We Used Our Words

Comments usually make me laugh. Sometimes they make me think. Occasionally, they piss me off. But never before have they made me feel like a superhero. That is, until the month of August rolled around. What happened in August? This:

There have been many times in my life when I've half-heartedly uttered the phrase "I'm lucky to be a part of..." But right now, at this moment, I am telling you with full heart (and those of 30 other bloggers) that I am so lucky to have been a part of this amazing campaign. 

The premise was simple: blog about the impact that blog comments have made on you, and for each comment anyone left on your post, $20 would be donated to Shot@Life, an initiative of the UN Foundation.

What does a $20 donation to Shot@Life achieve?

It provides four life-saving vaccinations (measles, polio, diarrhea and pneumonia) for one child. $20 SAVES ONE CHILD'S LIFE. And all anyone had to do was leave a comment for this magic to happen. For once, even that guy trying to sell hot tubs via my comment section could feel good about his work.

While I was all set to serve as the last leg in this 31-day relay race, it turns out my teammates were simply too awesome. They reached the goal of $200,000 before the torch was handed to me. YES...

But I'm not going to complain. 10,000 kids will now receive life saving immunizations because of this. 10,000 kids!! Stretched end-to-end, 10,000 kids would be almost as long as the line for Space Mountain. These are kids who could grow up to be world leaders, doctors, athletes or even bloggers. The circle of internet life is complete.

While I feel a teensy bit melancholy that none of my comments will contribute to the overall kid-life-saving fund, there is a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, and it is filled with lighter fluid. You see, as the last one to wield the torch, I got to light the ceremonial fire. And that makes everything a-ok. I also went ahead and built you a slide show of my favorite passages from all the other Blogust bloggers who posted before me. It's all in the video, so check it out:

By the way, you can simply pledge your support for Shot@Life, get involved and yes, even donate.

Exit, stage

I haven't been writing much lately, even by my own lowly standards. It's not because there hasn't been anything to write about. Stories still happen, whether we want them to or not. I've simply chosen to let them pass by, because nothing makes sense without a context. And my context was in flux. Phantom of the Opera isn't the same production when you put Michael Crawford on the Great Wall of China. The story fundamentally changes. So as we come out of this intermission, I need to let you know that the set has changed. Divorce papers have been filed. No commentary will be offered nor accepted. I just needed to address it, so that my stories make sense. I need to usher this elephant out stage left, and Ghenghis Khan along with him so that I can blog again.

I'm not good at this stuff. Can we just talk about the zoo now?

When your time with the kids has an imminent handoff attached, it sure makes you look at Xbox in a whole different way. Instead of being a lifesaver, I now see it as my competition. Good thing there's wildlife. Last weekend, I took the kids to a local museum that rescues animals and teaches you about them, too. Luckily, some exhibits are like videogames. You have to wean the kids off their natural environment first.

Lessi and Fury had a great time observing local wildlife, some alive and some stuffed. I had the pleasure of seeing my first-ever live bald eagle. Lessi had the pleasure of learning that because of our species' opposable thumbs and abilty to harness the power of gunpowder, she can take pictures like these without becoming a tasty snack.

Also, I get to do this:

Unfortunately, this museum was kind of small, and high fiveability aside, stuffed animals aren't that exciting. We decided to go to the Oakland Zoo instead. But not before spotting a rogue exhibit on the way out.

The Oakland Zoo was a storybook come alive for Lessi. The first animal she saw was a monkey. As adults, we take monkeys for granted. If you could translate childhood wonder into words, she said "WTF, those things are REAL??" Although Fury has pretty much seen it all, you can always count on a full-blown chimpanzee fight to brighten a 10-year-old boy's day. Also, a 40-year-old's. They also witnessed an elephant pooping. That's zoo admission ROI right there.

And I take back what I said about stuffed creatures. They can be pretty cool. Meet Lessi's new Otter, which she named Butter, because "I like butter!" 

She took this picture in front of the otter exhibit. She wanted Butter to see where he came from. That, or she's into being all meta and stuff.

If picking the blog up again was this hard, I can only imagine the long road to the new normal. For everyone. It'll take a lot more than zoos and monkeys and high fives, but at the end of the day, if it's about these two being able to smile like this, it's a small step in the right direction.

10 Minutes

As a working dad, weekdays have always been tough. I'm usually out of the house before the kids are up, and home right around bedtime. Forget dinners with family around the table. Dinner is whatever you can forage between the distractions of everyday life. 

When life gives you a wedge of lemon, you suck on that and extract whatever you can. Lemonade is a luxury for folks with time and a pitcher. To make the most of my few minutes with Fury on weekdays, we instituted our aptly named "10 minutes playtime." For close to a decade, I've been getting on the floor each night with Fury and playing Legos, Star Wars figures, Bionicles, Hot Wheels, Transformers, or any mashup thereof.

But kids grow up, and play evolves. Fury no longer lives out scenarios with his toys where I can easily grab an action figure, make up some robotic voice, and jump right into. Now he likes to create. He conjures up entire armies of hybrid Bionicles. He uses parts from his dozens of Lego sets to build war machines. It's more reflective, solitary. Robot voices need not apply.

Sometime last week, as we made our way to his toy stash, Fury stopped and asked "Dad, I don't feel like playing with toys today. Can you just tell me about what it was like when you were a kid for our 10 minutes instead?"

He just wanted to chat.

So he lay in his bed and I sat in the chair beside him and we talked. We talked about how bad I was at sports as a kid, and how I only scored one goal in youth soccer (in practice) and how in youth baseball, I only made contact with a ball once (foul), and of course we talked about the guy in Florida who ate the homeless guy's face off before he was killed by the cops. Because the dawning zombie apocalypse is relevant for any conversation in the house of Lin.

The next night, the Bionicle army stood by in the dark as we talked about the conflict in Afghanistan, North Korea's threat to launch missiles at South Korea's media companies, and Hot Wheels' new line of toys (I hope client NDAs cover 10 year-olds).

The other night we discussed careers. He wants to be a video game designer. This works because it gives me leverage to make him do his math homework. It might even make all our Xbox games tax deductible.

"Dad, what did you want to be when you grew up?"

"A marine biologist."

"Well, you could still do that. They'll hire you because you're already a VP and it looks good on your resume."

"That makes sense. I never thought of it that way."

"Also, all you have to do is hold up a fish and spout random facts about it. You're good at that."

Like toy time, I'm sure our conversations will also evolve as he and I get older. I will see the world through his eyes and guide him with my hindsight. He will see the world I have mapped out and explore it with fresh vision. There will be moments to ponder, issues to tackle, emotions to sort, stances to take, decisions to face, opportunities to laugh.

"Oh Fury  -- that guy who got his face eaten? He survived! I saw a picture today. He has a skin graft over his eye and a hole for a nose, but he's alive!"

"Don't the doctors know that he's going to eat them now?"

And zombies. There will always be zombies.

* * * *

Bonus reading material: I posted about life lessons from the film Goodfellas on Mamapop last week.

Play more

I like to do good things, and part of that is following through when I commit to doing them. A few weeks ago, I took the LetsPlay pledge and promised I would dedicate more hours per week to getting out there and playing. I realize that this does nothing to ease world hunger, bring peace to the middle east or save the manatees, but I believe that children are our future. And that copyright laws are lax when it comes to blogs.

So aside from throwing Lessi around the backyard (funny digression: she now throws her baby dolls around while yelling "parkour!"), I actually engaged in more active play recently, despite the fact that I just landed a new job (finally! I might add). Some highlights:

Midget Racing

Never has there been an activity where I've had to follow up with "no, it's not that at all!" more so than when I told people I was taking Fury midget racing. I know there's no running and jumping involved, but the point is we're getting out there and his heart rate increases. Also, he realizes that it's like Xbox, but a million times better.  I'll buy that for $10 a lap!  Not for too long, but the point is I'm willing to, in theory.

Certification and racing lessons are actually highly affordable, so I made the mistake of getting all excited for Fury to join the race circuit. Turns out once you're certified, you have to buy your own race car, trailer and something to tow it with (I don't think the Volvo will cut it). Hey Fury, there's this really cool game on Xbox...

Fishing

If I had to pick one activity as my hands-down favorite thing ever in the history of the world, it would be fishing. When we lived in LA, that was the most conspicuous void in my life. At our new home in Northern CA, I can fish any of a dozen places within a 20-minute drive. Heaven isn't too far away. Like I said, lax copyright laws make the blogosphere go 'round.

There's actually a nice regional park and reservoir 15 minutes away that's perfect for a  spontaneous pre-dinner trip. I've taken Fury fishing there a couple of times.

The first time we went, I had no idea what people were catching there (or even if we could catch anything at all without a boat). When we got there, these two old guys were also setting up to fish. While Fury and I caught nothing, one of the old guys caught this delicious bass:

I made Fury pose with it for a picture because you can't do that and not immediately dedicate the rest of your life to catching one like that for yourself. At least not if you share my genes.

I caught this on a business trip. Yes I bring fishing equipment on business trips.The next day, we went out again. This time, we brought his friend from across the street, who had never fished before. Also, due to the lack of rain, the shoreline had receeded about 20 yards, which meant to get to water we had to trudge through ankle-deep mud. When you're 10, mud trumps the prospect of fish. Also, dad spends all his time crawling in the mud looking for shoe that you lost after the mud pulled it off and the hole resealed itself.

You can't get mad at genuine mud-covered smiles, though.

Running

Shortly after I started working again, I decided I needed more structure in my life after so many months of improvised living. I decided to start running again. I also thought it would be nice to bring Fury along, since I leave the house for work before he gets up and return an hour before he goes to bed. This might give us some good bonding time while staying healthy. Two birds, one stone. Then I realized that both dogs would probably enjoy the exercise as well. Four birds. Then one day his buddy across the street decided that it might be fun to run with us, too. Five birds. Today, another neighbor kid joined us. This stone is like a ninja stone, killing birds as far as the eye can see. They say jogging is a sport of quiet solitude. They don't live in my neighborhood.

I guess what I'm saying is play can be pretty much anything, and no matter how busy you are, you can still squeeze it in if you put your mind to it. But if you still need more motivation, how about a 10-foot parachute, like you used to play with in gym class? I'm giving away three of these, and they each come with:

  • 1 sand bucket
  • 1 jump rope
  • 1 carton of sidewalk chalk
  • 1 "Let's Play" frisbee
  • and a few cheat sheet things to kick start some play ideas

To be entered to win this stuff, I'd love it if you took the Let's Play Pledge (676 other people can't be wrong!), but you don't have to in order to win (just leaving a comment will suffice, if you want to get technical). The guilt, however, will eat at you whenever you look at that colorful parachute.

In the end, all I'm asking you to do is play more. Is that so bad?

(oh, forgot to mention... I will accept entries up until Wed, June 6, 10pm PST)

(WAIT! I meant Wed June 13! I expect you to play, not build time machines. Leave it to Zakary to point out when I AsianFAIL) 

I home business school my kid, part II

(Part 1 is here, but these two posts really have nothing to do with one another aside from the fact that it's a catchy title and I was too lazy to think up a different one.)

Fury's school does the coolest thing. A few times a year, they hold a student marketplace where kids can get their entrepreneur on and set up stalls to sell anything they want. They can peddle used items, homemade edibles, store-bought edibles, crafts, services -- pretty much anything they can think up and drag to school, except for weapons.

Which saddens me because I really wanted to pass down my handmade ninja star business to himTo provide legal tender for these activities, the school has established its own currency system. You start off the year with a set amount, and throughout the school year you can earn or spend those dollars for doing (or getting out of) chores and tasks. But what really separates the wheat from the chaff is the student marketplace. This is where fake money fortunes are made or squandered.

I learned of this recently when Fury asked "Hey, dad, I need you to help me make some Colt Cash."

I opened my mouth to say "well first you need to find an unclaimed street corner and a good supplier," but thought better of it and just said "why do you need cold cash?"

"No, Colt Cash!" And this was followed by the description I shared with you above.

Since our entire family watches the show Shark Tank religiously (it is the best show on TV), and I never pass up an opportunity to do my Mark Cuban impersonation, I proceeded to grill him on his business idea, which was this:

That's a Creeper costume from the game Minecraft. If your kid has succumbed to Minecraft, let's start a support group. No better yet, a drinking and partying group because our kids would never notice anyway.

Once we got to the "but how scalable is this? And could you get production cost to under $2 if we made it in China?" the holes in his business plan were simply too big to ignore. Plus, it might be hard to bike to school with them. So we did some brainstorming. What could we sell that would capitalize on the buying impulses of elementary school students with play money burning a hole in their pockets?

We had it. I wrote up a list of materials that he needed to go buy with mom, along with instructions on how to put it all together.

When I got home from the work the next day, the product was assembled and ready to go.

Introducing CANDYWARE, fashionable accessories made with real candy!

Of course, to hedge his bets, Fury also created two consulting companies (advertised on either side of the board above): Poptropica Island Boys, where he helps you get past some supposedly really tough island level on the Poptropica video game, and SkinTek, in which he uses a Minecraft skins app, which he bought with his own allowance, to create skins for your Minecraft characters (note the clever logo he drew up with the word Tek rolling off a conveyor belt).

When I got home from work the next day, he gave me the breakdown:

ALL 24 BRACELETS SOLD WITHIN 5 MINUTES

"And I already have orders for another batch!"

"So how much Colt Cash do you have now?"

"$45,000!"

"And how much did you start the year with?"

"$7,000... and I'm going to buy my way out of homework FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR!"

A good entrepreneur: knows how to make money. A dangerous entrepreneur: knows how to spend it wisely.

* * * *

Bonus: I also posted this week on MamaPop about what a bummer it is that fighting is now like a pop culture thing. I complain like you're on my lawn or something. It's quite lovely.

Embracing the happy in birthday

Today is Lessi's second birthday. As I look back upon memories and pictures from the past couple years, I simply smile. While fatherhood can be as complicated as you'd like to make it, it can also be about one very simple thing: finding happiness in the little things.

Like a full sippycup.

A delicious meal.

The perfect eyewear.

Star Wars.

(ok maybe not quite yet)

The wind in your hair.

Family.

Quiet contentment.

And of course, cake in the morning.

I love you. Happy birthday, little thing.

Life's Hella Good

 

Look closely at the picture above. To the casual observer, this may look like Nerf darts scattered across a suburban cul-de-sac. To me, they spell the word validation. Validation for a moment's notice decision to move the entire family from Los Angeles to a small town no one's ever heard of in Northern CA. Validation for my using the word hella in a post title in an attempt to adopt the vernacular of my new home (ok, maybe some things can never be validated).

When we first packed up and left, I had fears. My own migration into suburbia also happened in 4th grade. It didn't go so well. While times and racial tolerance are different now, I couldn't help but worry that I was removing Fury from everything that he ever knew and plunking him down in unfamiliar territory to fend for himself. Well, he fended for himself, alright. With Nerf guns blazing, sqeals of laughter and a gang of neighborhood homies of all colors, creeds and Axe spray varietals. They show up at all hours of the day, ravage our snacks like locusts, and make this new house a home for Fury.

And because this town was built with parks and bikepaths connecting every neighborhood, I can actually let him bike outside of our own driveway for once. In fact, I give him a cell phone and he rides for miles. I know this because he calls me and says "Dad, I am in front of [any given address]. Check Google Maps. How far have I gone?"

The only thing missing is jobs, which d Wife and I both moved here without. However, things are looking up on that front for both of us. I don't like to jinx things that help me pay my mortgage, so that's all I will say about that for now. However, not having to go to work each day means I can do things like help my buddy Toheed (who moved here from LA a year before I did, and wouldn't shut up about how awesome it was until I did too) do random things like dismantle a car wash. Lessons learned there: a rented forklift is worth every penny, and tweakers you hire off the street are excellent at unbolting lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of bolts.

The dismantled carwash is pictured above. Also, the house next to ours is empty and available in case you're looking to move to the best little town no one, not even NorCal people, have ever heard of. And no, we're not turning it into a carwash, though if that crossed your mind, you know me well.

Oh yeah, file this one under "Makes your relocation a whole hell of a lot easier to swallow": LG Electronics found me at the Dad 2.0 Summit and said (and I paraphrase): "Jim, we'd like to pimp your family room for our Techorating Challenge."

I said yes, and showed them a picture of my family room:

"Have at it," I said.

Then this happened...

And then they gave me a script, some makeup and turned my house into a film studio for 18 hours.

They also did the same thing to High Tech Dad and then pitted us against one another in a grueling fight to the finish. At least we both get to plunk down at the end of this Techorating Challenge and rehydrate in front of our 55" LG LCD 3D TVs (QRS... TUV... WXY and Z). The electronics and home decorating cockfight, hosted by ESPN's Stuart Scott, is depicted below, if you dare:

I'm showing you all this because it too can be yours. Just go to the LG Techorating Challenge Facebook page and enter to win your own Techorated room. You only have one day left to do this (procrastination would be my middle name if it weren't Ching-kuo). They close it off on Wednesday, May 2 at 11:59:59 pm EST. You have to vote for one of us, but really, it doesn't matter who you vote for. The TV and room make-over were enough for me. I don't even know what I win, if I win and it doesn't really matter.

And remember kids, a good disclosure statement gives you healthy teeth and gums and keeps your blog out of the government no-no house, so here goes:

*YO YO YO! LG or its affiliates have not kicked me over a dime for any articles or posts. They did, however hook me up with a gang of stuff, like a 55" 3D LCD TV, some classy "MTV Cribs" caliber furniture (I'm still waiting on that stripper pole, though), an LG Bluetooth Soundbar, and they even threw in a microwave just for the hell of it. All this was provided as part of the Techorator program experience. However, all articles, tweets, and other materials that I post related to LG products and the Techorator program are entirely my own opinion. In fact, everything I post is always my own opinion, which would mean that if this were North Korea, I would be making license plates with my healthy teeth.

*Mic drop. Peace in the middle east.

It's baby parkour time!

When I was in kindergarten, I jumped off the jungle gym at school and landed on my head, necessitating the only stitches I have ever gotten. My parkour career ended before the sport was even invented. What is parkour? It's the craziest, coolest, break-all-the-bones-in-your-bodiest urban jungle gym sport ever. And Lessi loves it. Of course, I have modified it slightly for our purposes (as well as child protective services).

We call it Baby Parkour, and of course I made a video of us engaging in this new version that I hope will sweep backyards and playgrounds all over the country.

I do these things because I take my role as a Play Ambassador for Let's Play very seriously. Let's Play is a partnership between Dr. Pepper Snapple Group and the non-profit KaBOOM that provides grants to communities to build or fix up playgrounds. When I was a kid, my life revolved around playgrounds, and so should every kid's, regardless of where they live.

In addition to providing playgrounds, Let's Play is committed to simply making sure that families get out there and PLAY. We're not talking math homework. We're not talking vacuuming the house. We're not talking eating our vegetables. We're not talking the proletarian struggle against bourgeoisie. We're talking good old-fashioned, down and dirty outdoor play. Not a difficult cause to be down for.

And since today is the one-year anniversary of Let's Play, all I'm asking you to do is go to their Facebook Page and take the "Let's Play Pledge" to spend 60 more minutes per week activley playing with your kids. That's it. I'm sure your kids think that's a killer idea. While you're there, you can also apply for a grant to fix up or build a playground in your neighborhood (they will give out $3 million in playground grants this year).

It's good + good + good. You know what else is wicked good? My Baby Parkour video on LetsPlay.com.

Check it out and join the LetsPlay.com community while you're at it. We're all about play. There is no better common denominator for "things we all like." Well, that I can write on this blog anyway.

On your tenth birthday

10 years ago today, I discovered the difference between being alive and living. Living means that you take every opportunity you can to steal a chuckle.

Living means sharing the things you love with those you love, even if they can't quite stand on their own yet.

It means shouldering the burden, every once in a while. And making your chiropractor rich in the process.

And rocking on with your bad selves, whenever and wherever possible.

Living also means passing on valuable life skills, like an intimidating staredown.

Or the ways of the Force.

And realizing that making a mess is half the fun, no matter what you're trying to do...

But that cleaning up well will get you far in life.

Living also means knowing that some rules were meant to be broken (this is us visiting the temple where my dad's ashes rest - and bringing some JD to pour one for our homie).

Most of all, it's about knowing that one day you will pass the baton to your lion cub and stand proud as he carves his own path over the one you have started together.

Happy 10th birthday, son!

Love,

Your biggest fan.

The Fried Rice Manifesto

Comrades, the time has come. We must rid this world of weak fried rice. I've waited patiently my entire life for this wok hero, acknowledging that there are other rice frying superstars more capable of leading the masses to the promised land. Yet no one has raised their fist. So consider this post me... fisting.

Harnessing the collective wisdom of my ancestors, I have drafted the first-ever manifesto on the science and art of the ubiquitous dish that no one seems to know how to make properly. Actually, it's just the wisdom of my dad, but he made the best fried rice that ever graced this earth. Maybe it's because it's one of only two things he knew how to make (the other was steamed buns, and sadly, I never learned the recipe). If the elders summon me to a death match because I taught the Gwai Lo our secrets, well, then you can call me Bruce Lee. Actually, you can call me that whenever. I dig it.

Preamble

This is the best pic I could find of my fried rice. It's a still frame from a video. I'm a revolutionary, not a food photographer!The ideology of fried rice is simple. It's rice mixed with a bunch of stuff. Really, that's it. A kid could make conceptual fried rice at the dinner table with a bowl of rice and dinner. There's no real measurement needed, no set cook times, no thickeners, no binders, no anything you have to learn in your elite culinary school. But revolutionary fried rice? Now there's an elusive beast. Revolutionary fried rice cascades out of your bowl, every grain of rice perfectly seared on all sides, as separate and individual as snowflakes, yet united in the spirit of cooperation and partnership for the greater benefit of the masses as a complex, yet consistent interplay of infused flavors imparted by a perfect ratio of meat, eggs, fats and vegetables. Revolutionary fried rice doesn't rest in a recipe. It is the manifestation of technique, timing and proportion. It is the peoples' will. It's kung-fu with food. And grasshopper, you're about to get schooled proper.

Preparation

HEAT

Revolutionary fried rice's best friend is heat. Lots of heat. When I make it, I use a 65,000 BTU outdoor burner (the best indoor ranges max out at about 18,000 BTUs). Neighborhood kids who use too much Axe body spray burst into flames when I am making fried rice.

The Devil went down to Georgia because he couldn't take this heat.

[Wokferno pics stolen from this photo set from '09. I did not re-shave my head. No children were singed that night.]

Without the proper searing of several of the main elements of fried rice, you end up with a bowl of mushy glutinous gruel, unworthy of even labor camp. The heat ensures that all the ingredients pop with flavor. It also keeps things from sticking together because you are building a great caremelized crust around each individual element. Like the Great Wall, this crust keeps the riff raff out. So crank up your flame as high as it will go. No monster burner required. I used to cook fried rice on my dinky apartment range. You just use a smaller wok/pan and work in small batches.

WOK/PAN

If at all possible, you want to use a wok. The shape of the wok is not only conducive to harnessing the available heat into a concentrated spot (while providing a "rest and drip zone" for cooked items on the outer perimeter), it also makes it a lot easier to keep the ingredients in constant motion. More on that later. You can use a regular pan if you don't have a wok, but it'll be harder to move all the stuff around, and you'll lose a lot of rice over the sides because constant motion requires speed, and speed makes rice fly around. Like a good cast iron skillet, a wok gets better with age, as it becomes seasoned with each use. The easiest wok to season is the cheap carbon steel variety. A Teflon wok is the most pointless thing ever invented. If you have one, throw it away. Just do it now. Teflon cookware is not designed for high heat. A wok's mission in life is to partner with high heat. If you want to spend your money on pointless, oxymoronic products, go buy yourself a Lincoln Mark LT luxury pickup truck. But go get yourself a decent wok. The cheaper the better.

ESTABLISH A MISE EN PLACE LINE UP ALL YOUR S#%*

The thing with fried rice is once you start, you're committed to the end. There is no such thing as stopping in the middle. There are no time outs in fried rice. You can't answer the phone, go to the bathroom, sneeze, chit chat, and you especially cannot stop and prep ingredients. Why? Because once you stop moving, you either get clumpy, or burned elements. A good sear is a thing of honor. A burn means I want to send you off to Siberia to dig for iron ore. Lining all your ingredients up also means you don't ever have to stop and think "what's next?" To make revolutionary fried rice, you must be a cold, unthinking, tireless machine, from the moment the flame ignites to the moment you transfer the colorful cascading masterpiece onto the serving platter. When I make fried rice, the only thought going through my head is "kill Sarah Connor."

Ingredients

Fried rice is like jazz. There are so many angles of attack, and the improvizational opportunities are virtually endless. But as free-form as it seems, there are still established rules to follow. Come to think if it, it's actually like English. Most of it makes sense, but there's no rhyme or reason to the exceptions. You just have to know them by instinct. I would like to save you from the misery of failure. Here are some of my cardinal rules of fried rice ingredients.

The following three ingredients are essential. They are not to be altered or substituted in any way. Doing so will bring shame to your clan for several generations.

Egg: Essential. Don't argue this. Your average batch of fried rice requires between 2-5 eggs. My personal rule: use two more than you think you need.

Scallion: Otherwise known as green onion, this is another essential defining ingredient. If you don't have scallion on hand, just walk away. No fried rice for you today. Your average batch of fried rice requires one bunch, chopped, but just the green parts. Discard the white base stems. They are too pungent for fried rice.

Rice: Whenever possible, do not use fresh rice. Use rice that has been sitting in the fridge for 1-3 days. You want it to be somewhat dried out. If you cannot wait, and have to use fresh rice, just go to Panda Express and buy steamed rice. They seem to have perfected the art of moist, yet fairly unclumpy rice. If I can shamelessly walk into a Panda Express and order steamed rice with my head held high, you can too. Your average batch of fried rice will be about 3 bowls of rice, or one big Chinese take-out container (those boxy paper ones).

The following ingredients are the variables you can throw into your fried rice.

Ham: diced into small squares.

Pork: ideally, you want to use Chinese BBQ pork, but if you don't live somewhere it is readily available (many Chinese markets and restaurants sell this by the pound), then leftover pork chops, tenderloin etc. work fine. You want to dice this as well.

Beef: I am of the opinion that beef just doesn't go well with fried rice (unless it is in sausage form). Beef is my favorite meat, but it simply does not work here. If you must use beef, diced up steak is the way to go. It won't be that good, however.

Fish: You don't ever want to use fish in fried rice in any premeditated manner. I only use it when I have leftovers I want to re-purpose. If you use fish, make sure it is flaked into tiny pieces and properly fried so that all the moisture is gone and each piece has a nice sear to it. Salmon works best.

Sausage: Chinese sausage is the gold standard for fried rice. Kind of like a sweet pepperoni, Chinese sausage lacks moisture, and has a sweet sherry flavor to it. Hands down the best ingredient for fried rice. Dice it up. I used to think you could only get this at Chinese markets, but I recently saw Chinese sausage at Costco, which gives me hope for the people. Although you will never see this at restaurants, Kielbasa or even hot dogs chopped into tiny pieces makes for excellent fried rice. I bet you Spam would pretty much rule, too. Don't hate. I never said fried rice was elite cuisine.

Bacon: the only person who ever did this was my dad. And it is still the best fried rice I ever had. He would chop the bacon into small pieces and fry it so that it was cooked but not crispy. Then he'd use it for a batch of fried rice. Man, I could eat that all day. And oftentimes, I did.

Chicken/Turkey: one of my favorite meals is the post-Thanksgiving fried rice that I make. Take any cooked poultry and chop it up, skin included. It fries up so good with rice. Screw your Turkey a la King.

Shrimp: flash fry peeled shrimp separately before adding to fried rice, and you have a great complement. Shrimp tends to cook soggy if you don't defrost, dry thoroughly and use high heat and lots of oil. Do all three, and your ancestors will be proud. 

Peas: I'm not big on vegetables in my fried rice, but peas are a good compromise. They add color, and they don't leach into the rest of the ingredients. Use cooked, drained peas.

Carrots: I don't dig on carrots at all, in any form. But in small cubes, they add color and texture. And I will begrudgingly allow you do add them. Just use the frozen ones that come with peas. Sigh.

Iceburg Lettuce: this is the thing that makes everyone do a double-take. Iceburg lettuce is actually quite popular in China as a cooked vegetable. I know. Gross. But when you shred it and throw some some into your fried rice right before you add the rice, it just works. You just have to take this on faith.

Don't ever let me catch you adding any of the following to your fried rice. Ever.

Onions: I love onions, and I add them to everything. But they ruin fried rice. Too much flavor intensity, and just a horrible texture pairing with properly seared rice. There is one exception to this: Japanese fried rice. Japanese fried rice has finely chopped onions, ultra finely chopped carrots, sesame butter and egg. And in that configuration only, it is quite irresistable.

Bean Sprouts: It's so easy to throw beansprouts in any stir fry and call it Chinese. I can live with that. But when I see a bean sprout in my fried rice, I drag it into the street and curb stomp it. They taste horrible and they ruin the aesthetic of everything being roughly the same size.

Garlic: Like onions, I love garlic and will gladly put it in anything. But like onions, they overpower fried rice and should not be allowed anywhere near it. The exception here is Filipino Garlic Fried Rice. For that, you just brown chopped garlic in a wok, add rice, and fry it. So good. It works because garlic is the only ingredient.

Soy Sauce, in excess: Some people like to finish their fried rice with soy sauce and a bit of butter. I will let it go for now, but this manifesto takes the official position that it detracts from the fried rice because you are adding moisture, as well as darkening the entire dish. Moisture is the enemy. And dark fried rice just takes me back to horrible Chinese restuarants from the 70's and 80's that existed to dupe Americans into thinking that Chinese people add flourescent red sauce and pineapples to everything, and eat salty, dark, tasteless fried rice. With bean sprouts. That's all soy sauce's fault. But if you must, I will grandfather that in. And I do it sometimes, as well, but only to add a teensy bit of flavor. Soy sauce is not a coloring agent! Your salt balance should come from the eggs, the meat and salt to taste at the end.

Ginger: Ordinarily, I would not even list this ingredient. It would be like stating that you should never add maple syrup to fried rice. However, this past weekend, I happened to dine at a very popular Bay Area Chinese restaurant owned by a famous chef from China. He put ginger in his fried rice and I took my disdain public via Twitter. I don't care if this ignites an internet war with established chefs. He is dead wrong. Ginger in fried rice is an abomination. I don't care how many heads of state you have cooked for. Maybe you'd still cook for them if you didn't serve them fried rice with ginger in it.

Any vegetable not listed above: You want vegetables? Make a salad.

Tofu: Ninja, please.

Technique

Remember, this all happens in one fluid motion. No pauses, no hesitation. An important key to epic fried rice is the order in which these steps occur, so stay with the program.

1) Heat your wok until it smokes.

2) Add enough oil (canola or vegetable oil) so that when you add beaten egg to it, the egg will kind of float in the oil.

3) Add the beaten egg. Let it sit in the oil for a few seconds and get puffy. Add a generous amount of salt, more so than you would if you were going to eat it as an omlette. At that point it will be brown in spots. That's perfect. Flip it, break it up and stir it around. When it's about 80% cooked, remove the egg and place it back in the bowl it came from (you actually want it to swim in the remnants of raw egg from the bowl).

4) Now add your chopped meat. Do not add more oil. You want the fat from the meat to render out. That is where the flavor that melds onto the rice resides. 

5) When the pieces of meat all have a nice sear, add your vegetables, if any (except for scallions). Let them get all coated with the oil/fat. You don't have to sear them, but make sure they get a good coating of oil.

6) All the while, make sure everything is in constant, even violent, motion. I have learned to love that metal-on-metal scraping sound that tells you "you're doing it right." Bonus points for sparks.

7) Add the scallions and get even more violent with the agitating of ingredients. You want it mixed real well. Once they are seared and shiny, but not limp, add the rice. This is a critical step. Too undercooked, and the scallion will be too pungent. Too overcooked, and the scallion will shrivel and pretty much disappear.

8) Now add your rice. Once it's in the wok, break it up as quickly as possible. Your goal is threefold: separate all the grains, get every piece seared, and pump as much air into the collective rice as possible. To do this, you've got to press the clump of rice into the pan with the back of your spatula. If your rice is dry enough, this will separate all the grains. If your rice is too wet, it will begin to get sticky and glutinous. That is the death of any fried rice. If you reach that stage, then it's game over, no coin return. Go back to Panda Express and get a double order of Orange Chicken with their lame ass fried rice that's at least better than the travesty of Chinese cuisine wallowing in your wok.

9) If your rice is dry enough and it separates, then scoop it constantly to get as much air into the mixture as possible. Air replaces moisture. Air is your friend. Moisture is the enemy. Keep it moving. Always keep it moving. Fast and furious. Like this picture. No camera lens should be able to capture your spatula. Be the blur.

10) Once you've gotten the rice properly separated and seared, you are now ready to add the egg back in. Dump the egg back in the wok and immediately lower the heat. You are done cooking. Your goal now is to break up the egg and integrate the pieces into the fried rice. The residual heat will cook the rest of the egg to perfect.

11) Salt to taste. If you insist, you can finish it with a little bit of soy sauce and butter. While it tastes ok, it just kills any semblance of authenticy, and I will cry a little for you. You may have noticed soy sauce in my ingredient picture above. That was for the Japanese fried rice I made that day, along with the Chinese fried rice. Soy sauce and butter finishes Japanese fried rice quite nicely.

12) Enjoy the adoration of the people.

I know there's more to my lifetime of fried rice experience that I have left out, and I could probably write a book on this subject alone. So, feel free to ask me anything fried rice related in the comments below and I will answer them within the comments.

Now go forth and sear for the people!

 

You put your success in the box

The moving trucks roll up to our driveway in 90 minutes. But this little quickie deserves mention...

When I carved out this little space of mine on the internet nearly five years ago, I didn't have too many expectations. I had never read a blog before. I figured this was little more than a glorified MySpace page. Then one day I discovered I had 13 subscribers. I was ballin!! And with that, came big dreams.

One of them was to get free Cheez-Its. Shoot for the stars, baby.

Two days ago, we finally got the keys to the new house. As we walked up to the front door, I noticed a box waiting for me. It was addressed to BusyDad and it was from a PR company representing a certain thing that I love.

Disclosure: I spent my own money on the paper towels, Craftsman toolbox and granite countertops.The best thing about success? You can define it any way you damn well please.

Quid Pro Quo: Cheez-It is running a “Vote for the Top Cheese” election, visit www.Facebook.com/cheezit. Voting ends April 5, 2012. White Cheddar always gets my vote, for anything.

Put an egg on it

Due to paperwork delays, red tape and general bureaucratic lethargy, we still haven't gotten the keys to our new home (in case you missed it, we recently relocated from Los Angeles to deep within the suburban depths of Northern California). Luckily, my buddy also lives in town so we've been crashing at his place for the past two weeks. This is the same friend who renovated our old house. The same friend whose old house we also crashed at while all that remodeling took place. Yeah, we follow him around the country and he totally loves us. Insert sacrasm where appropriate.

Since we're only here temporarily, we've been eating on the fly, which means tons of pizza, Cheez-Its and Panda Express. But living out of the freezer isn't entirely a bad thing. Especially when you're a Zatarain's Krewe member and your mission this month is to play with Zatarain's "Meals for Two" frozen entrees.

Zatarain's recently tracked me down at my friend's house and left a box of frozen goodies. Not one to back down from a creative cooking challenge, I would usually have done something absurdly epic with them by now. However, since I don't know my way around my friend's kitchen, I'm going to save that for a post later this week when I can break-in my own new kitchen.

So for now, I just wanted to say...

When you're too tired to fry up a skillet of bacon...

When you can't find all the mixing bowls to make pancakes...

When you want something more substantial than cereal...

When you haven't yet figured out where the McDonald's in your new town is...

Grab whatever you can...

Zatarain's Beef and Mushroom Pasta. Not just for dinner anymore.

AND PUT AN EGG ON IT.

Anything is breakfast when you pair it with runny yolk.  

Disclosure: it was friggin good. I ate all of the pasta, even though it's for two. And my kids looked at me weird.

More serious disclosure: Zatarain's sent me those for free. I'm a paid ambassador. After this post, I'm not so sure.

Ok, this time for real: this pasta was so easy to cook. I dumped it frozen into a pot. After 10 minutes and a few stirs, it was done. The beef was surprisingly tender. The sauce was wicked tasty. I'm not just saying that. Try some for yourself, and if you disagree, I will fight you in the Thunderdome.

Movement

Every parent has that benchmark with which they measure their day-to-day success as a mom or dad. For some, it's a successful nap. For others, it could be five servings of vegetables. For me, it's pooping.

If it were up to me, age would be a factor of poop, not years. Is your child 3 years old? No, he's 1,345 poops old. Time is nothing but an arbitrary man-made unit that reflects nothing of significance. Who cares when the sun came up last? What I want to know is when did you poop last? One poop cycle is like one stroke of an engine. Fuel enters, it's consumed, then the waste product is expelled. One poop equals one round of being a functioning human being. For both my kids, I could never relax for the day until they pooped. A successful poop meant that I was fulfilling my responsibility of keeping my offspring functioning properly as human organisms. It meant I earned another first down in the game of life.

"Look, Fury grew his first tooth!"

"That's great! By the way, did he poop yet?"

* * * *

By the time the moving vans rolled up to our house 10 days ago, everything was boxed up and ready to go. While leaving Los Angeles was something I promised myself I'd do as soon as I had kids, the act of selling our house and buying a new one in a small farm town six hours north took 9.5 years of procrastination and merely two weeks of execution.

Logistically, everything was perfect. Sudden, but perfect.

Who are you guys and what have you done to my room?

I don't know about you, but I'm gonna get every last minute of Minecraft in before they drag me outThe movers showed up by 10 am and got to work wrapping all the furniture. Our cars were packed with everything we needed for the drive up, we had exchanged goodbyes with our friends, sent out change of address cards, and in a matter of a few short hours, we'd be pulling out of our driveway for the last time.

"Did Lessi poop yet?"

No, she hadn't. She hadn't pooped the day before, either. And with each dolly-load up the truck ramp, visions of an agonizing 6.5 hour constipated upstate trek alternated with doomsday scenarios of Lessi filling her diaper with mega poop somewhere in the middle of the California desert miles away from the closest Koala Bare Kare diaper changing station. This was not going to be my first memory of the first move that either of my children would ever remember.

"Lessi... poo poo?"

"Nnnnno!"

"Poo poo time?"

"No poo poo."

 Please, baby. Please just poop!

The house was emptying fast, and my baby was doing the opposite. With nothing left in the house but some of the larger furniture items, the team foreman had me sign some final paperwork and assured me we could head out and let them finish the rest. It was 2pm. Exactly when I had originally planned on leaving.

Lessi munched on some Cheez-Its, and we didn't leave. I busied myself with taping random boxes shut, watching--hoping--for the "poop face." Then around 2:30, Lessi strolled over to the bathroom and stood next to the toilet. 

"Poo poo."

I sat her down triumpantly on that toilet for what would be the last t--

plink...

"All done!"

That's it? A lamb's pooplet? Baby girl, that is not a day and a half's worth. You owe me!

Back to more random box taping. And three more futile poop attempts. Lessi likes to say "all done" and I'm guessing that seeing her dad plead with her to poop so we could move to our new home also amused her.

Then around 3pm, I heard quiet. The quiet that a toddler makes when she needs to focus. The quiet accompanied by the look of concentration. The poop face.

I swooped Lessi up and sat her on the toilet, but this time, I had to make her stay. The big one was on its way and I wasn't going to take an empty "all done" for an answer. Lessi isn't fond of sitting on toilets and the only way to make her stay on one is to distract her with objects. But everything was boxed up! Everything but one little ceramic bird that somehow managed to escape every wave of packing frenzy that swept through the house over the past three days. A bird that my mom got us in China. A very breakable, kind of sentimental bird. A bird that could save the day.

I gingerly picked up the bird and placed it in my daughter's hand. I tried to keep my hands under the bird as Lessi played with it, but since the baby toilet seat adapter was long packed, I had to keep both hands on Lessi so she wouldn't fall in. The bird was in fate's hands.

Not two minutes after I gave Lessi that ceramic bird, I watched in slow motion as that bird tumbled out of Lessi's hands and shatter into tiny shards of porcelain as her little gastrointestinal system focused all its energy on doing what it was born to do.

Movement happened.

And the next round began.

The time I painted my room with Frosted Flakes and bile

One random night in second grade, I was lying in my bed watching TV. I was on the tail end of the flu, and my dad was sitting on the couch in my room to make sure I was ok. I know it sounds like my second grade bedroom was all pimped out because I had a TV and a couch, but this was a hand-me-down black and white we got from a relative, and the couch was the one we had for ages before getting new furniture. I also know I don't have to justify my childhood socio-economic status with you. I just do these things anyway.

As the night wore on, the queasiness in my stomach gave way to hunger.

"Dad, I'm hungry. I want Frosted Flakes."

"No, too heavy."

"But dad, I want some!"

"Ok, ok."

My dad sure was the best.

Few things ever tasted as good as that bowl of Frosted Flakes, each heaping spoonful a mouthplosion of sugary, crunchy, just-enough-soggy corn goodness followed by a cold, creamy, sugary whole milk chaser. I polished off that bowl before the weatherman could finish his 3-day forecast (I also watched news as a youngster because I had to keep up on the Iranian Hostage Crisis. I know I don't have to justify my childhood media preferences with you. I just do these things anyway). With hunger pangs abated, I settled into the inevitable slumber that would follow. My body, however, wasn't intent on the world "settle." In fact, the opposite happened.

"Dad?"

"Hmm?"

"I don't feel well..."

"I told y---"

Then this happened:

Dramatic re-creation from actual eventsI learned a few things that day:

1) If you put your hand to your mouth to block puke, the puke always wins.

2) When you decrease the space from which liquid is expelled with something like a hand, you increase its exit pressure, and therefore its velocity and trajectory. This works to your advantage with garden hoses. This works to your disadvantage when you are trying not to paint your bedroom walls with vomit.

3) When you've reached the point of no return, don't move your head from side to side in a desperate attempt to find something to puke in. It only results in more wall, furniture, bookshelf, desk and old black and white television set coverage.

4) My dad was the nicest dad ever. He just got up, got a roll of paper towels, and cleaned up my Frosted Flake room motif. And we never spoke of it again.

5) Listen to your dad.

As a member of the Vicks Blogger Brigade, my job is to entertain and enlighten you with my personal stories related to being sick (and getting better), and conceptually tie them in with the awesomeness of Vicks. I really hope Vicks appreciates that I have now forever tied Frosted Flake puke with NyQuil in your mind. Turns out, the awesomeness is me.

To make up for it, I will try to give you something back. How about a Vicks Cool Moisture Humidifier and a "Feel Better Kit" that includes VapoRub, DayQuil, NyQuil, and a mess of Vicks Nature Fusion products? I'll even make it easy for you. Just go to the Vicks Facebook page and answer the question that's on their wall:

"Fill in the blank: I know I’m getting better when I can finally smell ______."

Then come back here and let me know you did it. Just don't write "Frosted Flakes puke" as your answer. Well, you can if you want. That might be kind of amusing. Either way, I'll pick a winner on March 16 at 5pm PST.

Dry ice is da bomb

"Dad, can you buy me some dry ice?"

I blame mobile Twitter for distracting me just enough so that I process the literal aspects of requests, but never their implications until we're halfway committed to them. In this case, in a car on the way to the supermarket.

"Wait. Dry ice is dangerous. What are you planning on doing with it?"

"Othman is going to teach me how to make dry ice bombs."

Othman is our neighbor, and he's a really good kid, and Fury doesn't get to see him all that much because they go to different schools andohmygodBOMBS. Sure glad I caught that one before it got out of control.

"So can I? I need three pounds."

"That sounds dangerous. I will only get you two pounds." Look, we can't always be their best friends when we're looking out for their safety.

We pick up the dry ice and head back home. By the time we pull into the driveway, Othman has already set up what can only be described as a mobile command center. Unless you're a less family-friendly blogger, in which case you'd describe it as something akin to a mobile meth lab.

"Safety first, Fury." I hand him a pair of dishwashing gloves and the face shield from my Dexter costume. Then they get to work. To make dry ice bombs, you need to first chip the dry ice into small pieces.

Then, you drop some of those pieces into warm water, because it's fun and looks wicked cool.

Next, you fill a small bottle halfway with water and dump dry ice chunks into it.

Replace the cap, wait a few seconds, then...

KABOOOOOOOOOM!

I never cuss in front of the kids, but when that bomb went off and rattled everyone's windows within a 300-foot radius? That deserved one. And that's probably what the neighbors peeking out their windows said, too. I'm not kidding about the rattling windows. There are few things in life that exceeded my expectations quite like this dry ice bomb (the breakfast soufflés at Panera Bread are one - if you've never had one, get one now. They're better than this post will ever be). Decibel-wise, the explosion was along the lines of an M-80. And from the looks of what was left of the bottle, it was probably just as powerful. I told them to be careful and if the cops came, just to play dumb. Then I went back inside.

Every few explosions, I'd peek outside to make sure I wasn't going to have to do any tourniqueting or anything. When they ran out of bottles, they moved onto mini-bombs. You know those pods that the trinkets from the supermarket vending machines come in?

Well, they explode quicker than water bottles.

He didn't need that pinky anyway.

Satisfied that the boys pretty much knew what they were doing, I went back inside. Of course, every time I heard a bang I listened carefully to make sure it was followed by laughter, not agony. After about an hour, the boys came back to the house, wet but intact. Fury handed me what was left of the gloves, and I heaved a sigh of relief, knowing that they were now engaging in a much more appropriate activity: a little Call of Duty - Modern Warfare 3.    

Just emerging from my Zatarain's Food Coma

Sorry it's been a while since my last post. I'm going to go ahead and blame Zatarain's. You may know them as the authority on New-Orleans style foods, with their famous seafood boils, Jambalaya and Gumbo mixes, and of course that Creole mustard that doubles as currency in some parts of the country. I simply know them as the guys who lured me to New Orleans under the guise of immersing me in all things New Orleans, and then clobbered me over the head with one of the best culinary experiences of my life. Jerks. They've ruined all other food for me. As I sit here eating a leftover hot dog from last week, I'm chasing it with a squeeze bottle of Zatarain's Creole mustard, straight up. All it does is bring me back.

It all started with hairnets and safety glasses, like so many other worthwhile activities...

That's me with fellow Zatarain's Krewe Ambassadors Laura (Super Glue Mom), Kristen (Dine and Dish), Rachel (Southern Fairytale) and Steph (Lick My Spoon). Please note that most of my photos were pulled from our collective Zatarain's Flickr Pool because they can all take better pictures than I. We went through a rigorous selection process for this distinguished title that included an assessment of our aptitude for lining up like a bell curve and rocking the game show hands.

Next, Zatarain's gave us a factory tour to show us where all the magic happens. Kind of like MTV Cribs, minus the stripper pole bedroom, and with more cayenne pepper. So much cayenne. I was really disappointed in myself for sneezing so much. That's what we wussy California people get for eating so much avocado.

Then they fed us. It's not so much the fact that they forced us to shovel delicious cauldrons-full of Zatarain's Jambalaya and spicy sausage down our gullets that made this so agonizing, it's that they told us to pace ourselves for the restaurant tour to follow. Jerks!

Because clearly there are some things I'm not good at.

Have you heard of Chef John Besh? He's not only the big daddy of the New Orleans restaurant scene, he's also the Zatarain's spokeschef. I should trademark that term, since I obviously missed the boat on Linsanity. After we indulged in Jambalaya, we visited three of his restaurants. Each one uses Zatarain's products in their signature dishes. Each one contributed to my massive food coma. Each one killed us dead with amazing food. I submit the following as proof:

This was Borgne, our first stop. Chef Besh himself welcomed us with roasted oysters, artichoke stuffed with crabmeat, empanadas stuffed with dirty rice and etc. etc. etc. and beer and cocktails and my mind is fuzzy. All I can say is this man doesn't stand in front of his spread. He presides over it.

I ate two plates of these oysters because everybody was busy taking pictures. You snap, you lose.

I shot pictures of Rachel taking pictures because whatever she shoots will be better than mine anyway.

Then we all took the shot shots.

Then we moved onto Chef Besh's Domenica, an Italian-themed restaurant. To get to the private room we had to go through the kitchen. Goodfellas is one of my favorite movies of all time. YEAH BABY. I snapped a pic of them making fusilli along the way.

All I have to say is CRAB PIZZA and CARBONARA. This crab was cooked in Zatarain's crab boil. It was legit.

Here's some homemade Limoncello, which we all "sampled."

The rest of this post will be shorter, because somehow I can't remember much. I remember the King Cake with actual gold flake on it, though (which, by the way, recently took first place in the NOLA Eats King Cake Tasting Party).

And here's another picture of me taking a picture of Rachel taking a picture.

By the time we made our way over to August, I was barely able to eat. I didn't even bring my camera. I had tapped out by then. The food was incredible, which makes me sad. I took one bite out of the most amazing crabcake-stuffed shrimp and jambalaya stuffed quail and wept silently. I actually could not sleep later that night because all I could think about was how good it was, and how I could not coax another bite into my mouth. I worry about the important things at night. Of course, they had to bring out EVERY DESSERT ON THEIR MENU as a final course. We just passed them around the table on the left hand side, taking a bite out of each as they passed. Which proves the theory that there's always room for a dozen desserts.

The next morning, I was hungry again. We started the day with brunch at the legendary Brennan's. Then we took a tour of New Orleans. A food history tour. Of course.

The day ended with the entire Krewe hanging out with the Zatarain's GM and his family, watching one of the dozens of Mardi Gras parades that turn New Orleans into a massive celebration for two weeks each year. Unlike what we non-NOLA people percieve Mardi Gras to be, based upon pictures our single guy friends send us the media, Mardi Gras is all about simply being infectiously happy with friends, family, food and drink.

When all was said and done, I realized something. As a brand ambassador, I expected this initial immersion trip to be about Zatarain's product line. It wasn't. We sampled the sights, sounds and flavors of New Orleans. We spent time with the Zatarain's family, literally. We took in all New Orleans has to offer. And now we understand. Zatarain's is simply all that stuffed into a colorful little box.

All of those happy faces above are part of the Zatarain's 2012 Ambassador Program. We were compensated for our time, and all opinions are our own. None of the elation was faked.

Adapting

Fury failed his Spanish test last week. As a consequence, we took his screen time away for the weekend (no TV, no computer). This hits him harder than most kids because we have a "no screen time during the weekdays" rule. You can wag a finger at me all you like, but my response will always be "at least I'm not Kim Jong Il," so there. It's so easy being an Asian parent. We have convenient reference points.

This weekend was particularly tragic for Fury because we were taking a road trip up north (did I mention we sold our house and are moving up to Northern CA in March? More on that in a few weeks). On road trips, Fury is allowed to be on the laptop/Nintendo DS/iTouch all he wants without limits, since we're just sitting in the car anyway. He also gets unlimited screen time once we get there because my buddy has a 15 month old baby and no age-appropriate toys for Fury. I guess he picked the wrong week to fail a test.

"But it wasn't a fail, it was a D-"

Oh Fury, in some Asian villages, that gets you banished until you're 18.

So what did Fury do without anything electronic for the entire weekend??

He read books in the car.

He pushed his little sister around in a toddler mobile.

He pushed my friend's kid around in a toddler mobile.

He played catch with me in the yard.

He hit wiffle balls with me in the yard.

He read books at night.

He had conversations.

He had fun.

He adapted.

What to drink when you're sick

We all do it. We all have that one indicator we've designated as the DMZ between the Republic of Healthy Happy and the Commernist Socialist Crappiarchy of Sick. Perhaps it's dry eyes for you, or maybe it's that itch at the back of your throat. Whatever it is, once you cross it, you're in enemy territory, wallowing in a jail cell made of crumpled wads of tissue.

For me, it's the sick sneeze. The sick sneeze isn't like other sneezes. A healthy sneeze hits you hard and quick. It's over and done with, and you go your separate ways. The sick sneeze taunts you all day. First, as a twinge in the dark recesses of your nostrils, then, as the day wears on, it advances to a full-on itch with some heat behind it. This is when my fight begins. If I can fend off the sick sneeze for a full day, I won't get sick. If I give in and sneeze, the rest of my immune system bounces like dominoes in an Ice Cube video.

I truly believe that I have defeated many a cold, simply by holding off the dreaded sick sneeze. It ain't pretty, but it works.

But despite my best efforts and contortions, sometimes Ice Cube yells "Domino!"and it's not a good day.

When that happens, my first line of defense is booze. Alcohol kills germs, and that's all the science I need. Which reminds me. Way back in the day, an old Japanese kickboxing coach of mine gave me this recipe for a cold:

  • Some Sake
  • A raw egg
  • Some sugar

I think the raw egg protein helps to strengthen your immune system while the sugar kick starts it. The sake helps you not care that it doesn't work.

I did some Googling today, and it turns out the above is really a legit traditional Japanese natural cold remedy called Tamagozake. While some of you may run and try it because, hey, an excuse to drink (don't tell me I don't know you guys), some of you may dig the natural aspect of it, but not the complications from salmonella. For that, may I suggest the best of both worlds:

Nature Fusion is a line on Vicks products that combines good stuff from nature, like honey, with the stuff in medicine that you can't pronounce but works like a charm to get you back on your feet. Nature Fusion products also contain no alcohol (I like mine on the side anyway) and no gluten (if you must have your gluten, you can always dip some foccacia in it). I like this concept a lot, because it's like the Robocop of over-the-counter cold remedies. Nature and science, rolled into one badass cure for all evils. 

In the spirit of disclosure, I must tell you that I haven't yet tried it, so I cannot vouch for how well it works. However, I do have some sitting in the medicine cabinet for the next time I lose the sick sneeze battle, which won't be for a while. I love being on the Vicks Blogger Brigade and all, but I love not being sick more. Plus, I've been working on new faces.

Bugs are food, not friends

I had this whole long intro written for this video, but I decided to scrap it. One simply cannot introduce a video of himself sampling a bug platter with any degree of eloquence or justification. This was filmed when MrLady and I attended a China-North America business summit in Harbin, China this past September. Well, this, was filmed at a beer garden while off the clock. They serve normal food at the summit.

So, SOPA and PIPA walk into this bar

And they ruin the internet.

They also make Lunchboxdaily really boring.

We finally get bi-partisan support on something and it's THIS? I say let the parties go back to bickering, and let us make fun of it all on the internet.

I'm not technically savvy enough to shut my site down for a day in protest of SOPA/PIPA, but I can send you to a site where you can call your local representatives to stop this nonsense.