Sunday, September 29, 2013

Meanwhile, In Pittsburgh ...

A giant rubber duck has appeared in Pittsburgh. Nope, not making this up.
Photo by Dave DiCello. Duck by Florentjin Hofman
More later,

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Grand Old Time

So this past weekend I went to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the Grandcon Convention. Also attending were some other old-school designers, like old friends Ed Greenwood, Tracy and Laura Hickman, and Steven Schend, who is currently a native of this fine community located in western Michigan.

Grandcon was a first-year convention, and I had ridden enough badly-planned convention-bombs down to keep my expectations low (I'm looking at YOU, Alabama). I should not have worried, save for a couple minor hiccups, the convention went very, very well, and the con organizers, Brian Lenz and Marc Specter, were brilliant in both their organization and their ability to adjust to the situation. The convention space was intimate (the Prince Conference Center at Calvin College), but did not feel overly crowded, and the house was reported to me as being in the area of twelve-hundred attendees.

It has been years and years since I have attended a small convention out of town, and I as such I noticed the changes in the types of games played. Ten years ago everyone was playing the latest OGL/OSR/D&D version. Fifteen years ago it was everyone's CCG. Now it is board games that are the cutting edge shown at these conventions. Over the course of the weekend Ed, Steven and I were running games of Lords of Waterdeep for charity, which, I can safely say, stands up to repeated games in its versatility. I also got to play games ranging from prototype (Council) to seeking funding (Cardomancer) to published (Fleet).

I also had the chance to play Sojourner's Tales, and very intuitive and rather brilliant game by Tracy and Laura (Kickstarter still on, and it has made its goals, but still worth checking out). Trace has for years worked on various projects linking the versatility of storytelling with the mechanics of a game, and I think he's got it this time. The game has a board and counters that encourage player competition, is coupled with a overarching story that all players co-operate in. The cool thing is, the story can be changed by downloads to your kindle or electronic device. So you can play a fantasy version (our prototype), then switch out to an SF game or a steampunk version or a holiday version just by changing downloads. This is a cool concept and worth checking out.
Grand Old Men - Me, Steven, Ed, Tracy

Ed, Trace, Steven and I gave two, two-hour panels on worldbuilding, which allowed us the luxury of getting nostalgic about old games, systems, worlds, and novels. And of course, since we've known each other for years, there was an easy give and take in the discussion.

Tracy and Laura also ran their famous "Killer Breakfast" on Sunday morning. I've helped out with this at the dawn of time, holding up signs for the crowd at GenCon, but in the years (decades) since, Trace and Laura have refined it to a multimedia experience, complete with pre-game announcements (starring three of the fours Hickman kids) and musical sing-alongs (gamer versions of the songs from Les Mis, and I discovered that I can cover the material about as well as Russel Crowe). A fine time was had by all.

Ed, Karen, Myself - Nothing But Trouble
For me, this was a chance to see old friends. I haven't had a chance to hang out with the gang in a Real-Life format for practically forever, and the small-con atmosphere gave us time to catch up, since we were not all running around doing events. I got go for a walk with Trace and Laura. I got to visit Steven's house and his lovely wife and fine children. I roomed with Ed, so I have attained my minimum yearly requirements for smutty innuendo. And I also got to see Eric Boyd, a great Realms loremaster from the past. And most of all, Karen Conlin came up for a few days. Those deeply engaged in the Realms will remember her as Karen Boomgarden, the master editrix responsible for the first grey-box Forgotten Realms set that Ed and I created (and who is now one of the masterminds over at Grammargeddon). Yes, it was old-home week up there, and we had a delightful time.

The con organizers were also good enough to set up evening meals for the guests, since the seminary college didn't have a lot of restaurant/bar options ("What do you MEAN there's no bar?") As a result, much alcohol was consumed off-campus, and I got to talk to a bunch of OTHER people, including retailers and other young board-game designers, and got to listen to stories from the guest artists, including Bill Stout, which really, really impressed me (I have some of his art books down in my library) .

Of the area itself, I quickly got used to the the Michigan Uey - where you don't make the left turn at the intersection, but rather overshoot the intersection, then turn around and hit it from the other side, making it a right turn. We also got the chance to see some of  ArtPrize, a huge collection of exhibition and installations which dominates downtown Grand Rapids. In general, it felt like Austin with more acceptable weather (OK, and snowplows, but they didn't need them when I was there).

I had a great time, though when I got back Monday (leaving at oh-ghod-early for Gerald R Ford International with a commuter flight to Detroit), I was glad to see the overcast and rain of autumnal Seattle. I drove down to Pike Place Market to get supplies (bread from the Three Sisters, mozzarella from the cheese shop around the corner, and sausage from Uli's, Concord grapes from Frank's) and encountered a bookseller literally singing the praises of Voltaire's Candide. So yeah, it is good to be home as well.

More later,

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Past, Present, Future

You know, it's been a long time since I've mentioned my Star Wars novel, Scourge, on this blog. Have you missed it? I know I have.

In any event, Star Wars-Union has just released an interview they did with me, in German and English, talking about Scourge (released in Germany as Die Geißel), RPG influences, and the elevator pitch for the unlikely-to-be-published Autobiography of Jar Jar Binks

Plus, on Saturday, October 5th, I will be at the University Bookstore for Star Wars Reads day, with Gus Lopez and stormtroopers. (Yes, stormtroopers!)

And as a bonus, bouncing around the Internets this morning is a link to an ancient site where the writer visited TSR in Lake Geneva, and I did the tour and had lunch with him. This is the Internet version of your old high school photos turning up (I am there, without a beard, much thinner and younger, and wearing a tie (a thin, white, leather tie, but a tie nonetheless)!

None of this should push down on my the page the fact I will be leaving for Grand Rapids tomorrow for GrandCon, and looking forward to playing games and kicking back for a few days.

More later,

Monday, September 16, 2013

Convention Schedule

So, as I've mentioned before, I'm going to be in Grand Rapids, Michigan, this coming weekend for Grandcon, with such luminaries as Ed Greenwood, Steven Schend, and Tracy and Laura Hickman. Here's what we will be up to:

World Building Seminar Basic Concepts Pt. 1
You want to build a world for a campaign or a story. Where do you start? Hear how the masters of the Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, and myriad other settings create their worlds and swap stories from the dawn of gaming.
Friday 10am – 12pm, President's Room
Panelists: Ed Greenwood, Jeff Grubb, Tracy Hickman, & Steven Schend

World Building Seminar Advanced Concepts Pt. 2
World Building Seminar Advanced Concepts Pt. 2 – OK, you have your basic fantasy (or not-so-fantasy) universe. What now? The Elder Gods of the Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, and other great fantasy universes talk about what happens next and how worlds and campaign settings evolve.
Saturday 1pm – 3pm, President's Room
Panelists: Ed Greenwood, Jeff Grubb, & Steven Schend

Charity Game:  Lords of Waterdeep
Come play the Wizards of the Coast LORDS OF WATERDEEP board game with some of the designers and authors who’ve brought Waterdeep to life in games, comics, and novels!
Friday 3pm – 5pm (Ed Greenwood & Steven Schend)
Friday 6pm  –8pm (Ed Greenwood & Jeff Grubb)
Saturday 10am – 12pm (Ed Greenwood & Steven Schend)
Saturday 3pm – 5pm (Ed Greenwood & Steven Schend)
Saturday 6pm – 8pm (Ed Greenwood & Jeff Grubb)
Sunday 10am – 12pm (Ed Greenwood & Steven Schend)
Dogwood Room

Killer Breakfast
Just what you need on a Sunday morning - big healthy heaping of roleplaying mayhem. Tracy Hickman's Killer Breakfasts are the stuff of legends, and this year he is joined by Ed Greenwood and Jeff Grubb. TPKs! They aren't just for breakfast anymore, but we serve them up hot here!
Sunday 8am - 10 am, Willow Room

Plus, of course, we'll be hanging around, getting underfoot, chewing the fat about the bad old days, and taking in Grand Rapids Art Fair, so look us up!

More later, 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Light Blog-Keeping

So, I've done a little housekeeping here at Grubb Street. No, not on the appearance - it is just as clunky and old-school as the day I made it, and I am still hoping that it will soon slide into the real of kitschy and retro-cool before I have to actually do any real graphic design work on it.

No, I've finally gotten around to updating the blogroll on your right. Dating back to those primeval times when Livejournal was actually a thing, it has been in serious need of an update for some time. Many of the blogs listed have not been updated for months if not years, as their owners switched over to other media such as Facebook or Google+ or simply became confused and wandered off into the sunset. Heck, even the Alliterates site now sends you their Facebook page. So that's gone, and the guys I actually read are folded into the "Friends and Colleagues" heading. So look there for them.

"Stuff I'm Reading" is pretty unchanged, with a couple blogs that have laid fallow for a while removed and one called "What If" by the guy behind the xkcd comic added.

A new, large, category is "Local Media" which summarizes some of the major and minor blogs in the region. As we move towards November, I'm going to be checking out a lot more of these, so these are for my reference more than yours:
    The Seattle Times, also called "Fairview Fannie" (the NYTimes gets "The Grey Lady", which is much cooler), is the surviving daily paper. More conservative than most of its surroundings, it would be considered moderate and mainstream in most other cities. Loves Boeing, Microsoft, the 'Hawks, Soccer, the environment, conservative thought local ownership of the media. Hates unions, Mayor McGinn*. Its political blog is pretty good for baseline information and the conventional wisdom.
    The Stranger, on the other hand, is a foul-mouthed weekly that has through some dire alchemy turned into the better paper for reporting local politics. A good mixture of art and politics, and its multi-contributor blog maintains the writers' unique voices (you can tell Paul Constant from Charles Mudede from Goldy without checking the byline).
   The Seattle P-I used to be the other daily paper in town, more liberal and sensational in its reporting. It is no more, and its website is a shell of its former self. Its political cartoonist, Dave Horsey, known for frequent nudity in his cartoons and winning numerous awards, now works in LA.
   The Seattle Weekly, which pretty much crashed and burned creatively when it was bought by the conservative Village Voice Media (don't let the name fool you), has been making a slow and painstaking recovery under its new management, a Canadian company called Black Press (the owner's name is David Black). Still doesn't endorse candidates, but it is at least paying attention to the decision-making policies.
    Publicola was once independent, but now operates under the purview of the Seattle Met, the local entertainment/food/art magazine for the upscale. It is politely liberal, is stocked with people who used to work for the Stranger, but are not as shouty.
   Crosscut is a bit more growly, and was a place where old Seattlites can kvetch about how good it used to be, and runs articles by former GOP chair Chuck Vance telling the Dems how they should be doing things. Also home for a lot of vets from the media listed above.
   Seattlish is by "three mouthy broads" and is pretty amusing, though I think they are trying to compete with the Stranger at being the most NSFW.
   And lastly, the Kent Reporter, which, like the Renton Reporter and a number of other similar papers in the region, including the Weekly, have been gathered by the Black Press (it sounds like the newsletter for a Space Marine chapter, doesn't it?) under the heading of Sound Publishing. A friend of my mine noted a few weeks ago that it has been caught committing "real journalism" recently as opposed to the local-business friendly announcements of ccout troop meetings and charity car washes normally found in suburban papers. They have been the ones with the most detailed coverage of the recent mess involving the Kent City Council candidate stealing large sums from his own mother, and as a result I am paying more attention.

"Funny Pixels" sees the sunsetting of Superhero Girl (wonderful, done, and now in a collection) and Gutters (OK, on a break, also in collections), but the return of Stan!'s 10' by 10' Toon, plus the addition of Finding Chaos, Questionable Content, and Scandanvia and the World, all of which can be NSFW. Just so you know when you're browsing this at work Monday morning.

And that is about it. I probably should update this more often.

More later,

*Just about every other blog on this list has noted that the Times has engaged in a "organized attack on the mayor", to which the paper responded "We aren't that organized".

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Herbfarm

So as part of this year's birthday activities, the Lovely Bride and I went with our friends Sig and Anne to The Herbfarm up in Woodenville, a nigh-legendary restaurant which offers themed, multi-course meals with seasonal, local produce grown on their farm. The LB first discovered it in an article in the Chicago Tribune, which we then kept dutifully up on our refrigerator for the past 15+ years. And when we finally got a new refrigerator, we made arrangements to go to The Herbfarm. Of course during this interim, the original Herbfarm burned down, the head chef changed, and they went through temporary quarters before settling in Woodenville next to the Red Hook brewery and near the Chateau St. Micheal winery.

But the TL:DR of this tale is that Sig and Anne were wonderful dinner conversation, and we had an incredible time.

The meal itself ran about five hours, with nine courses. Actually, there was a tour beforehand of The Herbfarm's herb local garden, which we caught up with in-process. The Herbfarm itself is part of a complex that includes the Willows resort and the Barking Frog, which is a more traditional restaurant for people who don't have five hours and metric tons of cash and are more comfortable with choices on the menu.

The restaurant specializes in a farm-to-table menu, and runs a number of themes throughout the year, such as a menu that highlights basil, or mushrooms, or potatoes. As I write this, their theme is "Knife, Fork, and Smoke: Fire, Coals, Smoke, and Primitive Cooking", but for for our particular menu they had a culinary challenge - "The 100 Mile Dinner". Everything on the plate had to come from within 100 miles of the chandelier hanging in the dining room.

And this proved to be a bit of a challenge, since common items like pepper and coffee were right out, while the staff made their own salt and baking powder (Well, actually, slateratus, an 18th century precursor. but an improvement over the ground deer antler they had used previously instead of baking powder).

If you think of the Herbfarm as culinary theater you are not far off. After the tour, we were ushered into a intimate, curios-filled dining area with a plethora of tables tucked throughout its expanse. Small framed cards wish Sig and myself our respective happy birthdays. The owner/founder (Ron Zimmerman) speaks on the theme (the other owner/founder, Carrie Van Dyck, I believe gives the garden tour), and hands it off to the head chef (Chris Weber). Each course gets a precis on its origins. The sommelier (Jory Lopaka) speaks about the wine pairings (all within 100 miles, as well). The chefs and waitstaff are introduced. The curtain behind them is pulled back to reveal the kitchen. A classical guitarist (Patricio Contreras) starts to play, and the meal begins (the following menu for that evening is pulled from their website):

Our 1-Mile Farm
Stuffed Zucchini Blossom, 660-Day-Aged Gloucestershire Old Spot Ham, Caramelized Eggplant with Garlic,Wood-Roasted Carrot, Herbfarm Tomatoes, Black Radish, Filet Beans, Young Leek, Wild Native Nodding Onion Vinaigrette.

The World in an Oyster
Baked Oyster, with Scrambled Egg and Lovage.
Borage Stem Noodles, Green Coriander Seed, Oyster Emulsion.
Half-Shell Shigoku Oyster, Green Grape Granité, Tangerine Gem Marigold.

Salmon Says
British Columbian Kombu Kelp and Smoked-Salmon-Head Soup,
Reef-Netted Lummi Island Sockeye Salmon,
Early Chanterelles, Tokyo Turnip, Sweet Goldenrod.

Duck. Grain. Greens.
Pan-Roasted Moulard Duck Breast,
Bluebird Farm Whole Grain Rye Risotto with Fermented Hazelnut & Shiso,
Roasted Gravenstein Apple, Seared Cabbage with Green Juniper Dust.

Island Pig
Grilled Lopez Island Pork Shoulder with Globe Basil& Big Leaf Maple Syrup,
La Ratte Mashed and Riesling-Grapeseed-Fried New Potatoes,
Shishito Pepper, Walla Walla Onion, Baby Fennel. Serrata Basil Pesto.

Foie & Corn Chips
Terrine of Puyallup Valley Foie Gras, Roy's Calais Flint Corn Chips,
Our Honey Imbued with Olympic Peninsula Saffron, Sheep’s Milk Yogurt.

Hyssop Haven
Red Haven Peach Sorbet, Wood-Roasted Peach,
Sparkling Anise Hyssop Soda.

Berry, Bough, Balsamico
Sourdough & Saleratus Waffle, Smoked Lardo, Wild Berries in
Vancouver Island Balsamic Vinegar, Douglas Fir & Cedar-Bough Ice Cream.

Native Beverages, Herbals, and Teas
Leaf Tisanes, Real Teas, Herbal Teas, Native Root and Bark Decotation.

Sweet Bits
Frosted White Currants • Strawberry Mousse with Rose Geranium • Sugar Beet Cake with Lemon Thyme & Blueberries• Salted Caramel in Cinnamon Basil Leaf

Accompanying Dinner: 
House Churned Holstein Cow Butter •
Metchosin Southern Vancouver Island Red Fife Wheat Sourdough Loaf

The meal is notable for not only its richness but of the individual workmanship of every dish. I was reading a book recently called Consider the Fork, which talks about technology in the kitchen, and it pointed out that in the past, smooth sauces and light foams were highly prized, as they represented the amount of effort that went into preparation. Then, with the Cuisinart in the 80s, we saw an overload of easily-made sauces across the board, and so today the artisinal hand-crafting of individual components, shaped and presented by hand, is a sign of greater effort. And such is the case here - each course is not a thing, but a deliberate selection of a ingredients that, combined, provide a rich experience. The plates are small, succinct, and delicious, and you end the evening not bloated from a surfeit of flesh, but rather satisfied, well-informed, and at rest. That is a great challenge to any meal, and the restaurant lives up to its reputation.

The restaurant is also extremely nimble at responding to dietary restrictions, and will inquire upon making reservations. The LB is allergic to eggs, and Anne to shellfish, so the baked oyster with scrambled egg was referred to at our table as the "spouse-killer". Yet the kitchen responded with replacements that both delighted the women without making them feeling like they were getting lesser meals because of their restrictions.

The pacing was luxurious yet we were never left waiting. Instead, the wine and conversation carried us smoothly through the meal in a relaxed, delightful state. And you cannot rush a meal like this. The duck breast was perfect, the salmon-head soup was comforting, and the foie gras showed ultimate respect for the ingredient (I had tried foie at Canlis, and while good, I wouldn't order it again. This was a magnitude greater). Even the riskier elements (a Doug Fir ice cream, making you feel like you were in an episode of Iron Chef) were measured and inspired a smile at the whimsy as opposed to a cringe at the presumption.

And yes, we were one of the last tables to close, so involved were we in our meals and discussions. On leaving, they presented us with a sample of their hand-made salt. And several days later, we got a thank-you card from one of our servers.

Expensive? Absolutely. Value for the money spent? Definitely. The destination for that perfect evening, or that significant-number birthday or anniversary? Of course. The Herbfarm has developed a great reputation and has lived up to it. Even a month later, I am still remembering the courses and the tastes. A wonderful evening.

More later,