Cocktail game on fleek?

I like everything about cocktails except the price tag. While it's true that beer has a lot more going for it — it's cold, ready to drink and possesses all of the culinary subtlety of a hammer — there's something about the process of creating a good mixed drink that reminds me a lot of cooking.

There's the idea of taking exceptional parts — by themselves digestible, but completely uninteresting — transforming them into something great. Note how the Old Fashioned takes whiskey, by itself oaky, and transforms it with sugar and bitters.

I cite the Old Fashioned, specifically, because it's one of my favorite drinks. Ironically, I have yet to have an Old Fashioned that's actually made in the, well, old-fashioned way. A recent example would be the "Spiced Old Fashioned" I had at a restaurant called Timo here in Phoenix. Served in a bath of crushed ice, with muddled orange and cherry, and almost cloyingly sweet, I felt like I was having dessert with my dinner. According to the drink menu, I was enjoying a full 2oz. pour of rye whiskey, but I'll be damned if I could taste it.

It's a game of hide-and-seek probably meant to hide the fact that the $9 cocktail I was enjoying was made with sub-par bourbon, like Jack Daniels or something. You don't want to highlight that. It's both the blessing and the curse of such a simple cocktail — ever ingredient needs to be good quality, since the spirit has nowhere to hide — except behind whatever sugar you put in.

The most immediate example that comes to mind in cooking is the caprese. Get the cheapest mozarella you can find, wilted basil leaves, and bruised tomatoes, and it's going to take a lot of balsamic vinegar to get you through it. Every component has to be the highest quality, or you shouldn't even daughter.

I guess where I'm going with this is that I'm becoming more and more reticent to spend anywhere from $12-14 (when tip is factored in), on something that's as sweet as a soda. It's the same frustration that led me to start cooking in the first place. Why pay around $20 for a pizza when I can throw one together at home that is leaps and bounds better?

I want to start a mini-bar, is what I'm saying, a haven for Friday and Saturday night entertaining — or, heck, even when there are no guests around — and a place to practice the same sort of culinary explorations I do when cooking.

Speaking of which, I'm making Fregola with Green Peas, Mint and Ricotta. The picture is mouth-watering, but there's a lot at stake here since the fregola alone cost me $7 on Amazon. There's a lot of pressure for this baby to be delicious.

Arms race

I had an epiphany this morning: I'm like a reverse muffin top. A muffin bottom, if you wil. I've been focusing so much on lower body toning that I completely forgot that I have these things called arms — and they're pretty twiggy.

It comes as no coincidence that I've been watching a lot of Bro Science lately. Dom is my spirit animal. I have a lot of spirit animals. I keep them on a steady rotation so that I can call upon the one that suits my current situation at a moment's notice. What was I talking about? Oh, yeah.

Aside from the fact that having leg muscles that pop but saggy arms is a massive buzz kill, I want to build my arms up because the arms — along with the core and glutes — play a key role in running. I feel like I'm stuck at an eight-minute mile plateau, and the only other thing I can think of to improve besides sprinting more is getting Judi Dench.

Body weight training will do for now. When it gets super hot I'm probably going to bite the bullet and retreat to the solace of an air-conditioned gym. But, for the moment, April has been incredibly pleasant. I can run in broad daylight without need to haul water around on a gaudy belt. I"m not sure I'll be able to say the same thing come May.

Maybe I'll post "before" pics as a motivator...

On a somewhat related note, those miniature stationary bikes that fit underneath your desk are really cool.

"It Follows" a road to nowhere

You never forget your first time. My first horror movie — or at least the first that I can recall seeing — was A Nightmare on Elm Street 5. When you think of the kind of plot least suited to an elementary schooler prone to nightmares, your first choice would probably be a movie about a boogeyman who makes all the things that happen in nightmares real.

So, yeah.

Against all odds, that first experience with the horror genre didn't sour me on the genre entirely. Rather, it provided the same kind of visceral reaction I had when watching cheesy 80s action movies. The blood! The body count! The plot that serves only to get the characters from one violent set piece to the next!

I grew up in the golden age of horror franchises — and diminishing returns. Yet, I've forced myself to sit through every A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th. Heck, I've even made it a point to see Hellraiser through to the bitter end, even when it's become abundantly clear with each subsequent outing that the films started as scripts about some other demon entirely, and Pinhead was worked in at the behest of some studio head.

So, clearly, I'm not only a glutton for punishment — I've seen a ton of horror movies. Horror plots tend to blur together at this point, but I feel as if the genre is experiencing a renaissance of sorts. The Babadook is proof that directors are still capable of pulling off atmospheric horror. House of the Devil shows that you can pour old wine into new bottles and keep things feeling fresh.

Riding on the coattails of this new wave of retro-horror is It Follows, a stylish tale of sex and mortality that, unfortunately, feels both overwrought and pointless at the same time.

Basically, there's this curse that causes an entity to follow you around at walking speed. If it catches you, you die. Only those who carry the curse can see this shapeshifting being. You get the curse from having sex with someone who is cursed. You pass it on by having sex with someone else. But if the person who inherits the curse dies, the entity will come after you and work its way up the curse chain.

Essentially, the movie tries to toy with the idea of the "final girl" — you know, that chaste character in classic horror films who abstains from sex and seems to make smarter decisions than literally every other person in the movie? Except, in It Follows, the only way for the Final Girl to survive is to do not-Final-Girl things. Like have sex. Lots of sex.

There are several problems with the movie. First, there is absolutely no way to escape the curse. So you pass the curse on — big deal. Unless the person who receives the curse flies to a remote island, they will get picked off eventually. Then, you're right back where you started.

Second, there are a lot of hamfisted references to passages from The Iliad about mortality. I get it. We don't really know when we're going to die. But then this curse forces the main character to face her mortality head on. The problem is that an idea that could have been conveyed in 80 minutes is stretched to nearly two hours.

Finally, the movie feels really sex negative. Like, the only way to completely avoid having a curse monster follow you around at walking speed is to just not have sex. Don't even risk it! It's like Cronenberg's Rabid, but instead of it being a satire of HIV hysteria, the movie plays it totally straight.

In what is easily the most problematic scene in the entire movie, friends of the cursed girl gather in an abandoned underground pool to execute a plan meant to electrify the curse entity. The problem with this is that at no point is it ever established that the entity can be killed. Like, it came back from a gunshot wound to the head. You think electricity is going to somehow stop it?

The director, apparently, wanted the movie to have an element of dream logic. I think he achieved that if "dream logic" is an industry buzzword for "mind-numbing stupidity."

(And I just realized that I haven't really said anything positive about the film. That's because there wasn't a single thing that stuck out as memorable. It's just sort of there, for an hour and forty minutes. Then, it ends.)

Really, watching It Follows is like trying a mediocre restaurant: the food sucks, but you're not mad that you ate there.

But how does it make you feel?

I dig art on a visceral level. When I stare at the portrait of an old, dead person and read a placard explaining how old and dead that person is, it doesn't make me want to engage with the artist's work in any way. It's totally cool that people are into staring at the faded visage or bust of someone who was really important many moons ago, but that's just not my style.

Art should make me feel something, but it doesn't have to be a positive experience. For example, I went to the Phoenix Art Museum with some colleagues yesterday, and there was a string quartet playing beautiful music. Periodically, however, the cellist would stop to read some pretentious garbage from an index card. It made me want to punch him in the face, but I applauded at the end of their performance because they created something that nearly moved me to tears and made me think violent thoughts — at the same time.

They arted well. (Yeah, I'm using it as a verb. Deal.)

Another example of someone who excels at art is Andy Warhol. You don't need placards filled with words to help you understand that these are portraits made through a silk screening process. What's cool about Warhol is the emotion he invokes through his bold use of color. A simple portrait of Queen Elizabeth I is transformed into that of a pop icon with the use of neon. A skull says more than momento mori — remember that we are mortal. You look at that vibrant little sucker and think — even for just a second — that he's the next big thing.

Warhol sure did some art.

The pretentious cello quartet and Warhol are two sides of the same coin. I still haven't figured out which side of the coin a bunch of key lime-flavored candies strewn on the floor belongs in. On the surface, it's just candy — the kind you'd find in your grandmother's purse. (Don't deny that you went through her purse. You and I were totally the kind of brats that did that sort of thing.) But said candy was on the floor. On almost every wall of the museum are signs imploring you not to touch or photograph these precious pieces of art. Enage, but don't engage at all. The candy exhibit was intended to fly in the face of that notion. So when I grabbed two pieces of candy off the floor and popped one in my mouth, I was basically giving the middle finger to the very idea that you come to a musuem to stare passively at old things.

Sharing company with Warhol's work was a painting that literally jumped off the page. I don't remember the artist, or what the thing was even called, but what stuck out at me was how she used a trowel to essentially sculpt her paint so that it stood two or three inches off the canvas. It was like painting in 3D. Another clear standout was this really dark, gritty painting that I thought was a clock at first. But the gears were actually spurs, and the things that I thought were the innards of the clock were really cowboy boots. It was like the Wild West was melting before my eyes.


It kind of puts things into perspective. When the wife and I were in New York, making yet another pit stop on the journey back from South Korea, we visited the Museum of Modern Art. It's basically the joint statement of a bunch of prentious artists:

Please, please, punch us in our stupid faces.

At the time, I couldn't wait to get out of there because each subsequent collection of newspaper clippings arranged to make some facile statement about the nature of war drove me further and further into a hellspiral of rage. Luckily, I was able to escape before being consumed by my disdain for modern art.

Looking back, I realize that those people, as stupid as their art truly is (in my opinion, of course), were doing art really well. They stirred in me a hatred I never knew existed, and I didn't need to read a placard to get that.

I could feel it, deep down in my plums.

What's the point?

I was in the middle of a really intense Instagram session when it hit me. Some people just fitness wrong. Okay, well that's not entirely accurate — I'm a grown man (or at least that's what my driver's license indicates) — and I get that people work out for different reasons. Some people are in it to get shredded. Others just to maintain the body they have. As for me, I've done the weight loss part. I've dropped a few pants sizes, replaced my entire wardrobe (save for my shoes) and just generally have more energy.

I'm cool with not being jacked. My ambitions fall far short of the cover of Men's Health magazine, and that's fine with me — especially when I see the depths people are willing to mine just to attain physical perfection. Nah, I don't think I'll ever be cool with a snack consisting of peanut butter and Quaker rice cakes. Those things are like cardboard. Nor do I think I'll ever be satisfied with a meal of one protein bar. They're good in a pinch when I forget my lunch, but I would never actively choose to eat them for lunch when I can gobble down pasta or pork chops.

At the same time, if the previous paragraph detailed things that row your boat, that's totally cool with me. In fact, I respect your devotion to working out to the point of exhaustion and then gobbling down a gritty protein bar. You are my spirit animal. But I'm still going to head to In N Out once a week, crack open a beer every now and then and just generally eat good food without stressing about macro and micro nutrients.

Why? Because what's the point otherwise? I run so that I can eat (reasonably) without fear of destroying my body. I don't eat a lot of fast food. I'm not addicted to sugar. But at the same time I can rock full plates of cacio e pepe without crying myself to sleep or worrying what the scale is going to say in the morning. I would go insane if I couldn't do these things.

I will say, and hold on to your underwear if this is you, that people who do that whole intermittent fasting thing be straight up crazy. Like, why skip breakfast? It's awesome.

Aside from seeing that rather terrifying image of a flavorless rice cake covered in the mana that is peanut butter, the other idea that really drove this post is that you have to find an exercise you enjoy in order to stick with it.

I don't necessarily agree with that, to a point. Yeah, if you hate running, you're not going to stick with it. Obviously. But I didn't enjoy running when I first started. Now I'm training for a marathon. Am I an outlier? Or is there this revolutionary idea that things that suck — or that you suck at — become enjoyable after a while? A lot of blogs try to overcomplicate the idea that weight loss is as simple as "calories in < calories out" or simplify the notion that exercise should be fun for you.

There are many dimensions to fitness and, unfortunately, willpower is one of them. Not all exercises are going to be fun right off the bat and fitness takes time. But, for me, hard work usually comes with a reward — whether it's a big brunch on my long run days, an occasional beer in the evening, or what have you. Push yourself, then treat yourself (within reason). Obviously, the reward doesn't even have to involve food. Just do what floats your boat.

Also, remember that getting in shape is hard. It's not supposed to be easy. If it was, we'd have a nation of swole gods and goddesses, now, wouldn't we?