There are maybe a few albums a year that I can’t stop playing.  Eric Berglund of the popular “The Tough Alliance,” whose music I like ok, has a solo album, “White Magic” under the guise of “ceo.”  This is one of those albums.  It’s perfect, sweet, melodic Swedish pop and like I said, I can’t stop playing it.  Here is one of my favorite tracks from the album, “Illuminata.”  If you are on a mobile device, you probably can’t access the stream…sorry!  Come back when you are on your computer.  You can purchase the album here.

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It’s been a pretty temperate summer here in the sunny San Fernando Valley.  It was only recently that we got a week or so of really hot weather and there were days that hit above 105 degrees.  Then it suddenly cooled to Fall-like temperatures and you know my mind went to Fall fashion.  I have a fashion history aside from just being gay (working in high-end boutiques in NYC when I was young) so I might spend a little bit more time on the fashion blogs than your average middle-aged suburban dad.  Maybe.  Just a little.  And though I’m not such a fashionista that my look for the season changes with the runways, it is an interest of mine so I do keep up.

Since last summer, I’ve really been liking the over-sized T-shirts, often with a loose, low-cut V or scoop neck- for me, usually worn with skinny jeans or short shorts.  I find this basic silhouette to segue perfectly into the look I love for Fall.  The key words for me are layers, draping, asymmetry, and over-sized.  The key components are luxe t-shirts with draped necklines and/or asymmetrical hemlines which are worn layered with over-sized cardigans, pullovers, wraps, and yes, the poncho.  Or, as in the photo, a not-so-voluminous shorter jacket can be worn over the longer layered pieces for more contrast.  Keeping the whole look from getting too heavy are the skinny jeans that everyone keeps saying are gone- but you know they’re not going anywhere just yet.  An edgier alternative to the standard skinny jeans is the drop-crotch jean or legging in jersey or cashmere.  I’ve been saying no, no, no to the harem pants that everyone has been showing for the past few seasons, but somehow the more subtle drop-crotch legging looks right on to me.  Anchoring the look is a great pair of slightly slouchy, short-ish boots.  When this look is done right, I love the way in which it looks as though pieces were picked up from the floor, the chair, the bed, on your way to the bathroom and assembled in a totally effortless way with a thoroughly modern edge – this is not the layering of the ‘grunge’ era.  It’s also very practical for going from morning to afternoon, or from indoors to outdoors as pieces can be added or subtracted to keep you comfortable whatever the temperature.

I guess the pendulum has swung.  We had been confining our bodies in ever trimmer suits and shirts for such a long time that it really feels good – and chic – to wear pieces with some volume and some drama.  Now, we’ll just have to see how this look is received at the grocery and dropping the kids off to school!  See?  It doesn’t have to be boring to be a middle-aged suburban dad in the San Fernando Valley.

Oh, we’re getting old.  We have careers and children and houses to take care of.  We used to have a lot more time to exercise but didn’t need to.  Then things started to rearrange, sag, and lose their taut youthful glow.  Those creeping signs of age prompted gym memberships which we’ve had for a few years now and it’s been great to get back into shape again.  The struggle for me though, has been remaining engaged and motivated to push myself further.  I came to realize that doing things like running on a treadmill ad infinitum really seemed to parallel my responsible adult life in a kind of unsettling way.  As is true with most things (food, entertainment, sex)  it’s best not to settle into too much of a routine.  I decided to mix it up a bit with my workout.

We live a few steps from a bike/running path that stretches about 25 miles through the San Fernando Valley and I had never made an effort to use it.  I bought some new running shoes and started running regularly.  I hadn’t expected it to be so enjoyable, but exercising outside was a revelation for me.  Breathing fresh(ish) air, taking in the sun, enjoying the scenery, experiencing the changing weather, and seeing people of my community going about their days while I exercise makes me feel more connected to the world and keeps me engaged in my fitness routine.  It’s also a lot more gratifying to propel yourself, at whatever speed, without the mechanical aid of a treadmill, which I liken to running with one end of a rope tied around your waist and the other end tied to the bumper of a moving car.

Unfortunately, it’s not at all unusual to find that a 45 year old body can’t really handle the beating that it gets running out on a road.  Shinsplints, aching hips, knees and ankles ensued and the running stopped.  But then I started hearing about this new craze- barefoot running.  Well, you’ve probably seen the accompanying photo, so you already know that it’s not really barefoot barefoot.  The shoe in the photo is called the “Vibram Five Fingers.”  While we were on vacation, I saw my nephew wearing these extremely odd looking Vibram shoes, but I didn’t know that those were what people were using for barefoot running.  Then when I returned home, a runner friend was raving about them so I decided to give them a try.

The human foot is really a remarkable piece of organic technology.  There are around 26 bones, 33 joints and more than a hundred muscles, ligaments and tendons.  The arch, when barefoot, acts as sort of a leaf spring, which along with all of those articulating joints, serves to absorb a lot of the impact of walking or running.  Binding your feet in overly supportive shoes hinders the movement of your foot and changes your running stride such that you end up bypassing all of the shock-absorbing joints and arch of your foot and land on your heel, transferring the impact to your ankles, knees and hips.  (or so I have read in my internet research)  Wearing Vibram Five Fingers (VFF) shoes changes your stride, such that you land on the ball of your foot, making use of the shock-absorbing nature of your foot.  They also allow your toes to splay, giving you increased stability and additional power in pushing off.  So, that’s my over-simplified explanation of what these shoes are supposed to do for you.  The question remained, “how would they feel?”

Running with VFF’s is a really different experience than running with regular running shoes.  It definitely feels strange at first.  Aside from getting used to a totally new running stride though, the feeling is amazing.  Jokingly, I said that I felt like a Kenyan man running through the plains, chasing a gazelle.  That’s an exaggeration, but there is a strikingly primitive and connected feeling to running with these shoes.  They feel like being barefoot, save for a thin layer of rubber protection on the bottoms of your feet, perhaps not unlike the callouses you might develop if you really were barefoot all of the time.  A lot of people have complained of the bottoms of their feet quickly getting really sore.  I did not experience this yet, but I’ve only done two 2-mile runs- you’re supposed to really ease into this kind of running.  I did get the commonly- mentioned blister on one of my toes.  Also, as this type of running utilizes the calf muscle much more than regular running, my calves were very sore the next few days.  More importantly though, I experienced NONE of my usual joint or shin pain.  Mind you, these were both short runs, but I usually experience joint pain in the first 1/2 mile of my run, as well as later in the day and the next day.  So far, that is a non-issue.

How great it will be if I can get back to doing regular 6-8 mile runs, or even step it up to 10 or 12 miles!  I’m definitely going to curb my enthusiasm though and take it slowly to avoid injury.  Check back here to see how it goes.  Or better yet, get yourself a pair, then get out there and see what you think.

Recently, our humble home was featured on the Krisel Keeper blog.  Here is the link.

Recently a neighbor got me curious about the Sazerac Cocktail.  I’ve seen it mentioned in a few publications lately, probably due to the popularity of drinks containing the once illegal pastis, Absinthe.  On vacation in the midwest this summer, we found ourselves sans children in a popular Cajun restaurant outside of Chicago- the perfect opportunity to try a Sazerac Cocktail.  The drink being a New Orleans classic and listed in the menu under specialty drinks, I thought I couldn’t go wrong.  Although I had spent some time reading about the history of the drink, looked at various recipes and knew the ingredients, I hadn’t memorized the classic Sazerac recipe.  Still, I knew something was wrong when the cocktail showed up served over crushed ice.  The Sazerac is a sipper.  It’s all about the subtle layers of flavor- rye, bitters, and of course, absinthe.  Indeed, the Sazerac is not intended to be served with ice at all, rather you chill the glass with ice and then dump it out before adding the ingredients to the glass.  Perhaps, the bartender hadn’t made one before and skipped this important step?  That’s my guess.  Anyhow, the subtlety of their iteration of this cocktail was entirely lost in the watered down mess of melting ice.  As well, the heat and complexity of the rye whiskey was completely gone.  The only thing that miraculously survived the bartender’s cruel drowning of the ingredients was a nice underlying hint of absinthe.  The drink didn’t taste bad though.  It just was clearly not a Sazerac.  I suppose if you can’t take the heat of drinking nearly straight whiskey though, you might favor ordering yours this way.  I can take it.

Of course, this first disappointing introduction to the Sazerac Cocktail put me on my mission.  I needed to experience this cocktail the way it was intended.  An informal dinner with some neighbors proved to be a good opportunity to hone my Sazerac-mixing skills.  I’m definitely still fine tuning- do I leave any of the absinthe in the glass after coating, drop in the lemon peel or not?  I will say, however, that this was the drink I had hoped for when we were at that Cajun restaurant.  My guests seemed to enjoy it as well.  The classic recipe follows, so try it for yourself.  But please, spare the crushed ice!

The Official Sazerac Cocktail:

1 cube sugar
1½ ounces (35ml) Rye Whiskey
¼ ounce Herbsaint or other Absinthe
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Lemon peel

* Pack an Old-Fashioned glass with ice
* In a second Old-Fashioned glass place the sugar cube and add the Peychaud’s Bitters to it, then crush the sugar cube
* Add the Sazerac Rye Whiskey to the second glass containing the Peychaud’s Bitters and sugar
* Empty the ice from the first glass and coat the glass with the Herbsaint, then discard the remaining Herbsaint
* Empty the whiskey/bitters/sugar mixture from the second glass into the first glass and twist the lemon peel over the drink, releasing the oils.  Rub the lemon peel on the rim of the glass and either garnish with lemon peel or discard (whether or not to garnish with the lemon peel is a source of heated debate)

Summer is supposed to be time for relaxation, but these days it seems that there is more going on than during the school year. Today was a typical summer day- hot, and a very full schedule! We found ourselves, though, with a few extra minutes for a special breakfast treat and the kids suggested Puff Puff Pancakes. They love them because they get to help prepare them and they get to eat with their hands! These individual pancakes are soft, puffy and easy to tear apart with your fingers. Drizzled with syrup though, expect some sticky hands.

Puff Puff Pancake:

1/4 c flour
1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. milk
2 eggs
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
6 tbsp. butter

Melt butter in 9 inch pie pan. Mix rest of ingredients. Pour batter into melted butter in pie pan. Bake 450 degrees for 15 minutes. Serve with fresh fruit or sprinkle with powdered sugar and lemon juice. Or drizzle with syrup and tear apart with your hands.

Nice match, glass.Anyone who knows us, knows that they are not going to be drinking sidecars out of plastic cups when they are over for a drink- even if we are on the front lawn.  Having recently gotten more serious about bourbon and whiskey drinks, I can no longer get by with my cheapo rocks glasses that I picked up at BevMo.  The Old-Fashioned is a go-to drink for me, and muddling an orange slice in one of these glasses is a dangerous proposition- unless blood is what you’re really after.  Beside the breakage factor (one out of four never seem to make it through the dishwasher), a good drink is as much about the experience as it is about the taste.  And there’s nothing that makes the most mundane cocktail feel special like a nice, substantial piece of crystal as it’s conveyance.  The problem?  Mom bought us a set of crystal as a wedding gift- which we love and use all of the time- but there is no double old-fashioned glass in the set.  In scouring the internet, I’ve narrowed it to two contendors.  One matches our crystal beautifully, but is glass.  The other is not as good a match, but is a beautiful, hefty piece of crystal, albeit more expensive.  What to do?  Feel free to weigh in.  Or just come by in a month or so and I’ll serve you up a Sazerac.  I’m not sure what I’ll serve it in, but rest assured it won’t be in a plastic cup.