Sometimes All You Need…

…is a brand new guitar!

I definitely didn’t see this one coming but hey, I guess I’ll roll with it.

So I went over to Guitar Center on San Pedro here in San Antonio looking to demo any one of two Taylor 12 string models – either a 362ce or a 562ce. I had these models in mind for many specific reasons – small body shape (easier to handle) 12-fret neck-to-body joint (fuller tone) short scale length (less tension), and a mahogany top (warmer/less bright). I wasn’t looking to buy either one (as I’m not a fan of cutaway body or electronics, but Taylor doesn’t make those without the ce so I was going to demo and, if I liked what I heard and felt, request a quote for a custom build).

In the general section of the acoustic room they didn’t have any of those but they did have a few low end Taylor 12s – 150e models. I picked one up to fiddle with it, and it was OK for the price. Went to ask about driving it through an amplifier and they took me to the back room to do so. As I was testing the electronics, I looked over and saw one lone 552ce in a locked hanger. The only difference between the 552ce and the 562ce is the former has a cedar top instead.

So I asked an attendant to get it down so I could test drive it as it were. They readily helped, and apparently it had been forever since it had been played because it was so out of tune. I tuned her up and played a few chords and was instantly enamored – each course rings loud and true with ample volume (surprising in fact for such a small body), it’s very comfortable to hold and it plays like absolute butter – just as easy as a well set up 6 string guitar. That’s no easy feat on a 12 string.

I probably played that thing for 15-20 minutes, both plugged and unplugged (the ES2 electronics actually sound fantastic, making me actually want to keep the electronics in case I ever play live anywhere). I also decided I likely preferred the cedar as the mahogany top would have probably been too muffled for my taste (and thus cedar is a happy medium between spruce and mahogany) as well as for aesthetic reasons. My heart was set but I still wanted to see if I could get a custom build without the cutaway.

I went to ask the clerk about that and financing and he advised me that asking for a non-cutaway special build would likely be more expensive as it’s not a production model, even though a non-cutaway is generally less expensive. Well damn. The guitar sounds fantastic as is, so I figured what the hell, I’ll try to figure out a way to walk out with it that night. Applied for GC financing and was approved instantly (this is why it’s important to take care of your credit!) for 48 months same as cash/interest free financing. It was a no-brainer. The guitar was mine.

(Note: the following day I was actually glad I kept the cutaway as this guitar is a 12th fret neck-to-body joint as opposed to a 14th fret so accessing the upper frets would have been extremely difficult on a non-cutaway.)

So that’s the story of how I wound up with my dream guitar. No doubt it’ll get lots of use. It’s an absolutely incredible instrument. Even if you don’t normally play 12 strings, this one should be accessible to you. It really did blow me away with the sound quality and ease of play.

Anyway, off to enjoy my guitar some more. Have a good day!

My Strange Attachment (Pun Fully Intended)

I do have attachments to some of my personal belongings. I know, weird. I’m not what I’d call materialistic but some stuff is kind of sentimental to me, but none of those things have the bond I have with this guy.

Everyone, meet my longtime friend Kirby:

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Yes, my strange attachment is to my vacuum cleaner – a 1995 model year Kirby G4. My great-grandmother bought him new back in the day. I remember like yesterday the in-home demonstration the gentleman did using our old vacuum cleaner and then this beast showing how much off-the-shelf vacuum cleaners leave behind. It was very impressive. I remember being absolutely fascinated with it as a kid, even to the point I did the vacuuming around the house because I was just so enamored with Kirby. Even my parents found it weird how fascinated I was with a goddamned vacuum cleaner – but of course now we know why I had such an interest.

When my great-grandmother passed away, the vacuum kind of became mine. Mom and dad got other vacuums along the way (mostly bagless because they didn’t want to deal with changing bags), but when I vacuumed I always insisted on using Kirby. The others just weren’t the same, nor do they have anywhere close to as much suction. A Kirby will out-suck just about anything else out there.

When I moved out for college and grad school, I took Kirby with me as he wasn’t getting used by my parents at all by that point. I needed a vacuum cleaner for my place anyway, and if they let me have Kirby that was just icing on the cake. It cost me nothing to take and I wouldn’t have any other vacuum if given my choice.

He came back with me and into storage after grad school when I was living with mom and dad again. I took him with me to Dallas, where he got used in my apartment there, but then went back into storage again after returning to Abilene once again, where he would remain for a year and three quarters, until Laina and I went by the locker this past Sunday on our Abilene visit and recovered him to bring back with me to San Antonio.

Last night I fitted a new bag and fired him up for the first time since February of 2018. Like long-lost friends, we picked right back up where we left off. It was like yesterday. He sprung back to life the second I plugged him in and he’s running as great as ever, save for needing a new self-propelled transmission.

So here we are in November 2019, 24 years and change after it became part of my life. It’s been with me through ups and downs, and we grieved the passing of my beloved great-grandmother together, but he’s still never missed a beat and is reliable as ever.

Sure, I’ve replaced many drive belts along the way, along with a few brush rolls and even a fan impeller, always opting to do the work myself instead of paying for labor (the same will be true when I am in a spot to replace the transmission). Me being how I am (autistic) I’ve always loved to tinker with stuff (even before I knew why), and Kirby was no exception. To me it just feels more personal when I do it myself. Now there will come a point I can’t and I have to send it back to the manufacturer for a full rebuild, but that’s years and probably even decades in the future as these things are built to last.

Anyway, funny story about the fan impeller – I was vacuuming out my car and sucked a huge rock into the vacuum, and almost immediately heard a loud “crunch” and a bunch of pinging. I immediately shut the vacuum off and took the hose off to reveal that the impeller had shattered into about 4 pieces. Of course I wasn’t going to pay someone to replace it, so I just went to the parts store to get a new impeller and put in the sweat equity myself.

Little did I know the G4 was the last model that featured a metal fan impeller – the G5 on up have kevlar impellers which I imagine were developed for that reason. Needless to say Kirby is now retrofitted with the kevlar impeller and we have not had a repeat and I’ve sucked a lot of sizable shit up into him since.

Alas, that’s the story of my strange attachment, 24 years in the making. I almost feel like Rob McGroarty talking about my beloved Kirby vacuum (and kudos to whoever gets the reference), but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Kirby and I do share a special bond that just gets sweeter as time goes on, and you’re free to judge or ridicule if you wish because I know it’s real to me.

My Recent Foray into Home Cooking

I have to admit, I never thought much of my own cooking skills. Yeah, I could do basic stuff (like heat up pre-packaged stuff, using a microwave or toaster oven, etc.) and live, but never did I venture much into cooking from scratch. I just never thought I really had it in me to do so, and the couple of times I had tried in the past were absolute disasters.

Of course, going gluten-free changes all of that. Almost all pre-packaged meals contain something glutenated, not to mention a bunch of artificial chemical shit nobody should be eating! When I look back I’m disgusted at what I was actually eating, solely in the name of convenience and, I admit, sheer laziness!

Alas, here’s where I get my hand forced. Eating out every day is prohibitively expensive (unless of course you have the net worth of our worthless orange-haired shitgibbon of a president!) so here I am having no choice but to learn to cook from scratch! Between that and that Laina is a self-admitted “disaster in the kitchen” (though she does help when possible) well, I’m kind of handcuffed into it.

I always figured I’d have to go on Food Network’s “Worst Cooks In America” to learn anything! I know so many people wonder how anyone can be that genuinely horrible at cooking, but I seriously thought I was. Well, maybe not so much.

I’ve now cooked four meals from scratch (all on Tuesday nights interestingly enough) for Laina and I, with plenty left over for subsequent meals and I have to say so far, so good! Hell, even the stuff I’ve made has been palatable to *ME*, so even own-worst-critic me is giving myself a pat on the back for what I’ve done thus far – from gluten-free pasta to sirloin steaks and everything in between!

I’d like to share with you what I’ve done for the past couple of weeks, taking one base ingredient and preparing it two totally different ways just to demonstrate that it’s OK to think outside of the box. For the base ingredient, I’ve used spaghetti squash – a large squash that literally turns stringy when cooked, like spaghetti. I scored a sale on organic spaghetti squash at Natural Grocers for $0.99/lb so I couldn’t pass up picking up a couple. It’s naturally gluten-free and has lots of fiber and nutrients, making it a great substitute for regular pasta.

For the first one, I took it in a typical direction you’d find – more of an Italian spaghetti type dish. Using one large spaghetti squash (baked at 400F for 40 minutes; split the squash, scoop out the pulp, vent and bake face down), combined with two jars of Whole Foods 365 organic pasta sauce  heated in a crock pot, 1 lb. grass-fed ground beef, and two bulbs minced garlic, one red onion and one portabella mushroom all sauteed, the end result was a healthy, delicious dinner to satisfy even the most die-hard spaghetti fan!

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Then just tonight, knowing the other one would have to be eaten soon but not wanting to do the same thing twice in a row, the gears started turning and I thought “what if I take this in an Asian direction?” After all, noodles are at the base of many Asian dishes. From that seed the idea for spaghetti squash stir fry was born. Baking the spaghetti squash the same as before, I stir fried 1 lb. of boneless/skinless chicken thighs with 2 stalks of celery, two carrots, two portabella caps, a large red onion and diced unsalted peanuts, with some green onion on the side (I’m not a fan, but Laina loves them so I did it that way). Combine this with the squash and 1 bottle each of San-J Thai Peanut and Spicy Szechuan sauces and the end result was a stir fry fit for Genghis Khan himself!

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I have to admit, this has been a blast. I never thought I’d actually enjoy cooking quite like this, but I really am. It’s almost like “you mean I made that?” Damn. I guess I can do this after all. I don’t know what I’ll come up with next, but we shall see.

Cigar Review: Oscar 2012 Barberpole

This offering from Oscar Valladares features a striped Barberpole consisting of Candela and Mexican San Andreas wrappers, Nicaraguan binder and Honduran and Nicaraguan long fillers. The size smoked for review is a 6″ x 52RG sharply box pressed Toro vitola.

The first light reveals a perfect draw putting off plumes of mild/medium bodied smoke. The signature Candela flavor starts things off – vegetal, grassy, with a glycerin sweetness. A hint of pepper to start.

As the cigar develops the body ticks up to a medium as the San Andreas starts to engage. A very complex blend of flavors – still with the Candela flavor package but an addition of a rich cocoa, a slight creamy note, a heavy earth and a substantial pepper blast. Everything is seamlessly blended. No one flavor sticks out.

The flavor package was consistent start to finish, which was fine by me as it was so complex and so well done it kept my interest. Ending at 1 hour 45 minutes for a truly impressive burn time for the size and the strength matches the body at a medium.

Flawless construction throughout with a burn line about as good as you can expect from a Barberpole – no touch ups required. Short flowery ash though, so be aware of that. Band is high quality and self adhesive and removes without damage to the wrapper.

This cigar will have wide appeal. Fans of both Candela and San Andreas will find something to like about this cigar. With its middle of the road body and strength profile, it would be a great cigar for any time of day and will pair well with just about anything. At about $8-9/stick, this is a great value for what you get. Rating: 4.5/5.

The Gluten-Free Cigar Lover: What To Drink With Cigars

So it’s been about a week and a half since I found out that I have Celiac disease and I’ve been gluten-free for almost a month now. During that time, I have only had one accidental exposure and oh man did I feel it! I guess that’s why I never knew it before – I had gotten so used to the reaction I didn’t even notice it, then once my body’s defenses had reloaded, I get glutenated and bam, misery!

Anyway, today’s topic is going to be what to drink with your cigars if you’re gluten-free. Of course, some of my old favorite pairings are a no-go now (namely stout beer and Scotch/Irish whisk(e)y), but I’m slowly discovering new alternatives to pair with my cigars that I think my fellow Celiac and NCGS folks will love.

Coffee, of course, goes without saying:
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The nectar of the gods – naturally gluten-free, a great cup of plain black coffee is almost a universal pairing with a fine cigar, and is naturally gluten-free and, if you’re watching your calories, has only 2 calories per cup! Of course, experiment with different blends and roasts to find your favorites to pair with what cigars, but you’re sure to find a coffee that goes with just about any cigar.

You’ve seen me pair red wine with cigars a lot too:

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Wine goes without saying as gluten-free as it’s made from grapes. Much like coffee, red wine is almost a universal pairing. With a range of varietals of red wine (from a mild Pinot Noir to a hefty Cabernet Sauvignon to everything in between), you’re sure to find a red wine that goes with just about any cigar out there. Match the body of the cigar to the body of the wine for best results.

If liquor is your preference, a nice dark rum is an excellent pairing:

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Rum is distilled from sugarcane, which is naturally gluten-free. Think a nice Flor de Cana with a medium to full bodied cigar for a ultra smooth smoking and drinking experience. Rum doesn’t have the afterburn that a whiskey would, so it won’t stand up to the ass-kicker cigars, but it’s got quite a variety of cigars to pair with it.

Now, for my new personal favorite pairing, brandy:

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Brandy is simply distilled wine, so no grains are present in the mash. Laurence Davis, owner of Sautter Cigars in London, UK, is on record as saying “brandy goes unbelievably with a cigar,” so I tired it. Man oh man was he ever right! A nice brandy (the above shown is E&J’s Very Special) goes great with a medium/full to full bodied cigar and gives me that afterburn I crave that I lost when I had to give up whisk(e)y.

One pairing not pictured here is a nice mimosa. A mimosa paired with a mild cigar is a great way to kick-start your day, is all gluten-free and absolutely delicious.

As far as some others I’ve talked to, I know a number of people who like vodka with cigars, however I’m not a fan and some vodkas can be glutenated so be careful. I’ve heard gin less commonly being paired with cigars, but some people I think like that too. Tequila I can’t see going well with a cigar but maybe it can.

Finally, closing this post out I’d like to make some comments about whisk(e)y. I’ve heard mixed reports on it so I’ll share my impressions. It seems that some Celiacs and NCGS people tolerate whisk(e)y OK while others seem to react to it the way they would if they ingested glutenated food or beer. Whereas most whisk(e)y that’s been tested meets the US FDA’s definition of certified gluten-free (less than 20 ppm), I think the root of the problem lies elsewhere.

My theory is that distillation actually breaks the gluten down into its individual peptides. Just which peptides are present in any given whisk(e)y we’ll never know. Also, no two people react to the exact same subset of gluten peptides. As such, I theorize that the ones who can tolerate whisk(e)y are not reactive to the peptides found in it, whereas the ones who react to it are. If we have the technology to test them for specific peptides, why aren’t we doing it?

As such, I am laying off whisk(e)y for now, especially in the early goings while my body heals itself. I might try reintroducing it at some point down the road to see if I can handle it. If I can, great. If not, oh well. I’ve found so many great alternatives anyway!

If I have any gluten-reactive cigar lovers who follow me, I’d like to hear from you. What do you like to pair with your cigars? I’m always wanting to learn more and try new things. Comment with your favorite pairings!

Cigar Review: Southern Draw Rose of Sharon

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This offering from Southern Draw cigars features an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper over a Nicaraguan binder and Nicaraguan and Dominican long fillers. The size smoked for review is a 6″ x 52RG box pressed Toro vitola.

The first light revealed a slightly snug draw but producing ample creamy, medium-bodied smoke. The first light flavors revealed a general nutty flavor profile supported by a big pepper blast on the retrohale. Fairly plain out of the gate, but ramped up quickly.

As the cigar develops into the first third, a rich bouquet of smooth flavors enter in – the nuttiness takes on a distinct cashew note and is followed up with notes of sweet cream and vanilla extract. The pepper is still very present on the finish and retrohale. All flavors are very well blended and nothing dominates over the others.

We see only a slight transition into the 2nd third as the pepper starts to diminish slightly, allowing a heavy, aromatic oak to enter the mix. The final third saw another subtle shift as the vanilla started to diminish and the pepper ramped back up. Finishing out at 1 hour and 20 minutes for a very impressive burn time for a Toro sized stick and bringing in a surprising medium nicotine strength.

The construction was absolutely perfect with a near razor-sharp burn all the way down and the ash holding on solidly for a third of the cigar at a time. High-quality self-adhesive bands that were easy to remove and did not damage the wrapper leaf in any way.

Wow, is the paradigm shifting when it comes to Connecticut blends? I’ve gotten a number of them recently that have defied my expectations for what a Connecticut would be. Maybe we’re seeing a market trend toward more flavorful, complex Connecticuts? I hope so, as I do like to smoke milder cigars in the morning (my palate is quite sensitive). ¬†This one is definitely in the upper echelon, right up there with the previously reviewed Henry Clay War Hawk and the Blanco Liga Exclusiva de Familia. ¬†Great with a nice strong, dark roast coffee. Rating: 4.5/5.

Phoenix, You’re A Fine Girl

Wow. Just, wow. That’s about all I can say right now.

Since we’ve already secured me a place to live, that freed Laina and I up to have some fun the rest of my vacation week, and that’s exactly what we did today when we took Phoenix out for a 330-ish mile (530-ish km) road trip end to end today, on some of the most fun terrain I’ve ever driven any vehicle on.

We set out around 11:30 AM for Kerrville by way of Texas State Highway 16, a route I had ridden with her once before that I just knew I had to drive Phoenix through. Multiple elevation changes and twists and turns galore – some rated as low as 15 MPH “safe speed.”

15 MPH? Heh, is that some kind of a joke? Well, maybe not if you’re driving a big-ass pickup or SUV, but Phoenix in her low, sleek Jetta GLI profile? Try like 35-40 MPH negotiating those. Whatever the road threw at us she powered through consistently 20 MPH above the specced speeds, never leaving the demarcations of the lanes. Lots of down and upshifting, revving the engine hard, but never turning the wheel more than about 60 degrees in either direction. You could totally feel the G-Forces as we navigated the terrain, but at no point was she at the remotest risk of rolling over or tumbling down a hill.

We arrived in Kerrville for a nice lunch at their location of Fuddruckers (or, as we jokingly call it, “Ruddfuckers” :-P). Surprisingly, I’d never been to a Fuddruckers in my life. I went out on a limb and orderd an elk burger, on a gluten-free bun and loaded it up with various toppings. It was absolutely delicious.

After re-fueling our tanks (as Phoenix had gotten a full tank of Chevron Techron Supreme earlier in the day), we set back on the return trip, which I drove even slightly more aggressively than on the trip up. Again, she totally owned it, but we weren’t done yet!

On a total limb, we decided to take a side trip to make the loop known as “The Three Sisters” or “Texas’ Twisted Sisters” (which consists of Ranch Roads 335, 336, and 337). Let me tell you what – that name is no joke. Steep hills, tight turns, switchbacks and a hairpin all rolled into one. Once again, Phoenix never missed a beat as I dropped her into the lower gears, powered through the turns much faster than rated (including a hairpin rated at 10 MPH that she negotiated at 30 without blinking an eye), and powering up the steep grades, revving to the redline.

To say it was a total adrenaline rush would be a gross understatement. We lost cell signal in many places, leaving me wondering if we were really on the right path or we were just totally lost. I almost had a panic attack, but Laina (bless her heart) kept me focused through it all as I drove it in hard and made it stick. Sure, we had a couple of incidents of wildlife that we had to evade, as well as a construction zone, but never a hiccup through any of it.

Before I knew it we were right back to where we started, completing the loop end to end. High as a kite, and in desperate need of a piss, we stopped into a Family Dollar to relieve myself and then completed the journey back to home HQ (which I can now call it such as well).

Of course, all this going on while Laina blared her tunes in my CD as we sang along (well, she sang along and I made my pathetic attempt to, best described as caterwauling) shot the shit, punctuated by our ritual belching and throat clearing contests at times, and she totally entertained me by her facial expressions and random exclamations as I negotiated the obstacles. She even went so far as to tell me how impressed she was with my skill level, and I hadn’t even driven like that ever in my life! I guess it comes naturally to me.

Maybe I should consider a weekend gig of being a stunt driver for car commercials? You know, those car commercials that say “professional driver on a closed course – do not attempt.” I’m sure they make good money.

At any rate, needless to say Phoenix really impressed me today. This might be the first time she’s been driven for the purpose she was designed for. Make no mistake about it, the Jetta GLI is, for all intents and purposes, a sportscar even though it isn’t listed as such. It shares nothing in common with the “regular” Jetta and it might damn well be the best car VW builds (assuming, of course, the proper maintenance schedule is followed). After that outing, Laina and I ultimately agreed that despite the initial issues I had, I made the correct choice when I opted for her over the Honda Fit.

So as to what kind of trouble we’ll get into the rest of the week, we don’t quite know yet. All I know is this might be my best vacation ever.