Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Internet: Something Rad I'm Thankful For

It's that time of year again in the US when we gear up for turkey, football, day drinking, and awkward and occasionally painful conversations with family over dinner. Thanksgiving is an American holiday generally associated with food comas and mentally preparing for Black Friday shopping/trampling/brawling, but having to work and being nowhere near large outlet stores means I'm pretty much excluded from those festivities. What I do get to be a part of, though, is the mysterious and often forgotten part of the Thanksgiving holiday: thanks-giving.

I do my best to be thankful and grateful for every opportunity I've been given, all the things I have, and the friends and family in my life, but the fourth Thursday in November is as good a time as any to make my appreciation known. I could go on with a huge laundry list of things I'm thankful for (which I thought to do earlier because I'm lazy as well as thankful) but I thought to focus on at least one thing to talk about. Narrowing down the long list of wonderful stuff to one thing is hard, since beer, sanitation, Patrick Warburton, modern medicine, and national parks exist, but thinking about the remoteness of my home and the upcoming gift-giving holiday season, one thing stood out among the rest.

That thing, of course, is the thing you're using right now to read this; the internet.

Being in the middle of nowhere means a couple things; seeing my friends and family in far-off places is difficult, and not being near malls or stores means Christmas shopping can be hard and limited. Thanks to the internet I can catch up with people via social networks and have most of my gift shopping done at the comfort of my own home. I get to learn things via YouTube (see: TED, Vsauce) and waste my time watching stupid crap... via YouTube. I get my news online along with my bank statements, and I can pay my bills without going to the post office or writing a check. I can talk to my girlfriend with FaceTime, wish my friends in Toronto and elsewhere a happy birthday, and be updated with what my family is up to no matter where they might be. The internet is rad. Thanks, Al Gore.

There are a lot of things to be thankful for, and the information superhighway is just one of them. It's a luxury we're afforded. It's something not a lot of people have, like enough to eat, clean water, and safe haven. Help people when you can (the internet has countless sites that can tell you what you can do) and be thankful for what you have.

Also, be thankful for cat videos. They're great.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Beer in the Eastern Sierra

I spent part of my Saturday rolling up Highway 395, through the towering pines and along the jagged crags of the Eastern Sierras, on the way to June Lake. It's a quiet mountain town with plenty of hiking during the warmer months and skiing during the colder ones, but the trip wasn't for outdoor adventures. I'd been meaning to check out the new brewery-- June Lake Brewing-- since it had opened, but for one reason or another I hadn't made my way up that far north. Last weekend, though, my girlfriend came to visit, so a beer date and mini road trip through the woods materialized.

The outdoors and beer oftentimes go hand in hand.  My skiing and snowboarding friends like an apr├Ęs-ski brew. Beers after a good hike (or during, whatever) usually come up. The climbers I know usually end up drinking an IPA after playing around on the rocks, and camping tends to involve a libation or two around the fire. Maybe the outdoors pair well with beer, like a good steak and a red wine. Maybe craft beers, with their attention to detail and flavor, help people stop and appreciate the little beautiful things in the grand scene of nature.

I like beer and being outside, so that's why I do it.

At the brewery
Whatever the reason they mix may be, it works in places like the Eastern Sierra. Places like June Lake and Mammoth Lakes, with year round outdoor activities from hiking and climbing to snow sports, definitely benefit with a brewery. One of my personal favorites, Mammoth Brewing Company, has been in operation for nearly 20 years, and in that 20 years they have found themselves beyond their town of origin and onto shelves in stores around the state (they have their beers in select locations in L.A., Orange County, and parts of San Diego for a limited time, go out and find 'em!). Even though its reach is growing, their beers still have a taste that's indicative of the Sierras; bold, loaded with flavor, and definitely unique. The beers Stephanie and I tried at June Lake Brewing represented that independent Sierra flavor too, being creative and expressive while still being extremely palatable.

Stephanie and I got a growler of their "8140 Black IPA" since she likes porters, I like IPAs, and it's a pleasant combination of both, so that was rad.

It, and the other beers we sampled, were definitely worth the trip. It would be nice if there were closer options for craft beers on the south side of the east side of the Sierras, which is why I'm stoked that the brewing trend is moving further down. Over the last year or so, construction and preparation of Mountain Rambler Brewery in Bishop has been underway. They just started opening full time late last week, and their kitchen is getting pretty good reviews, but at the time I paid it a visit they only had "guest beers". Nevertheless, I expect pretty good things to come from them, and hopefully soon. The anticipation for new beer is almost too much for my little heart to take. After all, local is better.

The small but impressive collection of breweries forming on this side of the state is exciting to me. It's not just because I'm a beer fan, but because they produce things that are fun to explore. New breweries perfect their art to make something creative. Some have a bite while others go down smoothly, but they're all their own adventure. The mountains and deserts of the Eastern Sierra are kind of the same way; different flavors, different reactions, all beautiful and unique in their own way, and all fun to explore. Maybe that's why beer and the outdoors works so well together; both are an adventure for the senses, with sights and scents and flavors that vary wherever you go but remain interesting as you continue to delve into them.

I mean, I'm still sticking with "I like beer and being outside" but the adventure thing might work too.

Try a local beer next time you're in Inyo or Mono counties. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Spicy Stuff

Believe it or not, I used to be whiter than I am today.

My brother (left) and myself, in the dopest Cub Scout swag
My complexion was a cross between skim milk and fresh fallen snow. Classic rock and country music were what I listened to exclusively (mostly because I was never really exposed to anything else). The town I was raised in was like if a Norman Rockwell painting and an Ansel Adams photograph built a village off their artwork. Basically, I was a living stereotype of middle-class whiteness as a young man.

I mean, I'm still a pretty generic white guy, but a few things have changed, like my skin being pinker and my ability to eat spicier foods actually existing.

Growing up, I didn't care for anything with a kick. If I ate Mexican food everything would have to be mild, and even then it was more than hot enough for me. Hell, I couldn't really even handle too much pepper on food because of the spice to it, which shows how big a pansy ass I was. For many, many years I lived my life in relative blandness. Sure, I ate sweet things, and sure I ate savory things, but peppers never played a part on my pallet.

I don't know when I grew out of my aversion to spicy stuff, but it probably started around the time I was in college and eating rice and Top Ramen almost exclusively. I experimented with ways to get rice to be less boring, and ways to get Top Ramen to taste less like Top Ramen, so I incorporated vegetables, canned meats, peanut butter (it was... interesting), and finally the realm of Tapatio and Tabasco. Sweating out the first few moments of Tuna-Tabasco-Top-Ramen Surprise, I realized hot sauce was pretty tasty; the kind-of sweet vinegary taste crossed with the heat of the stuff distracted me from the fact that I was eating a 60 cent on-sale food amalgamation abomination. From then on, I'd add a little hot sauce to other things I'd eat to add to the flavor instead of masking it, and things continued to turn out awesome.
Heaven in a bottle
Then the day came that I met Sriracha. I hadn't had the chance to try that beautiful red sauce praised and doted on by everyone when it first became popular, but when I finally did I learned what The Oatmeal was talking about. It's now found its way into almost every meal I eat in a day, in everything I cook, and with me wherever I go just in case I run into a food item that needs more flavor.

As far as flavor goes, though, I learned the joy of spiciness while in Santa Barbara. The Brewhouse has a habanero pilsner, but I think they were experimenting with another capsaicin-packed beer when I was there. The waitress warned me it was "screaming hot" but curiosity got the better of me, so I ordered it. It was a dark looking beast of a stout, in a 4-ounce glass without much of a head to it. I took a sip. Initially it wasn't too bad; slight chili sweetness, stout bitterness... then the burn came. It was like napalm coating my stomach. The cold feeling of beer crossed with the scorching sensation of whatever unholy pepper they made the stuff with was intense enough for me not to be able to finish it-- but it was pretty tasty regardless. Just... painful.

It's not to say I go out of my way for spicy foods, but I will say I've broadened my horizons with stuff I'm willing to eat (and drink, apparently). Some foods seem gross (see: pickled tongue, tripe) and some are potentially painful (see: whatever the hell I drank at The Brewhouse), but even if they are gross or painful they're food, and food is inherently awesome. It's worthwhile to try new things and acquire a taste for certain flavors, because there's a chance you could miss out on rad eats if you don't.

In short: Don't be bland. Try something tasty.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Brief Summary of My Adventures in 2014

It's a little early for a recap of the year, seeing as it's only early November, but after being on a ship for four days and only getting back a couple days ago I figure it's as good a time as any to talk about the adventures I had this year.

When the year started I made a resolution to myself that I had no intention of really keeping. I felt my weekends were being wasted sitting around and thinking about how boring life was, mostly because I couldn't find the wherewithal within myself to get off my ass and do much more than eat McDonald's and feel sorry for myself most of last year. I told myself I'd do my best to have some sort of adventure as many weekends as I possibly could in 2014, because spending so many days staring at the mountains while at work and never taking a day to explore them should be a sin. The ball got rolling from then on.
Hiking around Panamint Springs

Within the first month and a half of the year I went hiking around places in the Alabama Hills I'd never explored before, camped in Death Valley (well, Panamint Springs, pretty much the same damn thing) and hiked to Darwin Falls for the first time, and took a few trips to the Antelope Valley in a Jeep Cherokee that would end up bursting a fuel line and eventually completely dying. Old Red biting the bullet meant going on an adventure in the world of grown-up stuff, like loans and financing and spending large sums of money, which is how I ended up with my Nissan Versa. My dad had told me having a reliable car would open up a lot more options of places to go, and I figured I wouldn't go much further than Lancaster or Mammoth, maybe Bakersfield or whatever. But then summertime came.

During the spring and summer, between hiking around the Sierras and taking up running again and participating in my first race in about 15 years, I went to Crowley Lake for Independence Day fireworks, then down to San Diego for a friends birthday and Ventura to show off my pasty white torso on the beach. To see the Pacific Ocean twice within the span of a few weeks after not seeing the ocean for a few years was mind-blowing, and to do things I don't normally do, like go out of town for the 4th of July or getting gussied up for a night on the town (or being shirtless in public like I was in Ventura) was a fantastic way to escape my comfort zone. After summer came to a close and things started getting more serious with my significant other (also a wonderful venture out of my comfort zone) the fun stuff kept coming.

I participated in The Color Run in Ventura last month, and it being the first time I'd ever been a part of a race with that many people. Like, hundreds of people flooded the streets with a colorful cloud of dust hanging overhead. Working off of no sleep, hours of sitting in a car, and a little coffee sent me off to run a few miles while getting hit with colored chalk. By the end of it I was a rainbow mess of sweat, exhaustion, and happiness. Washing up after the fact was a sight to behold: rinsing out my hair looked like liquid Smurf, and I was blowing Technicolor crap out of my nose for a couple days.

Then, of course, came last weekend.
Leaving Los Angeles

We left the Port of Los Angeles Thursday morning. During that time my girlfriend and I went brewery hopping in Santa Barbara, enjoyed three course meals every night, had in-room caviar, got an exclusive tour of the bridge, received a full body massage, and experienced the sights and sounds of Ensanada (though, we only really ate Mexican food after getting back from Mexico, go figure). We got back to LA on Monday, took a hard nap after waking up early, then I drove back home to be at work the next day.

Compared to last year, my mood's improved, I have more energy, and I'm in a lot better shape, not necessarily because I'm travelling all over the place but because I'm actually doing stuff, and doing stuff fairly regularly. Being lazy is awesome, and I'm a fan of laying around the house with a liter of Mountain Dew, a bag of Doritos, half a dozen Hot Pockets, and a lame horror movie, but actually keeping my body and brain stimulated and doing something with my free time has done me a lot of good. Life's too short to complain about having nothing to do, and I intend to keep doing stuff for the rest of this year and for as long as I can afterward

Long story short, this year has been rad. I look forward to more adventures.