Saturday, June 30, 2007

This Will Only Make Things Worse

I would like to claim that the most popular page on my blog is my United Airlines post. I'm even confident that most of my readers would believe this little lie but getting away with it wouldn't make it right. The actual most popular post should surprise no one -- we all know that the internet's fame and glory is owed not to witty ranting but to naked ladies. There is exactly one picture on this blog that includes bare boobies so at least 50% of my traffic on any day lands on Holly, Bridget and Kendra mid pillow fight.

I hate to be to judge-y when it comes to masturbation material because we all have our quirks but boys (a note to girls who find this picture hot: I cannot help you), this is pathetic. I'm going to let slide that all three girls were born without the pretty gene because I generally encourage people to find beauty in everyone, even girls who look like horses, but this picture is sorely lacking in sexiness and that I cannot abide.

Let's start with the obvious problem: Bridget's ass, or rather, the trapdoor exposing Bridget's ass. This is not hot. Trap doors (or "drop seats" as I learned from this sketchy website) are for toothless rednecks who are too lazy to pull down their pants when nighttime business must be attending to in the outhouse. See? Not hot.

Next up: Glassy eyed stares. Even though men are not known for seeking out porn where the woman looks engaged I find this particular image more disturbing than average. Look at them! Holly's dreaming out the bouncing pile of loot (whoops, I mean baby) that she's gonna have Heff turkey baste into her womb any day now, Bridget's wondering if the kids who made fun of her in high school are finally jealous enough to quit this act and Kendra is thinking... who am I kidding? Kendra can't think. Are these really the girls you want participating in your pillow fight orgy fantasy? You're a smart guy with an internet connection and a little cash in the bank, can't you do better?

There are boobies plastered all over the internet -- you guys should stop settling for the sub par nakedness offerings on this blog.

In other news my popularity grows everyday: I'm hit number 79 for "meth cooking."

Thursday, June 28, 2007

How We Eat

Lately no one can mention peanut butter around with me without starting a discussion about why peanut butter is so popular in America (and also, how exactly it got to be so awesome.) but is seen as disgusting in many other countries. I start similar debates about pumpkin pie and BBQ and have long kept a mental list of American foods that are rarely recognized as such. As always, Wikipedia does a better job than I(leave it to the masses to make me look bad). And yet my experience has been that when most people think of American food they immediately turn to hamburgers, pizza and French fries. Somehow American food has become synonymous with fast food. I’ve been wondering about how our lack of a well define food culture is likely to effect the everyday American for some time but reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma has turned this occasional pondering into obsession.

It not only seems unfair to exclusively associate American food with Fast Food but also dangerous. Fast Food not only fails to provide nutrition but the way it is typically consumed enforces unhealthy eating habits like eating alone and eating on the run. In The Omnivore’s Dilemma Pollan discusses how food traditions affect healthy eating and hypothesizes that cultures who highly value food and the eating experience often have healthier eating habits regardless of the caloric content of their traditional foods. He addresses the common cliché that the French eat high calorie foods and never get fat by pointing out that the French meal encourages eating small bites over long periods of time and consuming higher calorie foods in tiny quantities and on special occasions – the French do not sit alone in their apartments at 3am gorging on pate, baguettes and red wine (though, obviously that sounds pretty awesome and I think we all know where to find me come Saturday morning…). Having pride in the food you cook, serve and eat leads to better food for all.

In addition to the obvious health implications the very nature of fast food (quick, heavily processed, not prepared at home, designed to be as cheap to produce as possible, designed to be eaten on the go, etc) makes it impossible for a healthy food culture to develop around the only food commonly seen as “American.” Pollan argues that the well established food cultures seen in other countries serve their citizen’s especially well because they have been tested over the course of human history and have benefited from a cultural survival of the fittest. By this standard one would think that Fast Food should quickly be approaching extinction. For good or ill in America our immigrant population has made it difficult to establish a cohesive food culture and our general wealth has made food so widely available that rationing and sacrifice are rarely necessary. The dark side of abundance is that nothing seems special or worth waiting for. With so many ready options it is not surprising that as a society we are often at a loss over just what to eat. I suspect that other cultures rarely suffer from the all to common American confusion around exactly which food is likely to kill us next (“Tonight on Dateline, Is water good for you or is this unassuming beverage really part of a terrorist plot to bring down America?”). Pollan points out that Americans have a very short established history with food and thus rely on science alone to dictate what is good and bad without regard for factors like portion size or meal balance. Combine this with our reactionary media and you have a society so confused that many of us have dropped out of the food discussion entirely choosing instead to eat whatever is cheap, readily available and requires the least amount of work. We eat the lowest common denominator and shouldn’t be surprised that the dollar menu has led to an obesity epidemic.

Many have pointed out that Fast Food isn’t even that tasty – sure, the occasional frosty, fries or chicken nuggets are shockingly decadent and often the best way to cap off a night of drinking but few would rave over the taste sensations available at McDonalds. When I was dieting I used to force myself to consciously think about if the caloric cost of any given food item was suitably offset by the enjoyment I was likely to experience eating it. Too often when faced with the bland, boring, processed foods that seems to have taken over the American table the cost:pleasure ratio came out wanting. I wonder if it would be possible to throw out our broken food model and improve health in the US by consciously developing a true food culture. I’d argue that our lack of established food customs gives Americans a unique opportunity to shape meals that work for our bodies, our taste buds our planet and our pocketbooks. This need not be a culture that outright rejects fatty and sweet foods but instead one that treats these foods as so special that they should only be consumed on an occasional basis. Indeed, the point of establishing this culture would be to elevate the American meal to something worth paying for with time, money and calories. Such a system would discourage overeating by associating high monetary and effort cost with foods of higher caloric value. How often would we eat cookies or pizza if we always had to prepare these foods from scratch? How much more enjoyable would these foods be knowing that someone spent the time and money to make them? Who wouldn’t choose homemade chocolate chip cookies over Chips Ahoy?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

How to Make Friends and Influence People with Cake

In honor of Gillian's birthday last week I stole this recipe from Smitten Kitten. Nothing says Happy 33rd like a felony! Actually, nothing says Happy 33rd like 3 cups of whipped cream. I am very happy to report that this recipe has the most impressive ease of baking to number of oohs and ahhs ratio that I've ever experience in cake form. If you have no desire or ability to bake but somehow have been roped into providing dessert for people whose opinions matter this is the cake for you (if the dessert is for losers who you don't care to impressive might I suggest pudding cups?).

I made only one change to Smitten Kitten's recipe, I needed the cake to be substantially larger than the 7 cookie base that she describes, I accomplished this by surrounding the middle cookie with the halves of two other cookies (sorry for the blurry picture). The wafers were easily halved using a serrated knife though this did bring a certain amount of collateral damage to my kitchen floor where a week later I'm still picking up little black crumbs with my bare feet (brooms are for losers.).

Upon arrival at the office with this cake the gasps of "Oh my god you made that?!?" were almost deafening. I suppose I should have smiled, demurred and taken credit for my awesome baking skills but much as I cannot help replying to "cute shirt!" with "I know! JCrew online sale! FIVE DOLLARS!!!" in this case I could not help revealing that this was the easiest cake ever. The only skill required is the whipping of cream and I had the Kitchen Aide do that for me, from there on out it's just layering. If I make the cake again I'll spread the whipped cream out further to the edges of the cookies. When I assembled the cake having the cookie edges stick out looked great but after the requisite overnight setting period the wafers couldn't stand up to the extra weight of the absorbed whipped cream resulting in droopy cookies. Looking at the picture of the Smitten Kitten version also makes me wonder if I should have whipped the cream a little more but the texture of my cake seems good and I have a primal fear of overwhipping.

Ms. Kitten writes that she had considerable trouble locating the Nabisco chocolate wafer cookies needed to make this cake but I am happy to report that Key Food totally delivered on the cookies -- though it seems likely that they had been waiting around on the shelf since 1963. Cookies don't go bad, right? While in the grocery story I also came across packages of chocolate mint, ginger and lemon wafer cookies and I wonder if the recipe could be made with thee variations -- gingersnap icebox cake sounds pretty awesome.

Spending a good 15mins layering cookies is apt to wear a girl out so post "baking" Amy and I indulged in whipped cream sundaes while watching the last episode of Gilmore Girls. This might seem like the kind of eating that has lead to the obesity epidemic now so rampant in this country but might I direct you to the strawberries at the bottom of the bowl -- that's fruit people, fruit is HEALTHY.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The One Where I Talk to a Boy and Things Go Down Hill From There

I embrace the “Random” in Random Access Babble so I don’t like when this blog veers too much towards one topic. Lately this threatens to become “that blog where the funny girl mocks all the losers she’s had the bad luck of dating (And oh yeah once she wrote that really long post about United – she seems bitter).” I’m trying very hard not to let this happen, I’m even sitting on Winner Parade 4 in an effort to seem well rounded. I could have sat on this post as well but I’m at a loss for other topics and I have no ability to resist writing about my personal tragedies, especially when, unlike much of this blog, they’re happening in the now. And so… another post about dating. Don’t get too used to it, I’m reading Letter to a Christian Nation so I’m bound to break out the political wailing any day now.

Much to the disappointment of many of my friends (most vocally, Kajal) I very rarely talk to boys in bars/clubs/concert venues/life unless I’m asking them when they plan on hitting their development milestones. I talk a big game pre outing in the huddle but when it comes to hiking, running and most importantly passing I don’t deliver. I have often commented that I have no game and would be very interested in a class offering to teach me exactly how other people pull off things like flirting without melting into a puddle of embarrassment. The fact that I would even think to turn to a class for such things probably says more about the nature of my problems than anything else on this blog. Friday night’s boat trip/Weakerthans concert (which, by the way: awesome idea, why aren’t all concerts on boats?) was shaping up to be more of the same. Gillian, Lisa and I spent a good 15mins surveying the audience members, nitpicking on girl’s outfits (seriously, blue linen overalls with a belt? Who does that?) and admiring the cute indie boys from afar. Gillian quickly started in on the “why aren’t you actually talking to any guys?” game.

G: Look, boy in Fly shirt, totally cute!

B: yeah.

G: Go tell him you like his shirt!

B: not happening.

G: Come ooooooon, he’s cute.

B: That’s awkward. Also: he’s now doing a weird dance so… perhaps not so cute.

Boy in Fly shirt was actually pretty cute so I started in on my way too subtle game of, “look at him occasionally and send psychic messages that he should totally talk to me.” Typically this results in much disappointment due to the pathetically bad mind reading skills of most of the male population (Dudes: work on that). Perhaps for the first time ever, with Fly Boy the plan totally works!

So we chat, it’s good times, mostly… I should have been more concerned when he wasn’t interested in either of my proposed communication topics (“what do you think the Canadian to nonCanadian ratio is here?” “What do you think the mean age in the room is?"). Fly boy is nice enough but comes on way too strong with the “can I have a kiss?” like 10 minutes into meeting me. I’m trying to go with the flow on this one and not be my normal analytical, crazy, life plan oriented self so I focus on getting into the whole kissing random guy in public thing. While this totally makes Lisa and Gillian’s night (they begin photographing the event and texting Kajal to let her know just what she’s missing out on while attending yet another wedding in the south.) it makes my night somewhat uncomfortable. I don’t really love kissing in front of other people. Especially when the kissing is happening with someone who I just met and who, though totally cute, I cannot really imagine myself ever actually dating. So I’m thinking about this (so much for dropping analytical off at the sitter’s for the evening) and kind of deciding that this kissing Fly Boy thing is no longer happening, which I totally stick with except that then he gets all “fine I’ll just kiss your neck/back/arm (cause arm kissing is hot). And he’s super insistent that I go out with him and his friends post concert. I’m a paranoid girl so the thought of going out all alone (G and L were bailing) with some strange dude and his bros was setting off all sorts of “Girl, you are asking to be raped” alarm bells in my head. So jokingly I say…

B: How many friends do you have? Cause I’m a vulnerable sweet young thing and I can just see this going the roofies route.

J: I *WISH* I had some roofies so I could rape you!

Wow. Yeah, that’s just the kind of joke you wanna be making. The conversation was kind of downhill from here, let me give you a few highlights.

B: These are my friends Gillian and List

J: Hi, I’m Jeff

G: Is that with a J or a G? I’m Gillian with a G

J: A J



(The band plays on, we sail by the statue of liberty, 45 minutes pass)



J: Hi, I don’t think I met you ladies, I’m Jeff

(General cracking up)

G: Gillian

J: With a G?

(Brianna mouthing to Lisa “-10 points” between additional cracking up)

I’d like to think he was kidding or drunk or had been involved in a tragic accident that resulted in short term memory lost… but unfortunately all of those would be wishful thinking.

And then there was this….

J: Yeah, I was really into Physics, I snuck into Columbia to take some classes but they were all lame, I knew so much more than the professors and I would argue with them and they totally could not defend themselves, it was sad. Anyway, I figured that college was a waste of time, I wasn’t getting any opportunity to contribute to the psychics world so I left.

B: How are you contributing to the physics world as a cabinet maker?

Oh poor misguided boy, do not diss scientists to me.

I bailed on the going out.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Random Recommends 6

Nintendo DS New York Times Crosswords

If you've been holding our on buying a DS because you are old and don't like video games it's time to put down your ovaltine, grab your cane, shew the kids from the lawn, climb into the Olds, try not to run over a farmers market, double park in the handicap spot at Circuit City, curse the damn kids and their foul music and pick one up. While you're in the devils playground you should absolutely pick up a copy of New York Times Crosswords (and though I am not officially recommending it you might as well complete the cliche and buy Brain Age).

I've been obsessively doing crosswords on the subway for the last week or so and despite only doing the Mondays the game continues to give me scores in the D range -- I like this game enough that I am able to resist banging my DS angrily against the orange plastic seats. Having this snazzy new way to do crosswords has totally gone to my head. I caught myself on Tuesday angling my screen so that the man sitting to my left doing crosswords the old fashion way could see my high tech crossword machine and get very jealous (and maybe talk to me and maybe ask me out and then buy me a wii and live happily ever after -- Thank you DS crossword game!!!).

The obvious downside to purchasing this game is that you will look like a totally loser to other gamers on the subway. I need some sort of button that I can wear while playing that makes it clear that I also play cool games made for people under the age of 55.

Origins Checks and Balances Face Wash

I hate washing my face, it's boring, and soap gets in your eyes and I'm really really lazy. I admit to often going with the "disposable make-up removing wipe option" and occasionally with the "my pores are MUCH too clear, I think I'll sleep with make-up on just to keep them nice and cozy" option. On nights when the guilt over wasteful disposable products and/or embarrassment over being so disgusting really get to me I turn to Checks and Balances. The face wash is satisfyingly foamy and doesn't really smell like anything which I consider a plus. $17.50 is more than I would normally be willing to pay for soap but I've found that a tini tiny bit goes a long way -- 5 oz should easily last me a year, though other more cleanliness obsessed readers/washers may not be so frugal. It still leaves my eyes all teary but until someone invents a "no more tears" face wash (seriously, get on that people -- since when does being over 5 means that soap doesn't sting your eyes?) I'll stick with Origins.

Trader Joe's Hot & Sweet Mustard

Trader Joe's is too good for pictures and online sales but next time you're in one of their many fine stores admiring the hot checkers in Hawaiian shirts or wondering if there is a discernible difference between the garlic and regular hummus (not usually) (or while waiting in line for hours at their annoyingly crowded one NYC location... though not for long) you should pick up a jar of the best condiment ever. This mustard is of course awesome on a sandwich but it is also great smothered on baked salmon (as I learned from Amy) or (do not judge me) with apple slices. It's good enough that when Trader Joe's stop carrying it for a couple of months due to some sort of complicated stocking problem my entire family was so traumatized that we now buy at least 6 jars at once just in case (just in case the apocalypse comes and the people who make this make this mustard are raptured first as a thank you from God for bringing such joy to the world and then those of us Left Behind not only have to contend with locusts and rains of frogs and the anti Christ but we have to do it with sub par sandwiches). When I first moved to New York and there was no Trader Joe's in the city limits (clearly I did not do enough research premove) I used to haul jars from California to New York risking mustard stained panties, I love it that much.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Winner Parade: Entry 3

One of the most important experiences in a young girl’s transition from mopey tortured adolescent to cynical world weary young adult is the international hook up. For my own lesson in boys will be boys the world round I choose a rough around the edges Aussie chap who had impressive biceps, a knickers wetting accent and a girlfriend far away in Michigan. A note on the girlfriend: I suppose it could be claimed that I am a naughty naughty whore for hooking up with a boy who was already spoken for but I generally believe that a) significant others who live over 50 miles away only count if there has been some sort of formal legal commitment; and b) it is not my job to stop some randy young boy from cheating on his girlfriend, especially if he’s hot; also, c) I was 20.

This “physical acquaintance experience” (to call it a relationship would be a huge stretch) was so brief and un-Brianna-like that I was hesitant to include it in the parade. Unlike previous Winner Parade entries International Hook Up (IHU) didn’t do anything horrible like cheat on me or leave the country without tell me so it seems slightly unfair to force him to follow such class acts. But IHU did tow a glorious stupidity float through about 20mins of the parade and I really need blog fodder so here he is, in all his hunky dopey Aussie glory.

International Hook Up is probably the only gentleman in my past that I “dated” with no intention of forming a relationship. Living temporarily in a foreign country is great for flights of whimsy such as this – I would be gone in 5 months and so it seemed perfectly ok, for perhaps the first and last time in my life, to hook up with a boy only because he was cute and (relatively) available. While in Perth I lived in international student housing which made up of 35% Pacific Islanders and Africans studying hard for a better life, 20% Aussies from out in the bush hoping to escape the fate of marrying a sheep and 45% Americans and Europeans looking for the best place to score booze and some Aussie ass. This atmosphere allowed me to shrug off the trappings of serious, conservative sweet young thing and temporarily don the slutty slutty frills of a girl totally willing KISS BOYS SHE HARDLY KNOWS! (when I go slutty I go… only slightly of less conservative than Mother Teresa).

I met International Hook Up on my second or third day in the land down under and thought him cute but honestly his looks were seriously over shadowed by his South African roommate who was a model and, predictably, gay. I didn’t “get to know” (*nudgenudgewinkwink*) IHU until about a month into my stay when we shared a cab home from a night club. We went to his apartment under the guise of watching some high quality late night/early morning Aussie TV (meaning European music videos) but, of course, quickly got to the making out (nothing sets the mood like ABBA). I’ve blocked out much of my embarrassing hook up history so I do not honestly remember how many time I “hung out” with IHU but sometime a week or so before our friendship began I heard rumors of his having spent some quality time prior to my arrival in Perth with a very unappealing girl named Fiona and it could not have been more than 2 or 3 weeks after we hooked up that he met another girl, who had it much worse than I in the falling hard for a silly boy department. IHU was a bit of a slut.

One evening while perched on the edge of his bed trying to hold my legs up just enough so that my thighs looked as thin as possible beneath the hem of my dress (Aside: probably the best thigh exercise in the world, this move requires one to hold her thighs suspended just slightly in midair so that the extra fat hangs down thus creating the illusion of thighs at least 15% smaller than the reality – it’s good for your abs too. Fake it til you make it in action.) I smiled and flipped my hair as International Hook Up showed me picture after picture of girls he’d dated or thought hot, many of these were featured in a swim suit calendar which he removed from the wall. This was, of course, slightly concerning, as I had apparently chosen to hook up with a complete idiot. A tip for my male readers: The personal tour of your gallery of masturbatory fantasies is ill-advised until at least date 5. Even more troubling, all of the girls -- high school girlfriend, Miss Michigan, Bikini clad model #4 -- looked strangely similar (though it goes without saying that Mrs. Bikini probably didn’t need to pull the thigh slimming illusion): cute, short, white, blue eyes, shoulder length curly blonde hair. He went on to explain how much he loved blond curly hair which made me feel weirdly fetishized – this was much less fun than I had hoped, so much for my fulfilling career as a sex symbol. It became even weirder when I got to thinking about how IHU looked – Mr. Blond Curly himself….

Sadly, International Hook Up leaves no internet trail – I have to assume that he remains as computer illiterate as the day I met him, which is sad as the internet offers an easy way to find millions of pictures of bikini-clad girls with blond curly hair – he’s really missing out. I heard a rumor that he had wed Miss Michigan through my Australian Grapevine but as my only gossip source on this vine (Hi Courtney!) has since moved to the UK so I can’t really call the information reliable. Since IHU did nothing to wrong me, and since I had very low expectation for him anyway I wish him all the best. I hope that he is a pearl farmer (he was majoring in aquaculture) somewhere in AU happily not married to some girl he spent at least a year cheating on. I hope he has expanded his girl buffet to include women that do not look vaguely related to him. And of course, as always, I hope that on nights when he switches on the Telly and is greeted by the cast of Scrubs or Judge Judy or some other American accent he thinks fondly of this curly blond haired girl and pines away for hours.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Omnivore's Dilemma

I recently finished The Omnivore’s Dilemma and despite typing the word dilemma at least 100 times over the past month or so I still spell it so incorrectly that I have to retype it about 5 times to get something close enough for spell check to recognize. The book was almost a direct response to my November, Why Organic? post so I assume that Michael Pollan has been psychically stalking me and poaching my thoughts for the benefit of his writing career, I would be angry but it’s not like I have the funding or the patience to write a book myself – someone might as well make use of my brilliant mental insights.

About two weeks into reading the book I had a dream that I was in a grocery store staring at a case of frozen chickens paralyzed over the decision between the standard chicken and the $4/lb more expensive organic free range version. In the dream I was so agitated that I started arguing with other customers and must have lingered in the meat aisle for days on end. Dream Brianna was obsessed with determining if the free range organic super powered chicken led a slightly less tortured life than boring old conventional chicken but, of course, could not determine this based on any of the information being offered by the packaging. This proves that my dream self is much more tortured and annoying than the waking Brianna – all of you should count yourselves lucky. (This also proves that my subconscious is ridiculously lazy when it comes to putting together interesting dream scenarios. Frankly, I think I’m getting screwed. This dream took up valuable time that could have been spent listening to Jack White sing a love song he wrote just for me while Rhett Miller feeds me spoonful after spoonful of premium ice cream. But back to food politics -- talk like that might keep all of my new readers coming back and I’m working pretty hard at scaring them away with a long boring diatribe.) In real life I am not so troubled as to attack other shoppers over the organic vs. local vs. conventional food choices that I make everyday but The Omnivore’s Dilemma has certainly further complicated the already stressful task of feeding myself.

Pollan’s research into the world of industrial organic food confirms many of my fears about the organic food industry. Despite what marketing claims much of the organic food on the market is only marginally “better” than most conventional options. The truth is that very very little of the US food supply begins life in the bucolic farmland featured in the pictures on the back of most food packaging. Sure, no pesticides were used in growing the organic produce but the operation likely required the use of more industrial machinery and it had to be carted to you from half way around the country (or even the world) both of which add up to more gasoline use which means more pollution for the planet in general. Organic standards seem even more irrelevant when applied to meat and dairy now that organic feedlots are a common occurrence. My father read The Omnivore’s Dilemma before me and the chapter on industrial organic led him to concluded that all organic food is a scam, but despite the somewhat dismal picture painted by Pollan I still haven’t completely closed my wallet on organic. If I could reliably find organic semi-local food that wasn’t ridiculously more expensive than the conventional alternative I would buy it. As my all organic all the time friend Sky (yeah, you think I had hippy parents…) said, “Isn’t less pesticide ALWAYS better even if it’s not perfect?” Sure, but that's hardly the only factor to consider. Usually it is all but impossible to know if the food I’m buying is sustainably farmed or humanly ranched. Large organic companies have mastered the game of “find the loophole” and are now often organic in name and legality alone. CSA season started last week so I’ll be happily living the dream of clean food for most of my produce until November (we even get fruit and some meat and eggs this year) but when I placed my Fresh Direct order on Monday the only organic food I bought were apples that the claimed were from a local orchard.

The “best” food conclusion Pollen comes to is that local food from a reputable farmer is probably the healthiest choice for your body, the bodies of farm workers and the planet in general. The chapter about Polyface Farm in Virginia has me all but convinced that I should just move as close to that farm as possible. In an ideal world the answer should probably be growing and hunting as much of your own food as possible. Despite Pollan’s assertion that this is a highly unrealistic goal my parents pretty much live this life. Growing up I had no idea that this was anything other than normal (this statement is a hilarious description of my entire life experience from age 0-18). My parents (yes, Mom too; she’s badass) went deer hunting evey October, in July they often purchased a pig or lamb from the 4-H auction, we ate out of the garden all summer and supped on jars of spaghetti sauce, dilly beans, jam and dried fruits all winter long. We had rabbits that we killed and froze; we went fishing and stocked up on trout. Dinner was eaten at the table as a family almost every night (apparently 47% of Americans claim this as the norm so even though “family dinner” seems to have a pretty loose interpretation in some households this puts my family on the cusp of normal for about the first time ever.). I blame this ridiculous upbringing for my inability to be at peace with food without knowing the intimate details of its origin – Thanks Mom and Dad.

I grew up in a family of hunters but Pollan was the first person to ever inspire in me a small desire to kill and eat an animal. I know that some of my vegetarian readers might now be wondering if I’m famous enough to warrant a PETA assault on my character (sadly, probably not) but I urge everyone to hear me out. I eat meat. I don’t really have problems with eating meat. I do however have a beef with the meat industry in this country (let’s hear it for bad puns!). So hunting offers the cleanest opportunity for procuring meat and I feel a little of that, “if you can eat it you should be able to kill it,” lefty carnivore guilt. The hunting chapter also reminded me of something my father once said during a conversation about a couple of friends who had gone vegan. The desire to completely remove oneself from the food chain seems to imply a want to further distance humans from the wild. Similarly it is somehow considered morally questionable to humanly kill a wild animal that has had a chance to live a healthy life but morally clean to buy packaged hamburger that likely originated at a factory farm where the animal lived and died in dismal conditions. (Though it seems possible that looking down on hunters is as much related to social hierarchy as to society’s feelings on killing animals).

The book also has me curious about mushrooms to the point of obsession. Until today I hadn’t been successful in locating any possibilities for wild mushroom hunting in the New York area and thought I would be reduced to scattering store bought fungi in Astoria Park and playing Easter egg hunt some Sunday afternoon (please join me, crazy is more fun in groups!). But today I found this radio program on the wild foods of Central Park and apparently there are tons of edible mushrooms hiding in the park including oyster mushrooms! I’m now ready to sign up for a park tour with the Wildman. He mentioned that the best tour is in the fall but I can’t wait and think I’ll be at the July 1 Central Park tour. Since I have reason to believe that poor website design is a sign of an awesome food tour to come I’m feeling pretty psyched about these plans.

About a year ago I started feeling better about the US food situation. Organic was picking up, fast food was tanking, and the populous seemed to be hearing the message of Fast Food Nation and Super Size Me and the organic movement. The US food system was in serious trouble and we, as a society, needed to work together to improve things. Today I don’t even know who to root for. I used to occasionally buy organic food under the guise of voting with my dollars, I felt like taking my money away from Con Agra and their ilk would send the message that I want the food system to change. Change is here but The Omnivore’s Dilemma leaves me even more unsure that we’ve improved upon the status quo.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Honey, We Have Guests!

On Monday ProfessorBrainbridge linked to my United Airlines post and he must be pretty well respected because on Tuesday his praise resulted in 299 hits on this little blog. Only about 10 of those were me putting out guest towels, cleaning behind the toilet and pretending that I never eat in front of the television. Mama done brought me up right: always lie to guests. If only I'd had time to prepare I would have totally had pants on when all the new folks arrived.

Thank god for site meter (and stat counter, my ego demands two forms of behind the scenes blog-y goodness) or I'd have never known that I was on the cusp of fame and would be ill prepared for the day when I sell out to advertisers, quit my job and blog full time (next Thursday). 300+ visitors and not one of you can leave a comment? Don't you know that I live for comments and die for comments from people who don't know me in real life and therefore have no obligation to care about my ramblings?

It's funny how my ego has gotten so tied up in this blog. Seeing all of those people poking around has me acting like Sally Field, "You like me!!!!"

Update: Today I got linked by The Curious Capitalist over at TIME MAGAZINE. Let me quote his eloquent description of yours truly, "one of the great blog posts of our age." I have only one thing to say to you Mr. Capitalist, "Your place or mine?"

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

What I Ate in Europe

When I was home for Christmas my brother mocked me asking, "do you photograph all of you food?" The honest answer to this is, "no, but I kind of want to." So on my trip to Europe last week I made a point of photographing as many meals as possible. When in Europe I feel constantly obligated to prove that not all Americans are fat lazy oil guzzling creationists which means that in addition to surveying the people around me to verify that I am squarely in the average bucket size-wise (or, in England comfortably seated in "skinny") I have to volunteer to walk anywhere (which one night resulted in a 45 minute hike before dinner, sorry Tonya) and make sure everyone I talk to knows I did not vote for Bush. I don't imagine that photography my meals did much to dispel the fat American stereotype but food is about the only subject matter that I feel confident pointing a camera at (thank god for the "macro" setting) and I knew that when I got home I'd need something to blog about. So, I present "Eating on the Continent" a Photo Essay.

KLM Friday night flight from JFK to Amsterdam

I suspect that KLM kept the plane parked on the runway for two hours only to nurture my appetite to the point of "will eat whatever she's given and will then fall into a sleep coma." I guess I should thank them for the 3 hours of sleep that this meal garnered. The stand out was the couscous salad in the front, the couscous wasn't at all clumpy and the salad had just enough parsley to taste fresh. Everything else can only be described as "carby." The pasta required that I repurpose the butter that came with the roll (not worth photographing or eating) in order to provide some distinction between noodles.

Lunch in Copenhagen

The traditional lunch option pushed at all tourists in Copenhagen are open face sandwiches called smørrebrød. There seems to be an endless variety of sandwich toppings but I was tempted to the roast pork and red cabbage because of a German childhood nostalgia for red cabbage (aka rote cole). The sandwich came on the dark heavily seeded bread that seems omnipresent in Scandinavia, as a fan of bread with lots of stuff in it I like the flavor but it was so dense that I had a hard time calling it bread. The pork was amazing, moist and smoky with just the right about of fat. The red cabbage wasn't as tangy as the sweet and sour version that Grandma and Dad have perfected but it was a nice sharp contrast to the savory pork.

Dinner in Malmo 1
To the entirely uneducated tourist (aka me) Malmo seemed to be a bit of a Swedish restaurants mecca. Our first night in town we dined at a resturant in the little square, where practically all of the eateries seem to live. Before leaving on this trip a friend tipped me off to the Swedish summer tradition of crayfish so when I saw this "Swedish tapas" (pictured on left) appetizer on the menu I knew I had to try it. The crayfish were served cold and garnished with a bit of dill (the Swedes love dill almost as much as licorice and karaoke) but they didn't need any other adornments. The dried tomatoes were a great addition to the tapas plate, chewy and sweet they were a great balance for the heavy cheesy and curred pork (both of which hardly seemed Swedish). The pickled herring trio on the right was probably better than version we tried the day before in Copenhagen, the fish was less mushy and the cream cheese it was served with was a nice accompaniment on the little fish sandwiches that we made. I mentioned this in a previous post but pickled herring is surprisingly not fishy tasting, the pickling seems to render the herring defenseless and you end up with a vinegary background for whatever sauce the fish is smothered in in this case we got apple curry mayonnaise, sweet onion and plain.

Dinner in Malmo 2

Our second night in Malmo found us at the Tempo Bar where the nicest waiter on earth sat down with us and translated the entire menu. We ordered a polenta starter which came with a vingery salsa of capers and olives, it made for a pretty presentation but a week later I can't remember what the appetizer tasted like. I also ordered a nettle soup which didn't photograph near as well as it tasted. I didn't even know nettles were edible -- it turns out they taste a lot like artichokes, I can't find any evidence that artichokes and nettles are related but it seems likley given the similar look and taste. Ox might just be Swedish for "cow," it showed up on the menu at multiple restaurants, my Ox fillet main was a great medium rare steak, the meat was tender and went great with the local beer.

Last Meal in Scandinavia

In an effort to spend the Danish change in my pockets before flying off to the UK I purchased 3 packages of licorice candy, a sparkling water and an unidentifiable juice from the in airport 7-11. The licorice mentos were a particularly exciting find and while I would not have thought to combine the flavors of mint and licorice I was pleasantly surprised. The orange box contained a much more sinister candy with a taste reminiscent of couch drops. The Super Flyers candy delivered on the mild promise made on its label but the licorice ropes were filled with a strange grainy white substance that, while not completely unpleasant taste-wise seriously diminished the licorice experience in term of texture. When I purchased the bottle of juice I thought it was likely a current juice but it seemed much too sweet to be anything other than the juice from the sugar cane plant, it was much more palletable when mixed in a 50/50 ratio with the seltzer water.
Proper English Supper

On my last night in Leeds my friend Courtney and her boyfriend Darren took me out to a pub for a traditional English meal. In the spirit of the evening I ordered a steak pie with a beer based gravy. The Brits must be getting fancy because they threw a bit of green on my plate -- I don't know what type of plant this came from since I refused to eat it -- no one eats greens in England! The pie was good, but not great -- I know this might be blasphemy but I think it needed some carrots and peas and potato bits, like in a chicken pot pie, this was all beef and gravy and a bit boring -- though the crust was great, flaky, crisp, everything Martha Stewart strives for.
Virgin Airlines flight from Heathrow to JFK

Everything here was fine and notably better than the KLM meal that the trip started with. The cottage pie (mashed potatos on top of mixed veggies in a tomato sauce) was a bit bland but still good by the standards of airline food. The pasta salad was also in need of flavor but the mozzerella balls kind of made up for the otherwise uninteresting experience (it's amazing the things that dairy can save). The wine was bitter enough that I had to force it down (can't let booze go to waste!) and the bread was so dry that I don't think even butter could have saved it. In the end none of the slightly disappointing food colored my feelings about the meal because Virgin had the good sense to end on a high note: The Frü-ty Pud. This tiny little lemon flavored dessert was scrumptious! the bottom of the container was filled with a tart sauce and ontop was a creamy lemon mouse-like substance. I've just spent 20mins googling "Frü-ty Pud" and have found surprisingly few references to the dessert or porn -- I think the internet is getting lazy.

After a week of good food I'm forced to accept at least two weeks of consciously healthy eating in order to maintain my sleek physique. The two weeks started today since last night Kajal made Dorito casserole in honor of the season premiere of Big Love. I can't recommend this dish mostly because I could never quite get over the scary concept of chips as binder. I know at least one reader will be disappointed that my first foray into Frito-Lay sponsored main courses did not include Fritos but I can't imagine that any chip could really make an elegant cross over from snack to dinner.

In conclusion -- Eurpoe has some good food, you should eat there, I give it 4.5/5 fat Americans.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Ain't No Party Like a Swedish Party

Last night I attended a very nice sit down dinner at a restaurant overlooking the Oresund Bridge outside of Malmo Sweden. There was tuna sashimi in a lime sauce, some sort of veal filet, an unidentifiable triangle of shredded meat covered in mustard seeds, roasted beets, some vegetable with the texture of old gnarled tree bark and a delicious Jerusalem artichoke soufflé that I’d like to recreate (this recipe seems like a good place to start). I sat next to a pair of Swedes, both named Magnus (“it means the big one!” *NudgeWinkNudge*) and across from my travel partner Tonya who was next to a British guy who claims to have played drums on the Animal’s versions of “House of the Rising Sun.” The former Animal has been through a lot of therapy since his Rock ‘N Roll days and has "learned how to be a people." He has also learned about The Secret and would not shut up about the awesome miracle of positive thinking – it’s good to know that America has no monopoly on suckers. The dinner was sponsored by the company hosting the conference that I’ve been attending all week and was a forum for them to present their yearly awards for the best uses of their product.

Between finishing our main course and the promised chocolate cake the lights dimmed and smoke began pouring out from the stage area where the conference MC had been announcing award nominees and flirting with guests in broken English. I briefly considered the possibility that something was seriously wrong with the cake baking process but concluded that more than likely the smoke was there to create a celebratory high school dance-like atmosphere for the announcement of award winners. Luckily, what happened next was much more awesome than a fire or a prom.

Out came the youngest and prettiest of the conference hosts -- we’ll call them Swedish Classic (the blonde one) and Swedish Now with Pigment! (the brunette) -- dressed in matching long black glittery dresses and carrying microphones. They waved and smiled at the audience and then they began to sing “Hopelessly Devoted,” about 90 seconds into the song they segued via a move in which they rhythmically rubbed their asses against one another into Swedish Classic singing her version of “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” which was quickly followed by New Swedish with Pigment doing her best Axel Rose version of “Live and Let Die.” Throughout much of this performance I was forced to stare at the table cloth, praying that I would not pee my pants laughing. I could not look up lest I looked too closely at Tonya and caught her particularly deadly and contagious version of the giggles which were obviously very painful as she was crying. Between drooling over the contestants of Swedish Idol Mr. Animal kept insisting that we telling him the story that made this situation so funny proving that none of his group therapy taught him to develop a regular person sense of humor.

I am having a hard time imagining the sequence of events that lead to this karaoke performance at a technical conference but I hope it went something like this:

NSwP: This conference sounds kind of boring, it’s like: børk børk programming, børk børk technology, børk børk gross chocolate mouse that we’re calling cake just to piss people off. We should spice things up.

SC: Are you thinking find the licorice candy in the pickled herring cause I am!

NSwP: No, that seems unsafe. There will be Americans there, preserved fish terrifies them and they might start yelling about WMDs and invade. I say we wow them with a little love song medley!

SC: Børk!

There was obviously nowhere for the evening to go after the song fest was over. I had a couple more glasses of wine and briefly considered bedding a Magnus but a mere 20 minutes later I was alone in a cab back to the hotel with the knowledge that American conferences never offer this level of amusement. If we’re not careful we may lose our status as World’s Leader in Buffoonary.

(don't worry, I totally took pictures -- I'll update when I get home)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Dispatch from Copenhagen

I spent the last two days in Copenhagen where I did not find any cherry liqueur but did find a few other things worth importing to the USA. Yesterday, at lunch, I tried pickled herring 3 ways, I have no idea if each type had a special name so I will call them "fish and cloves," "the vinegary one," and "the yellow one." Surprisingly I liked the clove version the best, you would not think that a flavor most commonly associated with pumpkin pie would work well with fish but it was quite yummy. None of the pickled herring tasted much like fish anyway, either herring isn't not a very fishy fish or the salt and vinegar are overpowering enough to mask any flavor. That said I'm not sure that us Americans are ready for preserved fish, but if someone would bring the following 5 items to Target, I promise to buy them.

A Few Things That We Should Import From Denmark

  1. Bikes! there are bikes everywhere in this city, they are piled in impressive hills of handlebars and wheels or parked in football field sized bike lots. Lately, I have been toying with the idea of getting a bike myself but have been overwhelmed by the idea of shopping for a bike since I really just want something to tool around on and see no need for all of the fancy-schmancy silliness that seems to come with every bike for sale in New York. The Danish bikes are exactly my speed, they are bulky station wagon-like contraptions with huge wheels covered with bumpers and have wide comfy looking seats. I imagine that they are perfect for a big basket and a cruise into town to pick up a few flowers and some fruit at one of the quaint little kiosks in the city center (there are beautiful peon's everywhere and I bought a pack of the largest raspberries in the world -- each was at least 2 inches long!)
  2. All Around the World! My travel companion, Tonya, and I stumbled into this store while wondering around in Stroget, a huge outdoor mall. All Around the World was like a hipper, Ikea (without furniture) and while I suspect it might be a chain I could not locate a website online. If I didn't have to carry it around Europe I would have purchased some cherry themed dishwear, a couple of brightly colored blue and pink floral pillows, and some elderflower cider (which I later had at a cafe and was very impressed with, and which does have booze in it, in case you were wondering). I would probably have refrained from purchasing the other 500 or so objects of desire in the store because at this time I was still unable to grasp the conversion from DKKs to USA $s which resulted in that hilarious time where I withdrew $700+ from my bank account and had to figure out if I would need to call mom and dad to put money in my account to cover my rent check. Good times.
  3. Licorice candy. The only thing purchases we made at All Around the World were 3 different types of licorice candies (one in rope form, one in chewy capsule form (ala' Mike & Ikes) and one with 2 different types of hard candy). I've always liked Tonya but discovering her love for licorice has made her one of my favorite people. It turns out that Tonya's siblings (all 6 of them!) were much crueler than Kurt ever was as they made her trade other jellybean flavors for the licorice ones that they weren't willing to eat anyway -- Kurt always let me take those off his hands for free (thanks little bro! Who am I kidding? You don't read my blog... loser.) . I suppose when there are 7 kids in a family everyone becomes much more territorial. If you had dropped 7 year old me in that pile of children I'd most likely have starved to death. My favorite licorice candy version was the hard candy which had a slightly salty taste to it, I know that sounds gross but I doubt it matters, I lost all of my readership at the mention of licorice. The candy is so awesome that just typing about it is making me crack open one of the two back up bags that I purchased right before leaving the city this afternoon.
  4. Blankets! All of the outdoor cafe's in Copenhagen have blankets on every seat! This was especially appreciated yesterday when the cloudy and damp weather had us fearful that we'd have to choose between ambiance and warmth. Why can't all outdoor restaurants offer this awesome luxury? We bundled up and enjoyed our open face sandwiches (I had roasted pork and red cabbage which was yummy but couldn't compete with the German red cabbage of my childhood).
  5. Not getting dark until 10pm. I was quite proud of both Tonya and I for sticking it out in the world of wakefulness until this relatively late hour. Each of us got about 3 hours of sleep on the hop over the pond and were ready for naps as soon as we deplaned but in an effort to get with the European time zone program we kept busy until we collapsed in bed around 10:30. Dusk just darkening into night as I drifted off but when the boom of fireworks woke me at midnight me there was no light left. I assume the fireworks were in honor of the soccer match between Sweden and Denmark that had taken place in Copenhagen that evening. Earlier in the day this event had also provided Tonya and I with amusement in the form of drunken groups of Swedish boys shouting at one another while swilling large pints of beer. The next morning we would be equally entertaining by the occasional passed out adorable blond bow in the plazas around time. They're all lucky (or perhaps disappointed) that I didn't tie them up and bring them home.
American Imports in Denmark

  1. 7-11 owns half of Copenhagen. The mini-mart was so omnipresent that when in search of a bottle of water we made no attempt to locate a source figuring we'd effortlessly stumble upon a 7-11 within 10mins.
  2. Cowboys. Within 10 minutes of leaving our hotel on a wander around the city we came upon a group of Danish girls in boots, fringed shirts and cowboy hats performing line dances. Once dance was to an Irish reel which, though I'm sure the Irish would be appalled, actually worked quite well.
This afternoon we made our way across the bridge into Malmo Sweden so there will be more blogging to come. I forgot my camera cord at home so I'll update with pictures when I return on the 9th.

Best thing about Sweden so far: The lounge version of Black Hole Sun that was being piped into our hotel lobby.