Song In My Head #85: “On The Table” by A.C. Newman

I’d always assumed that this 2004 track by A.C. Newman (previously known to Zumpano fans as Carl Newman) was a miniature New Pornographers side project. Turns out I was only half right. While the band’s John Collins did produce the record, the female vocals are performed (with aplomb!) by Sarah Wheeler, not Neko Case. At any rate, the minor turns and strangely foreboding piano lines brilliantly offset the loping melody and lovely harmonies.


Backstage at the Good Food Awards chocolate blind tasting!


As Hollywood occupied itself with the Emmy Awards last Sunday, San Francisco feverishly prepared for a different ceremony. Each year, the Good Food Awards honors artisanally-made American food products that exhibit high standards of taste and ethical, sustainable manufacturing practices. Chocolate committee chair Sunita de Tourreil (founder of Palo Alto’s amazing The Chocolate Garage) sought volunteer help for the weekend’s operations. So, bright and early, I headed to the Mission District’s Impact Hub coworking space, finding it transformed into a buzzing food mecca for the day.

I settled in to my duties as a chocolate bar chopper, getting up close and personal with the day’s nominees before arranging the chocolate squares onto numbered plates for the judges’ tasting flights. The chocolate itself was often patterned with logos or designs, but these had to be turned face-down so as not to reveal anything to the market-savvy judges! Likewise, we were not to show any bar packaging in personal photos to be posted (such as the one above). While the often gorgeous boxes and wraps would entice me as a consumer, they annoyed me as someone who had to get the chocolate denuded and diced in a hurry. (The worst offenders were the bars in cardboard boxes with adhesive stickers sealing them shut. They would be Christmas in September for some lucky person in a store, but not for me in a work kitchen.) Roughly 80 percent of the entries were dark chocolates, with milks, dark milks, white chocolates, and inclusion bars (that is, bars with nuts or other ingredients added) rounding out the mix. I vowed I wasn’t going to sample any wares, but naturally my resolve wore down as the day wore on. (Since I have an entire chapter devoted to the Santa Cruz Chocolate Festival in Going Coastal, I should have known myself better.) Normally I’m a dark-chocolate purist, but perhaps it was palate fatigue that had me enjoying two inclusion bars best : the Browned Butter bar from Portland, Oregon’s Creo Chocolate, and the Bananas Foster bar from Brooklyn’s Raaka. (Speaking of palate cleansing, I learned a trick that will be useful for those organizing chocolate tastings in the future. We supplied the judges with bland crackers and slices of baguette, but kind souls at the confectionery tasting table informed us that slices of jicama clear the palate more effectively. They were right. Who knew?)

Eventually, the 150 chocolates were narrowed to sixteen (as I recall) finalists. Who won, you ask? No one will know until the awards ceremony in January, since all high scorers have to be vetted for ethical production practices before the results are finalized. I’m really curious to learn who won, since I know the judging could not have been easy! It was an honor to participate (even in such a small way), and I’ll enjoy seeing what the Good Food Awards have to offer in the future.

Song In My Head #84: “Angels Heap” by the Finn Brothers

My penchant for Neil Finn‘s music is no secret, and when older brother Tim Finn is involved, so much the better. As much as I enjoy the siblings’ classic Split Enz and Crowded House sides, my favorite is “Angels Heap” from their 1995 debut as a duo. (In Australia and New Zealand, both band and album are called Finn, while elsewhere they’re known as Finn Brothers. Go figure. I’m still shaking my head over all that London Suede business that I refused to acknowledge a couple of posts ago, so I’m not one to ask about regional differences in nomenclature.) The spare arrangement and spellbinding harmonies play off each other gorgeously. “Angels Heap” doesn’t demand your attention, but will have it over and over again.

Whale City Bakery article in Summer/Fall 2017 SANTA CRUZ STYLE issue

Nine miles north of Santa Cruz, you’ll find the town of Davenport. This hamlet is famous for its art, hand-blown glass, whale sightings, and a thriving family-run bakery and cafe. In “Sweet Success in Whale City,” found on page 40 of the Summer/Fall 2017 issue of Santa Cruz Style, I interview Whale City Bakery, Bar & Grill manager Kristen Raugust. He traces the bakery’s evolution from 1970s mini-mart to longtime Davenport fixture, and explains how a family of artists became restaurateurs. Free print copies are available throughout Santa Cruz County here. The online edition appears here.

Song In My Head #83: “Ghosts of Princes in Towers” by Rich Kids

Here’s a classic track by former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock’s other punk-era band, Rich Kids (also featuring future Ultravox singer Midge Ure). People tend to lament what might have been when discussing Rich Kids, since the band had only one UK Top 40 single in 1978. “Ghosts of Princes in Towers” was not that hit, which astounds me. The song begins in classic mod fashion before the guitars careen and lurch into a soaring vocal. Then the Kids take it to the bridge, the bridge! Ahh…

Song In My Head #82: Suede’s “Metal Mickey”

I vaguely remember reading a Stanford Daily interview with Suede lead singer Brett Anderson during my freshman year. He asked the interviewer if she knew who Chris Bell was. Anderson told her that the band loved Bell’s “I Am The Cosmos” enough to cover it as the B-side of an early single. I’ve been searching in vain for the Suede version ever since, and have never seen it mentioned anywhere. (Why didn’t I ask someone at the Daily, or for that matter, KZSU? Why didn’t I write to one of the UK music magazines for the answer years ago?) It may have been a different Britpop band altogether, but I remember the whole thing sounding just incongruous enough to be perfect. If you know, please post a comment!

Anyway, on to the song at hand. I’ve always been partial to the Bernard Butler era of Suede, and his scouring yet slinky guitar lines here are downright glorious. Throw in some handclaps and the brilliant line “Oh Dad, she’s driving me mad!”…well, just try to resist. I dare you!

Logos Books and Records, how I’ll miss you!

I read the news today, oh boy:

Santa Cruz’s Logos Books and Records to close

As anyone who’s walked down Pacific Avenue (or read Going Coastal‘s “Santa Cruz Vinyl: Cutting A Groove” chapter) knows, Logos is a Santa Cruz fixture. It’s 11,000 square feet of pure enchantment for any bookworm or record hound. The entry-level floor overflows with records, CDs, DVDs, cookbooks, art books, graphic novels, fiction…you get my drift. If you tire of that (not that you could), the downstairs level has floor-to-ceiling shelves laden with humor books, children’s books, sports books, poetry books, and ever so much more. In spite of the size, the shop doesn’t overwhelm me the way some large stores can. That could be because of the clearly marked aisles and posted maps. More likely, it has to do with muscle memory: I walk into the place, and immediately I feel at home.

Logos has been part of Santa Cruz since 1969. It survived 1989’s Loma Prieta earthquake, so I’m in disbelief that high rents and digital downloading will outlive it. (My mother bellowed “I don’t believe you! I refuse to accept this!” when I told her the news.) I feel heartsick for the employees (especially Dave, the friendly bespectacled guy who turned me on to Lawrence Weschler’s fantastic book Boggs: A Comedy of Values), and certainly for owner John Livingston. I know that generations of county residents must feel the way I do, and I hope someone will take up the Logos mantle. Losing Logos forever would be disastrous for the city and lovers of culture everywhere.

What a crazy year it’s shaping up to be. The world is fraught with tension. Quintessential San Jose Shark Patrick Marleau will be a Toronto Maple Leaf this coming season. Now, a place that has brought great joy to so many is about to be shuttered permanently.

Logos, you’ll always be in my heart.