Seth Levy: Writer and Consultant.

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2010 April 7
by admin

This Passover was not a bad one.  Maybe it’s that I’ve been busy writing and riding my bike – but the lack of breadly and beerly goodness wasn’t agonizing – it was merely soul-rending and uncomfortable.  Last night – the last night of Passover, I consumed more leavened carbohydrates than I knew what to do with:

1. 1 Baguette
2. A baked, breaded turkey cutlet
3. 325 milliliters of Chimay Blue
4. 2 bottles of Great Lakes Brewing Company Eliot Ness Amber Lager.

The Chimay was predictably beautiful.  We had it a bit cold, which muted some of the burgundy-raisin-estery flavors, but it went down very smoothly.  For 9% alcohol, it was surprisingly refreshing, with none of the hot alcohol prickle that can be associated with beers of this strength.

After the Chimay appetizer, I tore through a massive turkey sandwich and moved on to a more sessionable beer.  I had some Great Lakes Brewing Elliot Ness amber Lager left over from pre-Passover, and was not too excited.  Amber lager?  My feeling was that this is an insipid American style dosed with caramel to fool you into thinking it has flavor.  And “The Cleave?”  I hope none of the local water made it into the beer.  However – Great Lakes Brewing had a surprise for me.  This Amber started with a stiff, hoppy bite,  moved on to a smooth, malty middle, and a finished up dry.  It’s like the best parts of a brown ale, a pale ale, and a lager in one!  Interesting enough to make the palate crave another sip, a nice color, smooth enough to be refreshing, enough body to have some substance.   I sat on the stoop, the unseasonably hot night air blurring the stars, sipping my lager and thinking.  What a nice way to unwind.

Beer Swoon

The Biblical Atkins Diet

2010 April 1
by admin

A Passover Story

The Scene: A 50’s living room in modern American suburbia.  On a comfortable chair, Daddy Chaimyankle rests, smoking a pipe and looking angsty.  At his side, Little Johnny plays with a toy train, bored and quizzical.

Little Johnny: Why are all my Jewish friends cranky in late March?

Daddy Chaimyankle: Well, little Johnny, it’s probably because all of them are simultaneously in withdrawal from the most palatable forms of alcohol, and massively constipated from repeated consumption of matzo – a traditional “cracker” that resembles parchment paper infused with concrete!  Except that it has less flavor!  Really!  Seriously, little Johnny, it’s because of that quirky Hebrew tradition – Passover – that your daddy and all of his companions are forbidden to consume bread or beer. Now get out of my way, you little twit, and pass me my kosher wine before I get violent!

If you couldn’t guess, I am well into Passover season here, and feeling the lack of both bread and beer quite acutely.  Not only the bread – but all those things the Bible deems bread-related, pretzels, pancakes, anything with high-fructose corn syrup, beer, and anything fun to eat.  All of this – to commemorate the haste in which the ancient Israelites departed Egypt.  So rapidly, in fact, that they baked their bread before it had a chance to leaven, and henceforth, all Jewish people through the millennia now suffer a biblical version of the Atkins diet – except that we can’t even eat bacon.

For me – this is especially difficult, as one of the lights of my life is good beer.  But, as this Passover – one must make do somehow.

Enough self pity and on to the meat, or rather the starch,  of this entry.  Because the Passover story refers only to grains that are leavened, thus prohibiting beer, as well as bread and all of its yeasty companions, there are some, shall we say, loopholes, which allow us members of the tribe to imbibe without violating Passover.  Since it is that combination of grain and yeast that is prohibited, by avoiding these things, it is possible to get a buzz and still keep kosher.  Here are my humble suggestions:

Beverage Recommendations Fermentable Base Taste After-effect
Wine: Our Daily Red Grapes Nice – but a little sweet.  Beer is better. Head-throbbing, light sensitivity, mouth coating.
Mead: Redstone Mead Honey Surprisingly dry for a honey-based beverage.  Beer is better. Head swimming, teeth aching, hands trembling.
Tequila: Cazadores Reposado cactus Surprisingly good.  Smoky, hint of sweetness.  Beer is better. Waking up in a sombrero.  Nausea.
Gluten Free Beer RedBridge Beer Various – often sorghum I don’t have the courage to try it.  Ordinary beer is probably better. Guilt.  Horrible, Horrible guilt.
Potato Vodka: Luksusowa potatoes Sweet, solvent-like goodness.  Beer is better. Babushka staining, trembles, staggers, Perestroika
sake Gekkeikan rice Acetone, complex, slightly sour.  Beer is better. Obsessive Judo mastery.
Plum Brandy Zwack Slivovitz Plums Plum fire.  Beer is better. Davening.  Kvetching.  Headache, oy vey the headache!


2010 March 25
by admin

Friends, it has come to my attention that the United States Government is conducting a Census.  As we are all well aware, the important demographic data collected by means of the Census is used to determine Congressional representation, the disbursement of federal funds and various  important federal resources.  So, you know who you are, if I have spent more than several nights on your couch in the past 6 months, you may have a legitimate claim to list me as “resident,” and therefore reap the proportional federal reward your city/state/region may be more entitled to due to my residence there.  However – conscience and federal law prevents me from allowing more than one person from claiming my residence in their home.  So – If you live in one of the following areas, please submit a brief application to me.  I will award one deserving recipient with the right to claim me as a part time resident:

Atlanta/Helen/Griffen GA
Washington,  DC
Silver Spring, MD
Monticello, UT
Salt Lake City, UT
Durango, CO
Denver, CO
Louisville, CO
Vail/Avon CO
Philadelphia, PA
Princeton, NJ
Buffalo, NY
Rochester, NY
Brooklyn NY
Brunswick, ME
Kansas City, MO

Applications are limited to one paragraph.  No phone calls please.

Biked from Philly to NYC.

2010 March 23
by admin

This Saturday, I woke up with a nervous stomach and a sore leg – not encouraging omens, considering my plan for the day included riding my bicycle from Philadelphia to New York City along the East Coast Greenway.  One of the best things about being marginally-employed and “location independent” is the freedom to do wacky things like bike trips, hikes, etc.  Lately I’ve been developing a more complete world-view based on adventure and danger.  Not serious danger or unbelievable adventure to far-off lands or space, but something more ordinary.  Kind of like dietary fiber for the soul: I’ve self prescribed ordinary adventure in regular doses.  For the purposes of health, you understand.

So, for this ride, I decided to use maps and cue sheets produced by the East Coast Greenway – a non profit organization that is promoting an intra-urban greenway path for non-motorized travel that stretches between Florida and Maine.  This idea has enormous gravity, because it brings ordinary adventure within the grasp of all of us city dwellers.  Think about it – lets say you awake with the yen for a little soul-refreshing adventure.  If you live in an urban area like DC, Philadelphia, or NYC, ordinary adventure involves car rental, a detailed study of traffic patterns, $50 in gas, and a whole lot of inconvenience to puncture the membrane of traffic and suburbs that encases major cities.  All for a brief walk in a local park. With the East Coast Greenway, you can plot your escape immediately, and when you cruise out of your front door, you are immediately ON THE ROAD, ON YOUR WAY, and GOING OUT THERE.

To plan your own trip from Philadelphia to New York City, see:

PA Greenway Information:
NY Greenway Information:

I find it most useful to have both the maps and the turn-by-turn cues.  If you have time, order the PA and NJ State guides, which have maps and cues – but if you’re short on time, you can print out the relevant portions of the guides, or print the cues and maps from the guides separately.  Better yet – JOIN the ECGW to support their great work.

My ride began with a quiet cup of coffee on the stoop, and then I spun off down Spring Garden St., merging with Delaware Ave, and heading north.  As I spun north, passing the industrial scrim of the city, I entered a series of working-class neighborhoods that stretched on for miles.  The character of the houses, intermingled with small shops, old cars, and older people made me feel as if I had traveled back in time 30 years.  Passing Croydon, PA, spaces began to open between the tenement houses, lawn size increased, and it was obvious that I had escaped the city proper and entered the “suburban zone.”  After several miles, the concentration of gas stations increased, the roadways became wider, traffic increased, and I entered the diffuse and mysterious “intra-urban zone,” that indefinite area that occupies the areas between cities.  In some places on the east coast, these areas stretch for miles – after the metro area, after the suburbs, after the exurbs, that gray zone where people can’t claim allegiance to one city or another.  Without exception, these areas have the best gas stations, stocked with food for the long-haul traveler, without the vast majority of inner-city grime.  I stopped at one just past Bensalem, PA and drank 30 or so ounces of coffee, re-applied sunscreen and ate a banana.

A young man working the counter at the convenience store stopped me as I left, refreshed and hyper-caffeinated.

He asked me if I was, you know, like, traveling on a bicycle?  We had a quick talk about the route of the East Coast Greenway directly past the front window of the convenience store, and left it at that.  I’ve worked a few boring customer service jobs and I know the feeling of being stuck inside on a beautiful spring day, feeling too young to waste time.  I hope that young man saw me ride away and got a few dangerous ideas about the pleasure of bike touring.

On through PA and crossing the Delaware River, I was back in the “urban blight zone,” which continued undiminished until Trenton, NJ. There, I rode through similar densely packed working-class neighborhoods, with some interesting exceptions.  Where I’ve lived in the past, neighborhoods are, to a significant degree, racially divided.  There are the African American neighborhoods, with the corner stores, the scent of “Black and Mild” cigars, the fried fish and chicken joints.  There are the Guatemalan/Salvadoran/Peruvian neighborhoods, with the Peruvian Chicken places, the regaton music booming, and the aroma of spices.  And so on and so forth, with each enclave proclaiming its cultural heritage through a complex mixture of ethnic junk food, bumper stickers, leaked strains of music, tell-tale last names on shop signs.  But this neighborhood was of an older, different order.  Trenton near the river was obviously old.  So old, in fact, that the different eras of working-class inhabitants had begun to blend, to mix in interesting ways.  Here, there were signs with East Indian last names, a sign advertising the Polish American League, African American churches, Mexican cars blaring accordion music, an interesting mishmash of smells, sounds and cultures.  Dazed by the possibilities that the melting pot myth could be true, I gazed around, around, and…promptly got completely lost.

Pulling out my map and gazing around, I sighted a group of older men sitting in the shade of a store awning and decided to ask them for directions.  For my trouble, I got the sort of great, detailed, digression-filed directions that you can only get from someone who has grown, lived, and will die in a very small area.   I got directions back to the route, the history of the block I’m on, and the names of stores to stop at along the way.  As I left, one of the old men, face lined with years of looking out on this corner, tells me, ‘You’ll be OK.  It only gets whiter from here on out.”

Puzzled, I rode away.  People have yelled many strange things after me in my years of bicycle touring – but few comments have caused me as much embarrassment.  From the skin color we held in common, I had been granted an unwanted membership to a very old, dubious club.  I didn’t want in.

I left the road almost immediately and am on the Delaware and Raritan Canal.  After, frankly, 30 miles of urban blight, the soft crunch of dirt under my tires was a blessed, sweet relief:

D+R Canal

D+R Canal

I left the “urban blight zone” and entered the “intermediate sub-urban natural area zone,” a place in which the natural world holds court, but barely, and the detritus of litter, bottles, condom wrappers, and cans reveals the presence of THE CITY not so far away.  Soon, the “intermediate sub-urban natural area zone” gives way to THE COUNTRY, where litter dwindled to the occasional bottle and the birds begin to chirp.  Almost immediately, the D+R Canal became a cyclocross course from hell.  Recent rains have washed away much of the surface of the canal, which has been replaced by fist-sized chunks of broken rock, punctuated by deep, tire jarring gaps.

Major ruts and flooding.

Major ruts and flooding.

Soon, I came to my first downed tree.  Shortly, I would encounter scores more.  At each tree, I removed my pannier, toss it over, and heft my bicycle awkwardly onto my shoulder, dragging it over the log.  On the other side, I re-attached my pannier and re-mount my bicycle.

As I approach Princeton, my stop for the night, fatigue dulled my thoughts.  The slanting light of the evening lulls me, and I spun up the road, off the Canal, and into the driveway of a good friend’s house in a state of bemused detachment.  I remember with perfect clarity the INCREDIBLE vegetarian Indian meal my good friend bought me, and a lovely conversation with his sainted girlfriend.  I remember lying down and falling asleep.  I remember nothing else.

Abruptly awake – I found myself sitting in my good friends’ apartment in Princeton, NJ, drinking my 7th cup of instant coffee and preparing for my day’s ride.  For marvelous, generous, incredible hosts, my friends have fatal personality defects.  Neither drinks caffeinated beverages in the morning.  No sensible green tea, no risqué chai tea, no ruff n’ tumble coffee.  Nothing.  I am appalled.

Riding out in the cool of the morning, I called another friend who volunteers with the East Coast Greenway in New Jersey.  He tells me that my experience on the D+R Canal the day before was, unfortunately, predictive of the state of the rest of the canal.  With some reluctance, I detoured off the D+R onto a country road, and spent the next several hours biking through some of the prettiest country I’ve been in for some time.  Rolling hills slide by, horse farms, old mansions, stone walls, flashes of sunlight.  The canal on my left, clean pavement under my tires – all in all it is incredible country road riding.

Midway through this segment, I dallied in a small town, basically an intersection, and take a few pictures:

A town so cute I wanted to pinch its cheek.

A town so cute I wanted to pinch its cheek.

A rider so cute I want to pinch his cheek.

A rider so cute I want to pinch his cheek.

At this intersection, I find myself officially out of THE COUNTRY and into the “small town zone.” Passing through several cute downtown areas, I stop for a bagel and coffee.  The quality of the bagel (incredible) and the coffee (not so good) tells me that I am getting closer to New York City.

As my ride progresses, I leave “the small town zone” and began the feel the tentacles of New York City pulling the surrounding landscape closer to its center.  Train tracks loom.  Power lines, heretofore thin spindles on creosote sticks, become thick bundles on bolted steel transoms.  Big power, fast trains – I can tell that the CITY draws near.  Suburban New Jersey rolled past, and a few clouds occluded the sun.  I passed through narrow bands of greenway, through increasingly compressed city parks, and soon the towers of housing developments rose up, crowding the sky.

As my ride progresses, I leave “the small town zone” and began the feel the tentacles of New York City pulling the surrounding landscape closer to its center.  Train tracks loom.  Power lines, heretofore thin spindles on creosote sticks, become thick bundles on bolted steel transoms.  Big power, fast trains – I can tell that the CITY draws near.  Suburban New Jersey rolled past, and a few clouds occluded the sun.  I passed through narrow bands of greenway, through increasingly compressed city parks, and soon the towers of housing developments rose up, crowding the sky.

Before I know it, I near Newark.  On the brink of hypoglycemic collapse, I wobbled into a Dunkin Donuts, awkwardly clacking my bicycle shoes and order 4 bagels.  I eat two at a time, dousing them with salt, and washing them down with vivid purple recovery drink.  The clerk looks at my tight pants, sun-screen spattered face, alien-colored beverage, and the rate at which I am consuming bagels.  He is nervous.  I was hungry.

Charged with simple carbohydrates, I sprinted to Newark Penn station, loaded my bike on the train and caught my breath:

My Bike.  In Newark.  Yu gudda problem wid dat?

My Bike. In Newark. Yu gudda problem wid dat?

15 minutes later, I arrived in Manhattan.  Exhausted, tires rapidly losing air, I call a friend who has agreed to house me for the night.  I ask for directions from 33rd and 5th, and she pauses, gasping, “my place is almost 3 miles from there…are you sure you can make it?”  16 minutes later my journey has ended.

A long, long bike ride.

2010 March 18
by admin

This weather is killin’ me!  Warm and mild, with sweetness in the air, not yet polluted by the rank fermented-urine reek of summer in the Big City.  Despite too much to do (taxes, writing, cleaning) the physical activity bug gets the better of me.  Normally, I would have gone running for three hours or so, but with my still-traumatized soleus muscle giving me some issues, I decided o go for a bike ride instead.   So, after a few cups of coffee I hopped on the hoopty and started to ride.  The sensation of riding a bicycle on the first spring day is one of the purest, most incorruptible and wholesome joys I know.   It’s simple, get on, wince as the seat hits your sit bones, start peddling.  The wind whips by, my feet pump and the scenery seems to accelerate around me.


It was a fantastic ride – but near the halfway point I realized that I had bitten off a bit more than I could chew.  I’d sweated off most of my sunscreen, my quads were twitching, and my sit bones were in agony.  What to do but put my head down, spin hard and wait it out.   So now I’m home, enjoying a Yards Philly Pale Ale and attempting to type and drink while standing up.  Yes – it’s that bad.   So, to celebrate my out-of-shapeness, tomorrow I’m going to ride my bike to New York City.  Should be fun.  If you see a bearded man shuffling down Broadway, wincing and walking like a cowboy, wheeling a bicycle in which all of his possessions are packed – that’s me.  Or a homeless person.


2010 March 15
by admin

It’s been a rainy day in Philadelphia, and my strained Soleus muscle prevented me from running. So, I walked an 8 mile loop in the rain and thought about ethics. I remembered a cute aphorism from Philosophy class in college:

“Imagine I approach a stranger on the street and say to him. “If you please sir, I desire to perform an experiment with your aid.” The stranger is obliging, and I lead him away. In a dark place conveniently by, I strike his head with the broad of an axe and cart him home. I place him, buttered and trussed, in an ample electric oven. The thermostat reads 450 F. Thereupon I go off forget all about the obliging stranger in the stove. When I return, I realize that I have overbaked my specimen, and the experiment, alas, is ruined.
Something has been done wrong. Or something wrong has been done.
Any ethic that does not roundly condemn my action is vicious. It is interesting that none is vicious for this reason. It is also interesting that no more convincing refutation of any ethic could be given than by showing that it approved of my baking the obliging stranger.”
-William Gass

Spring Break.

2010 March 13
by admin

Well, last week’s spring break did not kick off to an auspicious start. I may have been the bowling, or the run up vail mountain, but I managed to strain my Soleus muscle. This little nugget of flesh underlies my calf muscle, and therefore underlies my entire self worth. The plans Maureen and I had for a long hike and bike ride rendered null and void. Bummer. So, we decided to make a week of it anyway, and ended up touring south of Shenandoah National Park. We stopped by the Copper Fox Distillery – producers of a notorious Virginia produced American Single Malt Whiskey. Driving down a series of winding dirt roads, we approached a nondescript warehouse and immediately precieved the sweet, rich smell of freshly malted barley. As it turns out, Wassmund’s harvests barley locally, and malts it on site. Here, you can see raw barley soaking in water:

Barley CloseupBarleyVat

A lot of the breweries I’ve been to have really strict hygiene standards.  But, in a distillery, the yeast generates a huge volume of alcohol and heat immediately, and when it’s distilled there isn’t a germ around that has a chance.  The fermentation vat is open, and the distiller gave it a stir right in front of us:

Mash Warrior

Next, we checked out the barrel room, where barrels of whiskey are laid down to age and mellow.  The entire room smelt of whiskey and warm wood – positively reeking of vanilla, oak and maple syrup.  The incredible thing was amazing resembelence the ambient aroma of the room had the aroma of the Wassmund’s Whiskey I’ve had in the past.  Seriously – the smell was immediately recognizable.

Sleeping Barrels

Alcohol tourism as an acceptable substitute to athletic adventure?  I’ll reserve judgment until after my headache fades….

That Smell.

2010 March 4
by admin

Last night, after some focused discussions, I decided to run up the “hill” from the house I’m staying in. The “hill” is a 500+ foot incline that streches about 2 miles. As I plodded up, I caught a draft of something quintessentially western – the smell of sage in the evening. To me – it smells of the whole west. Cowboy hats, “complex” attitudes about mineral extraction, big mountains, ski towns, lonley high desert, all of it wrapped into one complex aroma. It smells a bit fresh, a bit minty, but also profoundly earthy, and vaguely dank. It’s like a wad of old herbs stored in a basement right before a thunderstorm. I resolve to grab a fistful to take home with me, so at least my backpack will smell of the western frontier.

More snowshoeing…

2010 February 28
by admin

So, yesterday, I went snowshoeing again.  I’m finding it oddly easy. The snowshoes I remember from years ago – the ones that looked like badminton rackets,  seemed to make it harder to walk.  They tended to tangle, and mad you adopt a goofy “cowboy” stance.  Now, newer snowshoes make walking on snow seem like walking on a sidewalk.  It’s unnerving how easy it seems.

I’m digging snowshoeing for a couple of reasons.  One – snowshoes allow you access to the deep woods in the winter.  Here is the view heading up a well-used trail near Minturn.  I was immediately struck by the sun, which looked like a cold flare behind a thin screen of frozen cloud:

Winter Sun

The trees, which my native Mainer knee-jerk identified as birch, are actually aspen.  For some reason older marks in trees don’t look like graffiti, they remind me of organic petroglyphs.

Winter Birch

This hike made me think a lot about dogs on trails.  From my perspective, dogs represent un-needed complications in a lot of different areas of life, but on the other hand, they make life a lot more interesting and complicated.  Here is Cynthia enjoying the complexity of dogs on trails:

Winter Cynthia (2)

Sill, there were some moments of absolute scilence that only occur during the winter:

Duncan and Cynthia

It was a great walk.  I resolve to walk in the winter ore often – in that stark, suppressed landscape.

Being Bearded

2010 February 26
by admin

I had a conversation with someone a few days ago about how appearances shape others’ perception of oneself. So, I have decided to compile:

My beard.

My beard.

Various advantages of having a beard:

1. My neck is much warmer.  The thick mat of hair forms a “gasket” that keeps warm air from escaping from the neck of my shirts.
2. Homeless people have stopped asking me for change, and now offer it.
3. Store clerks watch me very closely.
4. At night, walking home, women will cross the street to avoid encountering me.
5. This one time, in New York City, an Ultra-Orthodox Jew looked at me with an expression that seemed to convey a feeling of recognition and dismay.  Like – “Dude, why are you are you even pretending you aren’t one of us?  That beard is a dead giveaway.”
6. People no longer ask me to buy weed.  Now they ask to buy weed from me.
7. I am “randomly” selected for screening every time I fly.
8. Hipsters say “Sweet beard, dude.”
9. Outdoorsy people say, “Wow. That’s a big beard dude.”
10. Girls say…nothing……..nothing at all…….and make pathetic attempts to not appear like they want to stare.
11.  I am no longer tempted to eat hummus, ice-cream, peanut butter, chili, or any other potential beard-clogging foodstuff.
12.  I am occasionally granted discounts in coffee shops, record stores, and outdoor stores.  I can only assume this is a “sweet beard, dude” discount.
13. On occasion, a complete stranger will ask to “pet” my beard.
14. The latter is more properly characterized as “creepy” and not “advantageous.”

15.  I left a movie to go to the bathroom.  Upon returning, I realized that I had forgotten my ticket stub.  The attendant looked at me and said, “Don’t worry about the ticket.  I saw you come in.”