Saturday, December 10, 2016

My Favorite Reads of 2016

I pushed myself to make more time for reading this year and succeeded, reading almost 20 books (and I have 3 weeks left!).  Here is a list of my favorites from 2016, just in time for holiday shopping.

[side note: while adding links to each book, I realized that not a single one is over $20, and most are closer to $10!]

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Two Old Two New (2O2N) #2

Two Old

Paul Simon - Graceland. Summer travel has given me time to revisit a lot of classic albums, and there aren't many better suited for Summer driving than Graceland. Pure fun.

Jeff Buckley - "Hallelujah". There's no way you've missed this song (originally a Leonard Cohen song), and you've likely heard Jeff Buckley's rendition, generally considered the best version. It's back on my mind after listening to a podcast in Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History series, titled simply "Hallelujah".

Two New

B├śRNS - Dopamine. This has been one of my favorite albums of 2016. From top to bottom, track to track, the songs are confident, emotional, and generally uplifting. And, Garrett Borns hails from my home state of Michigan! You'll probably recognize "Electric Love" and "10,000 Emerald Pools", but I also love "American Money" and the haunting intro to "Past Lives".

Grace - You Don't Own Me (feat. G-Eazy). I've got mixed feelings on old songs being revamped into hip-hop songs, but this one does a decent job.  G-Eazy's raps are clean, easy, and don't overwhelm the song's natural feel, while Grace has the sultry voice needed to do the song justice.

Friday, September 9, 2016

12 Influential Albums

There's a post going around Facebook encouraging people to post "12 albums that left a lasting impression on you". I started jotting down a list, and then quickly became obsessed with the exercise. I've now spent the last week digging back through albums, burnt CDs, and playlists, and my normally quiet mornings prepping veggies at my restaurant have turned into nostalgic album explorations. I'm not sure "left a lasting impression" is a good enough description for this list, but I'm struggling for a better one. Some of these albums were formative for me; some occupy my "all-time best" list; and some spent time with me during important periods of my life.

Queen - Greatest Hits (1981)
311 - Transistor (1997)
Beach Boys - 20 Good Vibrations, The Greatest Hits (1999)
Incubus - Make Yourself (1999)
Dr. Dre - Chronic 2001 (1999)
Stroke 9 - Nasty Little Thoughts (1999)
Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
Maroon 5 - Songs About Jane (2002)
Muse - Absolution (2003)
Tally Hall - Marvins Marvelous Mechanical Museum (2005)
My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade (2006)
Twenty One Pilots - Vessel (2013)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Two Old Two New (2O2N) - #1

I listen to a lot of music and I've got a great group of friends that are always sharing and recommending new tunes. Especially with my recent travels, I've had time to explore new stuff, and rekindle old loves. I thought it might be fun to post a couple new finds and a couple rediscoveries every so often. Notes: some of the "new" finds may be older bands or songs; and some of the selections will be albums, while others will be simply a track or two.  Enjoy!

Two Old
  • Moby - Play. One of the tracks off this album was playing outside near a ski lift in Big Sky, and I had instant flashbacks to High School.
  • Ratatat. After discovering Gramatik (see below), which is generally instrumental and highly beat driven, I couldn't help but draw comparisons to Ratatat. I don't dig their new stuff as much, but their self-titled from 2004 and Classics from 2006 are incredible. "Seventeen Years", "Lex", and "Loud Pipes" are essential tracks.

Two New
  • Gramatik - Just Jammin', Hit That Jive, and Tearin' It Up. I heard the first one at a restaurant in Montana and had to know what it was! I tried a few of his other albums, but the one that contains these three tracks (SB2) struck a chord with me.
  • Incubus - Trust Fall (Side A). A friend posted about an upcoming Incubus album this year, which made me realize I had completely missed this 4-song album in 2015! It's not their best or their worst, but a fun side dish to tide us over until the main course this year.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

I Found Flow

I found flow!  Not the obnoxiously chipper Flo of the Progressive Insurance commercials, but the hyper-focused state that drives athletes to their best, and ordinary people to extraordinary levels.  I thought that I’d been there before, but this was markedly different.  In past runs and races, particularly on technical downhills, I’ve felt the laser focus and smooth breathing.  But today I drew back further from all of that, felt removed from myself (think third-person video game view), saw a brightened landscape and enhanced color, noticed my gaze moving further down the path in front of me, and overall just felt euphoric  - all while flying along on a technical trail that should have required my constant attention to each step.  Even as I write this down, it sounds pretty out there or sensational, and I know I’ll risk over-simplifying or pigeonholing it, but it was worth sharing.

I was at a familiar trail with an employee and friend of mine.  He’s a mountain biker, and I’ve always wondered how I would pace along with him as a trail runner; I figured he’d fly ahead on the straightaways and downhills, while I’d catch him on the uphills and more technical sections.  I was wrong, mainly because I underestimated how good of a mountain biker he is (kudos to you Will).  Flying at a 7 minute pace on trails is more-or-less an endurance sprint, and I was cashed after 2 miles, also having crashed to the ground for the first time in at least two years.  We split ways so he could do a bit more distance, in hopes that we’d meet up at roughly the same time at the cars.  I cut my pace, and not a minute later nearly ran into a deer, coming within a few feet.  With my heart racing I brought the pace back up, shortened and quickened my steps, and felt light.  My focus drew out, down the trail, and the light and colors in the woods sharpened.  Breathing was easy, and I felt amazingly calm, almost euphoric.  It was unreal and completely out-of-body, while being 100% present and in the moment. 

A few minutes later I turned a sharp corner into a series of small hills and it faded away quietly.  How’d I get there?  Adrenaline from mild fall and deer   +  clean body / system (no alcohol, and extremely healthy eating last 10 days)  +  pushing pace heavily and then backing away = Flow?  I know it’s too easy to simplify it like that, but I keep trying; it feels like I got a brief taste of the best dish of my life and now I can’t figure out how it was made!  Guess I’ll just keep running! 

P.S.  For an exciting, scientific look into the state of flow, check out Steven Kotler's The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance.  Game changer.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Check out my sister's writing

For the past couple years, my middle sister has been writing letters to our niece, Hadley, to be read in the future - they are extraordinarily insightful, beautiful, and emotional.  They look at a variety of important topics, and have relevance for any person, young or old.  Take some time and read a few (or you may find yourself binge-reading them all!) - as starters I'd recommend "Beauty", "Thinking", and "Risks".

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Fiverr - for easy graphics (and other fun stuff), on the cheap

A past business partner clued me in to when we were just starting our new business.  While figuring out a logo for it, he mentioned he'd get it done for $5 and I laughed at him.  A few days later he had a few drafts to choose from, and then we were delivered our logo in four different formats.  I was blown away - the quality was great and it was only $5!

Fiverr is an online vendor marketplace where you can post requests, and various users will submit offers - most of the requests are $5, though you can also choose $10 or more.  I've only ever listed at $5, and have never been lacking offers.  Most users will give multiple revisions, and everyone I've worked with has been extremely accommodating.  I've only used it for graphic work, but there are a variety of services that you can see on the homepage - for a good laugh, read through the "Fun and Bizarre" section on the far right.

With plans to cheer on some friends at a marathon, I recently asked for a caricature of Trump with the text "If Trump Can Run, So Can You!".  Though I waited too long and had to create a make-shift version for the race, the result (for only $5) was pretty great.  I'll definitely be printing it on poster board for a future marathon, and if anyone else wants to use the graphic, feel free! - check it out.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

5 very different albums worth a straight-through listening

Driving back to Michigan from NJ means around 14 hours each way of generally straight, boring highways (Ohio, ugh).  That means lots of time to explore new music and rekindle love for old albums.  Some artists will have a hit or two, and then you check out the album, and it's disappointing and disjointed - some artists just do a better job than others at creating a cohesive, all-around solid album, oftentimes with songs merging into one another, or carrying themes throughout the album.  Here are 5 different albums that are worth a straight-through listening.

Freelance Whales - Weathervanes.  Shoutout to Brian H. for the recommendation years ago.  This was the debut album for Freelance Whales back in late 2009, and I think their best work.  It's lyric-driven indie pop, with plenty of unique instrumentation.  Laid back, beautiful.

My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade.  "Now come one, come all to this tragic affair!"  This is my favorite roadtrip album, hands-down.  Open the windows, crank the volume, and rock out!

John Mayer - Continuum.  John Mayer has put out a lot of poppy, fluffy music.  But Continuum is a masterpiece.  This is John Mayer having fun with his guitar, incorporating blues and soul more heavily than in the past, and shedding the image you've created of him.

Muse - Black Holes and Revelations.  I'm a die-hard Muse fan - I own every album (most of them on vinyl, while not yet owning a record player...), have seen them live 3 times, and yet still find myself going back 3 albums and 10 years to Black Holes and Revelations for my favorite album.  It's the right mix of songs all with their own merits, some enjoyable themes and political undertones (Bush era), and straight up rock and roll.  

Maroon 5 - Songs About Jane.  Classic Maroon 5 before they went super-pop.  Every song is singable, and not over-produced like so much of their current stuff.  The style and themes run through from song to song, with just enough variety to avoid monotony, but not too much to drive out the consistent feel.



Four Additions:
-Green Day - American Idiot is maybe the quintessential example of an album that plays-through well. They reference their own songs, they move into each other, and themes come back over and over again.
-Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
-Black Eyed Peas - The E.N.D.
-Red Hot Chili Peppers - Californication

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Soylent - try it for half off, and support a good cause!

At its most basic, Soylent is a meal replacement drink, but with hefty engineering and modern science behind it.  See the bottom of this post for info on how to try it for 50% off, and support the World Food Program USA.

From their website:

"Soylent™ was developed from a need for a simpler food source. Creator Robert Rhinehart and team developed Soylent after recognizing the disproportionate amount of time and money they spent creating nutritionally complete meals.

Soylent is a food product (classified as a food, not a supplement, by the FDA) designed for use as a staple meal by all adults. Each serving of Soylent provides maximum nutrition with minimum effort."

There are plenty of case studies online of people going weeks and even months on nothing but Soylent - I plan to do a week-long trial in June sometime, with five to six bottles per day, and nothing else consumed except water.  For now, I see Soylent being used for me as a quick breakfast when I need to rush into work, as a simple food source to carry with me during my many Summer roadtrips this year, and potentially as mid-race nutrition for a couple long races I have planned in the next months.

The flavor is bland - think watery soy-milk with a touch of rice - not bad, not good.  But it is easy to drink, and packs 400 calories plus a full fifth of your daily supply of vitamins and minerals per bottle - it is built to be nutritionally complete if you consume five bottles in a day.

Use the link below, and you'll get 50% off your first order.  Typically in these "try it" deals, the person giving you the link (in this case, me) also gets a discount or some freebies, but with Soylent, they are instead donating 4 meals to the World Food Program USA for every person who tries it by referral - that's pretty awesome!

Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Two Spectacular Music Videos

You may have seen these floating around the interwebs and social media; they've both had millions of views.  The choreography and strength on Slip is extraordinary, and the effects and skill on Wide Open are top notch.  Enjoy!

Phillip Chbeeb and Renee Kester, dancing to Elliot Moss - Slip

The Chemical Brothers (feat. Beck) - Wide Open (official music video)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Collard Greens - recipe

I love southern food.  I've been on a huge kick recently of cooking gumbo, collard greens, and cornbread, probably 10 times in as many months, and each time with various tweaks to experiment.  Here's the most-recent, and best yet, version of Collard Greens.

1C bacon grease (mmm bacon - read my post on bacon grease)
1C canola oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves  garlic, minced
1 large bunch collard, deveined, cut into roughly 1" strips, and rinsed.
48oz (3#) chicken stock
3C water
1C apple vinegar
1/4C Worcestershire Sauce
3Tbsp Sriracha or Frank's Red Hot (some people are maniacal about the proper/traditional hot sauce to use in southern cooking - I've used both, and probably prefer Frank's for this type of dish)
3Tbsp cajun seasoning
1Tbsp red pepper flakes
1Tbsp salt (add more later, to taste)
1Tbsp pepper

First off, a note: with any recipe I post here, most of the time I'm eyeballing amounts.  I like my southern food salty, spicy, and loaded with vinegar, so when I make this recipe, I typically go crazy with the Vinegar, Hot Sauce, and Seasonings.

Prep the onion, garlic, and collard.  In a large pot, over medium heat, add bacon grease and canola oil.  When hot, add onions, and simmer for 4 minutes.  Add garlic, and simmer for 1 minute.  Add Collard and saute until wilted, 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  

Add the remaining ingredients and bring back to a boil.  Turn heat down to low, and let simmer for at least an hour, stirring only a few times throughout.  Test for taste (careful it's hot!), and add additional seasonings, hot sauce, or vinegar as desired.  Serve hot or cold (most people prefer hot, but I love eating these for breakfast on following days, next to a big scramble of eggs and veggies).


Cooking with Bacon Grease

Apologies to my parents and grandparents if you're embarrassed for your son/grandson as you read this, but somehow in my years of cooking I've only just now discovered the joy of cooking with bacon grease.  The frequency with which I cook bacon has gone up considerably with the discovery of first Wright's bacon (which I won in a trail race along with a skillet - best, prize, ever!) and then locally-sourced pasture-raised bacon (shout-out to my friend Jess who runs Green Duchess Farm in central NJ).  The taste of both are remarkably different than your standard store-bought bacon.  You can get Wrights at your grocery store, but it costs $8/lb, which turns most people off - believe me, it's worth it.  And if you're lucky enough to have a local farmer growing and slaughtering pigs, spend the extra money, support local, and your taste buds will love you.

Ok, back to bacon grease.  When cooking certain meats, or skimming fat off soups, I can remember watching my parents put the fat into an empty can, and then tossing it into the freezer.  I don't want to blame them for my next memory, because it could be contrived, but I remember that can of fat then being thrown out when frozen, since it keeps your trash bag from being a greasy hot mess.

I cook a lot of eggs in the morning, typically along with bacon, and I've started to cook the eggs in the bacon grease, first because it was easy, and subsequently because it tastes amazing!  If you're cooking bacon and eggs, and not cooking the eggs in the bacon grease, you're doing it wrong.

When making collard greens the other night, with no bacon handy, I remembered that can of frozen bacon grease sitting in the freezer.  I pried out about half the can (8oz), used it as a base along with an equal amount of canola oil, and two hours later had my best yet batch of collard greens (recipe here)!  While I had the can out, I used the other half of the frozen bacon grease to start the roux for my gumbo.  Two hours later and, you guessed it, my best yet batch of gumbo.

Don't be afraid of fats; do eat high-quality or locally-sourced meats (if you eat less meat overall, the cost balances out); and don't you dare waste that bacon grease!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Welcome to The Curious Optimist

I started because I wanted a place to put down and spread health-related ideas, experiments, and musings.  From the moment I began thinking on posts for HealthNotHellth, I realized that I also wanted a place to more casually play with my thoughts and share them with others - The Curious Optimist was born.

I hope to post on here more often than on HealthNotHellth, and some of it may be more rough or loosely edited.  Expect a variety of topics: movie / product / book recommendations; recipes; articles / podcasts I've been digging; observations from a quick-service restaurant owner's perspective; and anything else I think you might enjoy, or that I'd like to get out of my head.

Enjoy! - Nick