Monday, February 21, 2011

my very own food blog?!?!

Hardly. But, after throwing together my own penne alfredo for a quick, student-friendly dinner, I thought I'd revisit my little corner of the blogosphere. After a long, less-than-pleasurable romp with Durkheim in a 9-page analysis of the State of the Union address, I want to waste my time with something a little less academic.

Today, I discovered that parmesan cheese is a key ingredient in alfredo sauce. Who knew! Somewhere along the way, my journey of life led me to believe that - cheesy and delicious as alfredo sauce was - there actually wasn't any cheese that went into its making. Instead, I held onto a vague notion that milk, cooked long enough, would eventually transmorgify into the thick creamy sauce I so enjoyed on fettuccine and chicken. While I'd already put the pasta (penne, of course) on to boil along with a separate pot of diced broccoli stems (yes, they're edible - and by god I will use every ounce of the 88 cents/lb produce), a simple search on revealed the gravity of my error.

What I had was cream cheese, and what every recipe ( least the first 10) called for was parmesan. Crisis. One recipe had in its description, "The secret to this quick and easy sauce is cream cheese" (!!!!) but alas. It too required parmesan.

I was disheartened. But determined to have my penne with alfredo. And broccoli stems. So, as any good student and aspiring real-person would do, I improvised.

Into my rather shitty saucepan went a tablespoon of butter, about half a cup of milk (who knows? I just poured until it looked like it was enough to feed me), a tablespoon of flour. All of this I whisked together over low heat until I became skeptical of its ability to thicken, whereupon I added a dollop of cream cheese and pushed it around on the bottom of the pan until it melted down. Having nothing else to do, I checked on the pasta and proceeded to whisk my sauce again, praying for it to thicken to alleviate my fears of failure. Given time and maybe a minute's patience, magic happened, and it began to resemble something like alfredo. I congratulated myself on achieving master chef status. Tasting revealed a need for salt and pepper, and after waiting another minute or so and watching as it blurped and bubbled (even on low heat), I deemed it acceptable.

At this point, the pasta still wasn't done cooking. But I drained it and served myself anyways. After pouring my alfredo on top and throwing the diced broccoli on, dinner was served.

The pasta ended up being a little tough on the inside but that's life. Impatient life, especially. All told, dinner was prepped and served in under 20 minutes. Not bad, and certainly more legit than the shit that comes out of a box.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

the obesity epidemic : sad problems on sad problems

In light of the recent Scientific American article on "How to Fix the Obesity Crisis", I felt overwhelmed by a sense of you've gotta be f***ing kidding me.

When we go on diets and exercise regimens, we rely on willpower to overcome all these pushes to overeat relative to our activity level. And we count on the reward of getting trimmer and fitter to keep us on the wagon. It is rewarding to lose the weight, of course. Unfortunately, time works against us. As the weight comes off, we get hungrier and develop stronger cravings and become more annoyed by the exercise. Meanwhile the weight loss inevitably slows as our metabolism tries to compensate for this deprivation by becoming more parsimonious with calories. Thus, the punishment for sticking to our regimen becomes increasingly severe and constant, and the expected reward recedes into the future. “That gap between the reinforcement of eating and the reinforcement of maybe losing weight months later is a huge challenge,” says SungWoo Kahng, a neurobehaviorist who studies obesity at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Kennedy Krieger Institute.
Thanks, neurobehaviorist guy. I hope you didn't use millions of dollars in research to give us that enlightening tidbit.

What really frustrates me about this article is that it is, truly, paragraphs and paragraphs of DUH. Yes, weight loss is difficult, especially when you've got so much of it to lose. Yes, it sucks when all your friends are as big as you and eat as much as you. Yes, all-you-can-eat buffets and delicious foods put on lots of calories for you. And no, starving yourself is not the correct solution. Really?

The problem, as millions of dollars of research and the fattening proportion of America has shown, has everything to do with behavior. Excuse me while I shed any semblance of compassion I have for the plight of overweight Americans, but why does this even need to be published? You can't tell me obese people are dumb. They aren't. Like anyone else, they love yummy food, and they love to have lots of it. So what's the real problem here? Why do some (a whopping 30% of Americans) end up obese while the rest of the population continue on the righteous path of normal-BMI? I think the issue is a simple two-fold calculation:

  1. Everyone's looking for an easy way out. Myself included. Diuretics, laxatives, "cleansing" supplements, and all manner of foods or pills that will help you drop weight without even thinking about it. It was easy to put on all the weight, so everyone wants a quick fix to throw it off. Well, it ain't gonna happen. Our bodies are designed to keep us happily stocked with calories for hard times that will - let's face it - with McDonald's around, never come. I'm really convinced that no one wants it enough. Those pounds won't come off unless you give your share of sweat, sweat, and tears.
  2. What's "healthy" look and feel like? I sure as hell don't know, and I think most people would be in the same boat as me. As we come face-to-face with the plague of obesity, you have to wonder what our nation looks like. What's the average anymore, if a sizeable chunk of the population is "above average" in terms of weight? And, more than that even, what/who do people look at to aspire to? Our society is driven by a lot of different motivations. On the glossy front pages of magazines, there are ripped men and women, frighteningly (but beautifully) thin men and women. In school, afraid of these pop culture images, they teach: inner beauty is more important. The superstars we see - whether athletes or actors - give us examples of what is ideal but also what is nearly impossible to achieve as your everyday individual. I'm sure if all we had to do all day was prepare for the next game and work out and try hard to be beautiful, we'd all look like the stars we see on TV. As it is, none of us are getting paid to put in that kind of time, so what's the next best thing? You want to feel healthy. And for you, what that means is beautiful and sexy. But is that it? Becoming obese is not an instantaneous process, and so you might imagine you don't really notice when you don't feel good anymore - when your heart's beating too fast and you've always got a funny taste in your mouth and the food in your stomach never seems to sit well or leave.
The truth is we've built a culture that's entrenched in unrealistic standards and self-perpetuating bad habits. It's easy to show people what they could look like, all wrapped up in inches or pounds lost and smaller dress and pant sizes, but I think ultimately it's an uphill battle unless you really motivate some underlying change. Now how you do that - I have no idea. How can you show someone what it feels like to breathe easy when they've forgotten, or maybe when they never knew?

Ultimately the best thing to have done would've been to prevent this whole thing from happening in the first place. I'm convinced that major social stigma plays a large role in keeping other developed countries from experiencing their own epidemics. It's on the level of Amy Chua-crazy, but I know plenty of Chinese women who, upon deciding their 120-pound figure has gone too far, will impose their own vegetables-and-water-only diet until they drop back to their normal 100- and maybe even 90-pound figure. Weight's a sensitive subject no matter who you're talking to, but I think maybe other countries have better ways of dealing with its problems head-on.

Monday, January 10, 2011

idea : cold-weather running...with oxygen tanks!!

I have a self-confidence issue with going to the gym. I'm highly paranoid that people around me, should I ever join the legion of tan, fit college students jogging away on the cardio rotunda, that people next to me would silently jeer at my sweaty, red face and panting breaths. And the fact that I don't have super-toned thighs that don't pudge around when you run. So my solution is to run outside. Given that I live in Chicago and the weather outside is frightful, it's not the most enjoyable experience (read: it sucks).

I can handle the chill on my body, no problem (gloves and some kind of ear protection are really the key to not being completely miserable), but as someone who's never had the strongest lungs, I get destroyed by the winter air. I've tried breathing more through my nose, where - if my high school anatomy still serves - some mechanism is in place to warm the air before it reaches your lungs. At some point, though, I'm pretty sure my nasal passages, along with all my nose hairs, freeze, whereupon I am forced to gasp in air through my mouth, and my lungs proceed to say, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" It just adds insult to injury when the snot starts coming down too. Gross! I figure even with this nasty appearance, any passersby will get at most a two-second glimpse of my sad self before they walk on and forget me. Hey, it happens to everyone.

Today, I went out to run for the first time in...well, I'd rather not say...and I jogged like a decrepit 40-year-old through the fair, 20-something-degree weather for about 20 minutes before conceding to the elements and walking my freezing ass home. As I sniffled up the stairs to my apartment, I tried to think of ways to prevent this mucus-y meltdown from happening again. There are scarves and weird collars on jackets you can push up to hide your face, but you know, I think really the best thing would be just to wear an oxygen tank. It'd be beneficial on multiple levels! Not only would you be getting a nice, oxygen-rich supply of air (notably not contaminated with car exhaust and the smell of whatever-that-is-on-the-ground), you'd be lugging around an extra, what, 50 pounds? Triple the workout! Besides all that, you breathe nice, warm air and save yourself the embarrassment of a dripping nose. So many good things! I don't know why someone else didn't think of it before. Clearly, I'm made of brilliance.

P.S. This was a rather pointless post. Merely a disguise for announcing my attempt to get back in shape. Muahaha.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

day emotional : connecting and separating from stereotypes

When Boyfriend read me part of this article from the Wall Street Journal, I wasn't really sure what to think or feel. Amy Chua, a professor from Yale Law School, extemporizes on a model of parenting she attributes Chinese culture and lauds herself on a job well done with her two daughters, one of which had the opportunity to play piano at Carnegie Hall. As if she were the single most important factor for her daughters' so-called success. As if this "success" encompasses all aspects of their wellbeing - financial, intellectual, emotional.

Here's an excerpt from her article, "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior":
Here's a story in favor of coercion, Chinese-style. Lulu was about 7, still playing two instruments, and working on a piano piece called "The Little White Donkey" by the French composer Jacques Ibert. The piece is really cute—you can just imagine a little donkey ambling along a country road with its master—but it's also incredibly difficult for young players because the two hands have to keep schizophrenically different rhythms.
Lulu couldn't do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off.
"Get back to the piano now," I ordered.
"You can't make me."
"Oh yes, I can."
Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu's dollhouse to the car and told her I'd donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn't have "The Little White Donkey" perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, "I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?" I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn't do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.
Jed took me aside. He told me to stop insulting Lulu—which I wasn't even doing, I was just motivating her—and that he didn't think threatening Lulu was helpful. Also, he said, maybe Lulu really just couldn't do the technique—perhaps she didn't have the coordination yet—had I considered that possibility?
"You just don't believe in her," I accused.
"That's ridiculous," Jed said scornfully. "Of course I do."
"Sophia could play the piece when she was this age."
"But Lulu and Sophia are different people," Jed pointed out.
"Oh no, not this," I said, rolling my eyes. "Everyone is special in their special own way," I mimicked sarcastically. "Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don't worry, you don't have to lift a finger. I'm willing to put in as long as it takes, and I'm happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games."
In the end, Chua makes it a happily-ever-after when her daughter miraculously begins to coordinate her hands and put the piece together. Lulu says, "Look, Mommy--it's so easy!" As if this realization - this little triumph - somehow justifies the insults and abuse.

Perhaps I don't have the right to make any claims on behalf of the Chinese-American culture as a whole, but this story resonates very personally with me. I've been at that piano, forced to play for three hours straight. I've sat on that bench and cried angry, hurt tears onto my beautiful, Steinway baby grand. And I can say honestly to anyone that those kind of experiences didn't come with a redemptive end - with a "Look, Mommy--it's so easy!".

When Chua says that Chinese parents assume "strength" rather than fragility, I think she's right. There is a lot of potential for verbal abuse in the household, and no matter how Chua wants to spin it, it is not motivation. It is what I've always called brainwashing. It takes a very specific role-play of praise and insult to instill the appropriate sense of self-shame in the child. Done right, the parent(s) need not say anything in the face of the child's failure. The child will feel it for his/herself, and if, as Chua says, the child is strong, I really think they will come out the better for it. For those of us not as fortunate, though, this kind of upbringing feeds back into an ambivalent storm of self-uncertainty that I really think poisons the parent-child relationship.

It's difficult for me to divorce this commentary from personal experience, and so I may be a little emotional and overdramatic. But objectively, I think Chua says some interesting things about the dichotomy between Western and Chinese parenting. She discredits Chinese mothers as a whole just in assuming this is the way every mother runs her household (and as an aside, I think she's fucking offensive for leaving out fathers entirely). She certainly doesn't give enough credit to the "Western" way of valuing a child's self-esteem and emphasizing things like "love and affection." Yes, ensuring a child is "prepared for the future" is one way to ensure their success, but that says nothing to the child about whether they're loved. And, like the study I referenced in a previous post, I think that's a HUGE indication of how successful a child will be. There's no replacement for that.

In some ways, I think the "Chinese" model of parenting is unsustainable in a transplanted setting like America. Once  Chinese-American kids see that their peers get grounded instead of having to study for hours or actually enjoy the extracurricular activities they do or have relationships with other children that involve playdates and sleepovers and whatnot, they'll feel the lack of love. They'll recognize that something very important is missing from their lives.

The article links to a few videos I didn't bother to watch, supposedly testimonies of Chinese adults having been raised as Chua described and wanting to apply the same model to their children. They make me wonder whether such people are the majority or the minority among Chinese-Americans raised in this way.

Again, I'm biased heavily by my own experience of the Chinese-American upbringing, but I'm curious to see some statistics. In populations that advocate and practice Chua's model as compared with a more "Western" upbringing, how many children develop psychological problems or self-esteem issues? The funny thing is, this thought brings to mind a dramatic work I saw a few years ago: "Wong Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest." Although the writer/actress declined to make any sort of social commentary on the story conveyed by her work, she emphasized a recurring theme of suffering in silence. The play doesn't speak to children as much as it does to Asian women as a whole and the mentality the embodies the quite strength idealized by Oriental cultures.

"I don't want to see a therapist because it would show that I'm weak. My family would think there's something wrong with me."

"There's nothing wrong with me, I'm fine."

"I don't want to bother anybody. I don't want to make them worry. I'm fine. I'm strong."

In any case, just wanted to throw in my response to this crazy lady's article. As if we didn't have enough Asian female commentary on growing up Asian-American. All of it just puts me in the mood to bash myself over the head with an Amy Tan book.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

day FAIL : on vanity...

I am labeling this post day FAIL for two reasons:

  1. Clearly, the 30-day challenge has been a bust for me. And I've missed the point entirely. And have proven myself incapable of 30-day writing discipline. I am sad.
  2. Besides realizing myself to be utterly self-absorbed and incapable of logging onto blogspot to post anything about anything for a dedicated period of time, I have also discovered I am irredeemably vain and stupid.
Any girl with a lick of common sense knows that, by their very essence, shoes with any kind of heel (wedged or not) is bound to cause physical, emotional, and intellectual pain. The question is why anyone would willingly subject themselves to this kind of self-torture. As if you actually want to prance around on your toes and exert brainpower (whatever you have left) attempting to re-learn how to walk.

Because, I mean, why take advantage of millions of years of evolution built into a beautifully formed foot that lets you walk and sprint and balance and a chunky heel bone that actually carries your weight when, instead, you could create a whole new system where you use all the tiny bones in the front of your foot to hold all however-many-pounds-you-weigh? Fuck nature! Your ass looks good when you're on stilettos!

Besides, the added height makes you taller and makes you feel taller. So you can come nose-to-nose with those misogynist assholes who think they're better than you because they can look down at you. Nevermind the fact that you're wobbling on your spikes and almost break your ankle 50 times a day. Nevermind the fact that you're submitting to some entrenched standard of beauty in torturing yourself with your sexy Louboutin pumps.

And when I say "you," I mean me. Not that I own a pair of Louboutin anything. Beautiful as they are, I can't afford them. Or ankle surgery.

So in all honesty, I am not one of those girls who walks around campus in stilettos or anything of that nature. But I am one of those girls who thinks she's practical in wearing heels that aren't spiky. Wedges, of course, are in my repertoire, and they're actually not too bad under a certain height. My mistake today was thinking that these: 

would actually be wearable. They just look like wedges with the middle part cut out! How bad could they be? Well, turns out they mess up your balance. And have thin soles. Besides putting weird triangle heel under my ankle, the shoes made me feel like I might as well have been walking ON the concrete, and I have the quarter-sized blisters to prove it. Thanks boots. After hoofin' it (as fast as humanly possible under the increasing stress of shoes that don't actually let you walk) to my 8:30am class, I made the long and painful trek back to my apartment, defeated by vanity once again. Damn you, vanity!

Chances are I'll be wearing the shoes again, but for now, my righteous indignation with heels has put these shoes in the closet.

Monday, December 27, 2010

day 15 : back in action! but with not a single clever thing to say...

Then again, when was I ever clever? :)

I rise from the dead to crawl back to my mess of a 30-day challenge with my proverbial tail between my legs. At this point, I think I've lost the point of the challenge but have decided to forge ahead nonetheless. The writing practice is good.

It occurred to me recently that, while in the shower, I have very little going on in my head. Same goes for driving. The 10 or 15 minutes I spend in the shower are often completely lost time. I go through the motions of personal hygiene; I'm in and out in no time at all. Some people do some good thinking in that shower stall, but it seems whenever I try to reflect on anything (because yes, I've consciously tried to think productive thoughts), I mess up. Once, I found myself washing my hair with shower gel, i.e. body wash, and another time I shampooed my hair twice.

You'd think that the motions of taking a shower should become so automatic that you wouldn't have to think about them, but apparently, the extent of my automated-ness hasn't gone so far as to let me focus on other things.

When I'm driving alone it's much the same thing. Not a thought in my head. Only space for those reflex reactions - stop, go, yield, slow down, stop. When someone else is in the car - whether it's because of some narcissistic need to impress or simply because I'm engaged in something else - I drive a little more recklessly, miss stop signs, accelerate faster, take turns more sharply...

This is probably a common phenomenon. Perhaps I should find others who share my lack of productive/inspired shower/driving time. Then again, maybe I lack meaningful things to think about.

Friday, November 26, 2010

day 14 : black friday must be named for evil

While waiting for my hair to dry, I find myself sitting at my computer at 9:46am, mildly depressed and more than a little ashamed. Having just spent 10 straight hours shopping in the madness that is Black Friday, I feel I have thrown myself into the black pit of consumerism and realized belatedly there is no way out. The thing is it was all gloriously fun and lovely, hanging out with high school friends and racing to the mall, but I BOUGHT SO MANY THINGS I DO NOT NEED!!

The shopping nightmare began at approximately 10:30pm on the night of Thanksgiving when, upon arriving home from the family feast, I brushed my teeth and took off to meet my friends at a non-mutual friend's home. Which surprisingly wasn't awkward at all. After that, it was all downhill.

11:15pm - I meet friends at non-mutual friend's house. We chat briefly and then leave in our separate cars to catch the Gap opening at midnight.
11:45pm - We arrive at the mall and make a beeline to the Gap store and get in line. Next door, the Aeropostale line already extends to the opposite wall and curves around ours. I realize that people are crazy. Subsequently, I realize today I have joined the ranks of the crazy people.
12:01am - The doors open! And we flood in civilly. Fifty percent off everything store WOW! But we forgot that Gap is expensive anyways, so it only brings prices down to a relatively reasonable level. Friend shops for coat.
12:30am - Friend gets in line to buy coat.
12:40am - Friend buys coat. We leave Gap and wander the rest of the mall. American Eagle! But they, too, are ridiculously expensive.
1:00am - Friend finds shirt he likes! Friend gets in line and buys his shirts within 10 minutes.
1:15am - No other stores are open. The mall is lame.
1:16am - I realize I am hungry. I announce my state to my friends. We decide to go to McDonald's.
1:25am - We are failing to find the phone number for the McDonald's nearest us to determine whether it's 24 hours.
1:30am - We head to a far McDonald's near a Target, which we believe opens at 3am for more consumer revelry.
2:00am - We arrive at a 24-hour McDonald's. It has a Play Palace. Despite the fact that it is 24-hours, most of the doors to the facility are locked. Even with an adequate amount of sleep, I'm not sure this makes sense.
2:05am - I order a HappyMeal and receive a Hello Kitty watch. I love it!! Then I am disappointed as I discover I could have had a ChocoCat watch.
2:20am - We break out the Monopoly Deal game.
2:40am - We discover that Target actually opens at 4am. Monopoly Deal continues.
3:47am - We have finished at least 4 games of Monopoly Deal and are finally headed out the door to Target across the street.
3:50am - We are thwarted by the crazy people who have been waiting to get into Target for hours. Probably since Thanksgiving started, even. I am reaffirmed in the belief that everyone out to shop on Black Friday is crazy.
3:55am - We redirect ourselves to Macy's, where we know we will find parking and good things to buy.
4:45am - I leave Macy's with a new coat.
5:00am - H&M has a ridiculously long line. It winds through the store. I don't like H&M anyways.
5:15am - I reunite with a former orchestra buddy!!!! We chat about life; I reminisce about high school...damn! But kkiiiiiiiiiiiiib

--EDIT: and this is where I fell asleep at my computer in utter exhaustion--

5:30am - I am wandering around Express, contemplating how a 40% discount is actually very puny.
6:00am - I finally have the maturity to leave Express without buying anything and move on to the Loft, where I attempt to browse for items for my mother, who'd before I left the house requested I buy her an outfit.
6:20am - I leave the Loft with a dress for me and a ill-fitting shirt for her. I'm skeptical that it will win her approval. But the Loft shopping bag is lovely. I meet up with my friends again at Auntie Anne's Pretzels, and we split up. Off to New York & Company!
6:40am - I am a scarf and sweater richer, with another sweater for my mother. Perhaps she will actually like this piece of clothing.
7:00am - J.C. Penney: desperately trying to find a "meaningful gift" for my mother's friend's birthday.
7:10am - I spot a pair of purple boots.
7:30am - I am leaving J.C. Penney with a black pashmina neck wrap that was only $7.50, tax included. I am pining for the purple boots.
8:00am - My arm is shaking from holding so many bags as I scour Macy's once again for something for my mother. I feel I have to justify my spending by spending money on her. Incidentally, everything goes on my credit card.
8:30am - I am fed up with life. I purchase what I have in my hand and leave the mall. As I get to my car, someone is already waiting to take my parking spot. I contemplate again how crazy people are to come out shopping on Black Friday.
9:00am - I pull into a parking space at Target and stare blankly at the beautiful brick exterior. My car is still on, and I'm stalling in a back parking space. I struggle with myself before finally backing out and rumbling out of the parking lot. I am sick of shopping, and my Circadian rhythm is vomiting all over me. It's time to go home.
9:46am - Showered, pajama-ed, and thoroughly guilt-ridden, I sit down at my laptop and decide to record this day in my cyber history to remind myself: never again.

2:30pm - I wake up, fill myself with food, and wrap my mother's friend's present.
4:40pm - I hustle my brother out the door to pick up our baby brother to go to see Tangled at 5:30.
8:00pm - We are back at Macy's, and I am exchanging my coat.

I could be out seeing Harry Potter with my friends right now. Instead, I am lying in bed finishing this blog post and wondering whether I can get up the energy to work on homework. That I am this exhausted is ridiculous. Today, I spent over $200 on unnecessary things. Most of them purple.

Moral(s) of the story: Black Friday is evil. People are crazy. Writing is unproductive after over 10 hours shopping. Huddles frozen yogurt sucks.