Wednesday, June 12, 2019

If You're Paying For an Opportunity, It's Not an Opportunity

Among many other things, I'm a musician. I played in metal and punk bands throughout my youth (and beyond), and now I compose and record at home. (You can check out one of my more recent projects here--but be advised, it's not pleasant. Or mixed all that well. It's punk, man. Anyway...) Because I purchase musical equipment and software online and have recently released a small quantity of material into the wild, I'm on certain mailing lists. As a result, I just got an "invite" to a songwriting "competition." Oh, an invitation to compete, eh? How prestigious! Heh. Not fucking remotely. They charge you $35 per song you enter. I laughed and deleted the email. I was instantly reminded of those poetry/fiction anthologies that "accept submissions" from anyone desperate enough to get something in print that they'll pay to have their work included in the book. I honestly didn't think such things still existed in the Internet age. This post will be short and sweet, because the point I have to make is not a complex one. Though my old bands got paid to perform, I was never what I'd call a "professional" musician, but I have worked professionally in a number of creative fields over the years. If you are a would-be creative, here's the most important thing I can possibly convey to you as you navigate the early phases of your career: you don't need help from anyone to get your work out there. Don't pay for stupid crap like this, hoping it will get you discovered. It won't. Chart your own course. Avail yourself of all the modern tools for reaching an audience. Do it yourself. In an era in which most real media producers don't accept unsolicited submissions from aspiring creative professionals (usually for legal reasons), the best way to get noticed is to release your own material on your own terms. Build an audience. Get noticed, even if it's only by a few people. Success won't come overnight, but that's how opportunities are made. Release a song on YouTube. Announce you're taking commissions for app/game music. Make a few bucks doing small gigs, then gradually take on bigger, more prestigious gigs. You may not get famous, but that shouldn't be the goal anyway. The goal is to create what you want to create and to communicate with an audience. Now go. Make stuff and be awesome. You don't need anyone's help with that.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Mike’s Long-Promised Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe

I remember my childhood as an idyllic series of long summer walks with my grandmother, my tiny hand in hers as we wound our way through the forested hillside—

Oh, hello! I didn’t see you there. I was about to go all Pretentious Food Blogger on you and ramble at length about some precious memory or the other: a heartwarming recollection processed through a gauzy pastel filter…a life-affirming musing on the nature of the human experience that would somehow give context and greater meaning to the recipe I’m about to share. Doesn’t that sound just delightful?

No it fucking doesn’t, because nobody wants to fucking read that. Dear Pretentious Food Bloggers: Either get to the damned recipe or go take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut.*

(I’ve wanted to say that for ages. And having done so, it feels good.)

Anyway, last time I said I would talk about food in my next post, so here's the chicken tikka masala recipe I've been promising to share for eons, but haven’t. This isn’t the first chicken tikka masala recipe I’ve made over the years, but it’s by far the best—and I do mean by far. It’s not an original recipe. It’s just a recreation of classic food truck Indian fare with a few tweaks of my own. But it’s tasty and easy to make. It also freezes really well, so feel free to double and even triple the quantities to make up a massive batch.


2 tbsp. ghee (The godless savages among you are free to use ordinary butter.)
1 small onion, diced fine
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt (I barely use salt when I cook; I prefer to cook with just enough salt to activate certain flavors, then let people salt to taste at the table. That said, I have never seen anyone add salt to this dish after cooking. It really doesn’t need any more than this.)
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 ½ tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper (If you can’t get your hands on Indian red chili powder.)
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground turmeric
½ tsp. methi powder (If you don’t know what this is, this is most likely the magic ingredient your Indian recipes have been missing. Get thee to Amazon.)
15 ozs. tomato sauce (For most brands, that’s one can.)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tsp. smoked paprika (Yes, go with the smoked variety.)
½ tbsp. white sugar
1 tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 cup of plain Greek yogurt (Plain, damn it…plain!)
4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts

The only real trick to this recipe is the timing of things. This is my process; you can probably modify this as best fits your workflow, with only a couple exceptions noted in the text.

1.     Mix the yogurt, curry powder, and lemon juice in a large bowl. (If you want that fun tandoori color, you can add a few drops of red food coloring. That’s actually how most restaurants do it these days.) Add the chicken breasts and make sure they’re completely submerged in the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. If you want to do it right, let the chicken marinate for 24 hours; it will be incredibly tender as a result.
2.     Rinse the marinade off the chicken (trust me on this; the lemon juice is key to the marinating process, but you don’t want that lemon flavor lingering). Then broil or grill the chicken until you get some nice charred spots on both sides. Don’t worry about cooking the breasts all the way through! Just get the right char and outer texture, and leave the chicken pink in the middle. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
3.     Heat the ghee in a large pot, then stir in and cook the onion for about 5 minutes. Once it’s translucent, add the garlic. Don’t overcook the garlic! It needs about 2 minutes, tops.
4.     Add the cumin, salt, pepper, ginger, cayenne, cinnamon, turmeric, and methi powder to the pot. Stir quickly to avoid sticking, and don’t be afraid to splash in a little water to keep the aromatic paste from scorching. Fry the spice mixture for about 2 minutes. Again, don’t overdo it. (Don’t fuck around with the timing or sequence on steps 3 and 4; this specific method gets remarkably uniform results between batches.)
5.     Stir the tomato sauce into the spice mixture, onion, and garlic. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.
6.     Stir in cream, paprika, and sugar. Simmer for 10-15 minutes. Stir often! You’ve got some flexibility on the timing here. Just stir and simmer until the sauce is the consistency you want. If you take your time, this sauce gets really thick and rich.
7.     Add the chicken to the sauce, bring to a simmer, and cook over a low flame for about 30 minutes. (Simmer, damn it. Do not boil the sauce or it might break. As we all know, a broken sauce is a gods-damned crime against humanity.)
8.     Serve over white basmati rice. I also like to sprinkle on a dash of dried parsley when I’m plating this stuff. It adds an interesting aromatic accent without messing with the flavor, and it looks fancy as hell. You can also top the dish with ground, unsalted cashews to add texture and another dimension of taste. Add a side of naan and you’ve got yourself a meal.

There you have it. If you get fat, it’s not my fault. Enjoy!


*Man, I miss Vonnegut.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

I Hate My Body (and So Can You!)

My wife’s fingers idly traced the knot on my collarbone where it had knitted back together (badly) years earlier. Then her fingers ran over the burn scar on my shoulder, then the dozen or so scars on my chest. I was suddenly very aware of the concentration of old injuries in such a smallish region of my body. (There are many, many more elsewhere.)

“Cataloging my overall level of mutilation, are we?” I laughed, a bit sheepishly.

“Hey, I married a renaissance man with actual battle scars,” she said without missing a beat. “That’s some romance novel shit right there.”

I’m 47 years old. And this moment--which took place about a week ago--was literally the first time I can remember feeling good about my physical appearance.

It didn’t last, of course.

Men rarely talk about their body issues. It’s not deemed especially masculine, I suppose. Well, I don’t care much for traditional notions of masculinity. Just to give you a sense of how I roll, I have read vintage romance comic books between sessions of lifting weights and boxing. So today I thought I’d talk about my hate/hate (not love/hate...hate/hate) relationship with my body.

There’s no thesis statement and no lofty takeaway message, and this is sure as hell not me soliciting compliments (um, awkward…). I just thought maybe seeing me vent about the topic might help some other self-loathing dude who’s never had the opportunity.   

Here is the state of the union, as it were, at least as it applies to things apparent to the outside observer. My beard is mainly grey. My neck is starting to show signs of those wrinkles (you know the ones). My teeth have yellowed and my gums have receded. I’ve got more scars than are easily counted, some of them atop older ones. I might have one or two bones still in the shape nature intended. And I’ve got extra skin around my waistline from weight loss after the age of 40, plus stretch marks acquired when I was putting on that now-absent weight.

Say, let’s talk more about that weight loss, shall we?

I hated being fat. I was an athlete once, and I wanted that back, so I have dropped about 90 lbs in the past year(ish) through diet and exercise. But while I was losing all that weight, I also lost muscle mass--I had to, in order to meet my goal of dropping two weight classes--and now I’m obsessively trying to regain that mass. I went from being embarrassed of a body with a bunch of fat on top of muscle to being embarrassed by a skinny body with extra skin and not enough muscle. Physically, I’m the healthiest I’ve been in years (I run. A lot.), yet I still despise the way I look. It’s gotten to the point that now when people who haven’t seen me in a while exclaim “You look so skinny,” I immediately start wishing I was my old size again.

That’s messed up.

Part of it is my environment, I suspect. I live in Portland, OR. I like Portland overall, but it's a mixed bag, to be sure. It’s the most ageist place I’ve ever been, let alone lived. The ageism here is constant, pervasive, and (here’s the best part) deemed socially acceptable. To give you a sense of how things go here, I get old age jokes at work--yes, at work. Ageism is totally cool in this city of children. It has scuttled job interviews for me. It has impacted the service I get when I’m out in public. And back when I first moved here and was apartment shopping, a property manager simply stopped acknowledging my presence the instant a younger applicant walked in the door.

Hell, just last night the ticket taker at the movie theater, upon seeing I had two tickets in-hand, asked me, “Who’s your guest? Go ahead and find your seat and I can just wave them through.” Before I could answer, he said, pointing, “Is it the woman in the black vest?” She was easily 20 years older than me, but y’know, I have grey in my beard, so I guess we looked exactly the same to him. Now, there’s not a gods-damned thing wrong with being in your late 60s, or with looking like it, but I don’t look anything like a person in their late 60s. People over 40 are not all the same. So fuck you right in your stupid face, kid.

I don’t feel old. I ran a 5k this morning, then did the first of my two daily strength-training routines. I learn new things daily; I’m not an old man yet, damn it. But these fuckers make me feel like one and that feeds my body image issues and yes, I miss my old shoulders, but it’s really fucking hard to get them back at this age, so here we are, circling right back to those body issues.


Fuck this. Next time I’m going to talk about food.