What I'm Reading

April 27, 2009

I want to go NOW

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 2:32 pm
April 26, 2009

36 Hours in Barcelona

 

 

IN recent years, the once-gritty neighborhoods of Born, El Raval and Barceloneta have emerged as the new face of Barcelona — home to some of its best restaurants, bars and designer shops. You wouldn’t want to spend your entire time in Barcelona without traveling outside the boundaries of these three vibrant areas, of course, but spending a few well-chosen days among their narrow streets and shadowy alleyways will provide you with a crash course in what’s hot now.

Friday

5 p.m.
1) RAMBLING ALONG

First things first. Whether it’s your first visit to Barcelona or your 10th, you must hit Las Ramblas. Dive into the sensory overload that is this city’s most famous avenue, with its bird markets, flower stalls, street musicians, mimes, overpriced tapas bars and hundreds upon hundreds of people — locals and tourists alike — out for an afternoon stroll. When you have had enough of the crowds (it won’t take long), duck into the lovely, palm-tree-dotted Plaça Reial for a restorative break and perhaps an icy caña (draft beer; 2.30 euros, or about $3 at $1.35 to the euro) at Karma (Plaça Reial, 10; 34-93-3025-680), one of several cervecerías that line this historic square.

7 p.m.
2) THE PERFECT SANDWICH?

In 2006, Mark Bittman, writer of the Minimalist column in the Dining section of The New York Times, and a frequent contributor to the Travel section, wrote a review of Café Viena (La Rambla del Estudis, 115; 34-93-3171-492; www.viena.es), and its flauta d’ibéric d.o. jabugo, which he called the best sandwich he had ever eaten — a simple, salty masterpiece of crispy bread and lightly cured ham. The lines of diners who crowd this tiny restaurant — sometimes two or three deep at the counter — surely agree. The flauta (accompanied by a caña poured from the porcelain and brass tap) is a perfect snack to tide you over until you can have dinner in about four hours. Total cost: about 8 euros.

9 p.m.
3) HIGH ART, LOW COST

World-class musical performances in stunning architectural settings can be found at the renowned Gran Teatre Del Liceu — more than 150 years old and the survivor of three major fires and one bombing by anarchists — and the Palau de la Música Catalana, which features an over-the-top Catalan Modernist design by Lluís Domènech i Montaner. But more affordable classical music concerts — in an equally beautiful setting — are at the Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar (Plaça de Santa Maria; 34-93-3102-390), a lovely and elegant church in Born that dates from the mid-14th century. A recent weekend featured a performance of Mozart and Haydn by Musica Bohemica of Prague, with tickets at just 20 euros. Afterward, walk across the courtyard to join the stylish crowd gathered at La Vinya del Senyor (Plaça de Santa Maria, 5; 34-93-310-3379) for tapas and one of its many excellent wines featured by the glass.

12:30 a.m.
4) HEATING UP, ICING DOWN

South Beach meets Barcelona at the strip of open-air nightclubs along Passeig Marítim de la Barceloneta. With its elegantly appointed space and its inviting daybeds that couples lounge on as they drink the night away, the Carpe Diem Lounge Club (No. 32; 34-93-22404-70; www.cdlcbarcelona.com) has perhaps the highest profile of these beachside boîtes. But Shôko (No. 36; 34-93-225-9200; www.shoko.biz) seems to have the edge in youth and energy, while the neighboring icebarcelona (Ramon Trias Fargas, 2; 34-93-224-1625; www.icebcn.com), with its promise of a space cooled to minus 8 Celsius (that’s 17.6 Fahrenheit; time limit is 45 minutes) has the quirkiest appeal.

Saturday

10 a.m.
5) MARKET RESEARCH

Join what feels like the city’s entire population on a morning shopping expedition at the sprawling Boqueria (La Rambla, 91), which has been around, in one form or another, since the early 18th century. If a trip among the hundreds of stalls becomes a dizzying experience, grab a counter seat at the hugely popular tapas spot, Bar Pinotxo (34-93-317-1731), for a brief rest and a late morning bite. (Try the salt cod croquettes.)

11:30 a.m.
6) THE ART OF THE EVERYDAY

There are some superb examples of present-day Catalan art at Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (Plaça dels Àngels, 1; 34-93-412-0810; www.macba.es), but the real show is in the adjoining plaza — a lively scene of whizzing skateboarders, young families on weekend outings and dozens of people waiting to ride makeshift go-carts fashioned out of unlikely pieces of furniture, from filing cabinets to rocking chairs.

2 p.m.
7) EAT, SHOP, EAT

The museum also provides an excellent jumping-off point for exploring the surrounding neighborhood for a few hours. Have lunch at Ánima (Carrer dels Àngels, 6; 34-93-342-4912) nearby, where a two-course set lunch — with dishes like a carrot and fresh thyme soup and tuna with pan-fried endives — costs just 10 euros. Afterward, wander the streets of El Raval, where you will find some of Barcelona’s most interesting shops and fashion outlets, including one of the city’s branches of the famed Camper shoe store chain (Plaça dels Àngels, 4; 34-93-342-4141). Then, before heading back to your hotel for a rest, stop by the ever-crowded BarcelonaReykjavik bakery (Carrer del Doctor Dou, 12; www.barcelonareykjavik.com; 34-93-3020-921) for its organic treats, like a delicious leek and olive oil bread (7.38 euros).

9 p.m.
8) USING YOUR SENSES

The eight-course Sensations menu at the elegant Cinc Sentits (Carrer d’Aribau, 58; 34-93-3239-490; www.cincsentits.com) begins with a bracing shot glass of maple syrup, chilled cream, cava sabayon and a layer of rock salt; winds its way through Mediterranean tuna in smoked tomato water and Iberian suckling pig cooked sous vide; before finally ending up with olive oil ice cream and shattered bread. It’s a superb progression of dishes — each accompanied with a well-chosen wine — and a memorable meal that will leave you sated but not stuffed. About 250 euros for two.

1:30 a.m.
9) THE NIGHT’S STILL YOUNG

If you’re not ready to call it a night (and few locals are at this hour), head to Dry Martini (Carrer d’Aribau, 162; 34-93-217-5080; www.drymartinibcn.com) for one of its signature drinks and its laid-back crowd. Or, if you want to check out a different kind of night life, walk a few blocks to Dboy (Ronda de Sant Pere, 19-21; www.dboyclub.com), the hottest gay club of the moment, where the shirtless crowd will still be going strong well past 5 a.m.

Sunday

10:30 a.m.
10) PICASSO, THE EARLY YEARS

While the rest of Barcelona is still asleep, probably having gone to bed just a few hours earlier, head to the Museu Picasso (Montcada 15-23; 34-93-256-3000; www.museupicasso.bcn.es), where you can have much of this sumptuous collection almost to yourself for a while. Entrance is 9 euros, and the museum is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday.

12:30 p.m.
11) GATHER ROUND

Every Sunday, the Plaça de la Seu, which fronts Barcelona’s imposing Gothic cathedral in the city’s historic center, becomes a stage for aficionados of the sardana. The dancers — mostly women, elegantly dressed in full makeup and jewelry — toss their purses and jackets into the middle of a circle and then join hands as they master the intricate steps (and tiny hops) of this traditional Catalan dance. You’ll probably be asked to donate a euro or two, as part of a collection for the band members playing on the cathedral steps.

1:30 p.m.
12) A SEASIDE FEAST

Much of Barcelona seems to head to the seaside neighborhood of Barceloneta for a Sunday stroll along the waterfront. Watch the passing parade from an outdoor table at La Mar Salada (Passeig Joan de Borbó, 58; 34-93-221-2127) — one of the less-touristy restaurants along this busy strip — and have a lunch of excellently prepared calamari, followed by the house specialty, seafood paella, all accompanied by a crisp white Spanish wine. Lunch for two, about 55 euros.

THE BASICS

American Airlines, Delta and Continental all have nonstop flights from the New York area to Barcelona International Airport. Based on a recent Web search, round-trip fares in June start at about $810. Upon arrival, central Barcelona is about a 20-minute and 30-euro taxi ride ($40.50 at $1.35 to the euro) away. For getting around the city, you can’t beat the efficient and easy-to-navigate Metro system. Best bet is to get a T-10 card, good for 10 trips, for 7.70 euros.

The sleek, 59-room Omm (Carrer Rosselló, 265; 34-93-445-4000; www.hotelomm.es) is home to both an acclaimed restaurant and a happening late-night bar that attracts a healthy sampling of Barcelona’s beautiful people. Rates start at about 240 euros. Budget hotels don’t get more stylish than the Market Hotel (Passatge Sant Antoni Abat, 10; 34-93-325-1205; www.markethotel.com.es). It’s hard to find — tell the cab driver it is an alley off of Carrer del Comte d’Urgell, and about a block from the Sant Antoni Market — but when you do, you’ll be amazed that rates at this impeccably designed, extremely comfortable hotel start at around 60 euros. Elegance by the waterfront is the calling card of the Hotel Arts, a Ritz-Carlton, with its sweeping views of both the sea and the city (Marina, 19-21; 34-93-221-1000; www.hotelartsbarcelona.com). On a hot Barcelona afternoon, there is no more refreshing place to revive than at the hotel’s pool overlooking the playful Frank Gehry steel-lattice “Fish” sculpture. Rates start at 325 euros for a double room, but can drop sharply if you opt for a nonrefundable reservation on the hotel’s Web site.

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April 24, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 5:37 pm

‘Hungry Girl’ Has Found the Way To a Snacking Nation’s Heart

By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 24, 2009

 

WOODLAND HILLS, Calif. — The country’s best-selling cookbook right now is for people who don’t really cook, written by a hyperkinetic 43-year-old former TV producer named Lisa Lillien, who once upon a time hated the fact that she couldn’t fit into her skinny jeans. “I was that person who would sit at the computer and eat an entire bag of fat-free pretzels and think I was doing a good thing,” Lillien says. “I wasn’t.”

She lost 25 pounds eight years ago, and in 2003 she started sending her friends low-fat recipes and tips for finding healthful food in mainstream supermarkets. She then very smartly turned herself into a cartoon character on the Internet called Hungry Girl. Now Lillien has almost 700,000 subscribers to her daily Hungry Girl e-mails, and she employs a staff of nine.

As foodies seek eco-revelation in the local and organic, Hungry Girl speaks the language of chips, cake, cereal, breakfast sausage, taco shells, easy noodles. By doing so, she acknowledges something we all know about ourselves: For all our slow-cooking, sustainable gardening ambitions, we are a nation of snackers. We eat stuff out of bags and cans. Lillien has turned her conviction that she can lose weight while still eating her favorite foods — or at least some version of them — into the latest entry in the highly competitive and ever-changing diet field.

“I know exactly what people will like,” she says. “I just know. I’m that way. When I taste something, I can say, ‘You know what? I like it okay, but only 20 percent of the people will like it,’ or ‘If I really like it, then 99 percent of people will like it, too.’ ” She is absolutely sure of her taste buds and absolutely skeptical of nutrition labels.

This all started when, like in a “Seinfeld” rerun, Lillien drove 40 miles to have her favorite low-fat pastries tested at a lab. They weren’t low-fat at all. She felt burned (and chunky). “People lie,” she says. “Whether or not it’s malicious, there’s a lot of mislabeled stuff out there.” Thus Hungry Girl was born.

Out of seemingly nowhere, Hungry Girl is now the queen of processed food. Manufacturers beg Lillien for her imprimatur on low-cal, low-fat or otherwise “healthy” food. They don’t always get it. They send her bags of baked tortilla chips, boxes of snack bars. A rave on Hungry-Girl.com can phenomenally alter a product’s sales, but the only hitch is that Lillien has to like it. When she touted House Foods brand tofu shirataki noodles last year, the response was so strong that the manufacturer put the Hungry Girl cartoon logo on the package. When she bestowed favor on Holey brand low-fat doughnuts, the maker said it caused his biggest sales day ever, better than when his product was featured on cable TV shows and in People magazine.

Last year, a compilation of Lillien’s most successful recipes, “Hungry Girl: Recipes and Survival Strategies for Guilt-Free Eating in the Real World,” sold more than 200,000 copies — more than two new cookbooks by “30-Minute Meals” queen Rachael Ray. Lillien’s latest, “Hungry Girl 200 Under 200: 200 Recipes Under 200 Calories,” will debut at No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list May 3.

The world headquarters of the Hungry Girl empire is located in an unmarked 1,600-square-foot rental apartment not far off the 101 freeway in the San Fernando Valley, where, on a recent Tuesday morning, a few of Hungry Girl’s employees sit working at computers in what would be the dining room.

In the open kitchen, a food assistant works on today’s test recipe, a version of a Planet Hollywood appetizer from the carbed-out 1990s known as Chicken Crunch (and informally as “Cap’n Crunch Chicken”).

“It was good. We used to order it all the time,” Lillien says fondly, but with a grimace of caloric regret.

The smell of chicken and sugar quickly fills the room, and the recipe’s secret is one of Hungry Girl’s trademark leaner workarounds — blending the pulverized Cap’n Crunch with her favorite healthful breading ingredient, Fiber One cereal.

This is all exactly what it seems: fast recipes, with names such as “chocolate pudding crunch explosion” and “swapcorn shrimp,” using mostly processed ingredients to assemble shame-free nosh. Hungry Girl recipes approximate the foods Lillien knows her adherents (mostly women) crave, such as fried calamari, onion rings and that totem of post-feminist gastronomic fetishes: cute cupcakes.

“It’s a pink Web site, but it’s not too girly-girl,” Lillien says. “The copy isn’t written in that ‘Hey, girlfriend’ stuff.”

Marion Nestle, a New York University nutrition professor, author and proponent of the never-shop-the-center-aisles approach to food, took a look at Hungry Girl’s site the other day and was not thrilled by all the pink freneticism and exclamation points. Nor could she hide some of her skepticism: “Really? A pizza with only 400 calories?”

But then she thought about what we all know about food consumers in America: There are two kinds. More than half of them are more like Hungry Girl. The rest (and Nestle includes herself here) can often be snobs.

“I’m glad people are interested in food and in nutrition,” Nestle says. “If this helps them reach that point, then okay.”

Lillien knows she has critics out there. “People are hypocrites,” she says. “They say ‘shop the perimeter of the store, never eat anything that’s not organic,’ but it’s B.S., because people can’t live like that forever.”

She insists she will not expose her readers to any product she doesn’t run through her own standards: How does it taste, and will it make me fat? She imposes her own simple, Internet-age ethic, walking a line between editorializing and advertising. She says she won’t accept payment for any brand mentioned in her editorial content and won’t sell advertising space on her Web site for products she wouldn’t eat herself.

In an online cacophony of self-started Web sites offering strong opinions about what to eat-buy-do, Lillien is one of those rare profitable breakouts. Hungry Girl occupies a new frontier between consumer news and retail sales, blowing past traditional media. The site does for a new yogurt what Chromewaves does for new music releases, or Naturally Curly does for a new hair conditioner, or Net-a-Porter does for the newest shoes.

Lillien grew up on Long Island. Her mother was (still is) a yo-yo dieter who did Scarsdale, grapefruit, Nutri-System, Optifast, losing the same weight over and over. Her sister went to fat camp one summer. Her brother ate all he wanted. (“Like, an entire box of Lucky Charms, in a salad bowl, with a carton of whole milk,” Lillien recalls, with envy. “And he was a stick with a big head, who never gained weight, wearing a swimsuit with a belt on it.”)

Young Hungry Girl loved the commercials for Dolly Madison Zinger snack cakes that aired with Charlie Brown TV specials. (It was an off-brand Twinkie.) “You couldn’t get Zingers where we lived,” she says. “We had to wait until we went to our summer house.”

It was that sort of life. It was that sort of food. It was many up-and-down pounds ago.

Lillien is married with no children. She and her husband, Daniel Schneider, the creator of Nickelodeon’s “iCarly,” go out for sushi three nights a week. When grocery shopping, she likes to peek in other women’s baskets, a never-ending quest for likeminded Hungry Girls who are looking for healthful options. She always reminds her readers that she isn’t a nutritionist — she’s just bossy. “I think of myself as everyone’s crazy best friend,” she says, “who will go get the answers to what they want to know but don’t have time to get themselves.”

Last month, she added a video studio in an apartment down the hall from her office. A Hungry Girl television show, at some point, is not out of the question. Neither is a line of Hungry Girl grocery items. “And I still have people from my life who ask me what my day job is,” Lillien says. “They have no idea how big this has become.”

The Cap’n Crunch Chicken is done. But is it — to use one of Hungry Girl’s favorite words — yumtastic?

Lillien examines a piece, squints at it, nibbles, considers it, then frowns. “Did you mix the spices first?” she asks her aide. “The Cap’n Crunch is still too chunky. It needs to be smoother. But it’s a good start.”

The research team begins anew.

this guy went to SRHS!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 4:24 pm
 
 

My big feminist wedding

When Jessica Valenti started planning her wedding, she was determined to avoid sexist traditions. But she hadn’t predicted the strength of reaction from family, fellow feminists and the blogger who termed her a ‘ball-cutting cybersuccubus’

Jessica Valenti with Andrew

Jessica, with Andrew: ‘There is no such thing as perfect when you are a feminist getting married’ Photograph: Sophia Wallace/Sophia Wallace

One of the first things people ask when they find out that I am engaged is what the proposal was like. (The second is not so much a question, but a speedy grab for my left hand to inspect the diamond they imagine they will find there.)

The problem is that there is no proposal story to tell. At least, not the kind most people expect. There were no rose petals scattered on a satin-sheeted bed, no trips to the Eiffel tower, no ring hidden in a champagne glass. There wasn’t even any kneeling. My partner Andrew and I made the leap in the way that suited us best – we talked about it, and jointly decided that we should get engaged. For us, it was perfect. But, as I soon learned, there is no such thing as perfect when you are a feminist getting married.

Andrew encountered confused faces when he talked about our non-traditional proposal; my extended family looked similarly quizzical when I mentioned that I would be keeping my last name. The fact that Andrew and I had had conversations about the misogynist traditions that accompany marriage made us a bit of an oddity, it seemed. Then there were the fellow feminists who felt that getting married was a sop to the patriarchy, and the problems that we encountered as a couple. Because, with the best will in the world, kissing goodbye to gender roles can be more difficult than it looks.

As a kid, I wasn’t sure that I would ever get married – I was not the kind of little girl who played at being a bride. My parents have a wonderful marriage, but they have been together since my mother was 12, married when they were just teenagers and are barely ever separated. They even work together. As a result, I have always thought of marriage as involving the loss of a certain amount of autonomy. Not to mention that, as feminist as our household was, I grew up seeing my mother do the majority of the domestic work and her paid day job to boot. That did not exactly sweeten the deal.

As I grew up and began identifying myself as a feminist, there were plenty of issues that continued to make me question marriage: the father “giving” the bride away, women taking their husband’s last name, the white dress, the vows promising to “obey” the groom. And that only covers the wedding. Once you get married, women are still implicitly expected to do the majority of the housework and take care of any future children. I remember reading one study that said that even couples who had been living together for years in equitable bliss ended up with a more “traditional” division of household labour if they got married – as though signing that piece of paper somehow skewed their sense of fair play.

But never underestimate the power of being in love. Andrew is fabulous and I want to be married to him – due in no small part to the fact that he also identifies himself as a feminist and that an equal partnership is just as important to him as it is to me. So when we decided to get married, we talked about the traditions to avoid (white dress), what to incorporate (both parents walking us both down the aisle) and, of course, how to plan the wedding.

From the beginning, Andrew and I agreed that we would not be one of those couples in which the woman ends up doing all of the wedding-related work because she is the person who is supposed to care about it the most. No, we were going to do this fairly. He would take care of booking the music, I would handle the flowers. I would cover the invite list, he would deal with the invitations. Several months later, when I found myself up to my eyeballs in sample invitations and band websites – while Andrew read the newspaper or dallied online – I was ready to throw in the towel on so-called domestic bliss.

As founder of the website feministing.com, I have written online about everything from vibrators to the form of birth control I use, but I had been worried about blogging about our engagement. When you address personal issues, especially those so fraught with politics, you are sure to cause a stir. But all of a sudden, touching on the woes of feminist wedding planning did not seem such a bad idea. My feminist friends and community online took the announcement well – with the exception of several commenters who felt my getting married was antithetical to feminism. One, with the username looselips, wrote that she was disappointed that I “seem to find flaws with patriarchy, but fail to find a way to bring it down”. But mostly there were plenty of congratulations and hundreds of comments from other feminists on the ways their political beliefs had informed their weddings and marriages. EmilyKennedy wrote about her purple wedding dress, lack of a diamond ring and her decision not to have a “crap-tastic white cake”. ShifterCat told of a friend’s wedding where, as a small memento, every guest received “a little scroll saying that a donation has been made in their name to Habitat For Humanity”. Another reader told me about a website – offbeatbride.com – that was a good alternative to the frou-frou sites that seem to dominate the wedding-based blogosphere. This was the kind of advice I was looking for.

Emboldened, I blogged again – this time about the ways I was incorporating feminism into the wedding. I wrote about keeping my last name and buying a not-quite white dress from a store that gives all the money to charity. I blogged about the struggle Andrew and I had getting engaged in the same month that California overturned same-sex marriage rights. We had actually discussed not getting married until everyone could; instead, we decided to use our impending marriage as a way to talk about same-sex marriage among our friends and family. In our engagement announcement, for example, we asked anyone considering getting us a gift to instead donate to an organisation fighting for same-sex marriage rights. It felt good, feminist even, to write about an institution so wrought with sexism and discuss ways to make it our own.

To others, however, the way I was approaching my wedding – questioning old traditions; creating new ones – just made me a bridezilla. Kathryn Lopez of the conservative publication National Review, wrote a post entitled “You’ve Never Met a Bridezilla Like a Feminist Bridezilla“, mocking my attempts to subvert traditional wedding standards. Another blogger wrote about Andrew, featuring his picture and a link to his personal website, in a faux contest – “Beta of the month” – the idea being that a real alpha male wouldn’t be caught dead marrying a feminist. (Or a “ball-cutting cybersuccubus”, as I was, in fact, described. Think I can get that on a business card?)

But as it turned out, it was posts such as these, which mocked us for being thoughtful about our decision to get married, that brought Andrew and I closer. And the dismissing of our feminist values made us discuss and embrace them even more. Andrew took a renewed interest in his wedding-planning tasks, recognising that it wasn’t just important for the sake of my sanity, but as a political statement too.

Because we do want our marriage to be a partnership, with bumps in the road to be sure, but bumps to be taken together.

So, while our wedding will be politicised, it won’t be a feminist caricature: I won’t be sporting Birkenstocks under my dress and we won’t ask the “Goddess” for a blessing. But we will head into the wedding, and the marriage, as equals. Now, when our friends and family give us strange looks when we discuss our non-proposal, or the hyphenated last name options for our future children, we just smile. Because whether it’s an old-fashioned aunt or a stranger online, we realise that the only opinion that matters when it comes to our marriage is ours.

April 22, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 4:14 pm
April 22, 2009

Take 1 Recipe, Mince, Reduce, Serve

 

 

OF what possible use to me is Twitter? I’m not interesting enough to follow around. To convey the capsulized brilliance of my life at any moment, 140 characters are too many. The same, I reluctantly add, goes for you: unless you’re hemorrhaging, I think I can wait to know what you’re doing until the next time we talk. Let’s get coffee later. My tweet.

But wait. There is one thing. A woman in Northern Ireland has turned Twitter’s solipsism upside down. She sends tweets that tell followers nothing about herself. Instead, they tell useful, interesting things, things they might really want to know.

She tweets recipes.

Honeyed Tagine: brwn lb/500g yam or lamb/T oil&butter/t tumeric&ging&s+p&cinn; +c onion&carrot9m; +c broth/3T honey/9prune. Cvr~h@400F/205C.

Biscotti: mix 1/3c sug/3T oil/egg/t anise flavr; +c flour/t bkgpwdr. Roll log to fit bkgpan; pat down. 30m@375/190C. Slice~14; brwn+6m/side.

Look closely. These are awesome acts of compression. Ingredients, actions, quantities, times and temperatures — both Fahrenheit and Celsius — boiled down to utmost richness, density and clarity. A dish, a meal, a trip to deliciousness magically packed into the tiniest carry-on bag.

And she has dozens:

Kashgar Noodles: mix3.5c flour/2egg/t salt; knead+12T h2o. Cut4; roll30x10cm/12×4″. Cut crosswise cm/.5″. Cvr30m.Pinch+stretch dbl. Boil6m.

Saffron Asparagus Orzo: brwn c orzo/T butter/garlic; +.25t saffron&s+p/2.5c broth. Cvr@low9m; +2c asparagus3m. Fold+8T parmesan. Srv w parm.

You’ll find her at twitter.com/cookbook. “Tiny recipes condensed by @Maureen,” she writes. “Serves 3-4. Delicious ideas from all over the world.”

Both @cookbook and @Maureen are the streams of Maureen Evans, a 27-year-old from British Columbia who is studying for a master’s in creative writing at Queen’s University Belfast.

Though not a trained chef, she is an enthusiastic home cook and traveler, with a close connection to Twitter through her partner, Blaine Cook, who was Twitter’s lead architect. They live by the sea in a rented castle; when I reached her by phone the other day, she said she was looking out over the low tide.

“I do this as a coffee-break hobby,” she said. “Kind of like sudoku. I really get a kick out of how complex a recipe I can fit into 140 characters.” The recipes are from her collection of cookbooks and her travels. “They’re solutions to what’s fresh and what’s in season.”

Ms. Evans’s recipe tweets, begun for her friends, have attracted more than 6,000 followers and coverage in the British press. “It’s attracted a bizarre amount of attention relative to what I consider my serious work,” she said, meaning her life as a poet, writer and anarchist. “Which perhaps is an indication that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.”

On the phone and online, she comes across as dreamily meticulous. Entries on her personal Twitter stream are all written as senryu, a syllabically constrained poetic form like haiku. Here’s one: “As a Catholic schooled atheist, I’m sorry for an awful naught.”

I asked for her greatest compressive achievement; she said maybe this one, because of the action involved:

Strudel Pastry: cut 2T butter/1c flour/mash tater. Knead w 2t yeast/2T h2o; rise 1h. On flour cloth gently pull 17×25″; trim-1″/butter well.

Like any authors, cookbook writers can be blatherers: regional rhapsodists, wheezy memoirists, vegetarian preachers. They try to stuff you with history and anecdote when all you want are ingredients and technique. (Not everyone, of course. Mark Bittman, The New York Times’s Minimalist and my cooking guru, is a master of short-windedness. But next to Ms. Evans, he’s Fidel Castro.)

Chocolate a la Taza: Spanish. Melt 8oz/227g drkchoc/2c h2o; +2c milk/c h2o+3T cornstrch&sug. Stir@med~7m (until yogurt-thick); +.5t vanilla.

I can hear your quibbles. You’re already on the Internet, so why not get the whole recipe, with pictures, and maybe a video? There’s no global shortage of pixels, so why risk clarity and comprehension for the sake of Twitter’s 140-character straitjacket?

I have no answer to that, other than to say it’s fun to decode and cook Ms. Evans’s tweets. They’re a pleasure to look at — strangely absorbing, like bonsai or Fabergé eggs. And (not to spoil the surprise) they work.

I tried a bunch of them the other day. I set a rule for myself: the tweet was sacred text; no world existed beyond it. All I knew I would have to discern from the tweet. To make it harder, I picked two international recipes whose names I did not recognize. They conjured no associations; results would be a surprise.

Lahmacun: Turkish. Knead T yeast/t sug&salt/1.5c h2o/2c flour; rise h. Roll/top3 w 2c feta&greens/egg/4T butter; 15m@450F/230C. Srv w lemon.

Making the dough was easy enough, but “Roll/top3” had me at a loss. The dough was wet and sticky and impossible to handle. I flopped it into a rimmed cookie sheet and smushed it into the best rectangle I could, roughly the shape of Iowa. I put the feta in a bowl with chopped fresh spinach as “greens.” With the egg and butter (melted, I figured), it made a nice paste that I spread over the dough like pizza topping. No way was this going to be a jellyroll, so I baked it like that.

I immediately Googled “lahmacun” — and found “Turkish pizza,” looking amazingly like what I’d just made. It was deliciously salty and rich. I still don’t get “Roll/top3,” but who cares?

Knedliky: Czech. Rise T yeast/c milk/4T sug&flour. Knead+2c flour/egg/t salt/3T oil; rise h. Roll~16 T; seal around can fruit1/2s. Steam17m.

The yeasty egg dough rose nicely. I couldn’t figure out how or why I would wrap it around a can of fruit, or what kind of fruit to use. “Steam” was the key word here. These must be dumplings, with fruit slices inside. The tilde said to make “about” 16 buns. They came out of a bamboo steamer looking just like Chinese bao, with cling peaches instead of pork. Yum — another success.

The lamb tagine (see above) was a huge hit, as was this:

Parsnip Cake: mix c flour/.5c sug/T pie spice/t bkgpwdr/.5t salt w 5T oil&milk/2egg/t vanil; +c shred parsnip. 25m@350F/175C in floured pan.

There are other Twitter cooks out there, but I haven’t found anyone who matches Ms. Evans’s ambition. Go to twitter.com/tinyrecipes and you’ll learn how to make brown rice, taco seasoning and croutons. But recipes like those are plain and simple already; putting them on Twitter is no achievement at all.

It may not be the case, as an editor told me, that Twitter is the first great recipe innovation in 200 years. But it doesn’t have to be. Unpacking tweets for an hour or so in the kitchen is surprisingly challenging. It forces the mind to think harder, to fill gaps, to innovate and improvise. It re-introduces risk and discovery to cooking, which puts you only a short distance from delight.

Spiced Sables: beat 8T butter&sug; +egg/.5t vanilla. Mix+2c flour/t cinnamon/.5t bkgpwdr&salt/dash cayenne. Chill/roll/cut18.

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake: butter6ramekin;+T sug/4T fruit e. +beaten5T buttr&sug/egg/9T yogurt/c flour/t bkgpdr&zest/.5t salt. 25m@350F/176C.

Mango Yakisoba: saute 2T oil/thyme&garlic/c leek&shroom 9m; +c mango/.5t redcurrypaste/4T lemon/T tamari&mint. Toss +4oz/100g al dente soba.

Lemon Lentil Soup: mince onion&celery&carrot&garlic; cvr@low7m+3T oil. Simmer40m+4c broth /c puylentil/thyme&bay&lemonzest. Puree+lemonjuice.

 

April 21, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 4:45 pm

Stacy London’s Low-Snark Approach to Feeling Fine About Your Body

By Jennifer Huget
Tuesday, April 21, 2009

 

Stacy London can be awfully snide and snarky. But only when it comes to matters of style.

In more than 260 episodes over seven years on the popular cable program “What Not to Wear,” London and her co-host, Clinton Kelly, have issued countless criticisms of people’s wardrobes: They describe one woman’s attire, for instance, as “slovenly, shapeless and sophistication-free.”

But never once have Stacy and Clinton told a makeover subject that she’s chubby, fat or roly-poly — and never have they suggested that anyone come back after they’ve lost a few pounds. In fact, the pair is meticulous in avoiding any negative commentary about a person’s weight. Instead, they accentuate the positive, labeling women curvy where others might simply see blubber.

While the national pursuit of stick-thin status continues, recent years have seen increased encouragement for women to accept their bodies for the size and shape they are. The body-acceptance movement holds that so long as people are generally healthy, the number on the scale or the size of their jeans is immaterial.

A small group of nutritionists, among them Linda Bacon, author of “Health at Every Size” (BenBella Books, 2008), challenges the notion that obesity is the root of much illness.

The overweight/illness connection, Bacon notes, has scant support in the scientific literature. The overwhelming conviction in the medical community and among public-health policymakers is that overweight contributes mightily to the nation’s ill health, particularly as excess weight is strongly associated with such conditions as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Bacon observes that while “certainly there are a lot of diseases associated with high weight,” that doesn’t mean overweight actually causes those illnesses. (I’ll be talking further with Bacon for an upcoming column.)

Though London (who graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar with degrees in 20th-century philosophy and German literature) is adamant that “What Not to Wear” is not about health, those of us who have struggled with our own weight and body image see a connection between what happens on the show and what we imagine might happen to made-over women and men once London and Kelly have left the building. Might that smartly coiffed and haute-coutured woman draw inspiration from her newfound confidence in her appearance to perhaps eat more healthfully and get some exercise?

Maybe. But that’s beyond the show’s mission.

“Whether you’re as healthy as you should be or not, that doesn’t disallow you to look your best,” London says. “Style is only possible from a place of self-acceptance.”

The point of the show, she says, is to help people “find perfection in their imperfection.” That means helping them really see the image they’re projecting to the world — which can be painful. “You have to see it clearly,” London argues, “so you know what you’re working with, what to emphasize, what to camouflage.” Helping makeover subjects see themselves that clearly sometimes requires tough talk. “People think we’re being mean,” she says. “But we’re helping take down barriers.”

London is acutely aware of the challenges and disappointments facing a woman who’s literally too big for her britches. At 5-foot-7, she says her weight’s been all over the board, from “not-very-healthy 90 pounds” to an uncomfortable 180.

When she tried last year to quit smoking, she says, she gained 15 pounds in three months, which strained the show’s resources. “I have to fit in my clothes,” she says; the program’s budget didn’t allow for a new wardrobe. “It was difficult for my stylist,” London says, and frustrating for London herself. “It affected me. I was very moody, embarrassed and disappointed in myself.”

(A former “gym rat” who worked out five or six days a week for two hours at time, London, who is now at what she calls a stable weight, says she “couldn’t keep it up.” Luckily, she’s recently discovered yoga. “It’s much more energizing than running on a treadmill,” she tells me. “I’m feeling much better and stronger in my body. It’s been very enlightening for me, making facing 40 a bit easier.”)

Her lifelong issues with her weight, she says, make her “uniquely qualified” to deal with the women on her show who don’t feel good enough about their bodies to bother dressing in style.

So, while she unleashes her assertive, sometimes mocking style in commenting on people’s clothing, hairdos, makeup and accessories, London empathizes with the women whose distaste for their bodies leads them to dress frumpily, attempting to hide beneath tarplike tops and baggy bottoms.

“The sweat-shirt phenomenon is a slippery slope,” she says, “and a symptom of something deeper. Style is the instrument you can pick back up when you want to regain some of the confidence you’ve lost. Style offers concrete rules you can follow. You can use it as a resource rather than a barrier to feeling good about yourself.”

“You have to look in the mirror and see that what you’re wearing looks good on the body you have now,” she says. “Wearing a larger size is just . . . wearing a larger size.” That’s especially important for those of us who cling to old clothes that are too small in hopes that we’ll someday fit in them again.

“That’s psychological torture,” London says. “I learned this from Oprah. She says you’re only allowed to keep smaller-size jeans if you are actively engaged in being that size again. They can be used as a goal, but only if you’re exercising and changing your diet habits. Otherwise, you have to buy clothing for the body you have. No amount of fantasizing in the world will make you a different size.”

April 20, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 5:16 pm
I Won’t Roll the Biological Dice

Because of my ominous genetic history, I decided I would never have children. Got a problem with that?

Jessica Handler

NEWSWEEK

From the magazine issue dated Apr 27, 2009

Like roughly 27 million women in the United States of childbearing age, I do not have kids. The Census Bureau’s statistics don’t reveal who is voluntarily child-free, who is infertile and who is distracted by other goals. But I, for one, am childless by choice. I knew long ago that I would never be a mother.

I am the oldest of three sisters, and by the time I was 32 I was the only one still alive. My sister Susie died of leukemia when she was 8 and I was 10. Our younger sister, Sarah, who was 4 when Susie died, was born with a rare, fatal blood disorder. She died at 27. As a child, I witnessed firsthand that our bodies can betray us. Loving parents start out with the best intentions for a happy, healthy family, but rotten luck has a way of altering their paths, and their children’s paths, forever.

Medical research continues to advance. Children with leukemia today often have better prognoses than Susie’s. The chromosome responsible for Sarah’s illness may soon be identified. And yet I still see raising a child as a roll of the biological dice. Adoption is wonderful, but not for me: I am too afraid to lose a child I love. I can’t take that chance, even with another family’s genetic history.

When I got married 11 years ago, at 38, I thought I was ready to get pregnant and have a family. Maybe with my loving husband beside me, I could move past my own ominous history. But genetic testing showed that I have a 67 percent chance of passing on the illness responsible for my younger sister’s death. The statistics were sobering, and they meant that my husband and I would never have a child of our own. I grieved the loss of that version of our future. But knowing my child was likely to carry danger in her cells, I chose not to take the risk. My husband understood.

I knew that in deciding not to be a mother, I was making a choice that would define the rest of my life. But my fear surpassed longing: fear that my child would be ill and die before her time, or that my child would be well and I would worry her away from me.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m no anti-child curmudgeon. I teach at a college, and my students are a big part of my life. When I led a writing workshop for middle-schoolers, I loved every minute. My husband’s teenage niece taught me how to text-message. But little girls remind me of my sisters when they were young. They stop my heart when they run across a playground or walk past me hand in hand. They turn back time in a way that nothing else can.

Our culture presumes that a grown woman’s true responsibility is motherhood. We’re obsessed with babies, even as we expect career success, hot sex and designer style.

On any given day, flashy magazines are plastered with celebrity pregnancies, baby weight and motherhood. “Brangelina” trot their biological and adopted children around the globe, beautiful role models for the modern family. While few can pull off parenthood with the glamour of Hollywood stars, the underlying message is hard to ignore: if you’re not having a baby and enjoying it, something’s wrong with you.

More than a decade into a happy marriage, I answer any stranger’s conversational gambit—”Do you have kids?”—with a smile and one word: “No.”

No, I don’t have kids, and I’m fine with that. Sometimes I wonder about children I might have had, or I watch friends with children and wonder what their experience is really like. But when I think about my own genetic predisposition for carrying a deadly illness—and reflect on how my parents’ marriage strained and broke caring for two sick daughters—I know I made the right choice for me.

Had my own little-girl years been different, I might have grown up to be a mother, but our lives shape us. I don’t miss the children I might have had. I miss my sisters. Some of those strangers to whom I say, “No, I don’t have kids,” might perceive my choice as selfish and wrong. It’s a privilege to have a child, and it’s a privilege not to. Setting aside the fact that our world is groaning under the weight of its current population, it’s still a woman’s choice to enter the realm of motherhood.

There are a lot of women like me, and for some of us being child-free is our choice, our responsibility not to our culture, but to ourselves.

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 2:16 pm
April 20, 2009

Picking Letters, 10 a Day, That Reach Obama

 

 

WASHINGTON — The task of keeping a president in touch with his public is daunting, as Mike Kelleher well knows.

Tens of thousands of letters, e-mail messages and faxes arrive at the White House every day. A few hundred are culled and end up each weekday afternoon on a round wooden table in the office of Mr. Kelleher, the director of the White House Office of Correspondence.

He chooses 10 letters, which are slipped into a purple folder and put in the daily briefing book that is delivered to President Obama at the White House residence. Designed to offer a sampling of what Americans are thinking, the letters are read by the president, and he sometimes answers them by hand, in black ink on azure paper.

“We pick messages that are compelling, things people say that, when you read it, you get a chill,” said Mr. Kelleher, 47. “I send him letters that are uncomfortable messages.”

The ritual offers Mr. Obama a way to move beyond the White House bubble, and occasionally leads to moments when his composure cracks, advisers said. “I remember once he was particularly quiet,” said Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, “and I asked him what he was thinking about, and he said, ‘These letters just tear you up.’ It was after getting a poignant letter from a struggling family.”

Some letters begin “I didn’t vote for you”; others end “May God bless.” One missive came in the form of baseboard molding, covered with $2.70 in stamps and a scrawl urging the president to “Fix housing 1st!” Heaps of letters offer advice on the best treats for the first dog, Bo, and people have sent in colorful dog sweaters.

Mr. Kelleher said the president had used the letters to ask policy questions of government agencies, and Mr. Axelrod recalled a letter circulated among staff members from a woman in Glendale, Ariz., who was in danger of losing her home because her husband had lost his job.

The White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, said Mr. Obama “believes it’s easy in Washington to forget there are real people with real challenges being affected by the debate.” Mr. Emanuel added that he had seen the president turn to policy advisers in meetings and say, “No, no, no. I want to read you a letter that I got. I want you to understand.”

Cynthia Arnold of Stewartstown, Pa., wrote the president to tell him what had happened as she started watching his inauguration on television. Her son, Pvt. Matthew J. Arnold, 23, whose unit might be deployed to the Middle East, called her from Fort Hood, Tex., to ask for her help filling out paperwork.

“He was calling to ask me who should make his funeral arrangements in the event of his death, his father or me,” Mrs. Arnold wrote. “He advised me that it should probably be his father since I could barely make it through the call. He was calling to ask me where he should convalesce in the event of his being injured, there in Texas or at home in Pennsylvania.”

Using enlarged type to make sure the president would “be able to read it,” she urged him to “please make our troops one of your priorities.” A few weeks after she mailed the letter, Mrs. Arnold received a handwritten note from Mr. Obama.

“I will do everything in my power to make troops like Matthew my priority,” the president wrote. “Please tell him ‘thank you for your service’ from his commander in chief!”

He signed the note “Barack Obama,” with a big looping B and O. Mrs. Arnold said she was so overwhelmed that the president had called her son by his first name that she “just burst into tears.” She is storing the letter in a safe deposit box until she can have it framed.

Mr. Kelleher, who has three daughters, later told Mrs. Arnold that the letter had caught his attention because he is a parent.

A graduate of Illinois State University, Mr. Kelleher served in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone in the mid-1980s. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Illinois in 2000, which was when he first crossed paths with Mr. Obama, who also was running for Congress. In 2006, Mr. Kelleher became the director of outreach in Mr. Obama’s Senate office in Chicago.

Describing his current job, Mr. Kelleher talks about each letter’s “character,” the pictures and messages in crayon from children, and the postcard-size notes from older people, written on typewriters that still have a cursive font.

Mr. Kelleher’s office has a red box for what he calls “life-and-death constituent case work.”

“So someone says, ‘I’m despondent and I want to commit suicide,’ or ‘I have a life-threatening illness and I need help here,’ ” Mr. Kelleher said. “We immediately respond to those.” Threats are reported to the Secret Service.

On Inauguration Day, Michael Powers of Pikeville, Tenn., wrote to Mr. Obama, telling him he had lost his father, a three-pack-a-day smoker, to lung cancer in 1979.

“Enclosed is a picture of my father, and I have carried it for almost 30 years now,” wrote Mr. Powers, 54. Seeing images of Mr. Obama with his daughters had made him miss his father “more than I think I ever have.”

“If you always want to be there for your girls,” Mr. Powers urged, “then stop smoking NOW!”

About a month later, Mr. Powers received a reply. After thanking him for “the wonderful letter, and the good advice,” the president wrote, “I am returning the picture, since it must be important to you, but I will remember your dad’s memory.”

On the wall of his sparse office, a few blocks from the White House, Mr. Kelleher has two letters from his daughter Carol, 10. She wrote to him once and, when he did not reply, she wrote “a second, meaner letter,” he said. That letter begins, “I have noticed you did not reply to my letter.”

“So I had to reply to her,” he said, sounding less keeper of the gate and more hapless father, impressed by the power of letters.

April 9, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 2:38 pm

Baseball’s Judicial Branch

By George F. Will
Thursday, April 9, 2009; A17

 

In Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” a time-traveling American brought baseball to sixth-century England, where arguments with umpires were robust: “The umpire’s first decision was usually his last. . . . When it was noticed that no umpire ever survived a game, umpiring got to be unpopular.” But it remains a necessary, extraordinarily demanding and insufficiently appreciated craft.

Now, however, comes “As They See ‘Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires” by Bruce Weber of the New York Times. Forests are felled to produce baseball books, about 600 a year, most of them not worth the paper they should never have been printed on. Weber’s, however, is a terrific introduction to, among much else, the rule book’s Talmudic subtleties, such as:

A great fielding play can cost the fielder’s team the game. With less than two out, if a player makes a catch and falls into the stands, every runner moves up a base. So with a runner on third in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game, if a fielder makes a catch but his momentum flips him over the railing into the seats, his team loses.

Also: There is a play on which the umpire must give a manager a choice of two different outcomes on a batted ball. With one out and runners on first and third, the batter swings, his bat ticks the catcher’s glove but drives a fly ball that is caught by an outfielder. The runner on third tags and scores, the runner on first stays there. But because the catcher interfered with the batter’s swing, the umpire awards the batter first base, moving the runner there to second. Because that nullifies the sacrifice fly, the runner who scored is returned to third. But why should the batting team lose a run because the other team’s catcher committed an infraction? So the manager of the team at bat is given a choice — bases loaded, one out, no run in, or man on first, two out, one run in.

Umpires — the only people who are on the field during the entire game and the only ones indifferent to the outcome — were depicted in pre-Civil War drawings wearing top hats and carrying walking sticks. An account of the (supposedly) first game between organized teams — June 19, 1846, in Hoboken, N.J. — mentioned the umpire fining a player six cents for swearing.

Umpires still are custodians of decorum. “As the umpire,” Weber writes, “you are neither inside the game, as the players are, nor outside it among the fans, but . . . the game passes through you, like rainwater through a filter, and . . . your job is to influence it for the better, to strain out the impurities.”

Baseball is, Weber notes, the only sport that asks an on-field official to demarcate the most important aspect of the field of play — the strike zone. Although defined in the rule book, its precise dimensions are determined daily by the home plate umpire.

Umpires are islands of exemption from America’s obsessive lawyering: As has been said, three strikes and you’re out — the best lawyer can’t help you. But because it is the national pastime of a litigious nation, baseball is the only sport in which a nonplayer is allowed onto the field to argue against rulings.

Umpires are used to having their eyesight questioned — when someone criticized Bruce Froemming’s, he said, “The sun is 93 million miles away, and I can see that” — but their integrity is unquestioned. As Weber notes, players, not umpires, conspired to fix the 1919 World Series; a manager (Pete Rose), not an umpire, was banned from baseball for betting on games. As umpires say, “If they played by the honor system, they wouldn’t need us.”

Sport — strenuous exertion structured and restrained by rules — replicates the challenges of political freedom. Umpires, baseball’s judicial branch, embody what any society always needs and what America, in its current financial disarray, craves — regulated striving that, by preventing ordered competition from descending into chaos, enables excellence to prevail.

“You can’t,” Weber says, “hide on a baseball field.” But a batter who fails two-thirds of the time for 15 years goes to Cooperstown. An umpire can fail once in a high-stakes moment and be remembered for that forever. It is amazing how rarely they fail as they strive not to be noticed in their pursuit of unobtrusive perfection.

georgewill@washpost.com

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