Category: books

5 Things I Learned About Food This Week

In no particular order…

1. Switching to a low-carb diet results in brain fog (stupidity), flu-like symptoms of blarg, fatigue like mono, irritability and spending lots of time thinking about food. Apparently this allll goes away, and with it, pounds! It’s magic, they say! But here in the land of low-carb day 8, I just want to sleep and get my throat to stop hurting.

2. The term ‘alcohol sugar‘ is just a fancy name for ‘artificial sweeteners.’ There’s not even alcohol involved. Examples of sugar alcohol to look for are:

  • Erythritol
  • Glycerol (also known as glycerin or glycerine)
  • hydrogenated starch hydrolysates
  • isomalt
  • lactitol
  • maltitol
  • mannitol
  • sorbitol
  • xylitol

3. There’s a guy who wants to make food – and eating – obsolete. Given the vast energy I spend making, planning and feeling bad about food decisions, this appeals to the utilitarian in me. But not to the gastro-bliss fairy who sighs over hot bread and fresh butter. (I’m HUNGRY). For more thoughts on the irony of creating soy-based fake ‘food,’ check out this piece on the ethics of food in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx & Crake.

4. The infamous ‘Dirty Dozen’ may not be so bad. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the following have the highest pesticide load, making them the most important to buy organic versions:

  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Nectarines
  • Cucumbers
  • Potatoes
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Hot peppers

However,  the Journal of Toxicology folks disagree over the significance of the pesticides, “We concur with EWG President Kenneth Cook who maintains that “We recommend that people eat healthy by eating more fruits and vegetables, whether conventional or organic,” but our findings do not indicate that substituting organic forms of the “Dirty Dozen” commodities for conventional forms will lead to any measurable consumer health benefit.”

5. Which pulls me full circle back to Michael Pollan’s thoughts: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Bangladeshi Pumpkin and Shrimp

As I’ve mentioned before, my book club pairs food themes with our reading materials. For October, we read Max Brooks’  World War Z in honor of Halloween, and since it’s an international tale, our gracious hostess made a plethora of Bangladeshi food. This pumpkin and shrimp dish was everyone’s favorite and we begged for the recipe.
TIP from the hostess and chef: “I am not good at measuring or using recipes. I always just call my mom when I am in doubt.”

Ingredients

1/2 Pumpkin, cut into slices or large cubes (find it in H-mart or any Asian store), seeded
1-2 lbs uncooked Shrimp
3 TBS Vegetable oil

1/2 tsp Turmeric powder
1/2 tsp Red chili powder
1 tsp Cumin seed paste
1 tsp Ginger paste
1 tsp Garlic paste
1 onion, chopped
1/2 tsp Sugar
Salt
Water

Directions
1. Saute the shrimps in oil in the same pan, then add onion, garlic, ginger and cumin. Stir thoroughly. Then add turmeric powder, chili powder and salt and sugar stir continuously.
2. Pour in 1 cup of water and bring it to a boil. Add sliced pumpkin and cook on high heat for 20 minutes.
3. Stir everything and put a lid on the pot. Keep cooking for another 5-10 minutes on low heat. Test with a fork to see if pumpkin is soft if it is then it is done. There shouldn’t be much water left.
4. Garnish with fresh cilantro and green chillies. Serve over steaming saffron rice.

On Good Girls and Sexism

Woot! I get a wave of excitement when something I write actually makes it into the blogosphere. Here’s part of a new piece I just wrote for Huffington Post, Why Do I Have to Be Nice to Everybody?

“I grew up in the South, and nurtured habits die hard. I was once grounded for saying “damn” to my sister. I wore white gloves and bonnets to Easter mass and crossed my ankles when sitting in skirts. I didn’t know what the word “horny” meant until one of my girlfriends took pity on my naïveté in eighth grade. (Sexuality is inherently tied to a woman’s value and virtue, you see).

“Even today, I wear slips under dresses and send hand-written thank you notes. I don’t discuss bodily functions in mixed company and consider it an honor to be asked for a recipe after a dinner party. I smile even if I don’t like you and am one of four people on the metro who says, “Pardon me.” In sum: I was raised a good girl.

Read on and tell me what you think!

10 Gifts for that Hard-to-Shop-for Man in Your Life

It’s the time of the year when I take stock of who’s on my holiday list: who gets a gift, a gift and a card, just a card, or merely a passing wish for a warm holiday season. Which brings me to the task of shopping, and the hardest folks to shop for – men. Ya gotta balance  interesting, playful, practical, humorous — things that speak to their inner geek or a treat they wouldn’t get themselves.

Women, we’re easy. There’s a standard repertoire of gifts that make us happy: champagne, a spa pedicure, dinner out where we can dress up a bit, new bubble bath, smelly candles, nice picture frames with photos of loved ones included, gourmet cheeses and dark chocolate, a relaxing massage, a hand-written letter, a clean house, tickets to a show or movie we like…you know the drill.

These 10 gift ideas are aimed more at the Brother-Spouse-Significant other audience than Grandpa Joe, but to each family, their own. I present 10 unique finds to get you started shopping:

1. Bacon Necktie: $19 from Amazon. The world of bacon accessories is astounding: bacon bandaids, bacon candy, pork books, bacon cuff links. You name your bacon product and you can find it. For the men in your life who wear ties with some disdain, this  noose, er, necktie, may lift their spirits.

2. Hans Solo Frozen in Carbonite iphone Case: $17 on Etsy. C’mon, this is classic Star Wars. How cool is it to have Harrison Ford’s face of pain on the back of your phone?! This will get you bonus points. If your guy is into Star Wars, this lightsaber corncob holder is pretty kick-ass too.

3. Mustache Bandaids: $10 on Bezerk. It is Movember after all, when men grow out their facial hair to raise funds  that support prostate cancer and testicular cancer initiatives. If you’re nixing the facial hair, there’s always the option of a beard hat. Especially if you live somewhere really, really cold.

4.  Of-the-Month ClubPrices vary – From Of the Month Club. There’s something for everyone: mustard, beer, hot sauce  wine, nuts, bagel, flowers, fruit…Not convinced? Here’s an interesting article on the rise of specialized of-the-month-clubs. The best part of these clubs is the joy of a package each month!

5.  Ninja Knife Magnets: $18 from Cool Material Shop. My family is big on stocking stuffers, and these would fit perfectly– both in the stocking and in the category of stocking stuffer.  They’re not big enough to wrap but area a little humorous something that makes for a conversation starter.

6.  Star Trek Pizza Cutter: $30 from Space.com Store. In elementary school my sister and I raced home from school to catch the 3.30 pm episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, followed by Duck Tales. With the return of Star Trek via lovely Chris Pine, a new generation (ha!) will come to appreciate the Enterprise. Okay, so maybe I just really want this.

7.  Gun and Target Alarm Clock$23 on Amazon. Few people enjoy being roused from their slumber. BUT, wouldn’t he find it a bit easier if getting up involved shooting a target? With settings from one shot to five (easy to hard), this could also improve his reflexes in case of a zombie apocalypse. Just sayin’ – we watch a lot of Walking Dead in my house.

8.  Craft Beer Home Brew Kit$50 from RedEnvelope. I actually bought a beer making kit for my dad, and he enjoyed making, tasting, and naming his brews. I enjoyed sampling. I’ve tasted beer brewed at home from guys aged 23-65 years old. My dad’s Knights of Columbus group has an annual taste off, and plenty of my peers pick it up as a hobby. Heck, DC Brau’s was started by two guys brewing in their basements and now it’s a thriving business!

9. A Book from GQ’s Best of List: Prices vary, list from GQ. Sometimes the men in my life enjoy the books I read, but usually our tastes for pleasure reading are quite different. Rather than giving them YOUR favorite book, take a tip from the GQ guys. Their Best of 2011 list published last December list includes 21 options, and I presume a 2012 edition will emerge soon.  You also can’t possibly go wrong with purchasing everyone you know a copy of  World War Z  by Max Brooks.

10.  Mini Guitar Cast Iron Skillet: $16 from Lodge.
A cast iron skillet is a gift for life. Why not spice up cornbread and muffins by adding a touch of the arts to his cooking? Forget Le Creuset; the Lodge has a variety of other skillet, cooking, baking and grilling items – including those in bright colors – and they’re less expensive.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: 8 books every intelligent person should read

I heart books – how they smell: a musty mix of mold and dust, leather, ink. Next to sleep, they are the easiest way to lose track of time and location. I’ve definitely missed metro stops with my nose in a book and stayed up all night to read “just one more chapter.” But I’m not opposed to e-books; I read the entire Hunger Games trilogy on my Android.

Books can be powerful and life-altering; they can also be plain crap or lighthearted fluff. For example, I enjoy Dirk Pitt novels and admit to reading the Twighlight series — neither of which will ever win a Pulitzer. In the spirit of appreciating book recommendations from friends, I thought I’d pass this list of suggestions along.

A Reddit.com user posed the question to Neil deGrasse Tyson: “Which books should be read by every single intelligent person on the planet?” Below, you will find the book list offered up by the astrophysicist, director of the Hayden Planetarium, and popularizer of science. Where possible, they have included links to free versions of the books.

“The one-line comment after each book is not a review but a statement about how the book’s content influenced the behavior of people who shaped the western world.  So, for example, it does no good to say what the Bible “really” meant, if its actual influence on human behavior is something else.” -NDTyson

1.) The Bible (eBook) – “to learn that it’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself.”

2.) The System of the World by Isaac Newton (eBook) – “to learn that the universe is a knowable place.”

3.) On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (eBook – Audio Book) – “to learn of our kinship with all other life on Earth.”

4.) Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (eBook – Audio Book) – “to learn, among other satirical lessons, that most of the time humans are Yahoos.”

5.) The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (eBook – Audio Book) – “to learn how the power of rational thought is the primary source of freedom in the world.”

6.) The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (eBook – Audio Book) – “to learn that capitalism is an economy of greed, a force of nature unto itself.”

7.) The Art of War by Sun Tsu (eBook – Audio Book) – “to learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art.”

8.) The Prince by Machiavelli (eBook – Audio Book) – “to learn that people not in power will do all they can to acquire it, and people in power will do all they can to keep it.”

Tyson concludes by saying: “If you read all of the above works you will glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.”

If you’d like to read some of what Neil deGrasse Tyson has written, you’ve got options. He’s also on Twitter.

This piece is courtesy of Open Culture.

4 Books to Read if you Have Ovaries

Every female has her flavor of womanhood, her ‘brand’ of femininity. There’s no one right way to be a modern woman, but we make
decisions that serve us and enslave us – for better and for worse.

After my first year of college I posed a question to my older sis that had been vexing me: “What does it mean that I like to cook and bake and play hostess? I like my room to be in order. Does that make me a bad feminist?” My wise older sister paused, replying, “No, it doesn’t mean that at all. Feminism is about choices. You absolutely can enjoy cooking and cleaning and keeping order. Feminism just means you no longer have to do those things just because you’re a girl.”

In addition to my older sister, the following four books indelibly influenced my thinking about what it means to be a woman. In different ways, they cut through societal expectations and lift the veil of structural inequality and power imbalances. But these books don’t pummel you over the head with femi-nazi rhetoric; they serve up thought-provoking ideas with humor, insights, stories from their lives and examples through their characters.

1)  Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, by Lori Gottlieb
Because pleated pants have nothing to do with whether he will clean up kid vomit.

Before you pick this book up know that it’s written from the perspective of a 40+ educated, single mom looking for a husband. Also, it’s not nearly as inflammatory as the title wants you to believe. Even if you don’t want marriage and a family–or don’t know if you do–this book is surprisingly insightful about women in the dating game. Taking advice from life coaches, matchmakers, friends, pop culture, and dating services, Gottlieb provides a reality check for those still waiting for a man that meets every criteria on their list of ‘ideal husband traits.’

The point: whether he wears sport socks with sandals, is balding or stands three inches shorter than you—these ‘faults’ say nothing about his quality of character or quality of life partner. I’d rename the book “Dating Smarter, not Harder – since it’s about getting everything you NEED, which may not be everything you WANT. Read this when you’re tired of meeting men at bars.

“What matters is finding the perfect partner – not the perfect person. It’s not about lowering your standards – it’s about maturing and having reasonable expectations. There’s a difference between what makes for a good boyfriend and what makes for a good husband.”

2) The Second Shift: Working Families and the Revolution at Home, by Arlie Hochschild
Because running a household is work, and like any good business, the load must be negotiated and shared.

The first class I stepped into for my undergraduate education was “Sociology of the Family,” and this book served as required reading. It changed my world. Have you ever wondered why women send all the family Christmas cards and buy the birthday presents? Why Pinterest is angled at weddings and hairstyle and entertaining children? Why dads “mean fun, but moms mean business?” (Yes, that’s a quote from Honey I Shrunk the Kids).

As Hochschild points out through her work with couples and families, if you add the time it takes to do a paid job plus housework and childcare, women work roughly 15 hours longer each week than men. Over a year, they work an extra month of 24 hour days. Most women work one shift at the office and a “second shift” at home. This book isn’t about man-bashing, though; it explores the assumptions we make about who is supposed to do what in relationships. Read this when you set up a joint household.

“A twenty-six-year-old legal secretary, the mother of two and married to a businessman, said, “[My husband] empties the garbage occasionally and sweeps. That’s all. He does no cooking, no washing, no anything else. How do I feel? Furious. If our marriage ends, it will be on this issue.””
3) The Edible Woman, by Margaret Atwood
Because your worth isn’t determined by anyone but yourself.

While pouring out my heart to a dear friend, herself divorced and pursuing a rewarding new relationship, she recommended this book. Already a fan of Atwood’s from The Handmaid’s Tale and Year of the Flood, I was open. Atwood is largely known for the female protagonists who represent “every woman” struggling with victimization and marginalization by gender and politics.  Or, as a friend recently phrased it, “Atwood’s a pretty hard-core feminist and all-around kick-ass person.”

In The Edible Woman, a young woman gets engaged and finds that she’s unable to eat. She grows increasingly concerned that consuming food mirrors how her fiancé is consuming her identity. This book pre-dates eating disorders and the feminist movement, which makes it ring even more authentically. The plot is less of the point than how Atwood handles a young woman facing the loss of her individuality into coupledom. This isn’t a book about spiritual enlightenment or quick solutions; it’s a book to make you think. Read this when you have time to mull on it, perhaps with a glass of wine and a piece of cake.

“You’ve been trying to destroy me, haven’t you,” she said. “You’ve been trying to assimilate me. But I’ve made you a substitute, something you’ll like much better. This is what you really wanted all along, isn’t it? I’ll get you a fork,” she added.”

4) How to Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran
Because life is too short to feel guilty about not being a perfect woman. Let’s get real.

Caitlin Moran is wicked funny and painfully, awkwardly truthful in this book. Rather than harp on the theoretical implications of modern feminism, Moran skips the arguments and says simply, “Feminism is having a vagina and wanting to be in charge of it.” Ding ding!

She manages to address the horrors of childbirth and the joys of parenting, the conundrum of naming of vaginas, and the unnecessary discomfort of women hiring domestic help – all with a deft hand and abundant use of italics. As an added bonus, you’ll learn a fair amount of confounding British slang.  A girlfriend gave me this book, and I continue to pass it forward. I wonder what amazingness would occur if every girl received this book on her 15th birthday? We could all save ourselves so much time, effort and angst! Read this book now, then give it away.

“No one has ever claimed for a moment that childless men have missed out on a vital aspect of their existence, and were the poorer, and crippled by it. Da Vinci, Van Gough, Newton, Faraday, Plato, Aquinas, Beethoven, Handel, Kant, Hume, Jesus. They all seem to have managed [childlessness] quite well.”

What books influenced your thinking about what it is to be a modern female?

A Fallow State

fallow: (adj) A crop field left uncultivated for a period of time, so as to regain its productive capacity.

In Margaret Atwood’s Year of the Flood, which is a spin on post apocalyptic world – minus zombies or nuclear fallout. There’s a crazy semi-religious sect called the Gardeners, who have some insightful perspectives irrespective of their hypocrisy and questionable hygiene. There’s a passage about how they describe depression that resonated with me. Naturally, I can’t actually copy and paste the section but you can read the page on Google Reads. Oh, wait, I can do the old fashioned thing and just retype it:

“The Gardeners would never say depressed. The Gardeners believed that people who acted like Veena were in a Fallow state – resting, retreating into themselves to gain spiritual insight, gathering their energy for the moment they would burst out again like buds in the Spring.

I’m feeling in a bit of a fallow state of late. Not bad, not amazing, just quiet, introspective, with limited expectations; attempting to renew my energies and goals, wrap my head around a few issues; and just sit with all the feelings knowing that I am okay.