On Art. And Bacon.

Once I came to grips with the fact that I wasn’t going to win American Idol this year, I had to find something else to do with my time.  Lately its been taking pictures.  Or, ‘capturing photographs’ if I want to sound all fancy.  There is an odd side of me that needs to be creative.  It’s a strange feeling since I have almost no artistic ability (except that diorama I made in 3rd grade – 1st place!) and very little knowledge of art.  As the saying goes, “I can’t tell you what art is but I know it when I see it”.  Or was that pornography? I get them confused.

Posting the pictures I take makes me feel somewhat awkward.  On one hand, what’s the point of taking them if nobody ever sees them?  Am I turning into a Kardashian-like creature desperate for attention and trolling for compliments?  On the other hand there are 2.3 billion (approximately) other people out there doing the exact same thing.  And a fair percentage of them are actually creating stuff that’s damn good.  Heck, take a mediocre snapshot with your cellphone, slap an instagram filter on it and you’ll get a bunch of people on Facebook all liking it and commenting “wow, great shot!”.

So why bother publishing pictures to the various social medias du jour?  I’m never going to be an “artist” (I don’t even own Birkenstocks and I’m not a fruitarian).  I’m never going to be a professional photographer.  Other than baby and wedding photos, I’m not even sure it’s an actual occupation anymore.

From a technical perspective I’m at about a 5th grade level in the photography world.  I have visions of real photographers looking at my stuff and saying (always in a heavy French accent) “how cute,  someone found a copy of Photoshop”.

So why do it?  Because I can’t paint.  I can’t draw.  I can’t sing.  I can’t carve wooden bear statues or ice swans with a chainsaw.  Sometimes I see an image in my head and taking a picture is the only hope I have of getting it out.  Most of the time they don’t match what I was thinking.  But every once in a while… it feels like you get one right.  And if just one person out there sees it and thinks to themselves “hmm, that’s sorta cool” then I suppose it was worth it to share that brief image I had floating around in my skull.

The problem I have, as a non-artist with limited brain cycles devoted to creativity, is that the majority of the images in my head are about bacon (don’t worry, I’m in a twelve-step program for my addiction).  And bacon, while a delicious super food, doesn’t photograph well.

http://troutdogphoto.wordpress.com/

Food For Thought

I like food.  As a general rule (and I am a rule follower) the worse it is for me the better I like it.  But being the enigma I am, there are also fleeting attempts at being healthy.  Clearly some sort of foodie Jekyll and Hyde thing going on.  A few years ago in brief burst of health I read The Omnivores Dilemma and immediately resolved to eat nothing but food that was locally sourced, grass-fed, watered with unicorn tears, and lovingly harvested by nubile young virgins.  That lasted only a few weeks.  It’s just so damn easy to go to the mega-mart instead.  It wasn’t a complete waste however – I did buy a cow and will do so again once I finish the approximately 276 pounds of hamburger in my freezer.

Anyway, last night after catching up on the Kardashian channel  (E! News) I stumbled across Michael Pollan’s movie “Food Inc.”.  It wasn’t bad.  A little disturbing and very sensationalist.  Like his books it does make you think about your food and that’s a good thing.  It would be a wonderful thing if we could all afford to buy from farmers markets and not be slaves to the evil corporate machine.  Evil-doers I tell you!

Unfortunately it’s not reality.  The US population is 317 million.  The world population is 7.1 billion.  By 2050 those numbers are projected to be 400 million and 8.92 billion.  We do not have the capacity to feed those numbers with sustainable chickens running free through the woods and listening to Miley Cyrus on their little iChicken headphones prior to slaughter.  Here in the US, we have already exceeded the soil’s capacity to grow.  If it wasn’t for the miracle of modern nitrogen-based fertilizers we’d be living in some sort of futuristic Mad Max dust bowl already. 

So enough of the self-righteous condemnation of the modern food industry.  If, as Warren Buffet said, you’re one of the winners of the ovarian lottery be thankful. Drive the 20 miles to Whole Foods in your eco-friendly Prius and be grateful you can pay $6.99 for Chilean Blueberries while sipping a $7 mocha-latte made from beans sourced from Brazil.

GMO’s, drought and pesticide resistant seeds, massive corporate food production slaughterhouses and assembly lines, cheap immigrant labor… these really are good things.  Why?  The alternative is third-world food scarcity everywhere.  If you have a true, viable, alternative to feed the planet I’m all ears.  Meanwhile I’m going to go get me some .99¢ deep-fried chicken tenders, feel bad about myself and resolve to eat more salads.

We bought a cow

The Walmart was having a killer black Friday sale, so we went ahead and bought a cow.  Ok, not a cow but a steer.  Ok, it wasn’t Walmart but a local rancher.  Had to go take a look at him today since he’ll be in our freezer by next week.  It’s important to know where your food comes from.  That steak doesn’t just magically appear at the grocery store!

On Giving Thanks. And Zombies.

Thanksgiving is an odd holiday.  It’s fake.  At least in its current form in the U.S., it’s a manufactured holiday.  Roosevelt went so far as to move the date in an attempt to help the economy by increasing the number of shopping days before Christmas.  It has nothing in common with the original harvest festivals of our forefathers… otherwise we’d be having a yummy dinner of fresh water eel and corn.  Even with all that, it’s still my favorite holiday.

If you can strip out all the commercialism, there’s just something about sitting down with family and friends for no purpose other than enjoying good food and giving thanks.  The Christmas/Holiday season? Hate it. Always have. It’s phony, fake, driven by marketing and the 2,735 holiday commercials per minute we’re bombarded with.  I lay in bed at night, stressed that I haven’t purchased the iNog EggNog maker for someone and for yet another year failed to get holiday newsletters out.  What in the hell am I going to get Aunt Sophie for a grab-bag gift?  The woman does nothing but watch approximately 22 hours a day of Judge Judy re-runs.  The fifty-four pound box of Pepperidge Farm sausage seemed reasonable to me, but my wife thinks otherwise.  Sigh…  The pressure is unbearable.

Ah, but Thanksgiving.  The only requirement is to relax, cook, and sit down with the people most important to you and eat.  And talk.  Share stories.  Drink too many adult beverages and thank the deity of your choice that you’re at an age where you’re longer stuck at that rickety card table with the kids.  And wallow in the knowledge that you have a free pass to eat an obscene amount of food.  The calories don’t count on Thanksgiving.  Extra gravy.  That ridiculous yam dish with the marshmallows – on what other day of the year could you serve something covered in marshmallows and get away with it?

But most importantly, to give thanks.  At some point during the dinner, sit back and just watch.  Watch your family and friends eating, enjoying, talking, arguing over politics and sports.  Simply being together.  And give thanks that through an accident of birth you happen to be in a position to live where you do.  That you don’t live in Sudan, or Somalia, or Afghanistan, or the poorest parts of India or China.  That you do have food on your table, clothes on your back, and that Uncle Bob is free to slur his words and lament that those damn commie democrats won the election.

Because not everyone has this gift.  But we do.  So ignore for at least one day the looming commercialism of the “holiday” season, politics, the media, and all those cute cat videos on Facebook.  Enjoy and be thankful for what you have – because as down and out as you might be, you’re not living in a mud hut in Ethiopia wondering where your next meal will come from.

And besides… we’re only a month away from the Mayan doomsday.  And you know what that means, right?  The coming zombie apocalypse.  There’ll be no enjoying canned cranberries or Frenches green been casserole when fighting off the zombie hoards.  I watch the Walking Dead, I know what’s coming.  I don’t know about you, but I’m stockpiling fancy Jell-O molds in my bunker.  And guns.  Lots and lots of guns.

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Twinkies And Gray Hair

I’m heading to a Mexican beach in about nine weeks. This is a good thing. It also means going shirtless. That is a slightly uncomfortable thing. As a guy I’m not particularly vain, but I’ve never been very fond of how I look between the neck and the knees. I’m happy with my calves. I guess the ankles too. The rest not so much. I wouldn’t say I’m exactly fat. Just sort of… squishy around the middle.

The problem is food. I love to eat. Be forwarned – don’t get between me and good BBQ. Or cheese. I’ve seen plenty of Bruce Lee movies and can scare the hell out of you with my Jeet Kune Do warrior yell. The only thing that saves me from being four hundred pounds with cankles is that I’m pretty darn active. Between daily mountain biking, running, and wicked Gears of War battles on the XBox, I burn a ton of calories. Unfortunately all that does is let me maintain my sexy Stay-Puft abs. I never actually get less squishy (de-squishy?).

I figure I need to drop fifteen pounds to not feel like I need to wear a support garment. That means roughly two pounds a week. I’ll need to burn 5,800 calories a week. Just under 900 a day. That seems do-able. The problem will be limiting the calories needed for basic sustenance to just the minimum. Probably somewhere around 1,800-2,000.

Which brings me to Twinkies. 160 calories and a shelf life that doesn’t expire. I figured I could eat ten a day. And coffee. Can’t live without coffee. 1600 calories and plenty of sugar to keep me fueled. I was just about to head to Costco to pick up a pallet when I saw on snopes.com that it’s a myth. Twinkies only have a shelf life of 25 days. What a cruel joke! My pallet-load would go bad before I could consume all that sweet goodness. If I’m already going to have to go to the grocery store more frequently, I might as well buy vegetables or something. Sigh.

This is going to be a struggle. Worth it though – who doesn’t like to see a middle-aged guy strutting around the pool convinced everyone thinks he’s twenty years younger? I did discover a new batch of gray hair the other day. Going to have to deal with that. Grecian-Formula for Men and we’re practically John Travolta. Wait, that’s a hairpiece, so bad example. I’m sure you get the point.

I’ll start the diet tomorrow. Or maybe on Monday. Never start a diet on the weekend. I should probably find that swim-shirt just in case.

On Feeling Young. And Tacos.

I don’t know what it is about street food that makes it so good. Grills and pans take on a certain patina when they’re not exactly cleaned spotless each night. Lard tastes better than heart healthy sunflower oil. (write this one down kids… fat = flavor) Maybe it’s the thrill of taking a chance on salmonella or hepatitis. Regardless, Anthony Bourdain has it right – you’re more likely to get sick from the hotel breakfast buffet than a street vendor. Accordingly, a friend and I took a chance on a serious dive, hole-in-the-wall, side of the road taqueria the other day.

I had a couple of pork chili verde tacos. Two small homemade tortillas, pork, onions and cilantro, hot oil dripping down my fingers. Simple. Heaven. Makes me ashamed of the American contribution to Mexican culinary history – the Chalupa Nacho Cheese (si, queso!), beef or upgraded to authentic carne asada. Oh, and Cinco de Mayo. Truly sorry about that one. Since I’m apologizing I may as well throw in blended margaritas. If you feel that you must drink your alcohol like a Jamba Juice smoothie, please have the decency to not call it a margarita. Ice cubes (Cubes DAMMIT!), Cointreau, good 100% blue agave tequila, salt. A lime if you must. Anything else and it’s no longer the beautiful drink Don Carlos Orozco gifted us with.

Since we’re talking tequila, we should probably mention a certain Jose Cervo-fueled night when I was in my twenties. Or not. Let’s just say that livestock, downtown high-rise hotels, and base jumping rarely ends well. What is worth talking about is that feeling you have in your youth.  Joints don’t hurt and backs don’t ache. There’s no such thing as stretching and warming up before you do something. There’s no hesitation when it comes to running, jumping, or climbing things. You just do it. Afterwards muscles aren’t sore. Sleep often comes easy. You don’t blink an eye at starting your evening at 11pm. Roll in as the sun is rising, go to work and repeat it the next evening.

Sitting here at an age that’s probably closer to the end than the beginning (holy crap, that’s a depressing thought), I wonder where those feelings of youth went? Well, not exactly true – in my head I still “feel” like I’m late twenties. I still listen to loud, obnoxious music that doesn’t fit my age. I feel ridiculous the few times I need to wear a tie or a suit, like I’m pretending to be an adult. The thought of going on a cruise just feels claustrophobic and something grandparents do. I like speed and thrills – skiing, mountain biking, motorcycles. I don’t think twice about going on crazy long hikes or trail runs in the backcountry. Unfortunately most of my activities usually culminate in ibuprofen, ice, and being too sore to walk the next day. I am constantly surprised when I can’t do something that I used to be able to do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up in the morning in pain and been honestly puzzled why I hurt? I never used to have to stretch my hamstrings and calves before spending an afternoon pulling weeds in the garden.

The lesson is that while you can’t stop the physical aging process, there’s no need to grow old mentally. The older I get the less interested I am in becoming a “grown up”. I don’t want to stop riding bikes, going for hikes, or listening to ridiculous gangster rap and 1970’s funk at eardrum damaging volumes. Everyone should resolve to do something youthful this week. Go watch a three stooges film festival. Go-cart racing. Sign up for climbing lessons at the local climbing gym. Wear a baseball hat and flip-flops. Take a spur of the moment trip without planning. Stay up past 10pm. It doesn’t matter what it is… just go do something to prove to yourself that you’re not an old fuddy-duddy.

And resolve to skip a chain restaurant this week in favor of street food. Preferably not in the best part of town. Take a chance. Have a real taco.