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.

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.

Dad blogging, culture, and tacos: Taqueria de Anda

This morning my son was sleeping, so I made a mad rush to complete all the tasks I had set for myself, a combination of daily duties like showering and eating and all the culturally nerdy things I had wanted to accomplish: finish The Killing of a Sacred Deer which I had rented for free on Redbox and needed to return this morning (oh boy this movie might Yorgos Lanthimos most disturbing movie despite his other works including an incestual cult and dystopian world where love is violently enforced upon singles. It’s tonally and cinematically excellent though I don’t think it accomplishes anything thematically.), read Matthew Yglesias’ piece on Russia and Trump, and prepare for the latest episode of Good Taste.

These things pile up and I often set myself for failure by wanting to consume too much. I’m a pop culture glutton and I wonder how this will be passed along to my children. I catch myself fantasizing about my child knowing all the cinematic classics, ripping through the children’s literary canon, being able to namedrop Miles Davis, A Tribe Called Quest, and Courtney Barnett, having a favorite Sondheim show and lyric, puling off comedic bits and wordplay, being a slight history buff who’s politically literate, playing baseball while being able to site his favorite player’s year by year WAR, and advocating for social justice issues while preparing chilaquiles that inspired him when we went to the taqueria the night before. Oh and he should also have his own unique interests and personality.

Right now all he wants to do is put stuff in his mouth–which is great.

This is where you take deep breaths, say a prayer repenting of selfishness, and remind yourself of what you really want: compassion and curiosity. Go from there.


Today’s tacos: Taqueria de Anda in Placentia

What we listened to on the way there: The Black Panther Soundtrack, a Kendrick Lamar catered soundtrack? How could you not? Listen to my thoughts on it here. 

What we ate: Tacos de asada, cabeza, al pastor, carnitas

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Taqueria de Anda is building its empire off of simplicity, expanding across north Orange County with its traditional burrito and taco based menu (there’s apparently two different Taqueria de Anda’s that are both expanding and I can’t figure out the difference). Food is ordered via an assembly line of varying meats that tasted fresh despite sitting in serving trays.

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The tacos were served classically, two corn tortillas topped with each respective meat, onions, cilantro, and salsa; limes on the side. I opted to split between their two salsa options, both green and red. The carne asada and carnitas were both a little dry, though each had great flavor. The cabeza almost had the opposite problem, extremely moist and fatty, there was an almost nutty flavor to it. If you don’t like fatty textures, it likely wouldn’t be worth ordering, but that flavor is real good.

The star here again was the al pastor. Texturally perfect and featuring an exquisite blend of spices, al pastor is the #QUEEN of taco fillings and at Taqueria de Anda that’s no exception.

My son’s thoughts: He stared at me quite seriously throughout the whole meal. I took him home and he fell asleep on my chest for the next 2.5 hours.

 

Crying Baby Karaoke: A New Lullaby Canon

marleyBeing a new parent draws the cliched questions you would imagine, typically revolving around you and your child’s sleeping habits. Getting much sleep? Sleeping through the night yet? Get used to sleeping now, because you’re going to be missing out!

Four months in our child has learned the concepts of day and night and has mostly grown past the random nightly wake ups. Having passed this point I can affirm most of the warnings and questions as being a fairly true representation of caring for an infant. Our son was mostly calm, but did experience evenings of terror, seemingly due to an inability to flagulate (the struggle is real). We stayed up late nights with him, feeding him, walking around with him, and searching for solutions to extract gas from his system.
But this is supposed to be about pop culture isn’t it? Why are we discussing this?
Let me tell you about what I’m going to call Crying Baby Karaoke.
Many parents use songs to help soothe their children. “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, “Rockabye Baby”, there’s even a whole slew of Swedish kid’s lullabies. But entering into parenting I’ve oft wondered how necessary the lullaby canon is. Do these songs have enough inherent value to continue passing them on from generation to generation?
I’m going to argue no. I mean, does anybody ever say they like lullabies? Do we ever experience nostalgia for them? We are soothed by them, forget about them, and then later use them to soothe our own children. Lullabies are at the bottom of the barrel of culture that is intended for children. We complain about being forced to endure kid’s entertainment, but what if we excised it out of our children’s lives?
 What should we do instead? Our children are still crying through the night, they must be calmed in some way! That’s where Crying Baby Karaoke comes in. This is where you come up with songs, songs that you very much enjoy, to sing to your child, comforting them throughout the night without lulling yourself to sleep.
 Now technically any song that you enjoy could be used, because the child is a baby and literally does not know anything about how the world works and can be convinced that “I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night” is about falling to sleep. But we’re not that cruel here. We’re trying to grow our children into functioning human beings, so we will set some standards.
 1. Songs must have a lulling or calming presence to them, whether that be the melody or the lyrics.
2. It has to be something you know and like. Don’t sing songs you don’t really know–that’s just frustrating. Don’t sing songs you don’t like–that’s even more frustrating.
 These are the songs I spent those evenings singing to my son, as he suffered through gastrointestinal problems–a new kid’s song canon–karaoke sung to the tune of a crying baby.
1. “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World
Jimmy Eat World’s song is a little over sincere in itself, it’s a very straight forward just be yourself anthem (it literally says that at one point). It’s probably cheesy in how positive it comes across, but when you’re up at 3 am and your son refuses to sleep and is pulling at your chest hair in frustration, sappy pop emo can be quite comforting.
Key lyric:
It just takes some time
Little girl, you’re in the middle of the ride
Everything, everything will be just fine
Everything, everything will be all right
2. “O-o-h Child” by The Five Stairsteps
This song re-burst onto the scene when Guardians came out and fits quite well into our baby karaoke by literally addressing a child. I don’t think I had ever sung this song before, but it’s lyrics popped into my head while rocking him late one night.
Key lyric:
Ooh-oo child
Things are gonna be easier
Ooh-oo child
Things’ll get be brighter
Ooh-oo child
3. “The Woodpile” by Frightened Rabbit
Frightened Rabbit’s songs tend to fit into calm or relaxing typically, but usually ring of desperation rather than comfort, with singer Scott Hutchinson often embittered and angry at someone. Here is not really any different, but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures and you reach the need for melancholic moods. This song should be sung a little more quietly than its standard version, like this acoustic one they performed.
Key lyrics:
So will you come back to my corner?
Spent too long alone tonight
Would you come brighten my corner?
A lit torch to the woodpile (aye)
4. “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley
A straightforward everything will be okay classic. Bob Marley is of course the king of reggae and reggae is the genre of care free living. It’s an obvious one, one they even made into a kid’s book. 
Key lyrics:
Don’t worry about a thing
‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright
Singing’ don’t worry about a thing
‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright
5. “Not While I’m Around” from Sweeney Todd
Sometimes you have to lift songs out of their context a bit. “Not While I’m Around” paints a heavenly vision of comfort, but in typical Stephen Sondheim fashion, all bits of hope and comfort are surrounded by an underlying (or overlying) sadness. This lovely lullaby in Sweeney Todd is in the midst of pure evil, where Toby’s sweet naivety blinds him to the truth of what’s going on. Ignoring the haunting nature of this, “Not While I’m Around” is actually quite sweet and I used it many times to comfort my son.

Key lyrics:

Nothing’s gonna harm you
Not while I’m around
Nothing’s gonna harm you
No, sir, not while I’m around
What are other unconventional songs that you used to help calm a crying child? What else can we add to create the New Lullaby Canon? Comment below and I’ll add them to a giant playlist (If I approve).

Dad blogging, culture, and tacos: Taco Mesa

It’s my first day doing paternity leave, four weeks at home with just me and the son, which sounds fantastic, but it’s also like wait I know how to take care of him right? I mean I do. BUT, do I?

I could take it easy, chill at home, go for walks, make sure he is consistently comfortable, even turn on the TV to let indiscernibly bright lights confuse and occupy his brain for a while, but instead I’m choosing to go out and get tacos.

You see, I really like tacos and I was reading in OC Weekly the other day about all the best tacos in the county and thought why not spend these four weeks going out and eating a bunch of tacos?

I think this is a pretty reasonable idea.

So this here is my fatherly review of getting tacos with my boy, something I hope to keep up as I eat more and more tacos.

Today’s tacos are from: Taco Mesa in Orange.

But first:

Let’s talk about stomachs. My son has had stomach issues, trouble pooping and passing gas, since he was born. This made me curious (if we don’t have curiosity, then what do we have?). How does the system work? What’s happening when there’s gas in there? How fast do we digest foods? I did some research and here are some fun facts.

-From your throat to your anus is actually just one long tube. Down the esophagus, into the stomach, into the lower intestines, and then the waste goes out.

-When we’re burping, we’re just releasing excess air. This happens when we somehow swallow air–either through normal eating, foods that release carbon dioxide such as sodas, or some people will even just swallow air as a nervous habit.

-Gas builds up when certain foods pass through into the intestine or colon undigested or partially digested. Certain bacterias produce gas which is then released through flatulence. Some foods have bacterias that produce more gas than others and some people have trouble digesting certain foods, thus they see an increase in gas when some foods are eaten.

Now you know.

Now, tacos.

What we listened to on the way: Off Book: The Improvised Musical Podcast “Picket Line Pals w/ The Doughboys”. I saw this episode was released and just had to listen to it, it has one of my favorite podcasts, featuring one of my other favorites and it met all my expectations.

What we ordered: Blackened calamari tacos, pescado frito taco, pastor taco

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Taco Mesa prides themselves on being a healthy Mexican restaurant. It’s not quite what it sounds like, the tacos were not lined with bean sprouts and quinoa, instead they go toward the organic/natural/wild-caught/free range side of things. It’s fully authentic, yet thoughtful, somewhere in between your high end hipster taco bar and a taqueria on the corner.

I had heard that the “Best of the West” blackened menu was worth checking out, so I ordered the blackened calamari, alongside fried fish and pastor. Each came on Mesa’s signature tortillas, forest green in color, made on site, perfectly soft and textured while maintaining typical corn tortilla form.

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The blackened calamari was an excellent take on a fish taco, creamy and fishy with an overload of dripping juices, as every fish taco is wont to have.

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The fried fish felt a little dry and lacked the saltiness I wanted along with the fry batter. When all flavors were combined, it was a decent bite, but definitely fell short of the other two.

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The al pastor ended up being my favorite, though some of that can be attributed to personal preference. Al pastor is typically my go-to taco, all in an effort to recapture what is probably my favorite taco of all time, a street vendor who used a rotisserie cooker similar to doner kebab, with the pork wrapped around a pineapple, absorbing all its juices. This was actually quite similar, served with grilled pineapple and watermelon radish, the pork was perfection. Only downfall for me was an overabundance of onions which could have been replaced by some sort of cabbage or salsa to accompany the meat. It was still delicious.

My son’s thoughts on the meal: He slept the whole time.

Good Taste: For Kids

Determining our children’s tastes often comes down to that classic old adage: nature vs. nurture; do our children become products of the way they were raised or are they bound on some track naturally to fall into whatever pattern fits their particular genetic coding? It’s likely some mixture of both, with the nurturing portion likely causing children to actually rebel against their parents’ taste, choosing the newest, youngest, most shocking thing available, to their parents’ horror.

As someone who always tries to keep at the forefront of the new and progressive, not necessarily cool, but what will be considered in an objective sense (as much as that is possible) good, I feel as if I have some sort of advantage in keeping up with the pop culture playground my kids will occupy. I’m not someone who will forever hail the music of my high school days as being the best–for me this was mostly Christian hardcore and emo bands–and I won’t get stuck on the best albums of the last few years—Kendrick, Sufjan, Vampire Weekend, etc… Those albums will always be important, both to me and to culture at large, but they won’t form an eclipse over what’s new, at least not entirely.

But even with such progressive taste, as I obviously have, my kid is bound to reject what I think is good. Whether that’s rejecting the Studio Gibhli movies I put in front of him for the latest iteration of The Emoji Movie or dismissing the punk and hip-hop I think is cool and counter-cultural for whatever sort of weird spacey electronica we were promised would exist in the future. He’s bound to roll his eyes at whatever I think is interesting, it’s guaranteed.

Yet I’m someone who obsesses over this stuff, I have calendars reminding me of what’s new and what’s available so I can make sure that I’m up to date on what I want to be. This is a large part of me and something I can only hope catches on, however small or large, in my children.

That being the case, I thought it’d be fun to document my child’s tastes, particularly as I show them those things that I enjoy (that are age appropriate of course) to see what they react to, what interests them, and just how much I can manipulate them into enjoying eclectic art. This will be a series, updated as often as there’s something worth reporting (which, as I understand, will be little at first and more as he grows), a way of capturing a child’s growth, as well as mine as a parent as I try to come to terms with parenthood in the best way I know how (through pop culture).

This will also be a place to explore his fascinations. I have a strong desire for my child to be a little cinephile running around annoying other kids at his pretentious ideas about movies (New Yorker film critic Richard Brody recently wrote that his daughter used to watch and love Jacques Tati’s Playtime, that’s a #parentgoal if I’ve ever heard one), yet I also, obviously, care about the well being of my child and shaping them personally is more important than shaping their film tastes.

Most experts state that kids shouldn’t watch TV (screen time!) for the first two years of their life. As someone who spends an inordinate amount of time around screens this has proven difficult and even at 4 months old his gaze drifts toward the basketball game or movie we have on the screen. The ultimate goal is to raise a well-rounded child, one who is curious about the world, obsessive of particular fascinations, and draws upon empathy as his ultimate way of acting.

A holistic health is more than movies (unfortunately), so this will involve exploring the physical world, going to museums, partaking in the events of other cultures, teaching the basics of how we treat people, along with movies, music, and books. This will also be a place to express my sarcastic and cynical views of the strange modern parenting world, so watch out.

In Stranger Things 2, Dustin rushes out of the library having overdrawn his book limit, and yells “I’m on a curiosity voyage” as his excuse for stealing the books. This is the desire I ultimately have in this great science experiment called parenting, how can we fill our kids with an all-occupying wonder, one that causes them to explore every fiber of the world, loving it and the people in it? This is my documentation of that.

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