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Dan Wheldon: 1978-2011

On October 16, in the neverending waltz between man and machine, control and reckless abandon, speed and inertia, motorsport claimed its most recent life in Dan Wheldon, who died of injuries suffered while racing in an IndyCar race at Las Vegas.  He was 33.

Wheldon made his mark in motorsport entirely during his time as a driver in the IndyCar series, winning the Indianapolis 500 and Indycar season championship in 2005.  In 2007, his name entered the F1 sphere when he was offered a reserve driver role with the Sauber BMW team.  Wheldon ultimately passed because he wasn’t assured the opportunity to drive regularly for Sauber, and he subseuqently earlier this year won the Indy 500 for the second time.

The last time a driver of his stature died in a race was in 2001 when the legendary Dale Earnhardt died of injuries suffered racing in the Daytona 500.  Earnhardt’s death sparked a slew of safety changes to NASCAR, among them the proliferation of energy absorbing crash barriers, the use of the HANS(Head and Neck Safety) device, and more stringent standards on car design.  At first some of the changes were met with resistance ironically from the drivers, but eventually they acknowledged that it was for their own benefit that the changes had to be made.  NASCAR’s post-Earnhardt era response to improving safety mirrored F1’s response to the death of Ayrton Senna, and both racing leagues have flourished since, in large part because the improvements in safety allowed the respective leagues to focus on improving the entertainment quality of their product.

Wheldon’s death, unlike Senna’s and Earnhardt’s, can only be attributed to a freak chain of events that was practically impossible to avoid.  IndyCar racing, with close quarters wheel to wheel racing at high speed oval tracks, makes it inherently more dangerous than F1 or NASCAR.  In F1 the cars are similar to Indy cars with their open cockpit design, but the drivers and cars in F1 spend a significant amount of time on the track separated from each other by multiple car lengths, which makes the likelihood of contact with another car less frequent.  In NASCAR the racing is similar to IndyCar, with cars traveling in close quarters at high speeds, but the “car” like design of NASCAR cars makes them less susceptible to losing control in the event of contact with another car, and the drivers are in completely enclosed in their cars, providing them additional protection in the event of a crash.

A few months ago I wrote about whether the racing in F1 was too safe, and if it was negatively affecting the entertainment product on track.  The conclusion I came to was that safety was essential and necessary if motorsport wanted to progress as a viable sport in the future.  Wheldon’s death affirms that auto racing is one of the most extreme sports in the world, and despite every effort to improve safety, danger will always be an inherent element in motorsport.  Wheldon was a true racer, an adrenaline junkie, a thrill seeker.  Sadly for him in his pursuit of speed and glory he made the ultimate sacrifice, and the harsh reality is he will not be the last to do so.  But in the end he made his mark, and he will never be forgotten for as long as motorsport continues to live on.

MP

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One Plate at a Time: Celebrating Cinco de Mayo

Feliz Cinco de Mayo!  Oh, Cinco de Mayo, if you only you were a real and authentic holiday of Mexican culture, and not some American commercial concoction.  Before I say anymore, I acknowledge the historical significance of the Battle of Puebla is very limited in Mexico’s historical timeline in becoming a sovereign state, and that Cinco de Mayo’s cultural proliferation as an American holiday is a reflection of our collective ignorance.  The ugly truth is most, if not all, Americans love you, including myself. But who doesn’t love Cinco de Mayo?!  Think about it, along with St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween, those three days are truly some of the most fun and festive holidays on the calendar.  Who doesn’t love the sound of a mariachi band playing, the smell of churros in the air, and the sight of sombrero-donning gringos who’ve had one too many Tecates?

Rick Bayless is at the moment my favorite chef/personality in the culinary arts.  His show on PBS, Mexico: One Plate at a Time, based on his excellent cookbook of the same name, is now in its seventh season.  Bayless is more or less the primary authority on the incorporation of classic Mexican flavors and ingredients into modern American cuisine.  The show is primarily set in Bayless’ backyard in his suburban Chicago home, and every episode feels like a picnic with old Uncle Rick.  Here’s a clip of him prepping some rib eye steaks with a roasted serrano pepper marinade.

I don’t know about you, but watching that makes me want to go go out and buy a Kalamazoo hybrid outdoor grill and start getting my grill on.  So in homage to one of my culinary idols and one of my favorite days in the spring season, I submit my first recipe ever:

Grilled Marinated Flank Steak Tacos with Black Bean Soup, Chips and Guacamole, and Dodger Blue Margaritas (serves 4 to 6)

Ingredients:

Flank Steak & Marinade:
1 (2 to 3 pound) flank steak
1 large red onion, sliced
1/4 cup olive or canola oil
1/8 cup lime juice
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 cup chopped cilantro

Guacamole:
4 avocados
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 serrano pepper, minced with seeds
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 to 3 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Black Bean Soup:
1 (16 oz) can of canned black beans or 8 oz of dried black beans
16 oz chicken stock
1/2 small red onion, minced
1 oz cotija cheese
1 tsp cumin
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

Chips:
canola oil to fry
corn tortillas
kosher salt

Margaritas:
16 oz tequila(preferably a reposado like Cazadores, so please, no Jose Cuervo silver)
8 oz blue curacao
8 oz fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon sugar

Directions:

Begin by prepping the marinade in a small bowl, and place the steak and sliced onions into a sealable plastic bag.  Pour the marinade into the bag, and then seal it while removing any large air bubbles.  Place the bag in the refrigerator for up to several hours until ready to grill.

For the chips, preheat enough canola oil to 375 degrees in a large pot or saucepan so that it’s several inches deep, or use a deep fryer if available.  Cut the corn tortillas into wedges and fry them in the oil for five minutes or until golden brown and crispy.  Drain the chips of excess oil and season while still hot with salt.

For the black bean soup, if using dried black beans soak in water for an hour, and then boil in water until soft, for up to two hours.  To save time, use canned black beans instead and place into a medium pot.  Add the chicken stock, onion, cumin, and garlic to the beans and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes.

While the soup simmers, prep the guacamole by halving the avocados, removing the flesh, and adding the remaining ingredients into a bowl.  Mix until the guacamole is smooth yet slightly chunky in texture.

Preheat the grill to high heat, sprinkle the steak aggressively with salt and pepper, and grill for 4 to 6 minutes on each side until cooked to desired doneness(For medium rare, grill about 9 minutes total, look and listen for telltale signs of blood leaving the steak).  For the onions, grill until slightly caramelized, for about 5-7 minutes.  Rest the steak and onions on a cutting board or serving dish for at least five minutes before slicing and serving.

If available, use a stick blender to blend the soup mixture, if not, place soup mix into a stand blender and pulse for several seconds.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Top with cotija cheese.

For the tacos, heat the corn or flour tortillas on the grill or on a pan, and slice the steak across the grain into strips.  Serve with grilled onions, additional cilantro, and sour cream if desired.  Serve with the soup and chips and guacamole.

For the margaritas, mix all the ingredients in a pitcher with ice, serve with glasses rimmed with salt if desired.

That’s it, there you have it, my favorite meal for one of my favorite holidays not just in the month of May, but the entire year.  I’ve made this recipe a number of times, and it’s always been a crowd pleaser.  And the best part is, it’s relatively easy to extrapolate the recipe for a larger group of people.  So whatever it is you plan on doing for Cinco de Mayo: if you’re like me and have the time, fire up the grill and sit back and enjoy the beautiful spring weather; Or if you don’t the time or luxury because of work, grab some tacos and a beer, and find a shady spot outside; Just be thankful that the Mexican army defeated the French at Puebla on this fateful day back in 1862, cuz goddamit, it’s the American Way.

MP

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Drunken St. Patrick’s Day Revelation

So I was walking home earlier tonight after a long day of studying…

Kidding!  It’s St. Patty’s day, and the only appropriate thing to do today is drink bourbon out of a flask and Guinness out of a tap, which is exactly what happened, and it was glorious.  But I really did have to walk home at some point, and with my trusty iPhone playing, I marched home to the beat of my favorite track in the whole wide world.  Now I don’t necessarily have a favorite band, but I do have a favorite song, and it’s When The Levee Breaks by Led Zeppelin, who is definitely somewhere on my top 5 list.  Earlier today I discovered that an alternate version of WTLB was recorded, but never officially released, and my mind was completely blown away.  Imagine growing up your whole life with a best friend, only to find out he/she had an identical twin that you never met.  How would you react?  That’s kind of what I experienced today, and I know it’s not exactly the same thing, but you get the idea.  I must have listened to the alternate version at least ten times before the reality of the situation sunk in.  And then I realized none of this really matters, what’s important is that I was entertained, which is the greatest gift that art can give.   Now you could say that art is meant to inspire and evoke emotion, but isn’t the truth that we create and observe art to enhance the reality of our own existence?  And isn’t that what entertainment is all about?  Granted this post is just a bunch of drunken rambling, but there is a point to all this.  I submit to you the original version and its long lost twin.  It’s a long track, but it’s seven minutes of pure and unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll.

And now it’s equally awesome man in the mirror…

Can you tell the difference?  The most noticeable aspect is Robert Plant’s vocals, as the lyrics vary between the two, but the essence of the two tracks is one and the same.  The truth is I prefer the original version, but if the alternate version was released in its place, it wouldn’t change my feelings one iota.  I’ve seen Led Zeppelin live, but unfortunately they’ve never played the track live, for several reasons.  The legendary drum beat by John Bonham was recorded at the bottom of a stairwell of all places, hence they slightly muffled sound, the guitar, bass, and harmonica parts were recorded in the studio afterwards, and then finally the vocals on top.  But what makes the song so challenging to recreate is because the track was recorded at double speed, and then slowed down to create the unique swirly echo effect.  The harmonica part was also recorded with the microphone behind Plant, creating the backward echo effect.  And despite the repetitive nature of the drum, guitar, and bass tracks, the song is constantly changing and in flux, as if the whole thing was improvised like a jazz session.  It’s an ambitious piece of absolute virtuoso, and not a day goes by where I don’t listen to it for at least a few minutes.  If you’re not convinced that the song is an audible tour de force, I dare you to listen to the symphonic version created by the good people at the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Time to pass out soon, but it’s safe to say I won’t ever forget St. Patrick’s Day of 2010.

MP

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I know I have yet to write a post on MMA, but don’t fret my readers, I will soon.  Not that it’s related, but my friend Gianluca took this picture recently at a capoeira studio in Santa Monica, and I just wanted to share it with you.  In addition to hopefully one day becoming an entertainment attorney, Gianluca is an aspiring photographer and a prodigious talent in the creative arts (He designed the Maserati Quattroporte, which you can see below).

Bravo!

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The Genesis

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

It’s February 9, 2010, and today represents the beginning of a new chapter in my life as this is my first post on my first blog ever.  I gave an exorbitant amount of thought and consideration as to what I would write about.   What frontier of modern life do I want to delve into and explore deeper?  Sports?  Art?  Music?  Food?  Politics?  Pop culture?  All of the above?  This seem more daunting than I originally thought it would be.  Time to find my happy place and contemplate.

One of my favorite things to do is eat.  One of my mottos in life is I work to live, and I live to eat.  I think all day about what I want to eat for my next meal, and I dream at night about what I want to eat the next day.  I don’t see the world through colors, but through flavors.  Red velvet, blue ginger, bacon chalupa.  In many ways I think of myself as a male version of Julia Child, although as a 5’10” Korean male, I look nothing like her.  Regardless of our physical attributes, I feel as though she is my kindred spirit, a sister from another mother, and not to get all Julie Powell on you, but when I cook, I get the sense she is in the room with me, an invisible hand guiding mine, and that I am not alone.  By the way, how great was Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia?  Foolproof mayonnaise!  Confront the duck!  PAUL!  The only issue I have with writing about food is cooking for me is an escape, and I’m worried that writing about it would feel more like an obligation, which is the last thing I need right now.  Maybe I’ll steal Powell’s idea and work my way through a cookbook and write an occasional post about a recipe that I recreated, and then eventually parlay it into a movie deal.  I think I’ll start with Richard Bayless’ “Mexico – One Plate at a Time.”  Baby steps.

As a former athlete and borderline sports fanatic, it seemed logical that I write on the subject, but a few things deterred me from going down this route.  First of all, which sport(s) would I write about?

Baseball?  Too boring, too antiquated, and way too corrupt.  I’ll leave that to someone who cares enough, enough said.

Football?  Too brutish, too popular, and as someone who never played the game at an organized level besides college intramural and beach flag versions, too foreign in a personal sense, although scoring a touchdown is one of the greatest feelings in all of sport.  But shout out to the Saints, New Orleans, Sean Payton, and Brees & Co. for their first Super Bowl victory.  And special props to Tracy Porter for his ridiculous haircut and equally impressive TAINT(Touchdown After INTerception).  As they say down in Nawlins, Laissez les bons temps rouler, or let the good times roll!  I imagine it must be a shit show down South right now, and if I were MTV, I would send the Jersey Shore kids down there stat!  I’d put three cameras just on Snookie/Snickers/Snuggles to capture all the action(Snooks, look out for that grenade’s left hook!).  On another note, how disappointed were you with the commercials?  I dare you to name your top five favorite clips, if you can remember that many.  All I can remember is a swarm of crappy Doritos commercials, E-Trade babies, and Go-Daddy floozies.  But I do distinctively remember the nerdy yet discreetly hot chick from the U.S. Census ad.  In case you missed it, check it out:

And don’t even get me started on the halftime show!  How boring was The Who?  The stage was impressive visually, but it seemed to have the effect of shifting the focus away from the act and the music, and judging by the band’s performance, I suspect was intentional by design.  And thumbs down to Pete Townshend for not buttoning his shirt’s bottom button(s), his stomach was flopping all over the place as he was doing his windmill strumming.  So not hot.  I submit as evidence Exhibit 1.

My friends and I were all in unanimous agreement that next year’s act should be Jay-Z and Beyonce, or even Lady Gaga, as my friend’s fiance so aptly suggested.  And if you’re not convinced about her universal appeal, I challenge you to watch these clips.

This, my readers, is Lady Gaga, and she is a force to be reckoned with and demands to be seen.  But I digress…

Basketball?  I love the game, it’s FANTASTIC!  But my friend Danny already writes for RealGm.com and covers the Warriors, so that was a closed door, although if I did write on hoops I would cover the league as a whole and not focus primarily on what I believe is the worst team in the league in the Warriors(take that, overzealous Bay Area sports fans!).

Soccer(or futbol)?  Again, I love the sport, I love my Didier Drogba and by default Chelsea, but my friend Charles already writes a blog on Arsenal and his beloved Gunners at goonsofanarchy, and he possesses a wealth of knowledge that puts mine to shame.  But hey, at least my team(and by that I really mean Drogba) trounced the Gunners 2-0 yesterday at Stamford Bridge.  And did you see Drogba’s second goal, which was absolutely world class, not to mention his near free kick hat trick attempt that hit the crossbar?  We are all witnesses.

What about a less popular but equally entertaining(IMO) sport like tennis?  As a former player, there is something about the sport that is poetic yet athletic, graceful yet visceral, but the truth is I now only watch the major tournaments, and my passion for the sport has waned to an extent, so the notion of writing about it feels somewhat disingenuous and unfulfilling.  The sport has entered a new era, the Power era so to speak, and American tennis seems to be in somewhat of a lull, at least on the men’s side.  The Williams’ sisters are a tour de force, and so is Federer, who is the Greatest of All Time, an assertion to which my friend Michael, a Sampras disciple, would vehemently disagree.  But who will take the mantle once their time has passed?  It’s an interesting time in tennis, Russian and Eastern European women have taken over the sport, and on the men’s side it’s pretty wide open, although Andy Murray seems intent on becoming the first English wanker since Fred Perry to win a major tournament in 74 years.  74 years!  You blokes invented the sport, yet you suck at it!

What about motorsport?  Some people consider auto racing to be less of a sport and more of a spectacle, but usually they are speaking from a position of ignorance, and it’s about more than just crashes, burnouts, and loud noises.  In the spirit of Animal Farm, all motorsports are created equal, but some are more equal than others.  NASCAR?  Perhaps the most equal in the sense that everyone drives the same car for the most part, but it also requires the least amount of skill in that they drive predominantly around in circles on oval tracks and therefore just draft behind each other.  NASCAR drivers are the anti-Derek Zoolanders of auto racing, they can only turn left(MAGNUM!).  Personally, I find NASCAR to be an absolute snoozer, but I can see why their fans, and by that I mean hicks and rednecks from the South, find it so appealing, having been to a few races myself.  I mean, who doesn’t love RV’ing, 1&2’ing in port-a-potties, drinking Bud Light & Miller High Lifes and tailgating for an entire weekend? Answer: Me and anyone else who grew up in a city whose name that didn’t end in ville, town, or shack, although I do love beer and tailgating.  Besides, there are other motorsports besides NASCAR that are just as popular and merit consideration(to NASCAR fans: I know that’s crazy talk, you mean there are auto racing circuits in the world?  In the name of the father, son, and Dale Earnhardt, such blasphemy!)  I am getting warmer though.

If you happen to be a fan of motorsport, then you’ve probably heard of Formula One, which is for all intents and purposes the pinnacle of auto racing.  Chances are however, you’ve never watched a Formula One race, but that’s ok, it doesn’t make you a bad person, just a clueless one(JK!).   I don’t blame you for not knowing about F1; it’s predominantly based in Europe, it’s rarely on network TV(Fox does broadcast 3-4 races a year, but it’s primarily on the Speed channel, which isn’t even standard on most cable or satellite carriers), and because of the time zone differences it’s usually on anywhere from 1-7 am on Sunday mornings.  But it’s the ultimate jetsetter pastime: billionaires & millionaires and their posses drinking wine on their yachts in Monaco or luxury boxes in Abu Dhabi, soaking in the sun, sights, and sounds, watching cars go fast, and in general just being fabulous.  And some of the most iconic names in all of motorsport created their legacy in F1; Names like Andretti, Prost, Senna, Schumacher, Hakkinen, and Bernie.  Manufacturers like Ferrari, McLaren, Lotus, Renault, and Red Bull.  It’s a symphony of metal and rubber(although for decades now the cars are made predominantly of carbon fiber), flesh and bone, guts and glory, and it delights all the senses, and stings the nostrils.  Plus, I’ve been following the sport for quite awhile now, so I have enough knowledge and intuition to provide a perspective that I feel would be insightful yet entertaining, educational but not condescending.  Winner, winner, chicken dinner.  And if you’re not convinced, check out a few of these clips:

Are you not entertained?  Ah screw it, I love a good fenderbender as much at the next person, you want it, you got it!

http://www.metacafe.com/watch/47090/formula_1_crash_collection/

Thinking about motorsport led me down another avenue.  What sport is inherently individual in nature yet demands the instruction and guidance of teachers and teammates?  What sport respects and preserves the traditions of the past, yet looks forward to a brave new world to define its foundation and history?  What sport uses terms like warrior, champion, epic, and attrition?  What sport gave us nicknames like the Prodigy, the Carpenter, and the Axe Murderer?   Give up?  Mixed Martial Arts.  Whether you’re a fan or vehemently outspoken against it, MMA is the sport of the future, whether you like it or not.  In some parts of the world the sport has literally and figuratively taken over entire neighborhoods and cities, and it has created not just new traditions, but a way of life.  Many opponents against MMA say it promotes violence, hostility, and a general state of lawlessness.  I believe the exact opposite.  I believe that MMA has given to many a new path towards acceptance and understanding of one’s self and their environment, and it instills a newfound appreciation for life that wasn’t there before.  MMA fosters discipline, respect, and honor, while empowering an individual to live his life as he sees fit.  It is the sport of gladiators and historians, it turns cowards into heroes, and boys into men(and even girls into women now).   Like any other sport, there will also be the bad seeds who will try to poison their opponents with their hatred, mercenaries who care about nothing else but themselves, and it is unfortunate that MMA has given them an outlet to unleash their animosity upon others.  But the beauty of the sport is that like karma, the forces of time, nature, and their own hubris will catch up to them, and eventually they will fall from their false pedestals and disappear like ghosts, and the darkness from their shadows will only be a distant memory and nothing more.  MMA is still in its infancy compared to almost every other sport out there, and that’s one of the reasons it’s so exciting to be a fan right now.  We are entering uncharted territory, and it looks like it’s going to be one hell of a ride.  Here’s just a preview of what you’re missing out on:

So it sounds like I’m starting to define my niche, and I’m pretty happy with where I’m at so far.  I can’t guarantee that every post will be golden, but I can promise that I will be true to myself and my perspective.   Motorsport, MMA, and pop culture all rolled into one, but with a twist.  I can live with that, and hopefully you can too.  As far as the name of the blog goes, I like it, but like everything else in life, it’s a work in progress.  That’s all for now, but this is only the beginning, and it’s about the journey, not the destination.

MP

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