The Mission Statement

the Exploded View believes the world is a pretty interesting place, and worth a closer look. Content will be refined in the coming weeks to focus more on Travel and Photography, with some unavoidable tangential rambling.

Please pardon our dust.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Escape to Mt. Wilson; Announcing the 11th Annual (Not Counting Those 2 Years) Johnsons' Crawfish Burl

March turned out to be a slow month for the View, as beaucoup overtime and auto repairs meant having to temporarily suspend all long-distance day trips. Fortunately for us, Los Angeles is a very big city, and in every very big city, there are places to go and things to do. For the Culture Hungry, the LACMA, MOCA, and Getty Museums offer up inexpensive art exhibits that can absorb entire weekends; the Starry Eyed can photograph their way down Hollywood Boulevard and hopscotch along their favorite film and TV personalities on the Walk of Fame; the Morbidly Curious can visit the crunchy-haired shopping addicts on Rodeo Drive and the life-size He-man action figures flexing plasticy pecs on Muscle Beach; and the People Watchers can satisfy their appetites… pretty much anywhere.

But the cracked streets and the almost palpable grit and the throngs of ego-mad Angelenos can start to feel a little close after a while, and when the city life gets too busy it’s comforting to know that there are also interesting places within (and just without) the city limits where a body can still find some peace, and get a dose of clean air and sunshine in the bargain.


Nestled in the San Gabriel Mountains just north of Burbank, and accessible from the Angeles Forest Highway/California State Road 2, the semi-famous Mt. Wilson is home to a celestial observatory (closed to the public during the fall and winter months), as well as numerous bike- and foot-paths that wind around its base and up to its peak. The observatory is a little known and sparsely populated tourist destination, so there are no large crowds to contend with.


(don’t all rush out at once… you’ll ruin the effect.)

Scant hours before our beloved Toyota slipped into its tragic coma, we were lucky enough to spend a clear Saturday morning scrambling around the hiking trails on Mt. Wilson. This particular Saturday came after a weekend rain, and the LA haze gave way to a view extending all the way out to the wide open Pacific. The height of Mt. Wilson seems perfectly balanced so that the air cools the skin as the sun warms the blood, and fresh powder dresses the shaded areas even into March and April, when the temperature in the city below begins to rise. In a year and a month of Los Angeles residency, it is far and away our favorite spot for a day of meditation and relaxation, followed in close second by the highway overlook just past the start of the Angeles Crest, which offers a near perfect place to sit, read, and enjoy a cooler full of what-have-you in the summer sun.

Photo by Neal Tyler.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Golden Gate City Gets a Fond Remembrance; The Real San Francisco Treat is a Zoogleal Mat's 2-Week-Old Bathwater.

1967's Summer of Love brought America's unwashed, peace-loving masses down on the city of San Francisco in an unprecedented, spaced-out frenzy of painted VW buses and acoustic guitars. Evolved from the Beat movement of the Fifties, these starry-eyed flower children, charmed by Scott McKenzie's seminal Hippie anthem, were drawn from cities across the nation to the loose, laid-back energy of Haight-Ashbury, where they gathered en masse in search of life's existential bounty - brotherly love; sexual freedom; the truth of our shared reality; the divine brownie recipe.

Nearly four decades later, fresh from university and with a head full of bleeding-heart liberal beans, this correspondent packed his rucksack with camera and toothbrush, cocked a daisy into a wacky, rebellious hairstyle, and made his own pilgrimage to The City. The Exploded View today looks back at the time he spent there, his impressions of the place, and his introduction to the strange biological process that transforms ordinary iced tea into a hip and effervescent health drink that smells of feet.


All children who go barefoot in the summer and refuse to bathe know the love of the Bohemian lifestyle. There is an epic poem in the late afternoon that makes miniature anarchists of us. Seduced by the smell of the grass and the wiles of kickball, we rebel against the authority of our Parents. We shun oppressive institutions like Dinnertime, and we stay up long past the hour of our curfew.

The ones that never grow out of it find their way to cities like this one. Seattle is another. Boston maybe slightly less so. San Francisco is an urban carnival for grown-up kids. The bright lights dazzle the eyes as you whip up and down and through hairpin turns along the city streets, resulting in an almost overwhelmingly cheery urge to barf. There are parades and festivals for every day of the week, with citizens always in costume. There's a pleasantly infectious feeling of self-satisfied hipness that floats around; just breathing it in makes you feel so cool you can barely stand yourself. There's nothing smug in it (which is not to say that no smug people live there - smug people live everywhere; a tragic fact of life), but a special kind of innocent charm.

It may be true that San Francisco has been playing "house" since the death of the hippie renaissance, but it still feels like a place for interesting ideas. A place for soy chorizo and choose-your-own-adventure graffiti. A place for secondhand books, citywide pillowfights, and good music by bands you've never heard of with ironic names like Our Band Sucks. It's a place you might expect to be intrigued rather than revolted when the dear friend with whom you're staying offers you a glass of foul-smelling, muddy-looking tea out of a jar with an enormous yeasty beast floating in it.


Kombucha is its name, and it's the reason this blog entry is so woefully late. It is a lightly carbonated beverage fermented with a special bacterial culture that, when brewed properly, can be easily mistaken by guests as a tucked-away pile of funky gym socks. HOW EXCITING, we can hear you all saying, BREW ME UP A BATCH OF BACTERIAL STINK-TEA PLEASE. And we understand why you feel the need to speak in sarcastic Caps. We were skeptical ourselves at first. But if you can make it successfully past the vinegary odor, there are delicious and healthful times to be had. And on top of that, it's simple, inexpensive, and fun to brew.

It starts with a gallon glass jar (glass works best - anything metal or plastic will corrode and introduce potentially hazardous material into the solution) and a SCOBY. The SCOBY - shortened from Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast - is easily obtainable on the internet or through Craigslist (sketchy?) and looks something like a jellyfish pancake. Alternatively, you can grow your own SCOBY mother colony from premade consumer Kombucha, which is what we've chosen to do.

There are dozens of websites with instructions for brewing your own Kombucha, illustrating all the hazards and pitfalls and suggesting different tweaks, so we won't take you step by step. The basic idea is to brew a large amount of sweetened organic tea and add the colony to it, allowing it to ferment over the course of two weeks. In our case, since the colony will have to grow from the particulate remnants in a bottle of ready-made Kombucha, it will likely take closer to 3-4 weeks.

Once the first batch has matured, the drink can be bottled and refrigerated or drunk straight from the jar over ice, and a new batch of tea can be added over the colony to begin brewing another gallon. With each successive batch, new layers grow on the colony, which can eventually be peeled off and added to other jars for brewing or given away to friends (AS HORRIFYING GIFTS!)

It took us long enough in the planning, but we've finally gotten around to brewing this batch, and now we're just waiting for the slimy little creep to materialize.

anybody in there?

Keep an eye on the right sidebar for periodic updates on the health status of our hilarious new pet. She will be called Scheherazade. You can think of her as the grossest and most boring (but ultimately delicious!) Neopet ever.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Exploded View v. the Allosaurus; the Favorite English Sentence; Flash Fiction; Jícama

ATTN: Scientific Community - your textbooks have it all wrong.

New reader, I suggest you open your printed encyclopedia to the entry describing the fearsome family Allosauridae - second cousin to the Tyrannosaur; predator during the late Jurassic and early Cretaceous periods - and locate the word “extinct.” Now, draw your trusty wide nib Sharpie from its low-slung holster and strike it out wherever it appears. Don’t be coy. You’re performing a much-needed public service.

Archaeologists may be shocked to learn that at least one specimen of deadly Allosaurus still lives, stalking the sweetly dreaming citizens of North Hollywood. Beware. This Exploded View correspondent was menaced and would certainly have been thoroughly chewed before waking were it not for the heroic appearance of Baxter the Rhodesian Ridgeback mix, and the sudden and opportune arrival of a larger and more satisfying meal - an escaped albino circus pony.

On our Scale of Peculiarity, a dream of this caliber ranks medium-high, just above "Joss Whedon invited me to visit his home, which was a Barnes & Noble," but well below the Dali-Installation-esque "Urinating Into a Toilet Bowl Full of Fire Ants." An attempt to assign meaning to any dream above a medium-low rating is likely to cause grievous mental injury, and would be ill-advised. We at the View are satisfied for the time being that sometimes an Allosaurus is just an Allosaurus, but will be avoiding all contact with largish reptiles until further notice, as a precautionary measure.


For the dreamer of the Exceptionally Abnormal still looking for insight into their own queer mental processes, I recommend an altogether different activity.


Consider: what is your favorite sentence in the English language? Don't panic if you don't have one prepared. In fact, it serves the exercise better if you don't.

The question was introduced to writers at the View yesterday afternoon, and swallowed the bulk of the evening's productivity in its impressive gravity. By what criteria should the sentence be judged? How will you weight raw craftsmanship? Utility? Aesthetics? Will you make a selection from a favorite book? A poem? Something well-known, or written by yourself? Will your sentence be long or short? Does length really matter? If you think so, what does that say about you as a person? Will taking these things into account affect the validity of your final choice? And how long before you exhaust yourself with these and other seemingly important questions?

In the end, we came down on the side of the pleasantly bizarre. A photo caption from a story run on the BBC News website in August 2007 about a Double Nosed Andean Tiger Hound discovered in Bolivia reads:

Its hinted-at subject is bewitching. It contains a number of agreeable sounds and a no-nonsense rhythm. And at the end of the day, it's all about a dog with two noses.

Running a close second is Ernest Hemingway's famous single sentence Flash Fiction...

... which is simple and brilliant.


And on the international culinary side of simple and brilliant, we have...

Jícama! [hee-kah-muh]

The Mexican turnip. The Chinese potato. The Yam Bean.

Low calorie, low sodium, and near-as zero fat. It's available all year, and in most well-stocked groceries and health-food stores (peak season is roughly November through May). Like tofu, jícama assumes the flavors of the foods you cook it with, so it works well in soups and stir fries. It also makes a healthy snack on its own, and tastes a little like a marriage between a fairly bland apple and a water chestnut. Look for dry, heavy tubers that are firm to the touch and light on the skin blemishes.
  • Remove the root and peel away the tough, brown skin, then slice thin as you would an apple.
  • Lay slices out on your serving dish however you like and squeeze out a quarter wedge of lemon or lime over the top.
  • Add salt or fresh pepper to taste, and chili powder or pico de gallo if you like that sort of thing.
They're ugly as sin, but relatively inexpensive at 1 and change per pound and will keep for up to a month when stored in a cool, dry place. For an entertaining bonus when serving snackable jícama for company, show your guests the raw tuber beforehand, and jubilantly exclaim that you will be making them eat it. Laugh maniacally.


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