Good things happen to those who… wait…

I need to start writing now, otherwise I know how the next half hour will play out. I’ll tab between Facebook, Reddit and Twitter, ostensibly looking for something to write about. Realistically, it’ll be procrastination by any other name. I’ll go to the toilet even if I have no need. Maybe stand there and shake it in case something comes out. I’ll refill my water bottle, even if I’m not thirsty. You can never be too sure. Plus if I have water to drink, that’d justify future procrastibatory toilet trips. I can’t forget the kitchen, because that’d be on the menu big time. There’s nothing like opening a fridge to forage for snacks, finding nothing, then checking the pantry to no avail. Lather, rinse, repeat. Maybe I’d be lucky and find a pickle or something. Cheese would also be a hot ticket item. Realistically I know I’m more likely to leave having consumed a spoon of some spread (be it peanut butter, cottage cheese, honey or marmite). Having completed that noble quest, I’d return to the keyboard and continue refreshing Facebook.

As always, it’s a challenge to put words on the page when there’s nothing urgent or exciting going on. It’s a Friday night and I’m at home with no immediate plans. I’d tried to set up hang out time with friends, but with that having fallen through, the amount of energy I want to put into shaping tonight is minimal. I’m helping friends move a ton of stuff into storage tomorrow, so a big night is less desirable. Plus I’m not drinking until Tough Mudder. Oh, and I’m cutting out bread-y things and most sweets too. Why? Because having fun clearly was overrated. It might seem overkill, but I’ve forever been dreadful at moderation. Saying no in an absolute sense makes it a lot easier than falling prey to my ability to justify eating delicious things purely because they’re delicious. I’m not demonising sugary or fatty foods, just my ability to consistently eat things that aren’t them. SUMMER OF NO FUN IT IS.

Alternatively I could put together a list of things I’d like to do in lieu of “anything fun”. Considering the money I’ll save by not drinking, I could do some rad stuff. A bucket list for the next two and a half months before Tough Mudder, eh? Let’s see what I could get up to…

  • Sleep in a tent. I’ve got a cottage weekend away with friends planned, which’d be a good chance to knock this one off.
  • Go for a long bike ride. I don’t own a bike, but I’d sure they’re easy enough to borrow or rent. I’ve always been interested in biking through the Don Valley parkway. It was a nice walk that looked way more enjoyable on wheels.
  • Flying trapeze. I used to love flying trapeze. The only place I know that offers drop in classes offers them on Fridays at 7pm. It’s a bit of a hike and with work finishing at 5pm, it’d be tight getting there in time. We’ve got summer hours at the moment, which means we can leave early on a Friday. Why not take advantage of it and give it a swing?
  • Improv classes. Well this one’s cheating, ’cause I signed up the other day. I’m taking a weekly class for two months in the hopes that it’ll help me brush up on my front-of-brain skills. I’ve got no illusions of becoming a performer, but there are myriad ways improv skills could help in my everyday life.
  • Cook something special. I have no idea what yet, but this summer is the perfect time to flex my culinary muscles and try a dish I’ve never done before. Something that intimidates me. I could try home made sushi, fresh laksa, make my own ice cream, some kind of extravagant mushroom pasta.
  • Get back into indoor Rock Climbing.
  • Try an epic hike with friends.
  • Rent a car and visit a small town with my girlfriend. Stay in a cute little B&B owned by lovely old people. Desecrate the room with filthy sex.
  • Finally get around to re-watching There Will Be Blood.

Endless opportunity abounds if only I put my mind to it. Or more accurately, if I can stop procrastinating for once.

Creatine? The container is round. They should’ve called it Roundtine!

I remember first hearing about supplement use for fitness. One of my friends was talking up these creatine pills he’d started taking for his workouts. At the time, “creatine” sounded like the purest marketing term that existed. What does it do? IT’S A CONDUIT FOR CREATION. Or something of the like. In whatever his science speak translated to in the mind of my 20 year old self, it sounded like creatine enabled his body to be able to push 10% beyond its normal limits. It sounded like a super power. It also sounded like cheating. I let him have his fun with his expensive products and bro science while I continued working out normally. At my first Tough Mudder (eight years later, for anyone counting), one of the samples was a Cellucor C4 branded pre-workout. I didn’t really know what it was, but with my novice powers of deduction, I presumed it was for consumption before a workout. I mentally shrugged and gave it a go. Here’s how that went.

In my lead up to Tough Mudder last year, I saw some pre-workout on sale. I thought back to the ludicrous experience of pre-workout and thought it could be fun to aid my Tough Mudder prep. Hell, if anything was gonna make working out more enjoyable, it’d be getting borderline high beforehand. The pre-workout helped and I had a great training season. A couple of months ago I saw some cheap pre-workout at Walmart and decided that I might as well. At that price I was practically losing money by not buying it.

This is the logic that gets me into these situations.

It helped. My workouts have been great and the extra push has really helped. I noticed last week that I was running out and contemplated what brand to try next. Some dude at a health product store gave me a sample from behind the counter. He said that the packet had two servings, but if I’d been using pre-workout regularly I’d have no issue taking both.”Mr Hyde” it was called.

[I swear, the fucking branding on fitness products is so goddamn douchey. It’s like real life Powerthirst. Back in 2007 I was embarrassed to admit I liked nerdy shit and wished I was more into fitness. Now that it’s 2017, it’s cool to be a nerd and I’m almost ashamed that I like fitness stuff.]

I took the whole thing yesterday and had a very intense workout. I got a lot out of it and pushed myself further than I have in some time. It just felt like I had energy reserves where usually I only stocked self pity and a desire to cry. By the end of it I could only move slowly. My body felt used. I held no small satisfaction in that. This morning I was considering taking half of the other packet for a midday run. I looked at the ingredients, knowing full well that it’d basically be gibberish to me. Wait I thought I know what “caffeine” is. 400mg, apparently. I googled caffeine content of various things to get an idea of how much this was. A shot of espresso is 64mg. A small can of Red Bull is 77mg. Holy shit, 400mg per serve is a fuckton of caffeine. I’d taken two servings. That’s like nine Red Bulls. How did I manage to sleep last night? I’d no wonder my body had crashed so hard.

Thing is, I’d already ordered a container of Cellucor C4 pre-workout. Looking at the ingredients, I was relieved to see it was “only” 150mg per serving. While still a lot of caffeine (two and a half espresso shots), it was hopefully not gonna leave me hospitalised after prolonged use. It also has a bunch of other chemicals that I assume are leftover super soldier serum. If I’m not dead in a few months, I’m gonna be one Tough Mudder.

Buuuut I’ll likely just be dead in a few months.

Oh, and in retrospect it tasted great. Hope that allays any fears.

I’m not really big into pot. It’s the kind of thing I’ll smoke socially from time to time, but it’s far from a mainstay in my life. I rarely clean my bellybutton (which is probably why it smells more like a bellybutt), but I likely clean my bellybutton more than I smoke pot. My girlfriend is trying medical marijuana as an anxiety treatment and she’s been pretty pleased with the results. Occasionally I’ll join her if I have a free night where I don’t need to accomplish anything. Not often, but every once in a while it’s nice to coast for a stress free evening. When it comes to alcohol, I have a large tolerance. Weed on the other hand, hits me hard and fast. I like retaining a certain level of awareness and getting high throws that right out the window. I’ve always been a soft touch on it so I’m careful to have only small amounts at a time. One or two puffs is more than enough for a few hours worth of mellow and it’s rare that I imbibe more. Last night we were having a couple over for dinner who’d just moved to Toronto. We had a tiny toke maybe 15 minutes before they were set to arrive. I had a drag and a small puff. Five minutes before they were due to arrive I turned towards my partner in horror.

“Oh shit. I am way too stoned to host a dinner.”

She assured me that we were a team and we’d get through it together.

One of my issues when I smoke is that I have trouble parsing information. It’s not that I don’t take in information, but my usual subconscious filters come out to the fore. It makes almost everything a conceptual minefield. Furthermore, it certainly didn’t help me prepare dinner. We’d put roast veggies in the oven much earlier, so those were cooking away. We’d chopped up and salted eggplant to sweat out the excess moisture. All that we had left was to pan fry it and heat up our guests’ shepherd’s pie. I had two pans going with 1cm thick slices of eggplant. One was large and non-stick, the other was a cast iron grill pan. Outwardly my guests saw me cooking eggplant. Inwardly my dialogue was a little more like this…

When was the last time I cooked eggplant? Have I ever cooked eggplant in a pan? How long did the recipe say? Five to seven minutes per side? Does it change if one of the pans is flat and the other has a grill? Does that mean they need different cooking temperatures? How much oil do I need? Is this a light pan fry or something deeper? Does deep frying even happen in a grill pan? Won’t the oil get stuck in the grooves? What kind of texture does fried eggplant have? Do I want it to be soft and gooey or crispy? Or a combination of the two? I remember something in the recipe about eggplant being naturally bitter. Is that a flavour that subsides once it reaches a certain level of cook-ed-ness? Or is that something I need to counteract with spices/ingredients? Isn’t eggplant umami? How do I balance that flavour? Do I need to add lemon for acidic elements? Garlic? More oil? But doesn’t eggplant soak up a ton of oil? Does that mean I need more or less? It’s getting burnt, is it supposed to get burnt? Does that mean that I’m cooking it well or does that make me a bad chef? Am I a bad chef? I know that I like it when there’s a burn to things, but is that because my tastes are weird? Or is it a taste that people naturally enjoy when it comes to eggplant? Wait, am I trying to place my values when it comes to food over the preferences of others? How am I supposed to know how other people like it? There are three other people here. What if I cook it in a way that only one or two others enjoy? Does that make me a bad host? Or is it impossible to guess how others enjoy things and you just do your best? Is this subjective or objective? Are the darker bits the more or less cooked parts? Let’s have a taste of one. Hmm, is that what bitter tastes like? I’ve forgotten what a bitter taste is. I think I enjoy it, but it has a certain aftertaste. I’m pretty sure I like that aftertaste, but is that just because I’m stoned? What if others don’t like it? Does that mean I’m being shitty to them? How am I even supposed to know this? Would I understand better if I wasn’t stoned? Do I normally automatically know all of this stuff? Why am I thinking so hard about something that shouldn’t be challenging?

That was maybe a minute of internal dialogue.

The rest of the night was just as much of a maze. I felt like I was in some dinner party disaster movie and this was my subplot. I kept saying things, but not understanding why I was saying them or how I gauged whether or not things were appropriate. All I knew was that I somehow had to make it through the evening without our guests knowing that I was stoned. I don’t know why that was such an issue, but I think it had something to do with this lofty sense of social decorum (when in reality if I just said “sorry folks, but I’m really stoned right now, so if I’m acting weird that’s it”, they would’ve most likely been receptive to that). I’m pretty sure I enjoyed myself and the evening went by without any major hitches. Still, even today I still feel a little unhinged. I’m still piecing together how my brain works. Like, at brunch this morning I ate grilled plantain and didn’t realise I was eating the skin too. I ate maybe half a plantain skin.

Maybe I’ll wait a while before smoking again.

All You Can Eat sushi is a legit mercury poison hazard. Why would that stop me?

Started listening to the Doughboys podcast for the first time today. I’d heard mention of it as a totally dumb podcast where the laughs come hard, heavy and often. The basic premise involves two dudes reviewing fast food chains with a new guest each week. I don’t eat a ton of fast food (that’s not to say my diet is remotely clean), but the idea of ongoing inane delving into depravity and suffering obviously scores high with me. I jumped in at episode 100, their Nugget Power Hour. It’s silly as shit and one of those vital necessities when reading the news is a laundry list of bleakness. The Nugget Power Hour is a variant of what’s known in super classy circles as The Century- 100 shots of beer in 100 minutes (roughly seven beers or so)- but in this case they’re substituting 60 McDonalds nuggets in 60 minutes. The caveat is that at any minute they can swap a nugget for a chug of beer. There’s some preamble up top, but I’m about 40 minutes in and they’ve downed around 15 crispy golden chicken chunks. Things are going downhill fast.

There’s something I readily identify with in tales of ludicrous over-consumption. I’m a sucker for stories of people writing about ill-fated All You Can Eat experiences. Whether they’re shooting for the moon on mozzarella sticks, going for gold at The Mandarin or even trying to form every combination possible with In-N-Out’s secret menu, it’s like they’re committing my heart’s silent whispers to the page. I am them in an alternative reality and I know it. I enjoy the mock-horror and very real disgust (whether it’s at the food, themselves or both) because once again, I’ve been there. With so much talk of representation in the cultural discussion lately, this is how I’m represented: gratuitous overindulgence for comedic purposes. There’s no doubt whatsoever that the joke is on me in the end but if that’s the role I’ve been assigned, then you might as well start calling me the space cowboy.

At the moment, I’m fortunate to not have many enablers in my life. Not because I don’t love those people to bits, but because diving Scrooge McDuck style into an endless vat of chewing, sweating, weird poops and inevitable self-loathing is better reserved as a special treat. All You Can Eat sushi never needs to happen, but I’ve got my fair share of feelings to eat every once in a while. Why not add the above problems to the list? In the past I’ve had mates who’ve shared my enthusiasm for digesting as much as humanly possible until our true nihilism begins to shine through. We had our fun (until we didn’t) testing the limits of our stomachs and self-respect. Let’s be real here, as full as you get, it’s not like food stops tasting good. If it was about being satisfied we would’ve stopped well before our bellies resembled water-logged corpses. I live, I die, I live again.

I can’t remember a time I haven’t loved food. I feel like the back half of any meal is spent thinking about what I could have for the next one. While being one of my core joys in life, I’d be remiss in admitting that it’s a prime source of anxiety. Am I eating too much? Am I eating the right foods? Does this ever get easier? Will the concept of moderation one day feel natural? Or am I looking down the road at a constant tug of war hurling limited discipline at the omnipresent black hole of desire? Short lived bouts of healthy habits crumbling away to ingrained behaviour. Far from condemning people who enjoy what they eat, I’m saying I get the struggle. I’m not saying we should feel bad about enjoying ourselves, I just wish control was easier to access. Like any addictive routines, it’s all too easy to fall into sunken cost fallacy thinking and dig deeper because you’ve already started. Plus, as stated earlier, it’s not like food will stop tasting good.

None of this is to imply that Doughboys is anything but hilarious. If anything, it’s vicarious enjoyment served up with a side of dipping sauces. If only curbing cravings was as simple as listening to constant cautionary tales.

A sure shank redemption.

I’ve been 30 for several months now and 30 is great. I’ve felt more secure in the ‘me’ I bring to the world. Cared less about what others thought and put focus into the energy I’ve exuded. There’s been no fear of having peaked, because it’s becoming increasingly clear that I’ve got more of my life in front of me than behind. Tonight though, it all changes. Tonight I soar upwards into a crescendo. I’ll high five my zenith and coast for the rest of my life secure in the knowledge that not only have I lived, but for one night was magnificently alive, positively charged with potential. Tomorrow I’ll step foot into a plodding decline but tonight? Tonight I’m the master of my own destiny.

I’m speaking of course of the fact that there’s currently eight kilos of bone in ham shank waiting to be carved in my kitchen.

Eight goddamn kilos. That’s so much fucking ham. All for the low low price of $16. I’m sure you think you know how much eight kilos is, but you’ll find that you’re mistaken. If you were to have a ham sandwich, 150 grams would be a decent sandwich. I could have 60 of those. I’ve got enough ham that I can experiment. Ever had ham curry? Neither have I, but what if it’s a taste sensation waiting to happen? Summer’s coming up. If I’m overheated and hungry, why not kill two birds with small frozen chunks of pig? I could have a hamburger, but with literal ham in lieu of buns. A world of possiblity is unfolding in front of my eyes.

The last time something like this (though not nearly the same magnitude. I’m pretty sure that was a mere four kilos) I had spiral cut ham to work with. It was pre-sliced and hard to truly mess up. This time it’s just meat on a bone. I’m gonna need to employ actual technique in order to maximise meatficciency. This ain’t no two bit operation, it’s a big bite operation. I’ve done my research, but theory has nothing on practice. Thankfully it’s pretty methodical. I need to cut a few slices from the narrower side in order to have a flat base to work from. With that achieved, I can cut thin vertical slices from the top of the shank down to the bone. I then simply cut along the bone horizontally and the slices will fall off. Repeating as such for all four sides will have the job virtually finished and all I’ll need to do with be straighten out the odd shaped bits. Likely with my mouth, in all honesty. It sounds possible, I just need to think confidently. If all goes terribly wrong, at least the whole eight kilos is divided between two shanks. If I butcher the first (maybe the one situation where that verb falls flat), by the second, I’ll have ascended to mastery. Or butchery, as the case may be.

Holy shit folks, I’m just about to walk in the door. Are you excited? Doesn’t matter. I’m excited enough for all of you combined. TIME TO PIG OUT.

If I don’t emerge for a few weeks, does that make the game aptly named?

My teen years were filled to the brim with the obligatory angst and unrequited amorous desire. Time and time again I’d decide on the basis of one interaction that I’d found my soul mate. Confirmation bias would only affirm this belief. Then I’d find out she was into someone else and repeat the process all over. In all my time at high school, only one of my great loves ever gave back: Diablo 2.

I sunk hours into that game night by night. I was exceedingly more studious about it than French, without a doubt (c’est vrai). It took years of my life, until the expansion pack came out and that took the rest. I played the campaign again and again, trying out all of the characters, teaming up with friends late into school nights to crawl dungeons, hopeful for rare or unique treasures. It was a blast and, as with most games, way more fun before we got into any of that min/maxing shit.

After a conversation with some brunch ambushing friends (they keep turning up randomly at spots my girlfriend and I drop into), I remembered that Diablo 2‘s spiritual successor (which surprisingly wasn’t Diablo 3) existed. Path of Exile. It’s a hack and slash RPG made by an independent NZ game studio. It’s totally free to play, with optional micro-transactions that’re only cosmetic. Say you want a little dragon that walks behind you (but doesn’t influence the game state at all?) or your armour to glow bright pink? That can happen for a tiny fee, but none of this play to win shit.

Path of Exile has a monstrous amount of depth, even ignoring the “for a free to play game” addendum. It’s a mash up of game mechanics that’ve worked in the past, smooshed into an intuitive yet complex amalgam. You choose a character, which is basically picking a character skin and being placed at a certain point on the passive skills tree (which is basically the junction system from Final Fantasy X). So you’d have your Marauder (Strength), Ranger (Dexterity) and Witch (Intelligence), then hybrid classes that bridge the gaps. You can follow the passive tree any way you want, offering huge flexibility. Active skills are conferred by gems, that gain experience as you do. All items have coloured sockets that will hold corresponding gem colours. Sometimes sockets will link, allowing you to slot in support gems, that buff the active gems in the same item. It sounds very complicated, but makes a ton of sense as you play.

When you do start playing, it’s a shit ton of fun. Being made in New Zealand, the voice actors all have NZ accents (though varying in severity). Elements of Maori culture have been incorporated, which feels wicked to see represented onscreen. The game can be both serious and goofy as fuck. The character I put together, a summoner, runs around using necrotic magic. She raises zombies and skeletons. There’s a spell that summons Nic Cage as Ghost Rider style floating flaming heads and another that animates weapons to fight for me. A typical battle involves a couple of undead bros flanked by flying flaming heads and hovering dirks, clubs and polearms battering down my foes. I’m sure the game will get a lot harder soon, but for now it’s a riot.

Speaking of which, I’ve gotta go. In the spirit of Diablo 2, I’m gonna raise some hell.

I’m nothing but a shifty cond-man.

If you’re into Rick & Morty and missed the surprise season three episode one drop yesterday, maybe you should go take care of that. I’ll wait. Very minor plot details may follow.

*******

Now that you’re back, how tickled were you by the McDonalds Szechuan sauce running gag? It feels like Limited Edition Zelda Nintendo 3DS all over again. At some point I think Justin Roiland like tossing stuff into the show in the hopes of getting freebies. If it makes for entertaining TV, I’m all for it. The Szechuan sauce joke, however, had legs. The conceit is that back in 1998, as a promotional tie-in with the release of Disney’s Mulan, McDonalds had a limited edition Szechuan sauce. According to Rick, it’s the prime motivation in his character arc, getting more of that sweet, spicy sauce. In the real world, because rabid R&M fans exist, there was already a change.org petition that Justin Roiland linked on Twitter. With the future release of a live action Mulan on the horizon, is there any better time to generate groundswell? Fingers crossed. I’m jazzed enough from the bit that I’ve already considered having home made nuggets for dinner tonight, all to go with some sexy szechuan on the side.

Anyway. I’m a condiment person through and through. Here are my favourite condiments (in no particular order), for your consideration:

  • Tomato Sauce (or Ketchup in North America). It’s a classic. It’s sweet and savoury, plus it goes on practically anything. Any time I have mashed potatoes, they’ll run red with sauce. I used to have fish and chips a lot back home and I’d always squeeze on some lemon then douse them in tomato sauce. These days I have greens and carrots pretty damn often. I’ve found that by sprinkling lemon juice and tomato sauce over the top, my brain almost thinks I’m eating fish and chips. It’s like a mind-hack for a brain with crossed wires. In a similar fashion, tomato sauce and yellow mustard as a combo makes me enjoy yellow mustard (otherwise the least exciting of all mustards), because of the mental association with sausages and burgers. My favourite brands is not Heinz, but MasterFoods. It has the sweetness and consistency I enjoy.
  • Sriracha. There’s a low level spice and pleasant combination of flavours that lends itself to a ton of dishes. If I’m wanting to add a tiny kick to a dish, or cheat on blending in spices, I’ll often squirt some in. I’m a fan of the Huy Fong Foods brand, or rather the one with the rooster on the bottle. Because I’m a basic pleb like everyone else. Sriracha Mayo has gotten to be a little overrated, but it’s still bitchin’ with kumara fries.
  • Garlic Aoli. Speaking of kumara fries, garlic aoli is the classic. It’s really easy too, just mayo, salt, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. It’s great thick and cold served with hot roast veggies. I’d eat more of it, but if I made it I’d never stop eating it. My life from that point onwards would be seeking out foods to eat with aoli, ad infinitum.
  • Tartar. What even is tartar sauce? A quick google says it’s basically the same as aoli, but with pickle relish and minced onion in place of garlic/olive oil. Tartar is good specifically with deep fried fish. That’s how it’s earned its place on the list. When I come to think of it though, I probably prefer sriracha mayo or my dear tomato/lemon juice combo. So you know what? Fuck you tartar, you’ve lost your hard won place. The king is dead, long live the king.
  • Mustard. Dijon is fine, multi grain is great, dijonnaise has its place. The king of all mustards though? Colman’s English Mustard. It’s got the right spice and taste. Nothing is better on corned/roast beef or thickly sliced ham. If you’re dining with your grandma and she brings a pottle of this shit out, your night and anal rings are gonna be set ablaze. I fucking love this stuff and it’s been too long since I’ve eaten it.
  • Sweet Chilli Sauce. Not just because of its god tier combo with cream cheese, sweet chilli lightens up most meals. It’s a joy whenever you see it come to the table. Fried stuff? Sweet chilli is great. Mashed potatoes or green veggies? Sweet Chilli does its job. Anything chicken? You’re way past sorted.

The list isn’t exhaustive. BBQ sauce is all well and good. Sweet and sour is fine. There are some really nice, thick satay sauces out there. Really though, my heart is captured by the above condiments, with the exception of the traitorous impostor tartar. Will I ever get to add McDonalds Mulan inspired Szechuan to that list? If there really is a God, I may find out someday.

Who am I kidding? God is dead, long live the sauce!