Vass of Boston. “I often say something funny like, 'Can I buy you that tea or would your rather just have the cash?' My success rate isn't 100 percent, but it's actually better than I thought. Chicks dig humor.”

8. Read it and reap. “I love reading, so if I see someone with a book I've read, or one I'd like to, I'll use that as an excuse to make contact,” says Cheryl Donley of Oxford, MS. Since you're interrupting them, begin by saying something like, “I'm sorry to interrupt, but I'm dying to read that book—how is it?” or “Pardon me, but I think you'll love that book—I did.”

9. Do your market research. New in town or simply looking for a new place to try? Ask the hottie in line with you to recommend other hangouts or coffee bars you might like. This is great for two reasons: 1) It's an innocent conversation starter and 2) It's a natural lead into getting together. “I like it here, but where else do you go for a good cup?” is a fine way to phrase it. If it goes well, the next (obvious) line is, “Would you like to go there together?”

10. Walk on the wild side. Maybe you're the sort who'd like to win points for being bold. If so, consider this story: “My back was facing a table of girls and guys sitting down,” recalls Alisa Davis of San Francisco. “One of the guys touched my shoulder and said, “We've reached a consensus at this table that you look great from the rear!” I couldn't help but laugh and ended up sitting down with the people at the table and talking to that guy for hours.”

Freelance writer Margot Carmichael Lester's beverage of choice is chicory coffee, which is almost impossible to find outside the South. Her writing about food, beverages and entertainment has appeared on losangeles.citysearch.com and in the Los Angeles Downtown News.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

2002 Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon (3/5 stars)


Deeply colored, full bodied, and ripely flavored, this is a nearly robust style of Cabernet, which is a very good wine at the price. The aromas include dark cherries, fresh ground coffee beans, vanilla oak, plus a bit of herbs. The mouthfeel is medium-bodied for a Cabernet, with light-to-moderate tannins, made for drinking now or in the next year or two. The finish is nicely tart and fresh now.

This cookie by any other name would still taste as sweet

Biscotti are long and hard cookies that many enjoy by dipping into coffee, hot chocolate, or wine. As fancy coffee shops become more and more popular in the United States, biscotti have also become more fashionable (and expensive). It turns out, biscotti is easy to make, and a whole batch costs the same as a single biscotto (the singular form of 'biscotti') at Starbucks.

Here's a recipe
for an Almond and Orange Zest Biscotti that can be enjoyed as is or chocolate dipped. Biscotti can be found in all sorts of flavors, but the most common contain anise, hazelnuts and filberts, and almonds. This recipe calls for almond and orange (and chocolate). Mmmmm.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Lone Photographer?

This commentary by a fellow photographer, Rich Silfver, reminded me of one of the difficulties of being a photography fanatic in a world of photo neophytes. He rightly points out that photography is generally a solitary hobby, and even when done in the company of others, unless the photographer's companions are also photo enthusiasts, it can be a frustrating endeavor... both for the photographer and his cohorts, who are likely to be bored after a short while.

You see, when a photographer goes out looking for photos, it's a very rare instance that opportunities leap out at him. The vast majority of the time, the photographer spends a great deal of time studying a place or situation, looking for the best way to portray the subject. Or as is often the case with street photography, the situation might be set up perfectly, but the scene isn't complete until the right person is added. So the dedicated photographer waits, camera in hand, aperture and focus preset, until that split second when something happens or someone enters the picture (literally) it all comes together. Often the wait is 15 minutes or longer.

I can fully understand how a non-photographer would not see the excitement involved. Much the same as I understand how certain people don't like baseball. To many, the slow pace of the sport overrides the suspense and strategy that is set up with every pitch and swing of the bat. Instead, most people I know prefer football with its 'wham bam, thank you maam' tempo. If they can't see it, it must not be there.

And that's why I've gotten into the habit of bringing two cameras along whenever I'm with someone and suspect a photo op might occur. I'll have my preferred gear, usually a Leica or Contax, but also a decent P&S setup that is easy for anyone to operate.

I'll hand the P&S camera to my friend and offer a challenge. "You've got 36 frames. Take photos of ANYTHING you want, and we'll compare our photos when we're done." This result is usually that my companion is suddenly engaged in the spirit of the exercise. A very friendly competition can be fun, as long as it is understood that it's just that... for fun. And everyone loves to take photos, especially when they don't have to drop off the film and pay for the results.

It's also important to use film. A digital camera will change the process by giving the person feedback as she progresses. And often the feedback won't be positive to that person. Shooting film leaves something to the imagination and forces the person to slow down, knowing that the shot will be permanent, rather than easily deleted from the memory card. With film, every shot counts.

Once the film has been used up (hopefully both yours and theirs), drop it off at a one-hour photo lab. Go to dinner and let the suspense build up. But pick up the film as soon as possible. That's the reward for your friend's patience and contribution to the event.

Having done this a few times, my friends are often more than happy to go on photo excursions with me. Now, the only part that sucks is that their photos are often better than mine.


Originally uploaded by JoeFriday.
On this day in 1902, the Carnegie Foundation was established. Andrew Carnegie spent a good chunk of his life building a chokehold over the steel industry. However, after years at the lead of the second Industrial Revolution, he decided to cash in his chips in 1901 and sold his stake in the mighty Carnegie Steel concern, then worth roughly $40 million, to the United States Steel Corporation for $250 million. Rather than retire and play with his riches, Carnegie followed his belief that a "man who dies rich dies disgraced" and set to doling out his fortune to various philanthropic causes. All told, Carnegie donated $350 million, $10 million of which he handed over on this day in 1902 to establish the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C. According to Carnegie, the Institution was designed "to encourage, in the broadest and most liberal manner, investigation, research, and discovery, and the application of knowledge to the improvement of mankind." Carnegie's lofty mission translated into an organization dedicated to research and education in "biology, astronomy, and the earth sciences."

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Timewaster du jour

Try your skills at photographing fast-moving celebrities in Paparazzi. It's not the best computer game I've ever played, but at least you get to use a Leica.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Heat Wave/Not Heat Wave

We're definitely not having a heat wave today. The temperature is 25 degrees (F). But it's the fifth sunny day we've had in a month. What better way to celebrate than to grab the camera and go shooting?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Rantings on Photography: Adobe Bitchslaps Apple

Rantings on Photography: Adobe Bitchslaps Apple

I don't usually diss Apple Computer. Hell, I'm writing this on an Aluminum PowerBook. I've been using a Mac for nearly 20 years, ever since I got my first Mac SE. But, this time I think Apple has dropped the ball -- and they deserve all the pain we can inflict on them because of it.

I'm talking about Adobe's new software for photographers called Lightroom, which is intended to directly take on Apple's Aperture. And, frankly, Lightroom could potentially kick Aperture's ass.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Blindekuh: A restaurant that specializes in candlelit dinners.. minus the candlelight

While many restaurants ban smoking and mobile phones, Blindekuh Restaurant in Zurich, Switzerland may be the only one in the world where light is left at the door--literally. Flashlights and luminous watches are verboten; windows are blacked out; and all service, eating and drinking, take place in utter darkness.

Part attention-grabber, part disability rights' platform, the mission of Blindekuh (Swiss German for 'blind man's bluff' and English for 'blind cow') is to show people just how much they take for granted their sense of sight, and what it might be like to do without it.

Chef Haeni, who was partially sighted while at cooking school but has since lost most of his vision, has devised with the team, tricks and cues that help keep the place running smoothly. "We use plates of different shapes for meat, vegetables and fish," he said, "and scales for weighing drinks so they don't spill." Presentation is not an issue, but quality is. "If guests can't see what they eat," said Haeni, "then the taste and texture and the ingredients are very important. For example, we use a lot of fennel, basil, celeriac and coriander."

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

ZEISS Lenses for Nikon F Mount!

Carl Zeiss AG of Oberkochen, Germany is about to introduce ZF, a new range of interchangeable lenses for lenses for Nikon SLR cameras, both analog and digital. ZF lenses bring the highly acclaimed Carl Zeiss image quality to the Nikon SLR camera system, which has been the preferred equipment of millions of professional and ambitious amateur photographers for decades.

ZF lenses provide Nikon F-mount cameras with the creative potential and phototechnical performance available so far only in the Contax system. In addition, ZF lenses incorporate new technical advances from the ZEISS Ultra Prime®, Master Prime® and DigiPrime® lenses for motion picture cameras. Results have been seen in feature films like "Lord of the Rings", "Alexander", "King Arthur", "Air Force One", "Collateral", "King Kong" and many commercials and music clips.

Like the ZEISS lenses for motion picture, ZF lenses feature unusually high mechanical quality, fixed focal length, very precise manual focussing, reliability, and exceptional durability. Special attention is paid to guarantee absolute color matching throughout the whole range of lenses resulting in state-of-the-art image quality.

The first ZF lens will be the Planar T* 1.4/50 ZF, which, in its Contax RTS version, was rated the world's best fast standard lens by "Popular Photography" in 1999. It will be followed by the Planar T* 1.4/85 ZF, which in its Contax RTS version became known as a great portrait lens and story-teller.

Both lenses will become available in spring 2006. The pricing will be competitive with similar items in the Nikon F-system. Several more ZF lenses will be introduced during 2006. As a diehard Contax/Sonnar fanatic, this might inspire me to pick up my Nikon D70 once in a while.

give me a sign

made in Milwaukee
Originally uploaded by JoeFriday.
Not exactly the best beer I've ever had, but Blatz earns a place in history along side Kingsbury, Chief Oshkosh and Hamms. As long as you kept it cold, it went down smoothly.

I rarely drank Blatz, but I smile every time I see a tavern still proudly sporting a neon sign with the Blatz name.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Bittersweet in the best possible way

A Beer Called Lambic

An appetizing dryness, an invigorating tartness, and a complexity that rivals the finest sherry's; it's a beer boasting aromas suggesting everything from lush fruit to mineral earth; a beer that makes you suspect that everything else you know about beer is a lie. Great lambic is the brewing world's Holy Grail, Cantillon its most sacred temple.

A rarity today, lambic was once the defining drink of the Pajottenland, a rich agricultural region southwest of Brussels on the Senne River. Cast an eye on any of Brueghel's famous depictions of Flemish celebrations, and you'll spy jugs of what is believed to be the peasants' notorious "yellow beer" being consumed with great relish. In countryside cafés, you can still find the locals-many of whom look as if they'd stepped out of the masterpiece known as Peasant Wedding Feast-enjoying lambic poured from rough-hewn pitchers alongside plates of mussels, radishes, herbed cheese, and tête pressée (head cheese).

Likewise, parts of the world's most famous lambic brewery appear unchanged from Brueghel's time. At Cantillon, as at all traditional lambic breweries, scant attention is paid to the rules of modern beer making. Whereas other beers are fermented with carefully controlled yeast strains, lambics owe their fermentation to a wild party of airborne microflora that includes more than 100 identified yeast strains and 50 kinds of bacteria. Since virtually everything in the brewery is thought to have the microbiotic potential to affect this spontaneous fermentation, there is a certain endearing grubbiness to Cantillon. The air inside the brewery makes for an olfactory adventure, perfumed as it is with a musky potpourri of damp wood, wet grain, and a heady mix of barnyard aromas known collectively and affectionately as "horse blanket".

But lambic's unique microbiotic mix provides only part of the great beer's character. The winey, aggressively citric flavor of traditional lambic is also influenced by its years of aging in wooden barrels, some of them decades old, arranged in shadowy racks. Astringent notes are added through the use of a large percentage of unmalted wheat, along with the more typical malted barley. And in the case of the famed lambic called gueuze-produced by the méthode champenoise-like blending and bottle-refermenting of lambics at least one and up to three years old-the aging process plays a vital role in giving the beer an enormous complexity that makes it quite unlike any other.

look out ahead

Originally uploaded by JoeFriday.
I thought I'd start the blog with one of my favorite photos. This was taken with a simple little Canonet rangefinder camera. No digital manipulation was done. What you see is what was there.