Dinosaur Shaped Food and the French Way of Eating

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Americans have a strange relationship with food. We’re equal parts over-indulgent and judicious, choosing to stuff our faces with heaps of non-fat products. In my Southern California perspective there’s a new diet that catches on every week with people around you consuming more and less amounts of fat, sugar, carbs, etc… It’s a muddled mindset where one begins to develop guilt for eating anything at all, whilst being surrounded by pictures of the most unhealthy foods in the world. Eating is a constant experiment in abstinence until it’s not and you’re going back for your third bowl of ice cream because you were “good today”.

Contrast this with the French view of eating, which I recently learned about while reading Karen Le Billon’s French Kids Eat Everything, her memoir/recipe book about moving her family to France for a year and how this helped to shape her views on eating. It’s a pleasurable read, she approaches her successes and failures with self-deprecation and wit while laying out the rules of French eating.

Le Billon tells of the way the French emphasize the importance of food from an early age. It starts at the very beginning and is integrated into children’s education, as they experience four-course school lunches hand-cooked by their school’s personal chef. Each kid learns to savor their food, try new things, and wait until the appropriate meal time before eating. Food for them is neither a functional tool to get them through the day nor a tool meant to comfort them in their time of need. It’s not a crutch or a sin. Food is something that should be enjoyed. It is something you wait for, something you appreciate, something worth putting time and effort into. The French don’t go on diets, they just choose to avoid excess and choose to eat healthy meals. When eating is based in a joyous and delectable sensory experience, one that uses healthy ingredients at its core, there’s no need for indulgence.


Vox.com has been on a tear to take down Big Diet over the last couple of years, releasing several articles and an episode of its Explained Netflix series about what the research behind dieting says. The research they pull from concludes that no diet — Paleo, Keto, Atkins, Whole 30, etc… — really works better than another. There is no magical solution when it comes to losing weight, no scientific hack. What really matters when eating healthy, is giving yourself the best opportunity to make sustainable, healthy choices.

Most diets actually can be effective in that they force you to change your habits in ways that are healthier for you. The problem is being able to sustain those choices over a long period of time. If you stick to a diet it will work, but being able to stick to that diet, particularly for any length of time, is where people struggle. A lot of this is personal preference, we all enjoy certain vices here and there, but as the Vox writers point out, we are set up terribly for success, inundated with messages of juicy and fatty burgers on our screens, passing colorful sugar infested cakes as we walk the grocery aisles, told that cereals featuring marshmallows are a part of our balanced breakfast. We are set up to fail.


Much of French Kids Eat Everything is focused on raising kids in this new food-obsessed environment. Le Billon tells of her struggles of placing her kids, who refused to eat anything but the most comforting foods, into an environment where they are expected to be adventurous and avoid using food as a comfort tool. There is an instant tension, but the French have been trained for this very thing, introducing kids to a wide swath of foods while they’re still young, teaching them how to enjoy it. For foods they don’t like, the response for them is not “eat it, it’s good for you, but “that’s okay, you haven’t tried it enough times yet, maybe next time you’ll like it.” This is based in research that indicates that it can take 11-15 times introducing a new flavor/texture for someone to fully realize whether they like that food or not. That’s why we often come to enjoy foods as we grow older. Sometimes all it takes is that try, try again attitude.

In my own home, we’ve been adopting certain aspects of these lessons when introducing foods to our son, wanting to make sure he knows that food is something that is beautiful, complex, and worth savoring. We want him to be open to trying new things and come to experience culinary elegance because let’s face it, while American food culture is bad, American kid food culture is even worse.

Kids are bombarded with bright colored foods that tempt to overwhelm their pallet. And I’m not talking about the iridescence of Indian food or the splashy assortment of fruits and vegetables found at the farmer’s market, these are pre-packaged in cardboard, with colorful cartoon mascots calling out from the front cover.

Our kids are consistently told there’s a distinction between kid foods and adult foods. They are told to accept the most simple, bland, sugar and sodium soaked foods out there. And once they do they become insistent that they shouldn’t break those molds. Dino-shaped chicken nuggets, bites of hot dogs soaked in corn syrup (aka ketchup), and bright orange cheddar themed goldfish become the typical meals. They are taught foods should retain the shape of their favorite television and movie characters, as our largest companies work their brand loyalty from an early age. Even our healthy alternative puffs and cereal bars are really just marketing exercises in how far companies can push false claims without getting sued. It’s honestly an ethical tragedy that the children’s food industry exists and that it creates such garbage; limiting palates and ruining the dinner experience.

The French don’t have this divide. They adapt their practices for children, but they serve them the same foods that adults eat and expect them to partake. It’s important for their children to try new things and to participate at mealtime. And the kids do it. One of their main strategies is to never battle with their children. The minute it becomes a battle, they’ve already lost. Food, for them, is supposed to be something worth celebrating, not arguing over. It is a joy–a pleasure–to put a meal together and they let tastes linger as they, and their children, come together at meal times.

This approach to food is what leads them to healthier outcomes. Sure, the French may indulge in a chocolate mousse after dinner or have slices of baguette and cheese for breakfast, but as a whole, they tend to be healthier as a country. There are many reasons for this (less fast food and more walking integrated into their daily lives being among them), but part of the reason comes down to the mindset of eating, where food is meant to be enjoyed rather than indulged in. They don’t spend their young lives being taught that trashy foods are the foods they should like, then grow up suddenly making fruits or vegetables or low fat/low sugar/low whatever the staples of their diet. They don’t experience the culinary whiplash of alternating between abstinence and indulgence or pleasure and guilt as we so often do. They are not bombarded simultaneously by the messaging of the fast food and diet industries.

As stated previously, the research on diets indicates that simply making a change in your life is generally what leads to success when it comes to achieving health goals. You just have to find what works for you. But the way we’ve been taught to approach food from an early age is detrimental to how we come to eat. The French approach to food minimizes the need for diets. There’s little need to count calories or throw butter in their coffee to put their body into ketosis, they eat bread and drink their coffee butter free (!) because it’s good, not because they’re looking to absolve their sins.

This is the relationship to food I’ve been trying to have and that we’re trying to impart to our son. I want food to be something that’s worth putting an effort into. I want to fully enjoy it to a place of satisfaction. This means figuring out my body, listening to when it’s full and letting it wait a little when it desires food before a mealtime (le Billon emphasizes that the French view snacks as a near-immoral practice). This means going to the farmer’s market once a week to get the freshest, most delicious ingredients (there are a plethora of other reasons to go there as well). This means taking that extra time to peel, steam, and puree foods for my son so that food becomes something that is beautiful and ever-interesting to him.

These sorts of life changes don’t come easy and I haven’t broken many of my bad habits. My son hasn’t enjoyed everything we’ve given him, so there’s a lot of regrouping and trying again. But it’s been a rewarding time. He’s eaten eggplant and broccoli and quinoa and curry and it’s a joy to see his reactions and the enthusiasm he has even if his favorites are still bananas and baby cereal. I hope we can teach him to try new things and in that he comes to truly enjoy all things culinary, never having to fight through the parts of his brain that think all foods should be in the shape of dinosaurs.

The Oscar’s “Best Popular Movie”: Picking the Would-Be Winners Across the Past Ten Years

The Academy of Motion Pictures Association recently announced a few changes to their format, the most notable announcement, drawing the ire of film critics everywhere, was the introduction of an “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film” (or what we’ll refer to as”Best Popular Movie” from here on out) award. The move seems to be done with the hope of drawing larger ratings, a likely misguided strategy that will offer muddled takes on “popular” movies, the best of which were already being nominated anyway (InceptionLord of the Rings). The more cynical take comes with Variety’s reporting that ABC pushed the Academy to increase ratings, sparking these changes (the most cynical take of all comes when you note that ABC is owned by Disney, who owns Marvel, Lucas Arts, and Pixar, three studios likely to benefit from an award like this). This award will likely do little to increase interest in the ceremony, instead it will somehow hurt both small and large movies — taking attention away from the small ones, while making successful ones less likely to be voted into the Best Picture category.

Despite this being a ridiculous idea, it’s a fun exercise to think back to what would have won in the past. I recently redid the Best Picture winners of the last ten years, so why not go back and imagine what could have won Best Popular Movie in the past?

The Academy did not announce what the parameters of this award would be, so we’ll have to figure this out ourselves. The two ideas that instantly come to mind are:

  1. Based on total box office statistics of the year.
  2. Based on largest opening weekend statistics.

The first idea would make sense, but it instantly gets complicated by time constrictions. Your Star Wars movie, typically released in December, would have a huge opening, but likely wouldn’t qualify because movies released earlier in the year would have had a chance to accumulate across the entire year. You could get around this by finagling the award so that the movies that movies could qualify across a two year period, depending on which year they made a bulk of their money, but that would only cause further disinterest rendering the award as meaningless as the word “new” in the Grammy’s “Best New Artist” award.

I think the solution is the second option, which bases a movie’s popularity in its opening weekend, averaging the scores and allowing your late-in-the-year hits to qualify. The problem here is that it’s not a true representation of what was popular in the year, there are plenty of movies that opened huge, but quickly fell off after people actually saw it. In that same vein, there are movies that opened slow to become some of the biggest hits of the year (The Greatest Showman did this last year, American Sniper a couple of years ago, and classically My Big Fat Greek Wedding is did this). For this exercise we’ll have to neglect the surprise hits in favor of the movies that were successful from the start.

Here’s how it will work: The movies with the top 25 opening weekends of the year will qualify to be nominated by the Academy. The assumption is that they will pick the five nominees from those movies they think are the best. We don’t know exactly how the Academy will word the language of the award–should voters truly vote on what they think is the best of the qualified or should they focus more on the popular aspect? This affects movies like Gravity and Mad Max: Fury Road both of which were beloved critically and were nominated for Best Picture, but still qualify for this award. We can’t know for sure the way the Academy will swing, but we’ll do our best to select something representative of the best popular movie.

The other issue is whether a film nominated for Best Picture will be able to qualify for Best Popular Movie. We’re gonna go yes here, playing by the rules of Best Animated Feature and Best Foreign Film which allow a film to be nominated by both. These are prime examples of why a popular movie might actually get hurt by this award, as Best Animated Feature has only had two movies cross over into Best Picture since its inception (Up and Toy Story 3) and Best Foreign Language Film has only had eight (including Crouching Tiger, Hidden DragonAmourLife is Beautiful; Bergman’s Cries and Whispers; and Le Grande Illusion ). Voters perceive these movies as already receiving accolade and are less likely to vote them in even if they are one of the top five movies of the year, but there’s an off-chance something could sweep it entirely.

Let’s get to it:

2008:
The nominees:
The Dark Knight
Iron Man
Step Brothers
Quantum of Solace
Wall-E
Noteworthy snubs: Cloverfield, Hellboy II, Kung Fu Panda, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Twilight 
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The winner: The Dark Knight – This is literally why we’re doing this exercise right (other than Black Panther, which is the #1 reason)? The Dark Knight revolutionized the movie industry, even as Marvel was introducing their corporate strategy to us, Dark Knight grabbed everyone’s attention with the combination of populist entertainment and Christopher Nolan’s artistic flare. This is a strong year otherwise, Wall-E not getting nominated had some outcry as well (it is one of the best movies of all time, after all…), while Iron Man remains one of the strongest Marvel movies, and Step Brothers is considered one of the best Will Ferrell/Adam McKay features, the type of movie that stands to benefit from an award like this.
2009:
The nominees:
Avatar
The Blind Side
The Hangover
Star Trek
Up
Noteworthy snubs: Inglourious Basterds, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Fast & Furious, District 9, Sherlock Holmes, Twilight: New Moon, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
The winner: Avatar – One of the most successful movies of all time, it was already this close to taking Best Picture–Avatar is an obvious choice here. This was a year that increased the nominees to ten, so three of the nominees (AvatarThe Blind Side; Up) were already nominated for Best Picture. The biggest benefactor here is The Hangover, which was already making a push for Best Picture during that year. It seemed like a possibility at the time, but when’s the last time you heard anyone talk about that movie? Maybe an award like this would keep it in conversation for the years to come.
2010:
The nominees:
Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow pt. I
Inception
Shutter Island
Toy Story 3
Noteworthy snubs: Despicable Me, How to Train Your Dragon, Iron Man 2
The winner: Inception – I can imagine the battle now, Toy Story 3 taking on Inception for Best Popular Film. Of course, Toy Story 3 would also be pushing for Best Picture and Best Animated Feature, which, again, makes this whole thing so weird. Inception is the perfect movie for this, a successful genre film with some smarts to it, that also developed the kind of following and zeitgeist that is worth pandering to–in fact, Christopher Nolan might actually benefit more from this award being added than Marvel/Disney/Lucas Films.
2011:
The nominees:
Fast Five
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow pt. II
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Super 8
X-Men: First Class
Noteworthy snubs: Captain America: First Avenger, The unholy trilogy of sequels in the Twilight, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean series of movies.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
The winner: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. II – I stan for Rise and First Class and I think Fast Five would get votes with the spark it brought to that franchise, but Deathly Hallows II gets it in a Lord of the Rings style nod to the finale of films that were quite good and well respected. Nowadays First Avenger gets a lot of love, but back in the day it wasn’t as hot, so I think it would have missed out on a nomination in this strong field–then again Disney probably works their magic and forces its way in there, but we’re envisioning a more pure world…
2012:
The nominees:
The Avengers
The Dark Knight Rises
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The Hunger Games
Skyfall
Noteworthy snubs: 21 Jump Street, Brave, The Amazing Spiderman, Wreck-it-Ralph, Magic Mike
The winner: The Avengers – There’s no way anything beats Avengers here, it was a lauded cultural phenomenon. Personally, I think Skyfall is the deserving winner, it’s a beautifully shot and artistic Bond flick and what I’d hope would win in this new category, but, it’s Avengers so it has to win.
2013:
The nominees:
Fast & Furious 6
Gravity
The Great Gatsby
Pacific Rim
World War Z
Noteworthy snubs: Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, The Conjuring, Monsters University, Thor: The Dark World 
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The winner: Gravity – This is a really difficult year to predict, both nominations-wise and winner-wise. Gravity was successful at the box office (though I don’t remember anyone talking about it at all) and nearly won Best Picture anyway, so I imagine voters would give it this award, especially in a year where great, popular movies were so few and far between.
2014:
The nominees:
Captain America: Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 
Guardians of the Galaxy
Interstellar
The Lego Movie
Noteworthy snubs: X-Men: Days of Future Past, Big Hero 6, Neighbors, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I
The winner: Guardians of the Galaxy – 2013 was weak, but 2014 features five of the strongest contenders yet. Interstellar was a hit that provided the classic pop-psychology Christopher Nolan is famous for. The Lego Movie was considered one of the funniest movies of the year and truly delighted audiences and critics. Winter Soldier got everyone on board the Captain America train. Dawn was a true artistic achievement. But ultimately it goes to Guardians, which blew up, getting Star Wars comparisons, and launching characters nobody had ever heard of into the pop culture as mainstays (after all, they have their own ride at Disneyland now!).
2015:
The nominees:
Inside Out
Jurassic World
Mad Max: Fury Road
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Noteworthy snubs: The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Cinderella, Ant-Man, The Martian, 50 Shades of Grey, Spectre, Furious 7, Minions
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The winner: Mad Max: Fury Road – This is a really tough year, because if the academy loved Inside Out they likely would have nominated it for Best Picture (regrettably, they did not). People liked Rogue Nation a lot, but I don’t think it would be able to take it. The new The Force Awakens is number two here, but I think enough people were mixed on it that Fury Road would take it on the crossover votes it might have received from already being Best Picture nominated.
2016:
The nominees:
Captain America: Civil War
Deadpool
Finding Dory
The Jungle Book
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Noteworthy snubs: Moana, Zootopia, Dr. Strange, (DC Comic crossover movies)
The winner: Deadpool – I originally put The Jungle Book, which captivated audiences with its gorgeous graphic effects, but I think Deadpool might take it here, if only for the fact that they were already pushing so hard to win Best Picture anyway. It was a solid year for animation, but I think those things tend to cancel each other out, rather than help.
2017:
The nominees:
Coco
Dunkirk
Logan
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Wonder Woman 
Noteworthy snubs: It, War For the Planet of the Apes, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, Beauty and the Beast, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2
WONDER WOMAN
The winner: Wonder Woman – This might be the most solid year out of all them, with much liked sequels like Planet of the Apes, Spider-Man, and Thor all missing out on nominations. Dunkirk somehow made enough money to qualify and gets the crossover nomination. People loved Coco and there’s a weightiness to it that it qualifies too. Star Wars was beloved enough by film critics that it would survive its racist and misogynist backlash for a nomination. Logan was respected enough by the Academy to get a screenplay nom. But Wonder Woman was really well regarded and would have been the perfect choice during an Oscar’s where the Time’s Up and Me Too movements were at the forefront.

 

Let’s do some early 2018 predictions.

Nominees: A Quiet Place, Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, Incredibles II, Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Noteworthy snubs: Ant-Man & the Wasp, Ready Player One

The winner: Black Panther – There’s actually a solid five here, but there’s no way Black Panther wouldn’t take it.

Did I miss anything? What do you think would have won? What do you think of the new award in general?

In Which I Slowly Become Rev. Toller

We look to the Bible for answers on how to live in our day. Which makes sense, it’s a document that’s been passed down for all of human history, telling the story of God. Its words have inspired and led billions of people. Yet when we interact with the text, trying to apply the Bible’s wisdom and God’s will to our modern life it becomes absurd. The concerns that I have for my life are of the utmost importance to an all-loving God, but rendered instantly absurd when light is shed upon the state of our world. There are 65 million people who are displaced and somewhere over a billion living in some form of poverty around the world. The world is steeped in a global economic system that highly benefits one half, while leaving the other to live suffering lives. This is not to discount the lives of those living in poverty, there is much beauty to be found in any life, but any sermon about honoring God with money feels ridiculous in light of this. How are we to honor God with our money when most of our purchases are– at worst –causing the direct harm of others (sweatshops, etc…) and — at best — a part of a corrupt and unfair system that benefits the few at the expense of the many. God surely is not pleased by this. But there’s almost nothing an individual Christian can do, we are cogs of a grander machine where God does not seem very present. Except for when God is. Like when God blessed us with that parking spot or helped us to pay our bills. Bummer that God didn’t use that providence to save one of the 9 million people who die every year because they do not have enough food. Thy will be done, though. “Vanity, vanity, it’s all vanity.” This may be the truest verse of them all.

On Anthony Bourdain

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I write, I travel, I eat, and I’m hungry for more.

This was the opening to Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, a travel show that ran for seven years on the Travel Channel.

Bourdain was discovered dead earlier this week in his hotel room while traveling for his latest show, Parts Unknown; suicide was listed as the cause of death.

I’m not sure if there was another public figure who actually affected my life as much as Bourdain did. Those words listed at the top became a mantra of mine in my early post-high school days.

Bourdain had a voracious appetite, he was a rebellious iconoclast, approaching the world with an eagerness to learn that’s rare in our world. 

The lyrics for the Parts Unknown intro go:

I took a walk through this beautiful world / felt the cool rain on my shoulder / Found something good in this beautiful world / I felt the rain getting colder.

The lyric portrays Bourdain perfectly, a hardened cynic that was nonetheless so inspired by what he saw around him that he felt the need to share its beauty with his audience.

His show was filled with gorgeous shots (all inspired by the film classics that he and his crew loved) and earnest conversations that intersected food, culture, history, and politics. He knew that the best way to understand someone was to sit across from them, eating the food they call their own.

I haven’t kept up with Parts Unknown over the last couple years, I don’t have cable and it just wasn’t a priority when episodes were released to Netflix. But his episodes were always there as comfort for me. When there was nothing to do throw Bourdain on and see what was going on in Myanmar or Vietnam or France. 

I honestly don’t know if I would be who I am today without his works, at least not entirely.

He taught me to explore, to approach people with compassion and dignity, to learn from them.

His approach to eating, especially when it was something foreign to him, was to always ask his host the best way to do it, something I’ve tried to adopt while getting to know the fantastic pleasures of others.

He said at one point the best meal he’d ever had was a bowl of pho from a small restaurant in Vietnam. This a) inspired me to try pho for the first time and b) made me realize that the most fantastic culinary (and life) experiences come not from hip, trendy, or fancy places, but from those who cook with historical, cultural, and familial traditions.

I don’t think I would have ever have dragged my family across Kauai, making sure everyone tried plate lunches, loco mocos, poke, and spam musubi without his influence.

He railed against foodie culture, seeing past its often false passions and appropriation; he hoped instead for real conversations and real food.

In doing this he captured the complexities and beauties of life, believing in a gray area that must be accepted when traveling the world and entering into people’s lives. Life is never simple, but it is beautiful.

He talks about this in a little interview for a war blog in 2014, saying:

There is rarely, however, a neat takeaway. You have to learn to exercise a certain moral relativity, to be a good guest first–as a guiding principle. Other wise you’d spend the rest of the world lecturing people, pissing people off, confusing them and learning nothing. 

He wanted to learn about the world and he did just that, emparting that knowledge after deep reflections.

Just last weekend my son was sick with a fever and could not sleep without being held. My wife and I rotated our shifts, staying awake as he slept in our arms.

I watched a new mini-series of Bourdain’s, which features highlights of little pockets in Los Angeles: Little Iran, Little Great Britain, Little Ethiopia, Little Armenia, Little Guatemala, and the Filipino population in Chinatown. It’s far from his best produced work, but it was as salivating and educational as ever. 

When we found out we were pregnant I wrote that the two virtues I hoped I could pass along to my son were curiosity and compassion—that he would be interested in the beauty around him and treat it all with great love. Bourdain exemplified those characteristics in his life’s work and as we attempt to guide our son into “this beautiful world”, I can only hope he finds that same complex beauty.

Top 10 Broadway Songs 2017-18

band's visit

The Tony Awards commencement ceremony is this Sunday and I am here once again to give you, in what should be one of Sunday’s awards, the top 10 new songs of this Broadway season.

This was a sparse season for original musicals and aside from jukebox shows (which I won’t even entertain) all we got was a Disney movie musical adaptation (Frozen), a kid’s television show adaptation (Spongebob Squarepants), a classic teen comedy adaptation (Mean Girls), and the little show that could, an adaptation of the 2007 Israeli film The Band’s Visit. These are the four nominees and there wasn’t even too many off-Broadway shows (with soundtracks) or otherwise eligible shows to qualify like last year’s Amelie musical (shout out to A Letter to Harvey Milk, an original Broadway production that I only recently discovered that may have some potential, but will not be making this list).
There are some good songs here even if doesn’t match the originality of last year (Dear Evan Hansen; Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812) or the year prior (Hamilton, Shuffle Along, Bright Star). I’m a stan for weird and unique takes on the musical, but even straightforward original content will do in an age of uber-franchised content (I suppose we’ve probably always been in this age, but it does feel particularly heavy this year). This year has little of that, the closest being The Band’s Visit which I will be championing as much as possible.
Before we begin, a couple of qualifications: 1. I haven’t seen any of these shows, so it will be based almost entirely on the song itself, with perceived story line implications taking up a small percentage of the ranking. 2. No previously released songs qualify, so “Let it Go” was not eligible.
10. “Hygge” from Frozen
Early reviews cited this as a highlight of the show, comparing the act 2 opener to Beauty and the Beast’s classic “Be Our Guest”. On first listen, I was not impressed, but on further listens, it’s a lot of fun, introducing the Danish idea of “Hygge”, the all is good mindset that continuously places them atop the world’s happiest countries lists. My love for this song was aided by my 8-month old’s enjoyment, sparking a full in home dance party in the midst of 48 hours of his battle with a fever. Fevers are not hygge, but hygge can help overcome them. Hygge!
9. “Monster” from Frozen
When trying to fill out the rest of the show of a previously established musical, it can be hard to create songs that live up to or even fit in with the show. The Frozen writers decided to give the Elsa character two more big ballads to accompany their mega hit which nobody can reallyvblame them for. “Monster” is the lesser of the two, but it’s still packed with the emotion and vocal delivery you would want.
8. “Waiting” from The Band’s Visit
“Waiting” is the slightest of the three openers that made the list, but it’s a really fun and essential introduction to this quirky show. It’s filled with Arabic instrumentation and offers a glimpse into the small town that will occupy the story space–a place where the residents are living lives that are forever waiting for something that doesn’t seem to come.
7. “Dangerous to Dream” from Frozen
 
The other Elsa ballad leads up to her introduction as the queen, unpacking her thoughts in a tense moment where she wonders what lies ahead of her while trying to hold in everything she’s kept secret for so long. Her dreams seem about to come true, but she knows that could be dangerous for everyone around her.
6. “Answer Me” from The Band’s Visit
The show’s sung closer continues the theme of waiting for something, a beautifully sung ballad, capturing the spirit of this longing quite sadly while never reaching full despair.
5. “I’d Rather Be Me” from Mean Girls
They thankfully chose to give Janice a song in the Mean Girls musical and she knocks it out of the park with an anthem to standing up for who you are (even if this includes getting into a fight). It’s a fun pop song and has a triple rhyme up front that’s delivered in a fun way. (Acted nice when she’s not nice / Well, I have some advice / Cause it’s happened to me, twice).
4. “Stupid With Love” / “Stupid With Love (Reprise)” from Mean Girls
 
I love the original and the reprise, so I’ve cheated and tied them together here. It uses a fun reggae rhythm to showcase Katy’s failed attempts at love, building up her relationship with Aaron and explaining why math came to mean so much to her. The reprise gives Aaron a chance to lament his relationship failures, gives us the classic October 3rd moment, and has the two duet in a lovely little way.
3. “Bikini Bottom Day” from Spongebob Squarepants The New Musical
*Sigh* I’ve never been a Spongebob fan. Not even as a kid. I found him obnoxious and the rest of the under water crew to be annoying. When I heard there was a Spongebob musical, I rolled my eyes. When I heard that different pop artists were individually writing different songs for it, I rolled them harder. When I finally listened to it, I… loved it? Well at the least the opener which introduces us to the brought-to-life musical version of Bikini Bottom. It’s a great song, unbelievably catchy and offers great introductions to these characters. Listen to it and you’ll be humming along, no doubt.
2. “It Roars” from Mean Girls
The part that doesn’t really work for me in the Mean Girls movie is the animal imagery. It’s explained too quickly upfront and when Katy begins imagining characters as wild animals it comes off as cheesy and unearned. In the musical, they lead off with a song that gives a better emphasis of Katy’s Kenya background with a number that truly shines and gives insight to her character and how she views the world. It’s a great opening number that journeys from her tent-living Kenya days into the wild high school life and all the intermingled turmoil and excitement inherent in that.
1. “Something Different” from The Band’s Visit
 
Katrina Lenk offers so much dramatically here as a woman questioning the internal state of her feelings for an older man she’s come into contact with. Every word is filled to the brim with intentionality and meaning as she sings over sparse instrumentation filled only by subtle piano and plucked Arabic strings. It’s a beautiful song and the one I returned to the most of any soundtrack released during the year.

Dad blogging, culture, and tacos: El Camino Real

Is it possible to be a parent and be self-deprecating?

I think as a human I’ve developed self-deprecation as a form of protection. People can’t hurt you by pointing out your faults if you point them out first. If you point out your own failures, there’s no need for anyone else to.

I’ve tried to build self-awareness, knowing what others sense and get from me and when all else fails, I’ve relied upon self-deprecation so if I did miss something it wouldn’t matter anyway.

I get really excited about things and can easily be disappointed by those expectations, so I’ve learned to temper them, not wanting to expect more than can be given to me. You can’t be hurt if you never expected anything great to begin with. My cynicism comes out of a grand optimism.

It’s also natural to think your children are the best thing to ever exist.

Before I was a parent, I would have called myself an above average person on a whole. That’s my level of braggadocio. Having a son has caused this to change.

Things I’ve called my son since he’s been born: the cutest thing to ever exist, the smartest child of all time, the biggest/strongest/most advanced child in America and probably the world, etc…

As soon as your child comes you begin to think of them as being special, unique, and advanced. You look at apps that tell you standard milestones for your child’s age and glee with pride at the one or two areas where your child is ahead. You want to believe that your child is particularly adept at being human and look for any sign proving this to be true.

But at some level this isn’t true. I mean, you should have all the hopes and confidence possible in your children, but this is an unrealistic way to look at the world, and an unrealistic standard for your children to live up to. There’s always someone who is better.

How do we deal with the tension at the heart of this?

Our children deserve our confidence and our pride. They don’t deserve the pressure of being the best child of all time. Which way should we lean? Should I follow the part of my heart that thinks my child is 12 times as smart as everyone else or should I laugh at and undermine these expectations? Is it even possible to be a deprecating dad?

Anyways, my child just learned how to roll, has your child learned to do that yet? Didn’t think so.


Today’s tacos: El Camino Real

What we listened to on the way: US Girls “In a Poem Unlimited”

What we ate: Carnitas, Carne asada, Al pastor

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El Camino Real has quite the large space, extending further than you expect the building to go, something I was delighted by after the last fiasco. When I went it wasn’t particularly busy, but there are numerous signs saying that they make their food fresh so please be patient–apparently timeliness isn’t a part of their reputation.

The layout is somewhere in between a typical taqueria with the feel of a meat shop, a large counter and menu giving you that feel. Their taco options are called “Big Tacos”, stuffed with more meat than your typical taco shop. Each taco comes with cilantro and onion, atop of two corn tortillas. The corn tortillas each felt fresh, not succumbing to dryness, something I’ve been grateful for at each taco shop I’ve been to. Each taco did come without salsa or a sauce of any kind, so be sure to hit up the salsa bar.

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The carne asada was the most moist and flavorful of every place I’ve been to thus far and was the standout. The carnitas were decent, not as juicy as I would have wanted them to be, but tender enough to do the job. The al pastor did not come dripping juices and flavor like can be pretty typical for it, instead it had a dry almost nutty flavor. I’m not sure how they cooked it, but it certainly wasn’t what I was looking for in that style.

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My son’s thoughts: He had a busy day leading up to this and fell asleep on the way there. I brought in the car seat only and he slept in it on top of the table where I was sitting.

Good Taste Episode 6: Atlanta, Camp Cope, Hop Along, and more!

New episode of Good Taste is now out! Listen here or on your podcast app:

good-taste-logo

Here are the show notes:

In What’s Happenin’ What’s Up our look at what’s currently hot in culture we discuss season 2 of Atlanta, “Robbin’ Season”.

atlanta

BIWEEKLY RECS

Jacob
“Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” by Samin Nosrat

whatshouldicook
https://www.amazon.com/Salt-Fat-Acid-Heat-Mastering/dp/1476753830

Taylor
Hop Along “How Simple”

https://hopalong.bandcamp.com

Jacob
Camp Cope “How to Socialise and Make Friends”

camp_cope_by_ian_laidlaw_print-1_soh_exclusive
https://campcope.bandcamp.com/album/how-to-socialise-make-friends-2

Taylor
“Political Dispute Puts a Wrinkle in Time Slowing Millions of European Clocks” by Amy Held

For the past few weeks, something strange has been happening in Europe. Instead of time marching relentlessly forward, it has been slowing down imperceptibly, yet with cumulatively noticeable results, so that millions of clocks the Continent-over are now running behind.

https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/03/07/591528390/a-political-dispute-puts-a-wrinkle-in-time-slowing-millions-of-european-clocks

They also get into your recommendations, submit yours by emailing us at goodtastepod@gmail.com

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Kid’s Fashion

This has less to do with pop culture parenting and is more of a rant than anything. But we need to do it.

Yes, we need to talk about kid’s clothing.
Now I’ve never been the most fashionable person, whenever I get inspired bouts of trying to be fashionable I’m often disappointed, ending in a sad lethargy and general nihilism about the fashion game. But kid’s clothing is quite awful in ways that even I can sense and am surprised by.
Kid’s clothes are far more focused on overalls, brightly colored plaids, and animals than they have any right to be. I get it, kids are kitsch; we show them dumb movies, sing them dumb songs, talk to them in goo goo gah gah’d speech, so of course their clothes have to be a little stupid, it’s part of their routine. That’s why we’re here though, we’re trying to teach our kids how to have good taste, (and also lead them into a generally holistic well-being–or something like that anyway…). I’m a kid’s kitsch combatant, so I have to say something here.
It’s okay to buy clothing without an animal on it.
It’s okay to buy a collared shirt that doesn’t have a truck on the pocket.
I love my son and I hope our bond is strong, which is why I don’t need to buy him a onesie that says “Daddy’s special boy” or “my Dad rocks”. Thanks son, but I know you’re still dependent on me for survival, so I don’t need to beg for your affection just quite yet.
Now there is room for humor and I’ll let you have agency in determining the kind of wit or pop culture references you want to force your child to wear. I would say generally to avoid these, because they still lean toward the cheesy side of things, but ultimately that’s up to you. For instance, my son has the name of a famous philosopher, so we took him home from the hospital wearing a shirt with said philosopher’s face on it and a quote underneath. I think that’s funny, but I could be wrong (The Good Place seems to agree with me though, so…). Tread lightly here, does the world really need another kid wearing a Star Wars or Marvel onesie? It’s Target chic at this point.
Instead, pick your most specific references, after all the hope is that one day your kid will be into a really specific thing and have to be like: do you listen to podcasts? Well they’re kind of like radio shows, but you download them on your phone. This one is an indie comedy one that I saw them record live in person and bought their shirt. The goal is an uber-specific reference that takes five minutes to explain to someone who lost interest as soon as you began trying.
When it comes to traditional every day clothing, the simpler the better. I always think that putting them in something similar to what you would wear is probably good judgment in taste, but I suppose having matching outfits with your kids is a whole different debate in kitschiness; we can discuss this another time.
Generally I think I would pick tones of tan, dark stripes, and avoid bright colors; let everyone know your kid’s the artsy, moody type.
When it comes to fancier clothing, people love to see kid’s wearing things that make them look very grown up and I’m down for this. Bring on the bow ties and the slacks and the blazers (I’m only a parent to a boy, so I have no advice for girl’s fancy clothing, but if you want to put your girl into a suit Princess Cyd style, then I have no problem with that). These are fantastic on children. Dapper kids are great.
Obviously though you should only buy what you can afford, I’m not advocating for a slew of $40 onesies from that boutique because at the rate your child is growing there’s no way you can keep up with that budget. Stay simple and stay selective. Your kid should wear cool clothes, but more importantly, your kid should not wear uncool clothes. That’s what we want. A grey onesie beats out the strange animal-kid puns that exist on 65% of all children’s clothing.
Join the movement: #againstkidskitsch
What’s the worst piece of kid’s clothing you’ve seen? What are your go-tos? Do you hate me? Let me know in the comments.

Redoing the Best Picture Winners

The Shape of Water took home best picture last weekend, a pick that I’m not sure anyone was satisfied with. The movie is good, but easily inspires hate, featuring all sorts of quirks and a woman who falls in love with a fish creature as its main story.

There’s obviously a lot of debate when it comes to what should win Best Picture and Academy voters tend to pick movies that have trendy marketing for the year over something that will age well over time.

There’s a type of movie that should win Best Picture year by year and I don’t think it’s necessarily your personal favorite, but what’s considered the movie of the year, like an MVP of sorts. It shouldn’t be something that’s slight, but something that truly does feel important. And not important like it fits a certain theme of the year—though I think that can be good in capturing our moment—it should be something that’s cinematic, cinematically excellent on the widest scale. It doesn’t need to be avant-garde like the picks from the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound (though perhaps more along those lines), but something that people will agree upon for years as being good. In this way it should be a little populist, the kind of movie that regular movie goers will say oh that’s a good movie without causing critics to roll their eyes (think Saving Private Ryan or Pulp Fiction).

This being said I thought it would be fun to go back and look through the last eleven years of best picture winners, replacing them with a movie that fits this description. Older years will be easier because there is an ability to see what has aged well and what hasn’t, but we’ll do recent years as well.

Years will be listed as the movie year and not the ceremony year.

2007

Winner: No Country For Old Men

 

What should have won from nominees: No Country For Old Men (There Will Be Blood is the more critically acclaimed and might be my favorite movie of all time, but we’ll give No Country the title here because it fits into that perfect mold of something critics and the people will both agree as good.)

What should have won from non-nominated movies: I’d still go with No Country, but Zodiac maintains a really high reputation all these years later and would be satisfying.

2008

Winner: Slumdog Millionaire 

What should have won from nominees: I haven’t watched Slumdog  in a while, but I do think it’s a pretty fun movie though it definitely does not work as the “important” work of art the Academy bestowed upon it this year. It’s a kind of silly love story about fate, not a serious reflection on poverty. 2008 was one of the worst years for best picture nominees and none of the nominees really fit the criteria. That being said, I pick Milk, Gus Van Sant deserves an Oscar, so he gets it.

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What should have won from non-nominated movies: The Dark Knight and Wall-E are both cited as the reason the Oscars increased their nominations. Wall-E is one of my favorite movies and is not only an amazing cinematic experience, but it increasingly looks like the future we are making for ourselves.

2009

Winner: The Hurt Locker

What should have won from nominees: The Hurt Locker also nicely fits the mold here, thank God it beat out Avatar which only holds up as a kind of laughing stock, if I could pick a number two it’d probably be Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds which is arguably his best movie.

HungerWhat should have won from non-nominated movies: Hurt Locker deserves and to come up with a non-nominated movie we’ve got to go toward the avant grade here. There’s Assayas’ Summer Hours, Denis’ 35 Shots of Rum, You the Living, and the one we’ll go with, Hunger—future Oscar winner Steve McQueen’s film about the Irish hunger strike, featuring a tour-de-force rise to acting fame by none other than Michael Fassbender.

2010

Winner: The King’s Speech

What should have won from nominees: Almost any of the other nominees would have been good, but The Social Network will be talked about for years and years to come.

What should have won from non-nominated movies: The Social Network is the definitive pick here, but if we had to pick another it would be Dogtooth, Yorgos Lanthimos’ creepy and wacky tale of a familial cult.

2011

Winner: The Artist

What should have won from nominees: Roger Ebert had The Tree of Life in his top 10 films of all time shortly after it was released, what else needs to be said. tree-of-life1

What should have won from non-nominated movies: The Tree of Life will always be in the discussion of best movies ever, but 2011 also had a lot of films that will be considered for time to come: Drive was a great experimental genre flick, Melancholia has an avid fan base, Take Shelter will continue to rise in estimation, and there are other beloved more genre-centric picks like Fast Five, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Attack the Block, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Interrupters, and The Skin I Live In. A Separation is really the only one that competes with Malick though, so it gets the pick here.

2012

Winner: Argo

What should have won from nominees: It’s crazy that the Oscar’s got it so wrong three years in a row, picking movies that literally nobody talks about other than in Oscar mistake discussions. Lincoln could easily fit, but Zero Dark Thirty is excellent and captured America with a tight precision.

What should have won from non-nominated movies: The Avengers and Skyfall compete as populist picks, Looper and Moonrise Kingdom are two of my favorites, Holy Motors was beloved by critics, but it’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master that maintains all the buzz.

2013

Winner: 12 Years a Slave

What should have won from nominees: I haven’t rewatched 12 Years, but I thought it was an amazing movie the first time I saw it and I imagine it will continue to hold up. Her is the definitive number two here.

What should have won from non-nominated movies: Nothing stands out like 12 Years or Her, but you can’t go wrong with picking Linklater’s (final?) Before movie Before Midnight.

2014

Winner: Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

What should have won from nominees: Boyhood was such a fun experiment and it was executed so well. It details that time period perfectly, but should also hold up for years for the way it literally shows what growing up is like.

What should have won from non-nominated movies: It’s kind of strange looking back now that Interstellar was not nominated. Any time you have that thought it likely means that it should have been when looking back years later. People were mixed on it years back, but it does seem like it has only grown in estimation as the years have went on.

2015

Winner: Spotlight 

What should have won from nominees: Spotlight is actually a pretty good pick, but I have to go with the most exciting action movie in years, Mad Max: Fury Road, which will likely be considered amongst the best action films ever. mad max

What should have won from non-nominated movies: Inside Out was absolutely spectacular, Creed was way better than it had any right to be, Tangerine introduced us to characters rarely seen on screen, but it’s Carol’s lush winter romance that was most beloved and will likely grow with audiences.

2016

Winner: Moonlight

a24-A24_Moonlight-Full-Image_GalleryBackground-en-US-1501867156317._RI_SX940_What should have won from nominees: Moonlight definitely deserved it (even if I actually did like La La Land better on first watch, at least), but if we have to pick another I think Manchester By the Sea’s sad ruminations on loss will grow in affection more than La La Land will, though I do think Arrival will also be remembered fondly.

What should have won from non-nominated movies: There’s not an obvious pick here, of Zootopia, Paterson, The Handmaiden, Silence, Everybody Wants Some!!, and American Honey, I think I’m going to go with Silence, because the people who like it, really like it.

2017

Winner: The Shape of Water

What should have won from nominees: Get Out slightly over Lady Bird.

What should have won from non-nominated movies: The Florida Project will also be watched for years and years to come, there’s just so much life in that movie.

And now, the definitive list of movies that deserve to be named as the Best Picture of the year:

2007: No Country For Old Men

2008: Wall-E

2009: The Hurt Locker

2010: The Social Network

2011: The Tree of Life

2012: Zero Dark Thirty

2013: 12 Years a Slave

2014: Boyhood

2015: Mad Max: Fury Road

2016: Moonlight

2017: Get Out

What are your thoughts? Any movies you think deserve the title of Best Picture of the year?

Dad blogging, culture, and tacos: Baja California Fish Tacos

There are not many guides out there about trying to keep up with movies when you have a young child.

I know this, because I’ve looked.

I figure professional critics use their normal work hours to go and see movies, while those of us who are in it as hobbyists must decide a few things. Is this a serious hobby? Something that can be sacrificed or pushed back? Obviously parenting is all about sacrifices–it’s sort of the driving force of raising a child, yet I do think I want to make a commitment to keeping up with my interests, down the road my children should appreciate that.

Yesterday, my son had a terrible night sleeping and only ended up getting a half hour between 5:30 AM and 10:30 AM, much less than typical. Now usually when he is sleeping I use the time to get the necessities done: showering, eating, getting dressed, etc… I knew that he would still battle rest if I laid him down even as he was getting tired, so I rocked him to sleep in my arms, kept him there, and opened up Netflix on my laptop. I was able to watch all of Nocturama, a French thriller I had been hoping to see (read my thoughts here). I hadn’t planned on being able to watch the whole thing, but in a rare Rumpelstilskin move, my son slept for 2.5 hours.

For those of us who are big time movie geeks, watching a movie in separate showings is pretty antithetical. It interrupts the flow, the story, and disrupts the magic of it all. But I suppose the cinephile parent must accommodate for this, expecting consistent interruptions when trying to get through 2+ hours of the artistic format we fell in love with. Having a son is more beautiful than I can describe and interrupted movies are a small burden to bear.

For you cinephile parents out there, were you able to keep up? Do you have strategies? Feel free to comment below.


Today’s tacos: Baja California Fish Tacos

Today’s taco run was also interrupted. Not by my son’s schedule, but by accidentally leaving the car lights on overnight and not having a vehicle to get anywhere.

It ended up being all right because there’s a nice taco place over by our apartment that’s within walking distance. We went there at noon to try their fish tacos.

What we listened to on the way: Nothing, because we walked.

What we ate: Shrimp, fish tacos

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Baja California Fish Tacos replaced a sushi spot right next to the gas station that we use, a super convenient way to get fish tacos, giant burritos, and ceviche at all times. This is their third location, with two other spots in Los Angeles. Confusingly there’s another local chain of Baja themed Mexican food serving across Orange County called Baja California Tacos, there’s no relation, though there may be a rivalry, as that chain is also highly acclaimed (I might get out there one day for a comparison).

I had wondered how it would do, as the sushi place had went out of business. It certainly wasn’t having any problems when I went there, with a line going out the door as it served customers on a Monday afternoon.

This is where there was some slight difficulty. I had a giant stroller and it made it very difficult to navigate an already claustrophobic restaurant that was packed tight with people.

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I went for a shrimp and a fish taco getting both with a fried batter upon the cashier’s recommendation. Each was good, stuffed to the brim with toppings: a slaw-like cabbage, creamy sauce, and pico de gallo. The problem with getting a fry batter is it can easily get soggy, particularly when topped with an amalgam of fresh garnishes.

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The shrimp did not really suffer this problem, though the batter easily separated from the shrimp throughout each bite, the shrimp easily maintained its chewy consistency beneath. The fish was not able to withstand the moisture, sogging up like a paper towel, too fragile to everything going on. The combination of all the toppings still made for a delicious bite, but wasn’t able to deliver on what you’re looking for–that crispy and fatty bite that comes with fried batter. The shrimp was the better of the two and is definitely recommended; going grilled might be the way to go when ordering tacos de pescado.

My son’s thoughts: He stared at me, perhaps a bit concerned by the crowd noises around him. When we went to leave I got a little nervous as to how we would be able to make our way through the crowd with the stroller. Luckily there was a side exit with no fire alarm where we snuck out without drawing attention.