Welcome to The Epic! I am launching this blog as a manifesto for and a guide to living well. The title and motto of the blog are taken from the Epicureans, at least some of whom believed in the notion that not one minute of the future was guaranteed to them and that as a result they had the duty to live life to its fullest every moment.

I believe in discovering fun and pleasurable things wherever I find myself each day and I am told I have a knack for unearthing them. My hope is that by sharing in my pleasures and some of my ways of finding them you will begin to collect all the riches that lie in the moments of your life. They are there. Take them! All our lives should be.....Epic.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Epic Fifteen Minute Vacations: A Perfect Cup For Coffee

Way down among Brazilians
Coffee beans grow by the billions
And they always have an extra cup to fill
They got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil.

-The Coffee Bean Song

I admit it. It took me some time to fall in love with coffee. Not in the chemistry based, addictive way of young love. Rather, in the deliberative fashion of those who have circled the issue awhile and come rationally and maturely to the conclusion. Then lose their minds.

I rarely drank coffee in college or law school. Shocking as this may seem to some in a day when all college students seem to have a grande latte clutched in each hand. When I started working, having a cup of coffee in the morning became ritualistic. Eventually, however I came under the influence of a coworker who loved her coffee. And all was made clear to me. True to my gourmand nature, I like almost all sorts of coffee I have tried since. Chicory blended from New Orleans. Turkish. Vietnamese. James Bond's Blue Mountain from Jamaica. Sumatran. Arabica. Espresso. When I found myself pondering the purchase of a French Press I knew the Rubicon had been crossed.

Perhaps I should have foreseen my ultimate fate. One night at law school. In the talent show. I was invited to be part of what was touted (by its organizer and front man) as the greatest vocal act ever put together. A stage presence to make the audience forget all the great male groups that came before. Even the Spinners. We called ourselves "Freedi and the Beans". I played the role of a "bean". Which meant wearing a burlap "coffee" sack stuffed with newsprint. To resemble a coffee bean you see. Our front man, Freedi, was one of the more outgoing of a rather outgoing class of students. His job was to cover the lyrics of The Coffee Bean Song. Our job as beans was to provide chorus. And choreography. We came on as the final act. There is no tougher room to play than one packed with a hundred drunken law students. We sang. We danced. Nobody tore a hole in their outfit. We blew them away. I never make or drink coffee without thinking of that routine.

Yesterday morning for example. Even though I have made dramatic progress on dialing down holiday stress at chez Epic, one way of making fun for yourself in any context is to steal fifteen minutes. Just for you. Solitude and a simple, satisfying task can provide enjoyment in the busiest day. Yesterday I decided to sit on my front porch with a cup of coffee and just enjoy the air. I was looking through my cabinet for a mug and found the fantastic turquoise cup pictured above. I was not sure how it came to be there. I had never used it. But when I picked it up and poured the java, I realized I had found a rare thing. A perfect union of function and form. This cup is just cool. The color. The balance when full. The perfectly sized handle. The fact that its dimensions cool the coffee at just the right pace. Perhaps something to do with the ratio of surface area to depth. Also, the cup's modest size means that it must be refilled every so often. Which enhances the experience due to the new cloud of aroma you receive every time you pour. I discovered that a truly great coffee cup holds enough coffee to make you happy but not so much that you force down a last, cold bit. A perfect thing like this is transporting. Using this cup, I felt like I was in an ocean-side diner. At Miami, 1955. Not a bad fifteen minute break.

There are some great coffee based web sites, like Cocoajava.com listed at the margin. Even a great literature of coffee. Some samples (from Cocoajava.com's library)...

As soon as coffee is in your stomach, there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move...similies arise, the paper is covered. Coffee is your ally and writing ceases to be a struggle.--Honoree de Balzac.

Suave molecules of Mocha stir up your blood, without causing excess heat; the organ of thought receives from it a feeling of sympathy; work becomes easier and you will sit down without distress to your principal repast which will restore your body and afford you a calm, delicious night.--Prince Tallyrand.

The morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about it which the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce.--Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

And my personal favorite...

Coffee is the common man's gold, and like gold, it brings to every person the feeling of luxury and nobility.--Sheik Abd-al-Kadir.

Even if no experience so grand has happened to me while drinking coffee, a great cup of coffee on a clear winter's day and that Old Miami Beach feeling were more than enough luxury and nobility pour moi. On a fifteen minute vacation. In the midst of the busy Holidays. Which, when I returned, made the rest of the day even more vibrant and delightful. That is the true Epic benefit of a short, self-oriented, break during the day. Try one and see.

Postscript: My mother is spending the Holidays with us. When she saw the perfect coffee cup she said it was from the very first set of dishes given to her and my father when they married. In Panama. 1957.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

If please ye, listen to my lore...

Lore: (n). Accumulated facts, traditions or beliefs about a particular subject.

Come listen to my lore. Essential to my fabric. My faith. My life. Entwined within me. From earliest days. Causing love. And shame. Change. And growth. Action. And peace.

Not "better". But mine.

Come listen to my lore. A lore of life. And love. That causes me to make and send these notes.

A blessing/ananda/dana/baraka/b'rakha. From me and mine. To you.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Silver Bells

City Sidewalks
Busy Sidewalks
Dressed in Holiday Style ...

There is no doubt about it. New York City during the Holidays is magical. Any time I visit during December I cannot keep my favorite songs of the season out of my mind. Not that I try. Silver Bells is my personal soundtrack for stolling about Manhattan this time of year. The photo above is my stylized view of New York silver bells. Actually, I have no idea what it is. Probably a shop window as "interpreted" by the mysterious workings of my camera. On my most recent visit to New York I set out to just take a few shots that would try and convey my continuing love affair with the town during this time of year. So I could give a bit of that love to you.

A magnificent office building display of lit trees:

Of course, the tree at Rockefeller Center. Gorgeous even in driving rain:

A shop window display made entirely of beer bottles. Just the thing to warm the heart of a Wisconsin boy...

An about face. Then the amazing light display with music at Saks...

Another of my favorite store windows. I can't remember where. Someplace on Fifth Avenue in the 50's...

The window at Yves St. Laurent...

The first time I was ever in New York at the Holidays I was wandering home LATE at night and turned onto Fifth Avenue and was frozen by the sight of....

...a huge crystal snowflake in the sky. This photo doesn't even come close to showing how pretty this is.

This store had a dozen or more golden trees illuminated by soft little lights...

Even the Apple store across from The Plaza seemed more gorgeous than usual...

I was invited to a wonderful dinner at Le Cirque in the Bloomberg Building. The building is an architectural jewel box. Complete with a jewel of a Christmas tree (obscured by my inability to remain still)...

Another shop window featuring a Barbie dress made of Barbies in dresses (how festive!!)...

My "stylized" version of the same window...

Sort of like a mountain of Radio City Rockettes. Intriguing idea.

I hope that you have enjoyed my Holiday trip to my favorite city. But back to my favorite song of New York at this time of year. I love Dean Martin's voice, and his Christmas album is one of my favorites. Here is Dean's version of Silver Bells along with a nice amateur video of Manhattan's Holiday delights. Made with a steadier hand than mine. Without the driving rain.

I wish each and every one of you the finest of Holiday seasons and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Epic Stocking Stuffers: Really Good Shave Cream

His mantle hairy, and his bonnet sedge. --Milton

There are hirsute men and non hirsute men. Men that really need concern themselves with the art of shaving and those who do not. I fall into the latter category. I shave but it is not something that I really need to pay that much attention to. Except for the lovely ritual of it.

As a boy I recall waiting eagerly until the time when I could engage in the grown up ritual of shaving every morning. I finally could not stand it any longer and my beleaguered father gave in and let me start. Whether I needed to shave for another, oh, five years, or not. One part of Epic living is to extract the joy from the mundane routines of every day life and get some fun out of them. With shaving it is easy. As with any task, the right tools add a lot to the experience.

A really great shaving set like that pictured above is a fun way to start. But they can easily cost a lot more than even the Epic non hirsute would want to spend. What then to get as a thoughtful small gift for a man? This year, I found an excellent stocking stuffer that any man [or any boy of style who is shaving when he doesn't need to] would enjoy. Especially if the traveling man finds himself shaving a lot of mornings in hotels.

Travel tubes of excellent shave cream fill the bill perfectly. Two I have enjoyed this year are Musgo Real from Portugal and the Caswell-Massey Almond. Both come in tubes that are easy to take along on a trip. Both have a very luxurious scent that does not linger to interfere with any cologne you may be wearing. Both provide a much needed touch of home for the traveller. And most important, both are superb shave creams. I have been taking one or the other along with me on all my recent trips and the great shave and sense of luxury they produce have added a smile to every day. They do not cost much per tube, but how much is a guaranteed daily smile while shaving worth? Epics say a lot. Even the tubes add a luxurious touch...

Photos courtesy of Caswell-Massey.

Happy Holidays from my home to each and every one of yours. And happy shaving!!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Addendum: Le Veau D'Or, New York City

You already know that I am not a science oriented man. I do have a dim memory however of being told once in Junior High School that the essence of the scientific method is the reproduction of results. You have a premise. Test it. Record the result. Test it again. And again. If you get the same result each time under the same conditions, you have proven your theory. Or something like that.

If it works for science experiments it should work for Epic experiments as well. Restaurants, for example. In the pursuit of Epic science, I made a return last week to Le Veau D'Or. New York dining. Circa 1952. The returning Epic reader will recall that I fell head over heels for this small French restaurant at the conclusion of my effort some months ago to revisit restaurants listed in a 1952 issue of Gourmet Magazine. In fact, finding Le Veau D'Or saved the entire effort. I loved my meal that night and was enchanted by the entire experience. Time for rigorous application of the scientific method.

I returned last week for lunch between meetings. There were more diners at noon. The menu replete again with classic French cuisine. As it was raining buckets outside, I opted for the full "cold weather" menu. Onion soup. Cassoulet. Both perfect. Glasses of very nice French Cabernet. Good, strong coffee. And yes, in case you even had a shadow of a doubt, the now-Epic Rum Parfait. The meal was fabulous. One might describe it as Trad. So far, so good. Two very good meals within two months at different times of day. Well fortified, I sallied forth into the blowing rain. There was only one thing left to do.

At precisely the same time the following day I again presented myself at Le Veau D'Or for lunch. Much better weather outside. Again, a decent crowd. And in the interests of science I ordered the same meal. With the exception of Beaujolais nouveau during the (again) lovely meal. And a Calvados or two during and after the Creme Caramel. To smooth the airways for my upcoming flight home. I felt just the same as during my first visit. I did not want to leave. Ever.

The greatness of Le Veau D' Or is established by scientific method. In my business though, we are not bound by such rigors. We can establish facts by circumstantial means. I am actually quite good at it. To this end, I close this addendum with a few random comments I heard from diners during my second lunch last week...

"I come here to sit at the bar, drink Cognac, and ruminate the world away in gracious company..."

"My wife and I were married forty-five years before she passed away. We always came here. I still do. It was our very special place."

"Every year on our anniversary my husband and I come here for a meal. Every year we pray this restaurant will still be here." Leading to the reply of the owner's rather marvelous daughter..."Madame...we have to be here".

Indeed. Dining with the fine folks of Le Veau D'Or is like playing a role in a very good independent film. Come cast yourself in a role as well. You won't be sorry. When the scene starts, I'll be the fellow at the little bar with a glass of Calvados. Ruminating.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Repeal Day!

In 1917, over President Wilson's veto, Congress in its infinite wisdom passed one of the most idiotic laws in American history. Prohibition. Single handedly making American organized crime a world power. Sending American wine making into a tail spin. According to some, providing the eventual fuel [or lack thereof] for the Crash twelve years later. Certainly dampening the spirits of good, hard-working Americans throughout the land needing the solace or stimulation of their pubs, corner bars and nightclubs for sixteen years until the lunacy finally ended in 1933. One American Doughboy returning from World War I was noted to have said "I lost all my friends in Belleau Wood, was toasted all over France and England, then came back to my country and couldn't even buy a drink". Amazing. I am no economist (or economizer as my wife will attest) but I imagine that the repeal of prohibition did more to end the Depression than did the New Deal. At least as much. Of course, as any reader of The Epic will attest, I am a little biased on the issue of imbibery.

Some good things came of Prohibition though. One of the deans of American mixology in 1917 was Harry Craddock. Mr. Craddock presided over the bar at the Hoffman House Hotel in New York City. The Hoffman House was not only famous for its bar but for the twelve foot long mural "Nymphs and Satyr" by Adolphe William Bouguereau behind its bar. The mural disappeared into private hands only to reappear at a show in January, 1943 at the Durand-Ruel Galleries of New York after which it disappeared again from view. Craddock was more lucky. He left the United States when his profession was outlawed and took up residence at the famous American Bar at London's Savoy Hotel. Where he invented a little drink called the Dry Martini. One of my heroes. He also published one of the best cocktail recipe books of all time which you can still purchase and which I highly recommend for every home bar:

Secret bars flourished during Prohibition. As did bootleggers. One source estimated that Al Capone made $60,000,000 in one year during Prohibition when the average American laborer (like my Grandfather) earned $1,000.00. And the workers couldn't even have a legal drink after work. One wonders how the residents of northern climes made it through the sixteen winters of Prohibition without dying out altogether.

I have already seen promotions for Repeal parties at several of my favorite places such as El Gaucho in Seattle. I think it would be a kick to have a drink tonight at the location of an actual speakeasy such as the 21 Club or The Back Room in New York. Emmits, John Barleycorn or the Twin Anchors in Chicago, The Seelbach in Louisville or The Majestic in Kansas City. I am not sure if there were any speakeasys in my beloved New Orleans because I am not at all sure that they acknowledged Prohibition there. Maybe EVERY bar now extant in the Big Easy was a speakeasy. I have been lucky enough to patronize a few of these former speakeasies and they are uniformly great saloons still. Here is a shot of the bar at the Seelbach Hotel from perhaps the 1940s:

John Barleycorn in Chicago:

If you can't celebrate Repeal Day at an authentic speakeasy, you could host a Repeal Day party. If you have the energy. Which I do not. Perhaps making a cocktail popular during Prohibition is just the thing. The Colony was an upscale joint in New York during the dry years and when a Vanderbilt or Windsor wanted to step out for refuling they may have ordered the bar's eponymous cocktail:

The Coloney
1.5 oz gin
3/4 oz grapefruit juice
2 tsp maraschino
Shake well and strain into a well chilled cocktail glass.

For more information on prohibition, you can see the entertaining and informative web site created by the booze makers of America here. Whatever you may do to celebrate the end of the "Noble Experiment" it is better to remember that some experiments just fail. And some should never be tried at all. Long live the cocktail in all its glorious forms, along with its noble cousins of the grape and grain!!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Epic Holiday Gifts: My Guitar

Hendrix. Slash. The Edge. Eddie Van Halen. All great players. I wonder, did their fathers play guitar too? If so, were they any good? Some of the many things that never crossed my mind until I became one. A father, that is. Not a guitar player. When you watch your child somehow slide from the dinosaur in the sand phase to picking up a guitar and becoming rapidly very good at playing it, your mind strays to things like this. At least my mind did. Prone to stray as it undoubtedly is.

I suppose it was inevitable. After my son's love affair with the instrument reached critical mass and he declared his lifetime passion for it, it became perfectly obvious that the next natural step in the progression was that I too should have a guitar and learn to play. At least it became perfectly obvious to the Future Rock Star.

My prior brushes with instrumental music were somewhat spotty. A ten year course of instruction in piano which was enjoyable primarily due to a significant attraction to the minister's wife who gave the lessons. Our family moved at some point and the piano somehow did not make the trip. I guess my Dad did not see it in my future. He got his when I then became obsessed with the trombone. During a Wisconsin winter spent living in a mobile home. Although I was a diligent practicer, I had no "lip" at all and could not get consistent sound. Lots of squawks and blaring off-notes. In a mobile home. In the winter. And it was not a double-wide either. That lasted about six weeks before my family revolted against me and my trombone career reached its terminus. Thus ensued a long hiatus before Christmas of 2006. When Santa delivered a Taylor Big Baby acoustic guitar to my home. With my name on it.

I was at the same time thrilled and intimidated. I think I must have attempted the clarinet for about a week at some point because I recall that even when one can't play the clarinet you can make some pretty cool sounding noises. Even by accident. Strumming the guitar is like that. I found that I loved the sound. Which was immediately soothing. Even if I did not know how to play a song. So far, so good. Since the odds of my ever learning a song seemed long at best. Until a slip of paper fell from the package announcing that Santa, in his infinite wisdom and charity, had seen fit to provide me with guitar lessons. The game was now solidly afoot.

Instead of another appealing preacher's wife, my guitar instructor was instead a solid professional musician who decided to leave the road to raise his family. An Epic guy. And with the patience of a SAINT. During the extent of my lessons, I gained the utmost respect for my instructor, even though I consistently felt that I was letting him down with my "progress". After a bit he asked me what sort of guitar music I aspired to play. When I put forward James Taylor as an example he just looked at me for a moment. Then, no doubt considering my performance at the previous several lessons, he said in his ultra-mellow tone "well, that involves a lot of finger picking....you may be at this a LONG time". The greatest thing about these lessons was just getting the chance to watch my instructor play. He was very, very good.

I finished my introductory group of lessons. Learned a few basics. I can play "Red River Valley" like a regular cowboy. Or any other song that only requires three chords. If they don't change too fast. Or too often. My long-suffering instructor wrote out parts of "Blackbird" by the Beatles and I can play that. After a fashion. If I look at what he wrote. I doubt that you'll see me on YouTube any time soon.

The best thing about the guitar is that the instrument is art you can play with to make more art. At least in theory, in my case. Just holding the crafted wood in your hands is surprisingly comforting. It is very difficult to recall just what was bothering you at work all day when you are holding a guitar. And if you can squint (as I do) at some written notes and play a couple of them that just adds to the pleasure. Or, you can burst into a rousing rendition of Red River Valley.

It doesn't make any difference what sort of instrument it is. Or how much it cost. I'm buying a cheap harmonica to take with me on the road. I can't play that either, but my bet is that it will have a similar effect. And who knows what untapped musical talent may be revealed? It happened that way for the FRS. The Epic way is to pick up whatever instrument is lying about and just goof around with it. Or go get a cheap one somewhere. Pawn shops and huge national discount chains are great for this purpose. The type or provenance of the instrument doesn't matter. You'll see the beneficent effect right away.

Speaking of the FRS, another great thing about owning a guitar is the impromptu jam sessions we have now. Where he PLAYS and I PLUNK. During one such session not long ago, he asked me "Dad, what songs do you want to learn to play on your guitar?" I told him Blackbird (without looking at a crib sheet) and Little Martha by the Allman Brothers. He looked at me for some time. Then said..."Dad, you'll never make it." Gave me a wink. And that big neon grin. Inspiring me to (perhaps) great things. Again.

Little Martha is my favorite guitar instrumental of all time and the only Allman Brothers song written solely by Duane Allman (supposedly after a dream in which Jimi Hendrix told him the song in a hotel bath room). I share it with you here...(this is, unfortunately, not me, although it does look a bit like my knees)...

I may not ever be able to play Little Martha. But you never know. Hendrix may come to me in a dream and show me how. I don't really care. The trip has already been more than worth the price of the ticket...

Photos courtesy of Taylor Guitars.