2009 January at John Mackey's Blog



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  • How I Spent My Teen Years
  • New stuff for Fall 2014!
  • UTWE Tour : Shenzhen
  • Wine-Dark Sea – the video
  • Wine-Dark Sea – recording and score
  • “Wine-Dark Sea” – the program note
  • We’re buying a house!
  • Symphony for Band – an update, with audio
  • Xerxes — for metal rock band
  • (Redacted)
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  • Cats: LA Cat Show
  • Design: Cambridge Studio
  • Design: Dining Room
  • Design: Family Room
  • Design: Front Door
  • Design: Kitchen, pt.1
  • Design: Kitchen, pt.2
  • Design: Kitchen, pt.3
  • Design: Kitchen, pt.4
  • Design: Kitchen, pt.5
  • Design: Living Room
  • Design: The Austin House, part 1
  • Design: The Austin House, pro shots
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  • Food: Babbo
  • Food: Eleven Madison Park
  • Food: Jean-Georges
  • Food: Joel Robuchon
  • Food: Next: Childhood
  • Food: Samar
  • Food: Scarpetta
  • Food: WD-50
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  • Japan, part 4: Kobe beef
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  • Music: My Process
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  • Music: Self-Publishing part 2: audio
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  • January 24, 2009

    AEJ Cribs

    Okay, okay — I’m sorry this took so long to post, but our family room redesign is now AEJ Approved — for the most part. It’s been five months in the making, and there are a few accessories to come (like a sweet black lucite backgammon set, currently in transit!), but we’re mighty close now.

    Come, if you will, on a journey. A journey way back to June 2008, when AEJ and I first saw the house. The family room looked like this:

    Note the tile floor. Note the rustic wooden ceiling beam. Note the painted wood paneling on the walls, and the popcorn ceiling. The vertical blinds. Note the harsh halogen overhead floodlight above the fireplace. Note… the fireplace. Let’s focus on that fireplace for a moment. This shot is from the day we closed on the house. Here, one of our contractor’s workers is getting to work on the fireplace. You can really see the wood paneling on the walls, the popcorn-textured ceiling, and the loveliness that is the original fireplace.

    Here’s the fireplace straight-on, after we moved in (so the paneling is gone, the walls are painted, the brass surround and wooden mantel are off of the fireplace, and the floors are new).

    One big reason we wanted to buy a house was so that we could really make a place our own. AEJ is a kick-ass designer, and there’s only so much you can do to a room if you’re renting the place. If you own it, you can go as crazy as a budget will allow (and more often than not, way beyond the budget).

    AEJ didn’t think the original fireplace worked with the era of the home — late 1960’s. She wanted something to play off the low-slung shape of the house, so she came up with a new fireplace shape with a reverse-mantel (so that the top sticks out further than the fire box area). Here’s the fireplace with the new shape, freshly-framed and ready for tile.

    This is one of the tile installers, putting the finishing touches on the fireplace. The tile install took five days.

    And here is the finished product. It’s tough to tell in this shot, but the “logs” in the fireplace are selenite crystals, lit by recessed can lights under the mantel. In the right light, it looks like the friggin’ Fortress of Solitude. To the left is an upholstered panel (we did that part ourselves – yay, us!), and on the right is a curtain with the same fabric. The tile on top is 1’x2′ marble, and the black part is 1″x2″ black glass. I think AEJ spent three hours laying out the tile for the top.

    Here’s a detail shot of the fabric. It has dragons! (Where does she find this stuff?!) The design directive for the room was “Elvis Goes to China.” I think AEJ nailed it.

    Here’s a detail of the “logs” in the fireplace. We figured, living in Texas, that the fireplace wasn’t going to get much if any use, so we made it purely decorative. We filled the bed of the fireplace with black glass fire pit crystals to cover up the black brick on the bottom. (I painted the inside of the fireplace at the beginning of the project.)

    These crazy guys flank the fireplace. RAWR!

    One of AEJ’s biggest design things seems to be attention to lighting. (The finished room has 41 light bulbs. No joke. 41.) Replacing the overhead halogen lights, AEJ found an enormous 30-arm black crystal chandelier. This thing is completely massive, weighing about 150 pounds, and measuring four feet across. Here’s a shot of our electrician, Bernie, getting to work on hanging the support post.

    This is how it started — and how Bernie left it. But we spent probably 30 hours getting it from this…

    … to this. Wiring a 30-arm chandelier was a pain in the ass.

    So we went from this, when we first looked at the house…

    … to this, on the day we closed…

    … to this, today.

    From this, on the first night we stayed in the house…

    … to this.

    From this…

    … to this.

    The custom sofa (designed by AEJ, after a design by Philippe Starck) is 11-feet wide, and it’s about as environmentally-friendly as we could find: upholstered in white (white, white, white) ultrasuede made from recycled plastic bottles, stuffed with natural down feathers from birds raised for food (whose feathers are normally considered disposable byproducts), with springs wrapped in natural latex (made from the sap of trees, so it’s biodegradable). The chaise is wide enough for AEJ and I to sit next to each other comfortably — even leaving enough room for Loki. (The chaise is larger than a full-size bed.)

    AEJ wanted an ultra-slick look, so I had all of the stereo components moved into a closet where they’re controlled by RF remote control (as are all of the lights in the room, so when you press “Watch Movie” on the remote, all of the room’s lights dim). The speaker wires are short enough — and each speaker has its own speaker wire port in the wall directly behind it — so when you’re sitting in the middle of the sofa, you can’t see a single wire anywhere in the room. (Inside the component closet, though — boy howdy, there are some wires.) The center speaker stand is a custom acrylic piece made by a place in Miami, thick enough to hold the 98-pound center speaker, but in clear acrylic so it almost looks like the massive speaker is floating.

    It’s all soooo crazy-cool that I can’t believe it’s our house, and that AEJ designed it all herself. It’s amazing to me that she can design both our soft, pretty living room AND the sickest slickest home theater I’ve ever seen.

    The house is really coming together. We really should have a party soon — but would you still come if we made you wear disposable booties?


    January 13, 2009


    This week is a big renovation week here at the house. The fireplace that we had re-framed back in late November is finally being tiled as I type this. (Who knew it took six weeks for a tile order to arrive?!) We spent two hours on Sunday night arranging the tile in the layout it would be hung.

    One down — an only about 70 more to go! Stay tuned…


    January 3, 2009

    Uchi – revisited

    One thing I miss most from LA is the sushi. While nothing can compare to Jinpachi, here in Austin, we have Uchi, which is very good. AEJ and I went for dinner one night last week. We started with the Uchi Salad.

    I didn’t save the menu, so I might get some of this wrong, but I think this was the Hirame Usuzukuri (flounder with smoked sea salt, yuzu zest, daikon, and quinoa candy).

    This was the “toro nuta” — bluefin toro with dried cranberries, marcona almonds, and white soy. It was awful. No joke. It was really fishy-tasting, and if anything, toro shouldn’t taste like anything but butter. We sent it back — our waiter was very nice about it — and they explained that the white soy had fish oil in it, giving it a fishy taste. Call me crazy, but I don’t think it makes sense to add something to sushi to make it taste like old dead fish. It was pretty, though.

    In a complete contrast, the next dish was “hama chili” — yellowtail sashimi with ponzu, sliced thai chilis, and orange supremes. This was spectacular. I love the taste of fruit with zesty spice. It was just incredible — and the yellowtail was perfect.

    This next one was just silly. This is maguro sashimi and goat cheese with cracked pepper, fuji apple, and pumpkin seed oil. Basically, it just tasted like goat cheese and apple; the fish was completely lost, both in flavor and texture. It was tasty and kind of funny, but it may as well have been a tiny $17 cheese plate with only goat cheese.

    I love scallops, so I tried their version — “hotate,” a spicy scallop with avocado. It was good, but it just couldn’t compare to the scallop at Jinpachi, where it’s a large scallop served butterflied over barely-warm rice (as all their sushi is; Uchi’s sushi rice was cold, a major point against them) with just some Hawaiian sea salt and fresh lemon juice. The scallop at Uchi was a good scallop, but it was served wrapped in seaweed — and I hate seaweed. When I asked if I could have one just on rice, they said no, because it would fall apart. It wouldn’t fall apart if you used a full scallop and you butterflied it, but whatever — it was still pretty good, after I picked off the seaweed.

    Some more of the exceptional yellowtail, so fresh it was almost translucent. Would have been even better if the rice had been the proper temperature…

    Dessert was peanut butter semi freddo with apple-miso sorbet and ringo crisps. This was incredible. This would be an insanely great dessert at any restaurant.

    Uchi is very good, but I wish they’d trust their fish more and not feel compelled to cover everything with sauces and other distractions. Nothing is better than a fresh piece of tuna, lightly brushed with soy on fresh-ground wasabi on warm rice. I’ll definitely go back to Uchi — I just miss Jinpachi…


    The end of XMAS 08

    My favorite blogger, Fosco, recently visited NYC, and he had what sounds to be a fantastic dinner at Jean Georges.  (Fosco is one of those people whom I only know through blogging, but I think if we’d be friends in real life, too.) I’ve blogged several times about dinners at Jean Georges, and although my camera is a little fancier than Fosco’s, Fosco’s writing talent makes his entry about the experience much more satisfying.  Maybe I should just follow Fosco around, being his blog staff photographer.   Fosco is an academic, so I’m sure the pay would be excellent.

    A few weeks ago, I wrote an entry speculating that Hermie from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was perhaps gay. Then, on Christmas Eve, look what I spotted on TV! It’s good to see that Hermie has come out. You go, Hermie!

    Speaking of Christmas Eve, here’s a picture of our tree that night. Why are there so many presents?! Every year, we say that we’re going to go easy on the presents, and every year, it looks like we have six kids.

    This year, AEJ definitely won the prize for Most Surprising Gift. Ever since we visited Graceland back in 2005, I’ve been obsessed with the white monkey sculpture that Elvis had in his TV room. Here’s a shot — it’s on the kick-ass mirrored coffee table.

    I’ve wanted that sculpture for years. Every couple of months, I go online, searching for a copy. Somebody emailed me out of nowhere a few weeks ago (after seeing my blog entry about the monkey), telling me he had a copy, a gift from a wealthy old woman in San Francisco. I was excited for him, but this didn’t help me, since he wasn’t about to part with it. So imagine my shock on Christmas morning when I opened this!

    That’s right — TWO monkeys! Each one is a little smaller than Elvis’s, but the one on the right is an exact duplicate other than the size. They’re awesome. I have no idea how AEJ found them.
    Knowing that I had been wanting the monkey sculpture, but unable to find the exact copy, AEJ’s mom got me something just as fun — a crystal monkey. Loki loved the box…

    … and the foam padding, too.

    AEJ also got “Fallout 3” for me for Christmas. Holy crap, I love this game, and I can’t stop playing it. We’ve played 35 hours since Christmas, and I can’t get enough. It’s one of those things that screws with your brain, though, so now when I’m out of the house and I see things like a stranger’s desk or a fire hose case, I want to search it. Between the two of us, we also got “Animal Crossing – City Folk” for the Wii (AEJ is playing that as I type), “Boom Blox” (really fun — thanks to Kevin for recommending it), “Star Wars: The Force Unleashed” (super fun, wielding that kind of power), and “Little Big Planet.” The only real dud to us: Little Big Planet. The reviews were great, but the controls suck. It looks incredible, but it feels like it’s laboring to be cute, whereas “Animal Crossing” accomplishes that effortlessly. If anybody wants to buy a barely-used copy of Little Big Planet for PS3, let me know!

    Gotta run — Fallout 3 is calling!