Tuesday, May 26, 2015

hipster cred.

Hipsters are not among the most well-loved groups of people. Grandmas? Yes. Cupcake shop owners? Yes. Kindergarten teachers? Yes.


Hipsters have a bad reputation, what with their frightening beards, super skinny pants, and unnecessary eyewear. Hipsters delight in looking down upon their fellow man, as they have already been there and done that. Your favorite band? Hipsters were over them before they were cool.

As much as I don't want to say this, I think that everyone just might have an inner hipster. Yours doesn't have to be as judgy as the regular variety, but it's there - lurking behind a goofy hat and some ironic tattoos.

Yes: I, too, have an inner hipster. I don't always like to let mine out, but sometimes, it just can't be tamed. How do I know I have said inner hipster? Why, by my hipster cred. Allow me to explain:

hipster cred item #1:
I have never heard an entire Taylor Swift song.
This alone should be moderately impressive, as Taylor Swift is everywhere. What makes me a hipster is that I like to brag about it. Sure, I've heard plenty of bits and pieces, but never an entire song. And I've managed to avoid almost all of her new album. I am sitting at my dining room table at this very moment, trying to think of just what "Shake It Off" sounds like, and the only song I can come up with is the Florence + the Machine song of a similar name ("Shake It Out," which I'm sure is far superior). That's very hipster of me.

hipster cred item #2:
I have never seen an entire episode of Friends.
Item #2 is quite similar to #1, and I am a little braggy about it for the same reasons. Sure, there are many television shows with which I am unfamiliar, but none so widely loved as Friends. Friends has been around for most of my life, and yet, here I am: in the Friends dark. I could tell you bits and pieces of Friends general knowledge, like that Central Perk is a thing. And so is the Rachel haircut. But I couldn't name all six of the Friends friends without cheating. And that is hipster.

hipster cred item #3:
I worked for my college radio station.
A hipster rite of passage. You're allowed - even encouraged - to pass on your snobby musical tastes to others. Speaking of snobby musical tastes...

hipster cred item #4:
I liked the band Of Montreal before you did.
Thankfully, I have since ceased my appreciation for the band Of Montreal. They are a super-weird indie band (who, despite what their name suggests, are NOT from Canada) that want to be David Bowie but just can't hack it. Their albums have titles like Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? I came across Of Montreal in the early 2000s: a while after the band was formed, but an equal while before anyone I knew caught on. I even went to an Of Montreal concert at First Avenue when I was 20. That was around the time Of Montreal began to be more widely known, but I was ready to move on... to some equally hipster bands like Mountain Goats, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and Architecture in Helsinki. What a weird time.

hipster cred item #5:
I can't part with my beat-up Converses.
I have this wonderful pair of black Converses that I bought in 2009. They were the first Converses I ever owned, and I wore them to DEATH. When I finally broke down and replaced them, they had gigantic tears at the sides and would take on water if I even looked at a puddle. It was time for a new pair of black Converses, but I couldn't part with them. They are still sitting in my closet. Few things say "hipster" more loudly than a grungy pair of Converses (except maybe a grungy pair of Keds), but these Converses and I have been through a lot together. It's hard to say goodbye.

I have other bits and pieces of hipster cred: I have gigantic eyeglasses...
Though my myopia requires it. Do I get
bonus hipster points for the Guinness?
I own (and adore) a retro bike...
More than one, actually.
I went to a green college (before being green was cool, of course), and I enjoy a good pair of skinny jeans. However, I just don't have it in me to be a full-blown hipster. Not only is my ability to grow crazy facial hair not up to par, but I fully embrace all sorts of distinctly non-hipster things. Stupid movies, like Tommy Boy and Titanic. Embarrassing music, like Garth Brooks and Katy Perry. (Who am I kidding? Garth Brooks doesn't embarrass me one bit.) Guilty pleasure TV shows that I'm going to regret admitting to, like True Life and Sister Wives. Less-than-intellectual reading material, like Batman graphic novels and everything that Jen Lancaster has ever written. All decidedly non-hipster.

So hipsters have their ups and their downs, and I feel pretty ok with my inner hipster. Hipsters always flock together, and I think that's pretty cool. I need to get me an artistic, culturally aware, and devastatingly sarcastic posse... but one with room for a little Garth Brooks. No judgement.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

birthday freebies.

My birthday was last month, and I turned 28. I feel old as hell, but that's not what I'm here to talk about. I'm here to tell you about birthday swag.

You would not BELIEVE all the free stuff you can get for your birthday.

I’m not talking about the free dessert you (usually) get when your friend tells your waiter that it’s your birthday in hopes of embarrassing you when the entire wait staff sings at your table.

There’s so much more than that out there! Sure, most of it is food, but I’m talking entire MEALS here: not just the brownie with a candle in it that comes standard-birthday-issue at your everyday restaurant.

I first discovered the joy of birthday freebies when I was living in Minneapolis. It was 2010: I was about to turn 23, and I was super broke. I was living with James in a garage-turned-apartment underneath someone’s house, I was finishing up an unpaid internship while James was finishing up student teaching, and I was working three minimum-wage jobs.

Obviously, a fancy birthday dinner was out of the question.

James and I were so poor that we couldn’t even afford to go to dinner to a place that would give you a free dessert for your birthday. Yes: even Applebee’s was out of our price range.

But that’s how it goes in your early 20s. So, like any good millennial, I turned to the internet for help. And what I found was a treasure trove. I stumbled across a website that listed all the businesses that would give you free stuff for your birthday. Many of these businesses required that you sign up for their mailing list, and they would send coupons during the week of your birthday. These coupons varied in value: some were buy-one-get-one free coupons (like that for a Dairy Queen Blizzard), some were a free appetizer or dessert with the purchase of a meal (Lonestar Steakhouse), and some would give you a certain dollar amount off a meal (Red Lobster). The best coupons were the ones that gave you an entire free meal.

Since I first signed up for those birthday coupons, they have become less generous. However, that first birthday, I was up to my eyeballs in free food.

IHOP gave me a free fruity pancake meal.
Perkins gave me a free Magnificent Seven meal.
Coldstone gave me free ice cream.
Noodles and Company gave me a free bowl of noodles.
Ruby Tuesday gave me a free burger.
Benihana gave me $30 to spend on a meal there.
Caribou gave me free coffee.

The very best coupon came from Tony Roma’s, which is a barbecue place. Like Benihana, they gave me a coupon worth $30 to use at their restaurant, which meant I got to have shrimp and barbecued pork ribs for my birthday. 

And the only thing I paid for was the tip.

And you know what else makes these coupons so great? Many of them give you two weeks to use them! You can spread out the joy and have free meals for days.

I was so overjoyed by these niceties that I wrote emails to every one of those companies thanking them for making my birthday delightful. I explained that I was an unpaid intern and couldn’t afford much of anything, and these gestures really made my day.

This is not to say that you can’t have a good birthday without spending money: you certainly can. James took me out for a great birthday celebration, and we spent very little money doing it. It was a beautiful spring day, and we explored St Anthony Falls, went to the Como Zoo, had Jucy Lucy’s at Matt’s Bar for lunch, and went to a midnight showing of The Room. It really was a great birthday.
And here are the pictures to prove it.

The offers have changed over the years: Coldstone switched to a buy-one-get-one-free plan, and I don’t think Benihana does the free meal anymore. (Though I’m not sure. I only took advantage of that once because I was the only one in the restaurant and felt super awkward and have never been back.)

My situation has changed in the past few years, as well. I have moved from Minneapolis to Sioux Falls to Luverne, and many of the places that sent me birthday coupons don’t exist in Sioux Falls and Luverne. (See: Benihana.) I have also come across new coupons that don’t involve food: DSW sends me a $5 birthday coupon each year, and World Market gives me $10. Awesome.
This is what I spent my World Market
dollars on this year.
I signed up for these birthday coupons five years ago, and I still get the emails. I don’t take advantage of them like I used to, mostly because James and I live in Luverne – Luverne doesn’t have ANY of the restaurants that offer birthday treats. It’s awfully hard for James and me to coordinate our schedules to wind up in Sioux Falls together, and I’m not about to go to Perkins and sit and eat my free Magnificent Seven by myself. And as I have (thankfully) gotten less poor over the years, it seems like less of a travesty to just let these free meals go.

I did cash in my free noodle bowl, though. And it was amazing.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

my brief history of beer.

They say that beer is an acquired taste.

They would be right.

Life is so much easier when you’re a beer drinker – especially in college. I went to college in Morris, Minnesota: where, every Thursday night, you could buy cups of beer for a quarter. Sure, the beer was watered-down swill, but college students will drink pretty much anything if it only costs a quarter. As a non-beer-drinker, I missed out on that whole experience. You could get dollar mixed drinks, but it just wasn’t the same as Quarter Taps. Plus, that meant my drinks cost four times as much as everyone else’s. In college, that’s a LOT of money.

It was shortly after college that I made the conscious decision to acquire a taste for beer. I no longer wanted to be the fussy one who didn’t drink beer, and I wanted to be able to enjoy brewery tours and beer tastings. Plus, I was still poor after college, and going out for drinks was way cheaper if you ordered beer.

I have only spent about five years actively trying to enjoy beer, and I feel good about the progress I’ve made so far. My brief history of beer can be broken down into five distinct eras:

Leinenkugel’s Honeyweiss
My life in beer began with a Midwestern standard: Honeyweiss. Friends told me that this was a great beginner beer, and they were right: it wasn’t too beery, but it was enough of a beer that I didn’t feel totally lame drinking it. (See: the next beer.) Honeyweiss is how I found out that I am a wheat beer kind of gal. Honeyweiss led to a brief dalliance with Blue Moon, which I’ll still drink in a pinch. While I have moved beyond Honeyweiss, it brings back great memories of living in Minneapolis and learning how to drink beer. Yes, I was already 23, but you never forget the first beer you actually learned to enjoy. (I was going to say “you never forget your first beer,” but that’s not true at all. I don’t remember the first beer I ever had – I just remember the first one that clicked with me, and that was Honeyweiss.)

Michelob Ultra Cactus Lime Beer
This beer is fairly embarrassing, but I’m going to go ahead and own up to it anyway. My favorite summertime destination is, hands down, Lake Poinsett. There’s nothing like having a beer on the beaches of Lake Poinsett with your family and friends. That being said, before I was a beer drinker, I’d drink Mike’s Hard Lemonade. That’s all well and good, more than one Mike’s = gut rot city. They are SO sugary, and they’ve been known to make my teeth hurt. Beer does not give you those problems. I tried the cactus beer one day at Lake Poinsett, and I was stunned at how much I liked it. I actually went to the liquor store and bought a six-pack: I had never done that with a beer before. As the beer was Michelob Ultra, I endured ridicule from actual beer-drinkers. I don’t remember the last time I had a cactus beer, but I credit this beer with showing me how great it was to have a beer at the lake.

Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy
This is the beer that hit home for me. The balance between the beer taste and the lemony flavors was downright heavenly. I wish I could remember where I was and who I was with the first time I had a summer shandy, but I remember it being ice cold and exactly what I needed. Summer shandy is now the herald of summer, and this is the beer I drink on the beach. This is the beer I drink on a patio at a restaurant. This is the beer I drink during grilling season. This is the beer I stock up on at the end of summer so that I can continue pretending it’s summer well into the fall. This is the beer James and I had at our wedding, spreading the summer shandy love to our family and friends. 
Summer shandy goes great with Twins games...
...especially the away games!
There are a few other good shandies out there (surprisingly, Coors has a fairly delicious shandy), but no one does it like Leinenkugel’s.

Schell’s Schell Shocked
I have been to Oktoberfest in New Ulm three times – which also means I’ve been through the Schell’s brewery tour three times. 
 The first time (October 2010), I went with James, and I enjoyed absolutely none of the beer we were offered. The second time was with Mom, who drinks no beer at all. It was at that tour (I remember it well: October 2012) that Schell’s introduced their new grapefruit radler: Schell Shocked. 
It was FANTASTIC. So refreshing and grapefruity. I immediately began searching for it at liquor stores, but to no avail. It wasn’t until August 2013 that I saw Schell Shocked for sale. It was at Noodles and Company, and my family and I were in Sioux Falls, celebrating the fact that James and I (with the help of said family) had just moved into our new house in Luverne. Schell Shocked was on the beer list at Noodle’s and Company, and it was the perfect addition to an already fantastic few weeks. (We had also just returned from our honeymoon.) Since then, I’ve been able to find Schell Shocked fairly easily: even at the Luverne liquor store. The third time (October 2014) I went to Oktoberfest, it was with James, my brother Mitch, James’s brother Jesse, and Jesse’s girlfriend Megan. It was at this tasting that I discovered the magic of Schell’s Goosetown. I don’t love it as much as Schell Shocked, but I’m expanding my beer portfolio nonetheless.

You read that right. One of these things is most definitely not like the other. After my beer trials and tribulations, I was pretty convinced that I should stick to the lighter end of the beer spectrum. James is a dark beer drinker, and he would have me try his dark beers from time to time. And they were all terrible. He would get these pitch-black porters that tasted like firewood and meat, and he would savor it and its weird flavors. I planned to stay the hell away. Until one day, that is. A new restaurant had just opened in Luverne, which was cause for celebration: Luverne doesn’t get new stuff. James and I went to eat there, and he ordered a Guinness. Against my better judgment, I took a drink… and kind of loved it. I had expected to taste something like James’s gross meaty beers, but Guinness was nothing like that. It was smooth and flavorful, and I actually enjoyed it. (James says that the restaurant in Luverne is really good at pouring Guinness, which apparently makes a difference to its flavor.) Now, when James orders a Guinness, he orders one big enough for the both of us. I haven’t graduated to ordering a full Guinness to drink by myself, but this is some serious progress.


Ever since I put my mind to enjoying beer, I have been better able to enjoy the very things I set out to enjoy in the first place. We went to a beer festival in Luverne for James’s birthday last year, and it was a blast. I have finally learned to appreciate the beer at Schell’s: third time is the charm, I guess. I toured the Boulevard brewery in Kansas City, and while I learned that I don’t like Boulevard at all, I enjoyed having the opportunity to find out.
None of us likes Boulevard, as it turns out.
In my pre-beer days, I wouldn’t have given new-to-me beers the chance they deserved. I recently had a beer called Two Women from a small brewery in New Glarus, Wisconsin. Two Women is a new favorite of mine, and my dad (who went on the brewery tour and brought the beer back) passed on the knowledge from the brewmasters: everybody loves Two Women. And you know what? Out of the four of us drinking Two Women that night, everyone DID love it.

I am fully aware that I have a long way to go in my beer journey. But these five beers have shown me that I can do it. I can appreciate beer. Right now? That’s my American dream.

U-S-A! U-S-A!