Category: whine

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.”

What’s In A Name: Boyfriend/ Partner/ Fiancé?

My Mom is getting married.

Again.

For the fourth time.

Without going into reams of details, suffice it to say her relationship philosophies are skewed. Which means I have the pleasure of sorting my own thoughts, ideas and expectations of love and commitment while dissecting out the ‘truths’ she espouses.  Also, I’m a sociologist at heart, intrigued by dissonance in social structure and systems — you know, like marriage in America.

Here’s a great piece from Slate that touches on the complexities of language and tradition in defining relationships, and the gray areas that I — and many of my peers — inhabit. My mom would not understand.

What Do You Call the Person You Are Probably Never Going to Marry?

By

In certain parts of America, the word fiancé does not mean what it used to. I first became aware of this when I was reporting a story in a small town in Wisconsin a couple of years ago and “Bug” Smith, a 50-year-old man who worked as a machinist introduced me to his “fiancée.” I was about to say “Congratulations!” but something stopped me. Their union did not have the air of expectant change about it. From their domestic surroundings, it looked like they lived basically as a married couple already, his boots next to hers by the front door, pictures of kids above the mantel. I later found out they’d been living together for 15 years and had two children.

Since then I have come across this phenomenon dozens of times. Someone will introduce me to his or her fiancé. But what they mean is more like my “steady lady” or my “steady man.” It could mean the person they are living with, or the father or mother of their child. It could also just mean the person they’ve been dating for a long time. It could be that they only use that title in the presence of outsiders (i.e., me) because it gives an official, respectable status to a relationship that’s otherwise amorphous. It could mean that someone has actually proposed, or bought a ring, but usually not. But what it definitively does not mean is that they are choosing a wedding date or checking out venues or pricing caterers or otherwise making any kind of concrete plans for marriage. In many parts of America, fiancé has become a permanent relationship status (permanent, that is, until it’s not).

The aspiration for marriage won’t die in America, even though fewer people are getting married or think they can afford to get married. People no longer think of a wedding as a milestone that happens somewhere between high school and having children. They think of marriage as what sociologists call a “capstone”—that is, something they earn after many other things are in place in their lives, like a good job or a nice house. But they might never get the good job or the nice house. “We intended to get hitched,” Bug Smith told me. “But we just kept finding other things to do with the money. Fixed the porch, got a new engine.”  Smith and many others get lost in a free-floating longing for marriage that never gets fulfilled but finds temporary home in the liberal use of the term fiancé.

In the meantime, while fiancés are waiting for marriage, life goes on. People live together for longer periods. They have kids: Among Americans without a college degree, 58 percent of first time births happen outside marriage. People share huge life events with each other even though they’re not married, and yet the culture hasn’t adjusted by producing any new terms to describe these novel attachments or arrangements. Describing someone as “the guy I’m living with” or “the mother of my child” might be accurate but it’s not all that efficient, and a little clinical. Girlfriend or boyfriend belittles the relationship, and partner feels like something people in New York and San Francisco say, so fiancé fills in the gap. It conveys at least the correct level of emotional attachment, which is: something like spouse but not quite.

Mostly this is a class phenomenon. College-educated women flirt with not getting married, provide fodder for lots of movies about the glories of single life, but eventually they get married (even in the movies); among college graduates, only 12 percent of first time births happen outside marriage. But there’s a trickle-down effect. Everyone watches the same movies, so everyone has inherited the idea that marriage should be really special, maybe lavish, definitely worth waiting for, as Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas argue in Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage. But since many can’t afford that fancy wedding and don’t want to go “downtown”—a term women in the book use to describe a marriage on the cheap—they just stay engaged.

“I’ve seen it among poorer couples,” says Edin. “They’re willing to get engaged but not sure they are ‘ready’ for marriage. Engagement is not a promise to marry, but rather an indication that they are thinking about it. Perhaps an indication of the high bar for marriage across classes, plus a way of gaining some ‘official’ status without the confines and expectations of marriage.” In her new book, Doing the Best I Can, co-written with Timothy Nelson, Edin tells a story about Lavelle and Big Toya (the mother of Lavelle’s child). Big Toya asks Lavelle to marry him, but she turns him down flat, because she doesn’t want to lose “her freedom, her food stamps or her subsidized apartment.” But he persuades her to let him call her his fiancée anyway. She knows she will never marry him, but that title cements the relationship enough that she will now travel to Camden so he can visit with his daughter.

Sociologists Wendy Manning and Pamela Smock, who study changing family demographics, told me that they, too, made the mistake of assuming couples who said they were engaged were making plans to get married. But when they asked follow-up questions for a large qualitative study they recently conducted with young adults on “Cohabitation and Marriage in America,” they realized that wasn’t true. Instead the term engaged, for couples of all races, seemed to be a kind of placeholder, “a way to keep the relationship going without actually making the move to marry,” says Manning. Smock says she noticed that couples use the term fiancé or engaged in a “flexible” way, that is, when dealing with authorities on the phone, or in a social setting where they might want to “own” the person more or seem like more of an “official couple.”

If anything, the liberal use of fiancé is devaluing the old term girlfriend. In the ’60s, being a girlfriend was an official status, like getting promoted to two-star general. You would get pinned, or get the letter jacket, or some other visible mark of distinction when a guy “decided” you were his girlfriend. But now being a girlfriend or boyfriend can mean anything or nothing. So if you’re really truly the girlfriend or boyfriend, you’re the fiancé.

In The Marriage Go-Round, sociologist Andrew Cherlin describes our dysfunctional relationship with marriage. Americans have unusually high marriage and divorce rates, because we are culturally attached to both old-fashioned commitment and to individual freedom. Other countries have solved this dilemma by letting go of the marriage ideal, allowing people, for example, to live together and still be considered a family, by the state and by their neighbors. Even by the guy at the car dealership, who doesn’t trust them any less for not having a signed marriage license. With 10 more years of fake fiancés, maybe we’ll get there, too.

Against Wedding Registries

It’s the year of weddings in my world: five (six?) different celebrations over the next four months. I’m fortunate that all of them are within driving distance, and two are actually local. I am lucky to have such dear friends who are honoring me with an invitation to a milestone event in their lives.

But I have more than a twinge of cynicism about all the money and gift-giving and hoopla of the wedding industry. In 2012, when the average wedding cost was $27,427, the median was $18,086. In 2011, when the average was $27,021, the median was $16,886. I mean, even a below average’ wedding of $15,000 is a TON of money. As one writer aptly noted, “The couple spent the equivalent of a down payment on a Lexus for one day’s worth of partying.” (In contrast, this awesome piece from A Practical Wedding summarizes my feelings).

And what’s a celebratory union without presents?! There’s an engagement party, a bachelorette party, a bridal shower, a lingerie shower, and of course the wedding itself. Despite lengthy registries, none of the couples who will be tying the knot NEED anything. They all cohabitate, several jointly own homes/pets and/or cars. They successfully cook using existing knives and grills, take trips out of town, own matching sheets and towels, have health insurance, and generally purchase their own goodies and services.They’re successful, educated, independent adults.

So what do I buy them? Do I really need to purchase a $350 Caphlone pan to send them my love and best wishes? A new grill — even though I know the current one works because I’ve eaten burgers made on it? A bag of tea votives they could pick up at IKEA for $25? It feels like I’m just buying them stuff they already own. Or, I’m buying them something that they just don’t want to buy themselves.

The phrase, ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ isn’t just an outdated 1960’s adage. We own a lot of STUFF, and even when we donate it to charity, it leaves a mark. I’m not an eco-green maniac but it’s hard to ignore pieces like Waste Couture: Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry. Here’s how a Slate author phrased it:

We could have registered and asked our friends to buy upgraded pots and pans for ourselves. But we didn’t. After all, if we really wanted fancier stuff, we could have just spent less on the wedding and more on housewares. Wedding presents for modern cohabitating adults with established households are in the pure realm of deadweight loss—you’re buying things for people that they haven’t bought for themselves because they think they’re overpriced.”

Ranting and idealism and heavy sighing aside, gift giving isn’t going away — not for birthdays, holidays or weddings. Tradition demands it and social norms uphold it. And let’s be honest – getting presents is fun! But there are a few creative alternatives to registering for a set of bamboo sheets:

1. Local Registry. It’s only available in New Hampshire at the moment, but I see this catching on and spreading like wildfire: NearbyRegistry.com. “Find gifts from your favorite local shops, service providers, and nonprofits.” Sometimes the best painting is from a local artist and not a box store. (Full disclosure: I own a giant framed photo from Crate & Barrel and love it.)

2. Experiences RegistryWed & Wish. Register for an experience. As one couple who used it noted, “We were already living together and we didn’t need more stuff …The honeymoon experiences [our friends and family] gifted us were incredible! We got a bicycle ride in Kyoto, a picnic in a cherry blossom spot, a bottle of champagne in a Ryokan, and Shiatsu foot massage.” Ding ding! And it’s got a cute site: here’s a sample registry.

3. Gift Rocket. It’s a website to buy online gift cards to anywhere. The recipient chooses how to receive the money — a prepaid debit card, direct into a bank account, via Paypal or check. Yes, it’s a glorified way to send cash but at least you’re giving something useful.

Can I get some paid maternity leave with those roses?

Kudos! Well thought and appropriately feisty exasperation on unrealistic parenting expectations in America.

what begins with m

Today is not mother’s day, but it’s my mother’s day because tomorrow I will be working a long call. I will not see E awake at all unless I accidentally on purpose wake her up when I get home which, *blush*, I have done more than once. Before I had a baby, Mother’s Day seemed like a forced over-sentimental construct. Now it is more important to me than Christmas (ok, I’m Jewish), Hannukah (ok, that’s not really an important holiday for Jews), or my own birthday (as an adult, birthdays are kind of eh). It’s the holiday we mamas EARN! Cause being a mom is amazing but it is a shit-ton of work, and the most arduous work is done in the years that the child won’t even remember, so bring on the chocolates! Excuse the profanity, but this Mother’s Day I’m feeling a little feisty. Why am I am…

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Why I’m Not Skinny

I eat. Yup, there it is. Not novel in my world, but apparently eating is a bit unusual among certain women. Check out this interview with someone famous and skinny (Kelly Wearstler?) in Bon Appetit:

How do you start the day?

Kelly Wearstler, aka “Chewing Is Overrated”

I go to Barry’s Bootcamp at 5:30 a.m., seven days a week. It’s me and a bunch of Hollywood hot-shots. I’ve heard we burn 800 calories per class.

Sounds intense. Do you hydrate?
KW: I drink water mixed with Miracle Reds or Miracle Greens, with drops of plankton. Later in the day, I drink water with lemon, and alkaline water with cayenne extract.

You must be starving after that workout!
KW: Not for a while. After I drop my sons off at school–they still let me walk them into class–I get a double dry nonfat macchiato at Urth Caffé. And for the rest of the day, I juice.

What about real, solid food?
KW: Besides almonds or granola, I don’t eat a lot during the day–juicing is what gives me energy.

As Jezebel aptly captures it, “Although the interviewer tries to engage Wearstler in a conversation about food — since it is, after all, a FOOD MAGAZINE — she declines.  She is not interested in chewing!”

Perhaps chewing is overrated. Too much work. Doesn’t burn enough calories. While filming Batman, Anne Hathaway joked about the unforgiving nature of the catsuit, saying “And right now, I’m, like, living on kale and dust.”

As a woman with curves who struggles with weight, I snort at the mere thought of subsisting on lemon juice and dust motes – with cayenne flakes! I get hungry, people. No, I get ravenous. To help communicate the sincerity of this, I’ve trained my family and significant others to understand my hunger zones in stop light colors:

GREEN ZONE: I’m good to go right now, no hunger pangs. Thumbs up.

YELLOW ZONE: I feel hunger creeping up. I’m still cool but will need to eat within the next hour or so.

RED ZONE: I need food, NOW. Don’t speak to me until we eat. Take me directly to calories. If food takes more than 15 minutes I will dissolve into an angry, grumpy, tummy-aching, headach-y mess.  Ignore the red zone at your peril.

Since we’ve established that eating is in fact a necessity in my world, other options for crazy skinnyness include:
1) Smoking. Gross. It’s expensive, smells bad, is disgusting and will kill you. Plus you look like trailer trash.

2) Diet Pills. I hear that people live on diet pills laced with caffeine. Maybe speed? I tried some weight loss pills for about 3 days in college, which resulted in me feeling nauseous, anxious jittery and with a killer headache to boot. Nope.

3) Eating Disorder. Anorexia is out since ya know, chewing is important to me. And I don’t have 8 hours to spend at the gym each day. Bulimia involves too much horribleness to even contemplate. I like enamel on my teeth.

Which brings me back to the basics of eat less and do more. Or, as Michael Pollan famously summarized in The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

January is Eat-at-Home Month

As usual, I was a bit overzealous in my holiday gift buying, leaving my budget a bit depleted. It’s hard not to buy things that make me think of people! And by extension, not to treat myself along the way. The thought process goes something like this:” Well, they asked for fun socks and it’s a better deal to buy this large pack, so then I can keep several pairs too because I also need socks.”

Fortunately, there are solutions. Like a diet, little decisions to change add up to bigger results. Bar hop after work? Nah. Pick up a $3 hazelnut coffee? I can have free coffee in the office. Running late and tempted to say f– it? I can always pack peanut butter. And despite what Target thinks, I really don’t NEED another pumpkin spice candle, even if it’s on clearance. So this month is eat-in month.

The Plan: At my house we’re alternating being in charge of dinners – flipping chef or sous chef titles – by each selecting 2-3 recipes for the week and purchasing the necessary ingredients.  We also have some flexibility to eat out one lunch a week, and a dinner out with limited beverages. DC martinis cost something ridiculous like $12 each. So far, eat at home month has turned out a couple new standby’s. A few recipes so far:

  • Easy Tomato-Vegetable soup with rosemary crackers and hummus
  • Crock Pot Beef Stew – held the peas and wine, added tomato juice
  • Fun-shaped Pasta with Vodka Sauce and Lemon-rosemary White Bean Dip
  • Pad See-Ew (literally “soy sauce stir-fry“) with Chicken — An eating out splurge, though I do dream of having Thai noodle cooking skills
  • Chicken and Vegetable Potstickers with soy sauce and sesame oil — The  frozen potstickers were so-so, but I am a huge fan of mixing 2 parts soy sauce: 1 part sesame oil. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and/or garlic and it’s a party in your mouth.
  • Chicken Gumbo with Sausage soup — canned, with oddly crunchy white rice

On the menu this week:

It’s great being an omnivore, isn’t it? Updates to come! Other simple but tasty dine-in dinner suggestions welcome.

5 Non-Resolution Focus Areas for 2013

In grant writing particularly, it’s necessary to include what they call SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timely. You’ve seen this graphic, right?

For my personal life as questions arise of resolutions and life-changing decisions, I prefer MUSH goals, those that are Mostly feasible, Underdeveloped, Silly and Hubris-driven. For example, in 2012, I resolved to wear more eye make-up. Success! I wore eyeliner probably 90% of my days at work. I had a girlfriend who resolved to drink more champagne. What a delightful resolution to keep!
I offer my 2013 MUSH-y focus areas:

  • Wear lipstick more often, or find lipstick that wears longer—whichever is fine. I’m Polish-bred pale and need the color.
  • Dress to flatter my shape. This will involve donating frumpy clothes so I can’t default to a solid t-shirt, boxy sweater and washed out Old Navy pants that are too short. This also requires me to admit that my shape does not fit everything, and try to be okay with it as is.
  • Eat foods that make me feel good. Sure, shoveling a log of goat cheese tastes awesome, but it’s not worth 3 days of lactose-intolerant gut pain, bloating and – as we called them in my family – barking spiders. I like healthful foods; I just need to take time to prepare them for easy transportation.
  • Save  money. This would be place to be more specific, but I chafe against rigorous budget restraints, which in turn makes me more likely to splurge to prove that I can. Like a diet, a crash won’t help but little steps will. For instance, I didn’t buy coffee today. I have 2 coffee makers at home and one at work. I can do this. Oh, and I need to put more of that promotion into savings.
  • Fight spam. Spam makes me cranky and wastes time. Rather than cllicking on itsy bitsy boxes with checkmarks to delete 75% of my inbox, I’m  finding the tiny script at the bottom of the email that reads “unscribe,” and jumping through whichever hoops they require. Rawr. Take back the inbox!

Maybe I’ll come up with a few more, maybe not. Check back in March to guffaw at this list.