Think back to 1993. The record industry was still riding the wave of the CD boom and there was plenty of money in the budget to sign –if not necessarily nurture – new artists. The labels in those days took your basic throw-a-handful-against-the-wall-and-see-who-sticks approach to A&R. Most heavily hyped signees found themselves back on the street after an album or two.
I was editing a California music magazine at the time. The editors were charged with keeping a close eye on what was going on in the Golden State, and there were plenty of buzz bands coming out of Los Angeles and San Francisco. At some stage, we took notice of a sleeper record called Tuesday Night Music Club – just the sort of album that more often than not got lost in the avalanche of releases. It didn’t cause much of a stir out of the box, but it kept crawling up, up, up the charts. So we decided to get the story on the woman whose name was on the cover: Sheryl Crow.
There’s an amusing scene in the Sandra Bullock rom-com, The Proposal, where Bullock’s character and her fiancé (played by Ryan Reynolds) are trying to get to know each other better. She casually mentions that her first concert was Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock. Reynolds feigns ignorance, pretending not to know who they are, before admitting that he actually does and just wanted to hear her sing the lyrics. Both break into the 1988 hip-hop gem, “It Takes Two.”
Speaking of rocking the microphone: our first hip-hop compilation comes out July 20. Entitled Back in the Day: A Summertime Hip-Hop Mix, it’s a compilation of songs from what’s known as “the golden age of hip-hop” (c. 1988-1996), and it plays like the same Bullock/Reynolds shared joy of singing along to a hip-hop classic.
Summertime means beach reading, which traditionally translates to thrillers, romances and the odd inspirational memoir. None of the above appeal much to me, I’m afraid. I’m a nonfiction guy, with a soft spot for music tomes of one sort or another.
Currently residing next to my bedside lamp is a 10-year-old history of the brothers who played a vital role in the rise of the Chicago blues – Nadine Cohodas’ Spinning Blues into Gold. It was preceded by a biography that explores similar terrain – Robert Gordon’s definitive Can’t Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters. If it isn’t obvious, all that reading about the Second City circa the mid-20th century is to prepare for a Chicago blues compilation from us.
Here are a few more books I’d love to get around to in the next couple of months – when it finally heats up in the Northwest:
- Robin D.G. Kelley’s Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, a 2009 release that I’ve been told is the most thorough and nuanced book on an eccentric, complex genius.
Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend one of Seattle’s “foodie” highlights: The Bite of Seattle. The Bite is an annual event that takes all of the best restaurants in the city and gathers them together in one spot, making it easy to sample a little bit of everything. The location is great too. It’s held in the Seattle Center, a wide open plaza under the Space Needle, built for the 1962 World’s Fair.
There were dozens of vendors selling everything from slow-cooked BBQ to chocolate-dipped fruit kebabs. Most of the vendors are just one-off booths, but there’s also a special line where, for a small donation to a local food bank, you can get a full plate of deliciousness from a selection of the top restaurants in the city! That’s what I did.
It’s 5:24 am on a Tuesday morning and I need my coffee. I need my Starbucks VIA® Ready Brew.
As I stumble downstairs to the kitchen, the first thing I do is prepare myself a cup of what I think is the best thing on earth. On early mornings like this, my body craves that great taste of coffee, that awesome aroma, that warmth – minus all that caffeine. I don’t need that extra kick since I know I’ll be diving into a cold pool in a few minutes as I log in a few thousand yards of swim practice with my friends. Truly that is enough to wake me up anyway!
And the best part is it stays warm in my tumbler until hours after I get out of the pool. A sip of it is my little reward for a job well done. As my coffee pot collects dust at home, I get to enjoy rich, bold and easy Starbucks VIA® Decaf Italian Roast each and every day. It’s roasted a bit sweet, so it pairs well with my much-needed chocolate caramel protein bar after my hard workout. And for someone like me who is always on the go, but still wants that same great taste without all the caffeine, this is just perfect in everyway.
Kenya is a fantastic iced coffee on a warm summer day. Our Kenya is grown at high altitude, which means the cherries take their time to ripen on the trees. That makes the beans denser, which in turn makes the citrus fruit flavors of this coffee more intense.
For a perfect garden party try this combination – Iced Kenya and Orange & Rose Cupcakes.
First, make up a large pitcher of Iced Kenya (brewing it double strength) and serve it on ice saturated with herbs and fruit. I love to float blackberries, lemon balm and borage flowers in the pitcher, as these highlight the different flavors in the coffee and look so pretty. Serve it with plenty of ice and cupcakes!
What goes best with fireworks on Fourth of July? Great food! The celebration wouldn’t be complete without delicious food to enjoy with friends and family. So, from our food family to yours, we wanted to share our favorite recipe.
Leanne, a 15 year partner, loves kicking off the festivities with her delicious Berry Flag Cake. Topped with fresh in-season strawberries and blueberries, this red-white-and-blue dish is amazingly yummy. And I like to think it counts as a serving of fruit.
Here’s the recipe:
- 18 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 cups sugar
- 6 large eggs
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 3 cups flour
- 1/3 cup cornstarch
- teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Creating the three Starbucks® Natural Fusions flavored coffees involved a lot of coffee tasting to ensure the ingredients were just right. After many cuppings of brewed coffee, we selected beans that were specially blended and roasted to complement each flavor we had in mind.
We’d start with a particular coffee and try it with different kinds of our main flavor ingredient, like cinnamon – since a flavor can have many different characteristics. Think of “hot” cinnamon, “sweet” cinnamon and “warm” cinnamon and you see what I mean.
We’d blend the flavor and coffee, brew and taste until the right flavor profile and strength came through. Then we’d enhance a flavor and make it more complex in taste by adding other spices and botanicals. All in all, we did a lot of tastings. You can imagine all of the combinations and all of the different components that had to be evaluated to get us to where the coffees are now.
House Blend is one of those coffees often forgotten by people who favor more “exciting” blends like Gold Coast Blend® or Caffè Verona®. However, House Blend is a special coffee all on its own and it holds an important place in our lineup.
In addition to it being a blend of the fine Latin America beans, it is a perfect balance of body, acidity and flavor that makes it easy to drink. It’s also a perfect introduction to our whole bean offerings.
One of my favorite experiences to share with House Blend is a coffee tasting. New Starbucks partners (employees) compare House Blend brewed in a coffee press to a commercial coffee – the kind our parents and grandparents drank. It is this tasting in particular that helps people develop an appreciation for our coffee – it’s when you first realize there is something special in the cup. Even the most inexperienced coffee drinkers identify the difference in colors, smells and flavors as they slurp. I often hear the commercial coffee smells like “hay” or “grass.” When you smell House Blend, it smells like a roasty, sweet cup of delicious coffee.
It wasn’t easy. Somehow I had managed to keep the performance a secret for about three weeks. And then finally, as I wrote on Facebook, “I still can’t believe it, but I’m front row at Starbucks Corp Office eagerly awaiting the arrival of the lovely Sarah McLachlan.”
Someone whispered, “She’s here!” and soon enough, Sarah was moving through the lively, cheering room, sitting down at the piano and greeting us with her fantastic song “Loving You Is Easy” from her new album Laws of Illusion.
For me, this song is a familiar one, reminding me of some of her earlier works –and from the crowd response, they were thinking the same thing. She continued with another song from the new album, “Forgiveness.” While not as cheerful, it was still as captivating, and true to those haunting vocal tones we know well.
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