Spirits of Mexico

 

It must be Christmas in September.  I am (If you didn’t already know) a huge tequila fan.  So, when a friend told me about an annual tequila event in sunny Del Mar, I got packed and headed to the airport.  The Spirit of Mexico: Mexican Spirit Tasting Festival is an event I will return to every year.  This year it was held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds next to Del Mar Race Track.  It was a great location for a great event.  Over 30 vendors pouring their best Tequila, Mezcal and Rum from Mexico.  Some of the vendors were small distilleries only producing 1000 bottles.  The big boys, like Herradura and Milargo, were also there.   As I walked into this event, I felt like a kid about to open all his gifts under the tree.  My sights were set on tasting ALL the  spirits being poured.   In the end, I ran out of time not enthusiasm.  It was speed dating with 30+ lovely ladies.   Of all the lovely ladies I dated that day, these were my favorites:
U4rik Tequila.  Just launching in the US and international markets.  Smooth…hints of lite vanilla, oak and agave.  100% puro de agave.
Don Fulano. 100% puro de agave.  Reposado.  Full oak, agave nose.  Mouth; agave on the front, smooth finish of French oak and caramel.
El Cachabilla.  1000 bottles in US.  Small production from  Tequila Mexico. 100% agave.  Extra anejo…yeeeeaa!!!  Double distilled.  All the hint of agave, oak, vanilla, caramel and lite smooth tannins.
T1.. Blanco ultra fine.100% de agave. double distilled, triple filtered.  The  Reposado looks and smells like a Blanco but has classic Reposado flavor.  Anejo.. agave and pineapple goodness.
T1. “Tears of Horona”. Double distilled extra Anejo.  The nose was of wood, tobacco. and agave.  Mouth;  Orange blossom, agave and caramel.  Nice…
On a side note, T1 is a creation of Master Distiller German Gonzalez Gorrochotegui.  Master Distiller of Chinaco.  T1 is his new brand.
Mexican moonshine.  Double distilled, triple filter in Kentucky oak whisky barrels.  18 months  in barrels, 100% puro de agave.  Nose of honey, wood and agave. Mouth; agave, tobacco and balanced tannins.
Critalo Tres Marcos..  Extra Anejo. The nose is awesome pineapple sweetness. There is smoke and caramel on the tongue.   Really good. The 3-5-7 blend is a blend of three-year old, five-year old and 7-year-old tequila.  It had a  strong agave nose.
The price point for these ranged from $45 to $80.  Well worth the investment.  The following also deserve mentioning.
Cantina Fortaleza.  Resposado. Nose of agave and pepper. 100 % de agave. Mouth;  Lite pepper, agave and oak.
La Gran Senora..  Jenny Riviera line of Signature tequila .  Reposado, 100 % de agave.  Agave front, full agave and tannins on the finish.  I was not  a fan of the Reposado but I did like the Anejo.  It had a nice vanilla agave nose. Agave on tongue with lite tannins.
Casa amigo.  Reposado, 100% agave. Agave, vanilla on the  nose. Mouth; Full agave and tannins on front and back. The  Anejo was the same with a little more oak on the finish.
Dirty Tequila Liquor.  Pineapple and cinnamon.  Tequila version of fireball whisky.
Tequila Celestial.  100% puro de agave.  The Reposado had heavy tannins and agave. The Anejo was the same but with smoother tannins and oak.
In the end, I had the opportunity to meet some of the best tequila makers in the world and taste the results of their hard work.  I can’t wait to see what is under the tree in December.

When in Vegas……………

IMG_20140725_200042170_HDRI cannot say I a Las Vegas kind of guy. Swank I am ok with, decadency, not so much. I am not a gambler and while the people watching is unparalleled, I do not find much else to look forward to when I come to Vegas. That is until this trip. It started with a conversation with Tony at work. He mentioned he had just come back from Vegas and I said I was just about to leave. When I told him that I was staying at the Cosmopolitan, he started to tell me about a little known pizza place on the second floor. “It’s right next to Holstein’s” he said, “the place with the best burgers in Vegas”.  “Would you walk past Holstein’s to get the pizza?” I asked. “No” he replied.  Well, that’s and easy decision I thought.

So in I walked, expecting a typical well hyped Vegas meal with little to show when all IMG_20140725_185843648was said and done. I sat at the bar and was instantly greeted by Toshi. He started to tell me about the over 100 beers they had available and then asked what I was interested in. I told him I was interested in a stout. He listed off several they had available and then asked me to wait. He returned with a Left Coast Ale Epeteios Imperial Stout and said I would not be disappointed. How could I refuse, and I am glad I didn’t. A very nice, deep flavored stout with coffee and dark chocolate flavors and a clean finish. He then proceeded to recommend several burgers on the menu that would pair well with my choice of beverage. I choose the The Fun-Ghi , a beef Patty with truffle marinated portabella mushrooms, caramelized Onions and gruyere cheese. I am well versed with wine and food pairing, but here was a BEER and food pairing that made me stop, smile, and slowly enjoy every bite. I can honestly say it was the best burger I have had and the pairing made it a meal to remember.

Thank you Toshi for the hospitality, recommendations, and reminding me how good beer and food pairing can be. I will be back!

#WBC14 in the rear view mirror

IMG_20140711_110805016Well the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara is behind us and here are my thoughts on the conference itself and the region we got to visit. I would not call myself a conference veteran but Troya and I did go to the 2013 WBC so I knew what to expect. This was Brax and Hills first time though so I will be interested to hear their thoughts. The concept is to bring like-minded people, wine bloggers in this case, together in a wine-producing region to network with each other, network with the wineries in the area and learn about their chosen craft or hobby in a way that otherwise would not be possible. Oh, and we get to drink a lot of wine too.

This year’s visiting country was Portugal. I have been intrigued by this area of the world for a while now so I was excited to taste some of their wines, both with food and in a traditional tasting setting. I was very impressed with the wines themselves and how they paired with a number of foods. While they have a long history of wine making they are just recently being recognized by the wine drinking world. Last year Uruguay was the featured country and we were equally impressed. Now I have another on my “must visit” list.

Maybe it was just because it was my first time but last year I was a little more impressed IMG_20140711_173430069_HDRwith the break-out sessions. Some of the themes were similar and all of the information was relevant but I thought last year the information was just a little more directed to the world of blogging. We did have a writing critique break-out (sorry if no one notices any improvement here) and while the information was very valuable with regard to writing in general, and writing to an audience, writing a blog is a very different style then print or formal publications so not all of their advice and recommendations were transferable.  It’s a little like having a ballet professional judge a hip hop contest. We did get to taste some great wine, not just from Santa Barbara County and Portugal but also from Greece, Chile, Italy and France. Yeh, I know, tough job huh. Unfortunately, unlike last year when they did a great job of show-casing the beauty of the BC area, this time it felt like we spent a lot of time in tents.

IMG_20140711_173327859We have wanted to get down to the Santa Barbara area to do some tasting for a while now buts it’s just so hard to drive past Paso without stopping. This was a good excuse to get to know the region and its people. Santa Barbara County has 5 official AVA’s and have over 200 wineries. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah are the big players here but they grow more than 50 varietals. We got to view a press release for a podcast done by Vintage 2014 called “dirt don’t lie” that follows the regions growers and wine through the 2014 season. Very well done and more informative than I could ever be so if you want the real low down on the area it is available on iTunes. Bottom line is this seems like a rather close knit group of wine makers that do a great job on their own but also collaborate a lot to produce some very distinctive and pleasing wine. I was able to enjoy several very good wines produced here but for me the wine maker that stood out was Blair Fox. He is the wine maker for Fess Parker but also has his own label. He was pouring a Syrah at one of our events that made me walk away from the crowd so I could enjoy it alone. That good.  I am looking forward to a return trip to the region and will especially look into more of the Syrah’s since I was not able to taste very many on this trip.

The highlight of the weekend was meeting and getting to know a bunch of new people IMG_20140711_175000370and leaning about the latest and greatest in the world of wine. We got to spend a lot of time with Denelle who works for Vital Vessels, a company that produces “eggs” for wine and spirit production. A very cool concept, similar to concrete, but these are ceramic so they breathe a bit better and their shape allows an internal current to keep the product at a constant cool temperature. This process allows the wine to mature with very little interruption and the end result is a very smooth and flavor full wine. The idea of making wine in an “egg” shaped vessel has been around for a long time but has recently revived (what’s old is new again).  If you have not already, I am sure you will come across a winery that is using this process soon (inside tip: Vital Vessels also makes a small-sized egg that is perfect for some viticulture at home). We were also introduced to Wine4.me and Quini, two mobile aps for wine drinkers that might succeed where the some of the others have failed. Wine4.me uses analytics (like the baseball teams) to help identify wine you might like after you enter some data on wines you already know you like and why. It’s meant for those that just want to be told what to get with a certain meal instead of guessing or relying on someone who does not know them at all. Quini is a tasting notes aps that is touch screen based and very user-friendly. You can quickly produce a note on a specific wine and then see what your personal ranking of that wine is. You can also put in your own personal notes if you have something specific to say and also see how others are ranking same wine. All of the information is stored on a cloud so you can access your notes from any web-based device to help you recall a wine or pair a wine with a specific meal. While only available on the iphone platform right, it should be available for droid devices soon. With a few updates they are working on this might be enough of an ap to make me stop thinking about creating my own.

All in all it was a great weekend and a great introduction to the Santa Barbara County wine region. We will definitely be back, even if we do have to pass up on Paso Robles to get there. I am looking forward to tasting more of the wines from the area and specifically tasting more from Blair Fox. Cheers!

Wine Bloggers Conference 2014

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1100 hrs
Waaahoooo.  We have just landed in Santa Barbara for the 2014 Wine Bloggers conference.  Not wasting any time, we are starting out with wines from Portugal.  Herdade eo Esporao- Duas Castas Branco 2012 was my favodrite white.  Floral, fruity crisp.  More to follow.

1146 hrs
Just tasted Quinta do Romeu- Colheita Douro Tinto 2010 paired with a Brazilian Frittata.. OMG.. Great alone too.  Big fruit but lite with alcohol.

1400 speed blogging
Aridus vigionier. Born and raised in Wilcox Arizona.

Alta Maria 2012 Chardonnay. The neutral French Oak created a  lite buttery hint that does not overshadow the grape.  Velvet on the palate.

Fess Parker 2012 Viognier.  Yes, Fess Parker the actor.  If you are as old as Hill, you will remember him.  Ooh, nice and clean on the palate, fruit forward with hints of oak and caramel.

Terravant 2011 Chardonnay.  Monterey grapes. Classic Chardonnay.  Deep, rich. Complex.

Pacific Rim from Columbia Valley Wa.  Riesling. Owner is Nicolas Quilla created the sweetness meter called Riesling Rule.  This one was dry per the meter.

Urban Legend from Oaktown. 2011 Grenache Blanc.  Capay Valley grapes.  Fruity, dry.

1530 Wine Blends

Blind tasting of wine blends from around the world.  Excellant.

1700. Santa Barbara winery excursion

We got on the short bus for a mystery trip to an unknown winery for tasting and dinner.  We ended up at Melville winery.  Chad Melville gave us a tour.  Tasted some berries right off the vine. Then, we went into the tasting room and tasted 7 wineries.  My poor liver.

We tasted; Alma Rosa, Melville, Brewer-Clifton, Lafond, Zotovich, Carr, Ampelos,  and Babcock.

Saturday 0930 hours

First class of the day.  Business of wine.  Eye opening. Thank you Tim Hanni and Paul.

4th of July weekend

Hill and I are off to Clearlake to celebrate our Nations Name Day.  We are looking forward to a weekend of wakeboarding and adult  beverages with our great friends.  Luckily for us, our route to Clearlake is via the Silverado Trail through Napa.  Of course, we could not resist visiting a few wineries on the way up.

Paraduxx is one  winery I have wanted to visit for awhile.  We parked the boat into the lot and headed in for a tasting.  The tasting fee is $30, so Hill and I decided to share aTasting.  Johnny Bon brought out our tasting flight and introduced us to the winery and the wines we were tasting.  We tasted the 2013 Napa Valley Rose, 2011 M blend, 2011 C blend, 2011 Rector Creek Red Wine, 2011 Howell Mountain Red Wine, and Johnny treated us to a bonus pour of their 2011 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.  I enjoyed all of their wines.The M blend was a Merlot-Zin blend. It was full of red fruit, plum and spice.  I found the mid range heavy in tannins (for my taste)  but the finish was well balanced and even. The wine is well priced and would go well alone or with food.

The 2011 Rector Creek and Howell Mountain are really good Zin-cab blends.  The price point is a little high but, you do get what you pay for.

Last stop before heading over the hill was Cuvaison.  We first discovered Cuvaison on a recent weekend trip to Sonoma. I was really excited to visit the original tasting room on the Silverado Trail.  It did not disappoint.  The tasting flight was their 2012 Kite Tail Chardonnay, 2012 Estate Pinot Noir, 2012 Estate Syrah, 2011 Brandlin Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and their 2012 Brandlin Zin.  All of their wines were delicious and well priced.  We are considering joining their wine club.  The one that really got my attention was their 2012 Estate Syrah.  It gas a deep red plum color and a nose that will make your mouth water.  It is full of dark berry fruits with bacon, pepper and silky tannins.  It is everything you look for in a Syrah.  The 2012 Brandlin Zin is also worth mentioning.  It is old  a old vine Zin full of spice and pepper with hints of caramel and vanilla on the finish.  It is complex and mature and worth discussion.

Overall, not a bad way to start off the holiday.  Happy 4th of July.

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Best Pizza In San Francisco

20140503-093021.jpgThe concept was simple, find the best pizza in San Francisco. But in a city that prides itself on both its diversity and being a foodie mecca, it proved to be quite a challenge. Depending on who you believe, San Francisco is either home of the best pizza in the nation or not even in the top 10 (a low blow to such a gastronomical city). Not that I have tried, but if you attempt to have a debate with any true San Franciscan they will immediately pull out the “but we have Tony’s” card. That would be Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in North Beach, home of Tony Gemignani who has won the Word Best Pizza Championship in Italy 11 times. How do you argue with that? So after hours of research (over 200 options) we narrowed it down to 12. We had 3 days, which meant 4 pizza’s per day. Nirvana for some, repulsive to others.  How would our taste buds and waist line hold up?

Day #1: We started our trip at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. Had to, right? Set the bar high and create a litmus test for all the others. The crust, wood fired (as it should be) was incredible, great texture with a slight char on the outside and moist and chewy on the inside (hungry yet?). The sauce was very light but flavorful and it had just the right amount of cheese. A bench mark if there ever was one. From there it was walking distance to Golden Boy Pizza. This place gets a lot of run and has a lot of believers, but for me, while physically around the corner from Tony’s, they are miles apart. The toppings were good, flavorful and fresh, but the crust reminded me of Little Caesars. From there it was off to Pizzetta 211. A very cool neighborhood spot out on 23rd. The crust had nice texture but not a lot of flavor. The toppings were very creative and Pizzaria Delfinasimple, not piled high, but had great flavor and balance. The place is very small so either go early, be prepared to wait, or get take out. Our final stop of the day was at Little Star Pizza in the Mission. It was late when we got there and the place was still full. It’s a fun place with a lot of character. This was the only Chicago style place on the list but they also have thin crust. The toppings were the star here, on both the Chicago and thin style. I liked the flavors and the sauce/cheese mix in the Chicago style but I was not a big fan of the crust for either style, a little dry.

A side bar here, this trip would have lasted about 30 minutes without the help of google maps. I cannot tell you how nice it is to be able to drive along, listen to some music, have a nice conversation and occasionally be reminded to “turn right in 600 feet” while on your way to some place you have never been rather than screaming at each other because we just missed our turn and now are completely lost. I do wonder how many marriages have been saved by this technology.

Day #2: Woke up feeling good and hungry, surprised but happy.  Our first stop was Arinell Pizza in the Mission. This is a classic, NY style pizza by the slice joint. No tables, a few benches along the wall, really meant for grabbing a slice, fold it up and eat it on the run (yup, NY style). For what it was, I liked it a lot and it tasted just like the hole in the wall pizza places you find on every corner in Gotham. From there it was a short walk to Pizzaria Delfina. This is a very cool spot in the Mission with a lot of sidewalk tables and some very creative pizza combinations. The crust here was light, not real moist or chewy but still had good texture. The toppings were very flavorful and not too heavy or greasy. After a walk around the city to build up an appetite our evening started Una Pizza Napoletanaat Una Pizza Napoletana south of Market on 11th. This place only serves pizza and salad. You get to watch your pizza being made because it’s an open kitchen and the pizza is made front and center. While the toppings are great, simple and classic yet well balanced and flavorful, the crust here is what steals the show. Also wood fired, with the oven the main fixture in the whole room, what comes out can only be described as magic. Everything you want in a crust, a light char on the outside for flavor and texture, moist and chewy on the inside with a hint of SF sour dough, was right here. To follow that up we headed over to Flour and Water. One of the “go-to’s” in the city right now you will need to either make reservations early or be ready to wait. Fortunately they have a couple of good bars close by and will text you when your table is ready. The pizza here was good, come creative combinations with interesting toppings however some combo’s seemed a bit over the top. The flavor was good and the crust had good texture but was a bit salty.

Day #3: I was ready for the home stretch but Troya had flamed out by Flour and Water Zero Zeroand needed a pep talk to get back out on the pizza trail. With motivation restored we headed to Zero Zero on Folsom. This is a very cool place which has a great little bar and some very creative drinks on the menu. Troya was eyeing all the brunch items coming out of the kitchen, but we stuck to our guns and got the pizza. They have more traditional toppings and combinations then some of the other stops and it was a bit heavier and greasy then most of the others, but good none the less. I would like to come back here with a group of friends because it seemed to have that kind of vibe. From there we made our way south to PizzaHacker in Bernal Heights. Not wood fired but they use enough heat to get a bit of char on the crust. The crust had a lot of flavor, more so after it cooled interestingly. Flavor was the theme here and this pie had the most pop and flavor rush of any that we had. Just what you would expect with a name like Hacker.  And sadly this is where our trip ended. We still had 2 on the list, Long Bridge on 3rd and Gialina Pizzaria in Glen Park, but neither was open during the day on Sunday so our list was shortened and our coronaries saved.

So, after 3 days and 10 Pizza stops, the winner is………….(drum roll)……………….

#1- Una Pizza Napoletana- hard to believe some place could unseat Tony’s, but the crust, the crust, what more can I say.

#2-Tony’s Pizza Napolentana- still tried and true and where I would go if I want to be transported back to Italy and our pizza roots.

#3- PizzaHacker- this was the most difficult choice but they edged out the others with their flavor bomb of a pizza.

Of the runner ups here are some categories for the others; Romanic date night spot- Pizzetta 211 and Pizzaria Delfina. I want to impress my date spot- Flour and Water, food will be good and if the date is going bad its great people watching place with lots of living stereo types. Place to gather and feast with friends- Little Star and Zero Zero.

Hock Farm in Sac-town, what a find!

Hock Farm Craft & ProvisionsMixology is the big buzz word these days, so much so that it’s the name of a prime time TV series. But what is mixology, or a mixologist, and how is it any different than a bartender? For me it’s like the difference between a cook and a chef. A cook will make a great meal by following a recipe, a chef will create a great meal blending ingredients into something unique and often extraordinary. So to with a mixologist.

So it was with part excitement and part curiosity that we wondered into Hock Farm Craft & Provisions while on an overnight stay in Sacramento. The restaurant is getting a bit of press for its title, a bit of homage to John Sutter, and its “Farm to Table” methods, another popular buzz word or phrase, but it was the drink menu that pulled us in. With its Barrel-Aged Hanky Panky and Improved Lavender Sidecar, most of the specialty drinks are classic old school libations with a modern mixologist’s twist. They even have a Gin & Tonic with house made tonic. My go-to drink that I usually have with two limes, I chose to go without with this one so as not to mask the unique flavors. Brad, mastermind behind many of the recipes and aging process’s, was more than happy to explain the concepts and flavors that went into his creations. Stephen was also behind the bar making sure no glass remained empty for too long. The highlight was when I asked Brad to go off the menu and mix up something unique. I will not give away the details, but I expect it will be on the regular menu in the near future. Needless to say, when we are back in Sacramento you will know where to find us.

Day One SF Pizza Tour

Doc had an itch to find the best pizza in San Francisco……well there are over 200 pizza places, so the best one after extensive research and narrowing it down to 11 pizza places. You will have to check out his blog to find out what his criteria was, I was just along for the ride and the pies!
First stop was the all famous, according to Doc, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. It was packed for 3pm, but we found two seats at the bar. I loved this place. They had quite an intriguing drink list, I had “the savage” made with vodka and blueberries among other ingredients. It was so delicious! We got a pie to share, the basic Margarita pizza. It was very simple yet flavorful. The basil and dollops of mozzarella were obviously fresh. The crust was thin appeared wood fired and slightly chewy (in a good way). The staff were fast and friendly. This place was packed for a reason…..it’s a must go!
Second stop Golden Boy. More like gross boy! After we stopped here I had to ask Doc “seriously, we went from Tony’s to that!?” Again I’m not sure what criteria Doc was using but he should have thrown this place out the window. It’s a small shop, headbanger music blasting with slices in the window. I could tell just by looking at them that it wouldn’t be good. Deep dish crust, which I like, but it tasted old not fresh at all. To sum it up the pizza reminded me of when we were kids and my parents would buy us those single frozen think crust pizzas that you heat up in the microwave and thought were so delicious cause you were like 5 and didn’t know any better. The one highlight they had a decent beer list on tap.
Next up: Pizzetta 211…..very good. They had a smaller interesting pizza list with wine and beer only. All of their pizzas were unique with a wide variety of flavors. We chose a two cheese pizza with rosemary and pine nuts. It was tasty. I love rosemary so if you do too it’s a good choice. Very thin crust and crunchy. I had a small glass of rosé with it which was a good pairing. They also had some delicious sounding salads that I would get if I went back. Very hipster feel environment, small small cooking area. It’s the kind of place that gets packed with a line around the corner.
After that we took a little break because my belly was about to burst. Several hours later we ventured out again! Doc wanted to hit TWO more places but I had to say no. My taste buds were almost pizza-ed out! Last stop was Little Star Pizza. They had thin or Chicago style pizzas to offer. Also a good variety of draft beers. We got their Mediterranean salad, which was nothing special but at that point I needed some greens so it was good. I ordered a thin crust garlic, tomato, zucchini pizza that didn’t have any red sauce. Doc got a Chicago style combo pizza. I enjoyed mine. It had lots of garlic flavor and the veggies stayed slightly crunchy not floppy and flavorless like some veggie pizzas. The Chicago style pizza was not that great. It tasted and had the texture of cornbread with a pasta sauce thrown on top after it was cooked. Not impressed with it at all. I have had, what I think, is authentic style Chicago pizza and love it and this pizza was not at all like it.
Overall my favorite was Tony’s Napoletana. The flavor of the pizza, the drinks and the staff were all excellent. I did think to myself could it be due to pizza taste bud fatigue? But I really don’t think so because I really enjoyed out last stop and the pizza I had ordered which is a close second. So I can say without a doubt Tony’s was the best!

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Cab- It’s whats for Dinner!

IMG_20140410_123708651I usually shy away from Cabs when choosing a dinner wine, unless we were pulling a steak off the grill that is. I am not sure why, if it’s a bias I have because of its reputation or if I am concerned it would over power whatever I just spent hours creating or I did not feel the meal warrants a wine that is usually one of the pricier in the collection. I do not shy away from it when out tasting, and we often purchase a few as well, but then they just sit there waiting for the “perfect meal”. Recently, however, we were out with friends and purchased a bottle to drink with our meal. It happened rather quickly and I was not able to give my input and before I knew it we had a bottle of Cab at our table and I had just ordered Mahi-mahi. Great, I thought, now I am not going to be able to enjoy my meal because the wine will totally dominate the fish, and I probably will not even like it that much. Much to my surprise they paired wonderfully. Since then I have paired Cabs with several other non-traditional Cab dishes. I have been intrigued that these big wines can become chameleons and pair with many dishes with very subtle flavors without losing any of their own appeal. They are not the bully I thought they were. I guess I have a little bit of a cab crush now.  Try it out for yourself and I think you will be surprised how a Cab can stand up to just about any big flavor yet not overpower some of the more subtle flavors. Let me know what you come up with.