Dear Future Self,
If you are reading this and you had a couple beers last night, and a couple the night before, and a couple the night before that, I have a message for you.
About 6 weeks before you wrote this, you were going through some fairly heavy shit, and you turned to alcohol instead of your own strength to deal with it. Luckily, Mama didn’t raise no fool and you were smart enough to see this, and stop.
The three weeks of elective-sobriety that followed weren’t that easy; they weren’t that hard either. Sure, the first couple days were bad, and there were hard times along the way, but you learned a lot. You learned you can survive a couple rough days. You learned you have the strength to deal with some tough problems on your own. You learned you could celebrate with friends or cook with your dad, and not drink. You learned you could have beer in the fridge and not drink it. Most importantly, you learned you don’t need alcohol in your life at all, and that you are whole without it.
After those 3 weeks of self-imposed sobriety you were a different person. A better person. A more complete person. You celebrated your wife’s birthday, blank check in hand and designated driver waiting in the wings, and had only three drinks all night. Ok, so one of them was served out of a fish bowl; let’s call it four. You then went on a week long cruise with a booze budget a frat boy would be envious of, and never got drunk (though you’ll always miss that martini bar). And after that cruise you came home and took beer off the grocery list. When you have chosen to drink, it has been just that , a choice, and you’ve done so in moderation and without a recurring urge.
So now what?
Well, future self, if you are reading this and you are falling back, I’d like to remind you of how you feel right now.
- You’ve lost a lot of weight, and are still losing it, without giving up a single other thing. No rice cakes with a side of green beans. No staring at the Wii and forcing yourself to do cardio.
- You feel sexier than you have since high school.
- And you’re performing better than you ever have (sorry for that detail mom)
- And your wife’s noticed!
- You finally might be ready to get that upper-body tattoo you’ve never had the confidence to get
- You are wearing a $50 shirt right now, and you don’t give a shit, because you look great in it, and feel even better
- Your memory is better
- You have more energy (see above)
- You aren’t tired all the time.
- You have money for other things. In fact, you saved enough on your cruise to buy an iPad (which you LOVE)
- The headaches are gone.
- People respect your strength.
- Your skin isn’t so dry all the time, and neither are your lips.
- Your mind and body are no longer at odds.
- You can see your dick. Even when it’s not hard (sorry again, mom).
- Your back pain is gone.
- You’re down to one neck, and you’re even shaving it like a big boy!
In short, my friend, you are pissing kittens right now. Sunshine and lollipops, all the way.
So drink, dear friend. Enjoy life. Let life consume you. But remember how great it feels to not drink it away, two beers at a time.
So, Michael Jackson died.
I’ll wait here while the pain subsides.
Done? Good. If you’re anything like me, it was a short trip from shock, to grief, to apathy. Michael Jackson was nothing to me, or at least nothing positive. He was just another man and his loss is no more tragic to me than the loss of any other man anywhere else in the world, and in many ways it was less so.
For certain he produced a lot of music, much of which people adored and some of which managed to shape people’s life in a positive manor. For that I feel the same remorse I would if any great band or musician decided (willfully) to stop producing music. It is a loss for art, it is a loss for some people who have benefited on a deeper level thanks to that art. But it is not tragic. I could list off a half dozen musicians who have, one way or another, helped me a lot through their music. If any of them stopped making music, and many have, I would feel a personal loss regardless of whether they continued living.
The personal connection that many people seem to feel to him befuddles me though. He was a husband, a father, a brother and a son. For all of those who lost such, I feel regret, but I am reminded that it happens every day, and always has. The loss of one man does not warrant 24/7 news coverage nor a city-stopping homage. If ever it did, surely it was some President or soldier or humanitarian. Not a performer. (Note: this is not to discredit any of his humanitarian work, but its certainly not what defined his life).
How do so many people feel such a deep, profound personal loss for someone they never knew personally? Someone who was by most accounts extraordinarily private and mysterious?
Rewind a month and ask yourself what MJ was known for then? Despite a small army of fiercely loyal fans, the first association people had was “child molester.” An unfair label most likely, as he was exonerated, but in the court of public opinion he was a very troubled man at best, and a deranged lunatic at worst. The most attention MJ has gotten in the past decade was for a child molestation trial and for dangling a baby off a balcony; a far cry from deep-seated emotional connection to a lyric uttered or a boundary broken. While his last widely revered album was released 18 years ago, he’s been the butt of every joke about skin color, plastic surgery and pedophilia ever since.
What separates his death from any other comes down to his celebrity, and the media exaggeration of such. We’ve decided, as a society, that one death is more important than any other, and that for certain people, it’s ok to shut down Los Angeles, place the body into a gold coffin and put it on every network on the air. CNN specifically has had what I consider egregious coverage; reporting the most trite details (or sometimes lack of details) as if they are on even grounds with North Korea firing missiles or President Obama meeting with Russia or our new major military offensive in Afghanistan. Actually that’s not right because if anything, those stories were under-reported.
An argument that I have read is that MJ had enormous piles of troubleâ€“ more than his fair share. This is most likely true. The life of a child performer is a tough one. But I neither excuse him from his actions because of this nor think he is more deserving of mourning. I mourn people who are losing their homes more than those living in mansions (and paying for them with debt). I mourn people who live without heat in the winter more than those who have to sell off their ferris wheels. I mourn children who are abusedâ€“ physically, emotionally or sexuallyâ€“ by their parents more than those who are exploited by them for their talents. I mourn the thousands of people that lose a father/husband/son each and every day because this country can’t figure out that healthcare is a right, or that nutrition and exercise must be taught in schools, or that we do not belong in Iraq. Those deaths are tragic, and those deaths are worthy of our remorse.
Michael Jackson is a man who had troubles and never found a way to cope. For better or worse, that makes him very, very ordinary.
Yesterday was the BBQ I hosted to celebrate my 30th birthday. I’ve really gotten into making barbecue (which s *not* grilling) in the last few months, and seeing as it’s a hands-off method of cooking that feeds a lot of people and almost everyone likes, it was a no-brainer.
It all started on Thursday, when I did a little little grocery shopping and made a “practice pie.” I’ve recently started reading the book Ratio by Michael Ruhlman and there’s a ratio in there for pie dough that I hadn’t tried, so I figured a dry run was in order. Besides, having 24 hours to finish an entire pie isn’t exactly the worst problem you can have. Although I was making a strawberry rhubarb pie for the party (which I have never even tried but was delicious), I decided to just go with peach for the practice pie.
I also got the two Butts and one of the chickens soaking in Mojo marinade (like brine, but with flavor) and made the BBQ rub.
Originally I planned to smoke the meat on my Weber kettle grill, as I always have. I was a little worried about fitting all of the meat on the kettle. After all, I bought 2 Boston Butts (totaling over 10 pounds), 2 chickens and was making a Bacon Explosion as well. Luckily, when I got home from work on Friday, my amazing wife surprised me with a 22″ Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker fully assembled and ready for action on the back porch.
This thing is like a sex toy for your porch. It holds enough fuel (aka charcoal) to burn for at least 12 hours, has a water bowl that holds by my estimation at least 2 gallons of water (if not 3) and helps keep your meat moist (it really does) and and has two 22.5 inch cooking grates that will hold 8 butts, or 10 chickens, or two turkeys, or, as it were, all the meat I had bought, with room to spare.
On Friday night I was reading up on this new smoker over at the Virtual Weber Bullet and it came to my atention that, well, I had better get started. On the kettle grill, the heat is a little higher and the meat cooks faster, so I thought I would be ok to start everything on Saturday morning. After reading though, I decided I needed to get started Friday night, and since the Bullet will run unattended overnight, I fired it up around 11:30 pm.
I got 40 charcoal brickettes going in the chimney starter and put the rest of a 20lb bag of Kingsford into the bottom of the Bullet, along with several chunks of hickory. When the coals were hot I added them to the top of the unlit coals (known as the Minion method) and put the smoker back together.
Luckily I had already rubbed the Butts, with the intention of letting them take in the rub overnight. Once I had decided to start them early, I pulled them out of the fridge to come down to temperature a bit.
And then added them to the smoker.
Once I got the tempertaure stable aound 225 degrees (which took me till abotu 1:30am) I went to bed. After I got the visions of brown sugar plum basting sauces to stop dancing in my head I fell asleep. At 4:00 I woke up to make sure the temperature was still stable (it was a little high, so I closed the vents down a bit) and went back to sleep. At 6:00 I woke up, mostly due to a “Christmas Morning” feeling, but I sat in bed till about 7:00 getting rested up for what was sure to be a busy day.
After getting a look at the butts and waking up, it was time to assemble the Bacon Explosion; starting with the outer basket-weave of bacon.
After this, a layer of sausage went on.
And lastly, an inner layer of fried bacon and BBQ sauce went inside.
The sausage portion is then rolled up into a loaf, and the bacon-basket-weave is rolled around that. After it came off the smoker, it looked like this:
Once the Bacon Explosion was assembled I moved on to the strawberry rhubarb pie. I had made a second batch of pie dough the night before, so I rolled it out into the pie pan, filled it with the filling (strawberries, rhubarb, sugar and corn starch) and topped it with a latice crust to allow the very large amount of moisture that rhubarb puts off to properly vent.
The pie turned out very well, and tasted great. The moisture from the filling was so much that it sort of overtook the topping and crust, thus producing a pie that wasn’t the pretties ever made, but those who tried it thought it was delicious, and I would have to agree.
Once the pie was in the oven I put the chickens and the halved chickens and Bacon Explosion on the smoker and sat down. Earlier I had basted the butts and took them off the smoker, because they were for the most part finished. I wrapped them in foil and put them in a thick styrofoam cooler (courtesy of Omaha Steaks). An hour before meal time I put them back on to heat up (by this time the smoker was down to about 200 degrees) and then 30 minutes later I took them off of the smoker for their final rest, and took the Bacon Explosion off as well to rest before I sliced it.
Finally, I sliced the bacon explosion, pulled the pork, and cut the ckickens into quarters (cut is a bit of an exaggeration, they fell apart) and put it all on a platter. The final plate-o-meat looked like this:
Justin seemed happy
And Linnea decided to go live with somebody who didn’t consider pork fat to be the 4th food group.
I had a really great time, and really apprecate everyone coming and hanging out. I hope to cook for all of you again way before I am 31.
Warning: The following contains whimsical foodie nonsense.
It occurred to me about a month ago that what is and is not taco fare is not limited to the picture on the Old El Paso box. I’m pretty open minded, especially with food. I love turning conventions on their head (I have a grilled eggplant parm on the menu for this weekend, for example) but for a number of subtle reasons, a ‘taco’ always meant ground beef (grilled chicken if you’re feeling frisky), some shitty shredded iceberg lettuce and a few other accouterments straight of of the Taco Bell mise en place.
Then one morning I heard this story on NPR about a taco truck in LA using Twitter to announce the location of their increasingly popular style of taco. Cool use of Twitter (a service as hard to confine as it is easy to define), but what came as a revelation was what they were sticking in their tacos: korean food. Kimchi and chilies. Lemongrass and Tofu. Amazing concepts made into apparently amazing tacos with a surprisingly simple but successful business model.
That night I went to the grocery store with a mission. I took leftover grilled chicken and reheated it with a Mojo glaze. Over that went a slab of sharp cheddar (no shreds, thanks) with a line of sracha. Next came a generous slice of fresh mango. Finally I topped it all off with a broccoli slaw of my own making, featuring a cilantro dressing.
It was one of the best things I have ever created.
The tanginess of the mojo paired with salty cheese and spicy chili sauce. Cool, sweet mango with fresh, brilliant cilantro and crunchy, creamy broccoli. All of this, in every bite. It was synergy defined.
Last night I took another whack at it, but as I am venturing into the world of Szechuan and Cantonese cuisines I decided to go the asian route. Starting with a pillow of Basmati, I then layer a fresh wok-seared combination of sweet onion, shredded chicken thigh and a touch of teriyaki, soy and a little corn starch. On top of that I added a slice of fresh (though still way too expensive) pineapple and finally some chow mein noodles. I wish I had the experience in Asian cuisine to know a better way to introduce crunch than the chow mein noodles, but they did the trick. Julienne bok choy stems crossed my mind, but the Grocery store’s bok choy was stupid expensive and I had already broken the bank on the pineapple. The Napa cabbage looked like crap.
All of this creativity has redefined my notion of what a Taco is, but it has also wrongly caused me to discount traditional tacos. Indeed, the Mexican culture produces some outstanding tacos with a list of ingredients eerily similar to the ones every soccer mom in the world uses.
So no more should I, or hopefully anyone reading this, consider myself confined to the Old El Paso formula for tacos, but neither should anyone look at fresh, well seasoned beef, crispy cool greens, sublime tomatoes and salty, creamy cheese and see anything necessarily inferior. The devil, as always, is in the details.
Man, how awesome would this be? You fire up the Mac (you do have a Mac, don’t you?) and load up the newest super cool video content aggregation app like Boxee and you just get all this content from everywhere for FREE (as in beer) and now you can just call up the cable company and tell them to shove their $50 a month up their smelly little ass. You can even use your iPhone to control this new miracle app. Bonus!
That would be so awesome. But it’s not going to happen any time soon.
Why, you ask? Boxee is already doing great, on the verge of breaking huge ground, and seems to have Hulu by the balls (resistance is futile, Hulu). Developers everywhere are building tools to extend this functionality. You can even get an eyeTv to suck the content from the wire to your hard drive to your TV. Rad. Over the air HD is just a couple months away. Sweet!
Thing is, content is still really important and the quality of that content (as in quality of video) is more important than ever. Want proof? Stand outside Best Buy for an hour and count how many HDTVs walk out the door. You’re going to need your fingers and your toes for this one.
My house, dare I say, is a fairly average one, other than the fact that we watch a little less TV than most folks and I’ve got a Mac Mini hooked up to the TV (both of which make me more likely to cut the Cable TV cord). I’ve got a nice HDTV and a kid, so a lot of the time it’s tuned to Nickelodean (in HD, for the record). When the girl makes it to bed, if the TV stays on, it gets tuned to the Discovery channel, Travel, Food Network and some nights the major networks for a dose of House, Simpson’s or that craptastic Gray’s Anatomy Steph likes so much. On the weekends I like watching sports and in the Fall I watch a lot of college football.
So, skimming over that list, there’s pretty much nothing that I can get on the internet for free that doesn’t (unfortunately) look like crap on my TV, and as little TV as I watch, I’m not up for crap. In fact, I hardly watch any SD content and get agrivated when I have to. After all, I didn’t buy a fancy-pants TV to watch Spongebob Pixelpants.
Could the networks (at least the ones who do offer up online content) offer it in HD? Sure, theoretically, but that’s a LOT of pipe and if we’re ever going to get to a point where all the majors are feeding HD to all the households we’re going to need more tubes.
At the end of the day though, I find myself saying ‘if only they would give it to me for free then I wouldn’t have to pay for it.’ Therein lies the problem: money. It’s still much, much more profitable for content owners, aka networks, to support and even promote the traditional advertising model of Cable Television, and by the way, the Cable companies are pretty damn invested in this model as well. If you keep reading down in the comments, I predict Jason will tell me I’m wrong and that the online delivery makes them money too, but I am telling you now that he is is wrong (the benefit of writing on one’s own blog) and that the Cable delivery model makes waaaaaaaay more money. Sure they are making concessions (see Hulu) because they know that some people are going to watch online no matter what, and they can still make some money on those folks, but the Cable delivery model is way too profitable and the kicker is the shift would have to come from the content and delivery folks, not the starving hipsters who want free content.
What it comes down to is this: the content owners and delivery networks hold the keys to the kingdom, and it’s a lucrative deal, and no amount of bandwidth or demand or fancy tech is going to cause them to hand either bit over for free.
So keep dreaming, I know I will. And enjoy seeing four beige pixels where John Stewart’s face should be; he’s still funny, right? But if you want to get the content of your choice, at the click of the remote, delivered in the quality you’ve become so accustomed to (and invested in with your fancy gadgets) then don’t let your checkbook stray too far. The cable company isn’t going anywhere for years to come.
Update: Did some fiddling with Boxee and Rowmote on Saturday and my feelings haven’t really changed. The content is thin. The quality is poor. The delivery is hit and miss. And I still believe that’s exactly how the folks in charge want things to stay.
Recently that changed and my area of responsibility shifted to solely managing others who are, in turn, managing pixels.
It occurred to me however that I wasn’t particularly adept at this new task. When it comes to creativity, I have always just sat down in front of a blank canvas and tried to take what was in my mind and get it onto the screen. Now I am charged with taking what’s in my mind and getting it into somebody else’s mind, which is entirely different.
Primarily it involves a different way of communicating.The parts of my brain that used to talk to the photoshop parts now have to talk to the language parts and put actions into words, while avoiding pronouns as much as possible.
In many ways though, it involves a different way of thinking altogether. A different approach. As similar and as different as an actor and a director on a movie set. Some great actors can’t direct for shit and I am now a director, for better or worse (I’m counting on better for what it’s worth).
So I decided to get a copy of a book witten by someone who’s journey was similar to mine. I’ve been reading his blog for years and he’s always got something interesting to say and is a great communicator himself. The book is called “Managing Humans” and my hopes are high that it will help me master a very different style of art; the art of communicating ideas with words rather than pixels.