Category Archives: Gripes

Road Trippin: What Are Your Ideal Snacks?

As I started my daily scroll through my G-Reader, I came upon this Blisstree post detailing food bloggers’ favorite healthy road-trip snacks. Really, I should have known better — the headline includes the phrase “No More Doritos,” which is unquestionably blasphemous. (It’s like, WHAT, are you going to take away my Jock Jamz and Gatorade water, too?) Still, being the semi-undiscriminating media consumer that I am, I clicked the link. BAD IDEA, Kate. Effing terrible idea.

The post begins with an irrefutably true statement (“Road trips are awesome.”), then moves into questionable territory: “Gas stations and truck stops offer a plethora of junk food…like you need sugar and salt-laden foods after sitting for hours in the car, yuck.”

Of course gas stations and truck stops offer junk food: DOI! They’re gas stations and truck stops — not, you know, highwayside Whole Foods. I was most certainly not on board with the judgey-mc-judgmental tone of the second part of that statement: “Like you NEED junk food, amirite, ladies?” Because, actually, I do need junk food for a long-ass road trip. Peanut M&Ms have saved my ass on more than one stretch of deserted highway.

Junk food — for me, at least — is emblematic of road trips. In my everyday life, I try to eat a balanced diet. I don’t always succeed, but dammit, I make an effort! Road trips, like trips in general, offer us a chance to break from our normal routines. No, I don’t regularly eat donuts for breakfast; yes, I will buy a breakfast donut if I stop at a Kum-N-Go in the middle of Iowa. Could I opt instead for a Luna bar and a sparkling water? Yeah, but I eat Luna bars most other days. Also, Luna bars sometimes taste like plastic. Also? Donuts are one of nature’s tastiest foods, and I challenge to a duel anyone who disagrees with me!

Some of my favorite road-trip memories are junk-food related. As a whippersnapper, I loved Burger King’s Whopper Junior. Go ahead and judge, readers: I don’t mind. I will take any/all heat for my avowed love of this sandwich (“sandwich”)! Whenever I took a road trip, I’d wait until 11:00 AM to eat, that being the time at which BK started offering lunch-menu items. Sometimes I’d eat in the car. Whenever possible, I’d park myself in the melmac-and-tile dining room of whatever BK I’d happened upon so I could really relish the Whopper Jr. experience.

I have similar feelings about Cheetos. When I was a senior in college, I dated a guy who lived about three two three? hours from Galesburg. Whenever I’d drive to visit him, I’d get a gas-station pumpkin-spice cappuccino and a bag of Cheetos. That particular flavor combination — ultra-sweet, moderately nutmeggy imitation coffee commingled with the distressingly salty Cheetos — brings me back: to Galesburg in September, to the flat stretch of highway between my podunk town and St. Louis, to Woody Allen and inexpensive Merlot and walks around Forest Park. I don’t drink gas-station cappuccino much these days — or ever — but now? I’m curious to see whether the drink would unearth more memories than those I’ve listed here.

Another point Carrie Murphy fails to address is the regional availability of certain foods. Dear readers, I’m sure you’re aware that your favorite food (junk or not) may only be available in certain localities. When my sis lived with me in Northampton, she grew to love this cornbread toasting bread — you know, sandwich bread flavored like cornbread. Guess what? It’s not available in the Midwest. Sis also loves Lays’ Limon chips, which are common in San Francisco and sold via Amazon, but aren’t stocked at her local Hy-Vee. When I studied in Berlin, I yearned for my beloved Cheetos; the nearest available bag was in Scotland.

This is the bread my sis loves so much.

When I visit Minnesota in a few short weeks, I’m going to eat the hell out of foods I can’t readily get here. What’s on my list?

  1. A kiddie-sized Dairy Queen Blizzard
  2. A danish from Uncle Billy’s bakery
  3. A veggie Chicago dog from Coney Island
  4. An orange scone from Panera
  5. Papa John’s Pizza

And so on.

I don’t feel one bit bad about this predicted junk-food binge. Part of a road trip is loosening up, letting one’s hair down, going with the flow, and all that other NorCal jazz. Yeah, I’m going to allow myself to become moderately sunburned! Why, yes, I’ll drink some daytime porchbeers, watch shitty TV, and drive when I can walk! Maple “syrup” made with HFCS instead of sap? Don’t mind if I do!

Food is so much more bound up with our memories — our perceptions of self — than we give it credit for. I was always the kid who got the cookie dough blizzard. I still am.

***
Image sources: [1], [2], [3], [4]

Office Lunch/Tiny Pride

Changes are afoot. Rather than working 9-5, we now work 8-6, which may not seem as vast a difference as it is. Oh, but it is vast! Such a radical shift in my schedule will undoubtedly impact — has already begun to impact — every aspect of my life: the social aspect, most notably, but also how I consider food.Will I begin to eat frozen entrees with greater regularity? (God, I hope not.) Will I eat out more? Will I make a big-ass batch of soup (or chili, or hearty grain salad) on Sunday and eat that for an entire week until I become so tired of that week’s dish that I enter an Involuntary Fast Mode? These questions remain to be answered.

What I can say is this: I’m damn proud that I cooked for myself last night. Got home at 7:08, had to be out the door not long after that, but I made one of my Quik & Ez Stir Frys. This particular stir fry was ultra-simple: trimmed asparagus, cubed tempeh, three cloves of garlic (minced). Seasoned this dish with Bragg’s, chili paste, sesame seeds, s&p, and ground ginger. Served it over udon. DONE!

Simple though it was, it was decidedly good — for once, I used the right amount of chili paste. More than that, though, it reminded me to remind myself of what’s important. Yeah, I was dog tired when I got home (not as tired as I am today, which, oof). Yes, I was craving The Simplest Carbs. For a glint, I convinced myself that a potato-chip dinner would be a more efficient option, but then I un-convinced myself.

Preparing and eating nourishing food is part of adulthood, and I’m an adult. I’ll intone this statement the next time I want to dive nose-first into a Sharing Size bag of Cheetos.

Oh! Finally, the second picture in this post is from Saturday’s dinner. I included it because the Instagram filter makes the halved heirloom tomato (top-right sector of the plate) look a bit like a snail(!) Didn’t taste like snail, however.

Semi-Homemade: Thoughts on Convenience

This morning, I came upon Emily Matchar’s Hairpin article The First Sandra Lee: Poppy Cannon and Her Can-Opener Cuisine, and my brain perked up. I thought I was in for a real treat — the rhetorical equivalent of a triple-layer chocolate cake, cemented with layers of buttercream and lovingly scattered with flakes of chocolate. And I was in for a treat, though one by no means as decadent as the one I imagined — more of an intellectual sponge cake, soaked in low-rent rum and sprinkled with the zest of a shriveling orange.

Matchar begins with an introduction to Poppy Cannon: food editor, cookbook author, and lady about town. Cannon was no dolt; she knew good cuisine when she saw it, yet she elected to write about can-opener cooking. Such a decision brought criticism upon Cannon, who didn’t care — after all, she was makin’ money and livin’ the dream. (All together now: money talks and bullshit walks.)

Further into her post, Matchar compares Cannon to modern-day frozen-foods whiz Sandra Lee, who, like her predecessor, has come under heat for her “recipes.” Superficially, at least, the women are similar: both faced adversity as children and longed to get the hell out of Dodge; both profited enormously from their advocacy of quik-n-easy foodstuffs. But there the similarities end. Where Cannon was an innovator, Lee is merely upcycling a decades-old concept, repackaging it in a millennial-friendly manner.

At the time Cannon was writing, convenience foods were a relatively new concept. Canned foods had been around for a while, but TV dinners were viewed (so I’m told) as a miracle product — a way for housewives to provide their husbands with a warm, nourishing meal without spending hours in the kitchen.

Today, of course, heat-and-eat foods aren’t viewed with the same impunity. Reviled as junk and made the target of class-focused arguments, frozen meals and components are the red-headed stepchildren of the food world. Not as nutritionally void as Pringles, Twizzlers, and Pizza Rolls, frozen and canned foods are almost worse off; by asserting themselves as nutritive, they draw more contempt and cynical evaluation than they would otherwise.

But I’m not here to hate on canned foods; I’m here to examine the critical difference between Poppy Cannon and Sandra Lee. Matchar draws comparisons between the women to illustrate her point about convenience-food haters. She quotes chef Michael Ruhlman, who claims that cooking with other people and eating homemade food is “part of what makes us human.” Retorts Matchar, “unlike Ruhlman, both Sandra Lee and Poppy Cannon understood that some full-blooded human beings actually find cooking a giant pain in the ass.”

Which is true — some people do find cooking a major pain in the ass. I’m not one of those people. What Matchar fails to acknowledge is that Sandra Lee doesn’t cater to people who truly find cooking a pain in the ass. Those individuals have available to them a glorious array of fully prepared, fairly nutritious meals; every supermarket has a frozen section filled with fully prepared meals, and more and more markets have salad or hot bars with entrees ready to be eaten. People who actually hate cooking rely on these options. Or they eat at restaurants. Or they wait for others to cook for them.

On the contrary, Lee targets people who like the idea of cooking, who view the process as something valuable, but for whatever reason don’t want to engage in the process from start to finish. If Lee’s target demo didn’t care for cooking at all, they’d open a can of Dinty Moore and call it a day. Even the title of Lee’s show (Semi-Homemade) acknowledges the value of a homemade meal. Matchar miscategorizes Lee’s audience and, as a result, weakens her argument.

Cannon, who aimed her book at “working girls,” was writing at a time when women had recently gained the option to enter the workforce. The necessity of balancing work life and domestic tasks was a new one for many women. Not so for Lee’s audience. That is to say, many women (and men) still struggle to balance their work and home lives, but the struggle itself is nothing new.

Lee’s purpose isn’t to alleviate the struggle; it’s to stoke the self-esteem of people who want to make homemade meals but are too lazy. Her recipes occupy a strange doldrummy space: hideously unappetizing, they require a decent — but not an overwhelming — amount of prep. They yield products that are pointillistically “homemade;” get closer to the table and you’ll recognize that that gorgeous pie is really just graham-cracker crumbs topped with cherry sludge and Reddi-Whip. Failing on the levels of nutrition and taste, Lee’s recipes are little more than window dressing.

Maybe Cannon’s are, too, but they’re the window dressing of an earlier era, a time during which such a classification held different cultural associations. Food snobbery has always existed, but its targets were different in 1951 than currently. Matchar’s primary oversight is her failure to acknowledge the very different cultures in which Cannon and Lee worked.

Matchar is right: there are people for whom cooking is a giant pain in the ass. There are also people for whom cooking is a semi pain in the ass, and those people are the followers of Lee.

***

Image sources: [1], [2], [3], [4]

Confession: Your Post Makes You Sound Like a Douchelaser

It’s true: I’ve spent my last few posts bitching and moaning about Annoying Things I Have Read, and this is the last such tirade (for now). BUT, when I stumbled on this SFist post, titled Confessions Of A San Francisco Parent: Babies In Restaurants Aren’t A Problem, I couldn’t resist. I am, after all, only human.

I’ll say this up front, lest I sound like a crazy, kid-hating bitch: I don’t hate children. I like children! They wear adorable, baby-sized Ray Bans and sometimes say funny things! Human life! Perpetuation of the species & c!

You know what I hate? Smug parents. Smug people in general, but smug parents in particular. I also have megaqualms with misleading article titles, several of which SS and I have encountered on this very day.

The title of the article post in question led me to believe that the author would defend parents who bring their yawling tots to nice restaurants. “Fucking A,” I thought, “another of those folks,” by which I mean folks who consider their own needs above everyone else’s.* But no: the post falls into another category altogether — that of the ill-formed line of argumentation, the absent thesis, the plague of blah-ness.

Rather than positing that, No, babies in restaurants are not annoying and here’s why, the author admits that babies in restaurants can be annoying:

To our dismay and frustration, at the next table was a little girl. She wasn’t crying or screaming. She was watching Dora the Explorer on full blast on her personal DVD player …We were livid.

The author understands (abstractly, at least) that yes, a crying child can wreck other patrons’ dining experiences. She goes so far as to say, “I understand how disruptive a child in a restaurant can be, especially when you’re paying big bucks…” One point for insight! That the author identifies the problem undermines the other half of her argument: because the crying child isn’t mine, it isn’t a problem.Whoa, whoa, whoa: back up. You’re saying that because you can block out the shrieks of kids (or that you can pretend said shrieks aren’t annoying), those shrieks aren’t a problem? I love this logic! Let’s apply it to other so-called problems:

“You know, I’ve never experienced genocide, so it’s NOT A PROBLEM.”

“My parents were killed when their car was struck by a meth-head driving a conversion van. BUT, because it’s not happening to me in the current moment, it’s NOT A PROBLEM.”

To review: the author admits that, yes, loud children can indeed disrupt a dining experience. She also claims that, unless the loud-ass kids are her own, they aren’t a problem because SHE doesn’t have to deal (“deal”) with them. Never mind those other diners who have to, uh, listen to the kids. D. Hanousek’s post could have been reduced to a single line: “The world revolves around meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

***

*And, let’s be honest: parents who bring colicky-ass babies to restaurants are doing exactly that. Whatever the cause — inability or unwillingness to find a babysitter, obsession with one’s offspring, desire to tote one’s kids to All Public Places — the result is the same: other diners’ needs are infringed upon.

Image sources: [1], [2]

How Is This News?

Fully aware that I’ve been on the kvetchwagon for some time, I’d like to bring a(nother) annoying text to your attention, Dear Intertron Readers! The offending text was published today in the Washington Post; I don’t regularly read the WP, but I do receive their weekly health-related newsletter (a subscription I began years ago during my “Get Fit Now” phase).

This morning, Katherine Tallmadge published a list of “5 so-called health foods you should avoid.” The title — perfect for SEO — piqued my curiosity, but only because I was saving the choicest morsels of my G-reader for later this afternoon. What would I find on this list? I wondered. Almond milk? Chia seeds? Or — god help me — KALE?

Answer: none of the above! Nope, this list contained nothing so revolutionary. Instead, Tallmadge calls out reduced-fat peanut butter, enhanced water, energy bars, multigrain foods, and non-fried chips/crackers as junk in sheep’s clothing. Her claims are valid, sort of; peanut butter and crackers aren’t the healthiest choices (though they are delicious). Even still, I have the following BEEF with this article:

1) The foods listed don’t really claim to be health foods. With the exception of multigrain items, the foods Tallmadge lists don’t purport to be health foods. The huge majority of packaged foods tout their healthier attributes (case in point: candy bars that boast about reduced fat content; cereals that advertise increased vitamin levels), but this advertising doesn’t mean those foods are promoting themselves as health foods. I’ve seen peanut butter advertised as part ofa healthy breakfast/lunch, but I’ve never seen a Jif commercial claiming its product = the fountain of youth.

Oh, it has "grain" in the name? Let me eat THE WHOLE BAG!

2) Eaten in reasonable amounts, these five foods can be healthy. I’m sure you all have heard about people who have lost weight by eating nothing but vending-machine fare. I’m not equating lower weight to increased health (because this can be a false premise); I am stating that, as part of a balanced diet, even peanut butter has a place. Tallmadge also fails to mention the emotional/social benefits of foods, which aspects contribute to a food’s overall value.

(Aside: Carr’s crackers, made with the whitest of the white flours, aren’t HEALTH FOOD, but they figure prominently into childhood memories. I still eat them from time to time and revel in the nostalgiathon, which promotes my emotional well-being. Which, come on!, is a part of overall health.)

These crackers are healthy for my soul.

3) The article assumes reader ignorance. If there’s one thing I hate (and lord knows there’s not just one!), it’s articles that presume the readers to be idiots. This article assumes the worst about readers. Writes Tallmadge, “…make a habit of reading the ingredients list, not just the Nutrition Facts panel.” Why, you don’t say! Read about the ingredients of the food I’m eating? I’ll be damned.

Annnnnnnnnnd that concludes today’s heckling! Beyond disappointment, annoyance, mild irritation, &c, this article left me confused. Not about the foods mentioned, but about the article itself: WHY DOES IT EVEN EXIST?

***

Image sources: [1], [2]

 

Chubster: AVOID!

Wanting to diverge from my established tastes (in music, books, foodstuffs, & c.) — rather, wanting to build upon those tastes — I’ve taken to heeding external guidance. I’ll go to the record store with an open heart/mind, not searching for anything in particular, in many cases bringing home something wholly unfamiliar + really freaking good. (Note: this method works best at stores with curated collections. Maybe don’t try this at BEST BUY, if you ever set foot in a BB.)

Ditto my approach to searching the public library’s catalog. SF peeps, did you know that the SFPL publishes lists, sorted by month, of new acquisitions? No? Check ’em out! I’ve come across a few gems in this manner — gems I might certainly have overlooked/never discovered if I hadn’t adopted this new search method.

All that was a roundabout way of arriving at the topic at hand: Martin Cizmar’s Chubster and the fierceness with which I dislike it.

First things first: Chubster is a diet book. I am not on a diet. Why did I check it out? A few reasons:

  1. I stumbled upon the title during one of my book-reserving sprees, during which I also requested Unlocking the Secret Levels of the Mind. (Summarized: My preferences were all over the map.)
  2. I had a moderate curiosity about a book marketed toward self-identified hipsters (“hipsters”): what would the prose be like? The cultural references?
  3. I think I’d write a pretty badass get-healthy guide (Tagline: Eat what you want WHEN you want! And never look back!), and this book seemed good For Research Purposes.

I was ASS WRONG.

Chubster’s premise is simple: it’s a diet book for people who loathe diet books. People who don’t want to forsake PBR-fueled ping-pong matches, mimosa-heavy brunches, and bacon-wrapped everything in the name of weight loss.

Expecting Chubster to resemble The Hipster Handbook with a few bits o’ dietary advice thrown in (“Eat a goddamned apple, dumbass!”), I looked forward to reading it. As you already know, my expectations were quickly & irreversibly dashed. What’s my problem with the book, you ask?

Cizmar’s weight-loss advice is the same advice given by everyone, everywhere: eat fewer calories than you burn and you’ll lose weight. Boom. Done. This was to be expected; after all, such is the only real way to shed a few pounds, boring as it is.

Chubster, then, can be thought of as a repackaging (rebranding) of common, old-as-hell knowledge. In itself, this is fine; I’ve got no beef with rebrands.

What I do have beef with is poorly executed rebrands, a category into which Chubster undeniably falls. Consider again the book’s premise: it offers diet advice for hipsters. But what is a hipster? Answer: there is no such thing. Or rather, there was at one time such a thing, but the term (after years of circulation) has become so debased that its meaning shifts constantly.

Check out this list of results for a search of “hipster” on the New York Times website and identify the common thread uniting the stories. No, I’ll be here for a bit.Targeting a misleadingly specific audience — one that seems to exist but, upon examination, is found to be a logical dead-end — yields problems in tone. Chubster is rife with such problems.

These problems stem, in large part, from the book’s muddied target demo. Chubster purports to be aimed at hip (“hip”) under-40s, but what is hip? Cizmar seems to be addressing a plaid-shirted, bespectacled phantom, one who reared his head in 2002 and, like Sasquatch, existed ever after only as legend.

Consequently,* Cizmar’s tone is a bit tough to suss out. Obstacle #1 is the issue of gender: is the book targeted to men, women, both? The answer is ostensibly “both,” but Cizmar occupies a precarious position. Traditionally, at least, diet books are aimed at women; Cizmar, a dude, appears to pitch his book at both genders, but his stylistic choices (and jocular asides) tilt the book in the direction of male preference. (This isn’t a problem, per se; it only became a problem here because the book was ostensibly targeted to a co-ed audience when really that wasn’t the case.)

Obstacle #2 is Cizmar’s actual diet advice. Because he’s targeting a nebulous audience, he can’t tailor his advice to them; instead, he talks about his own experience. Which, frankly, isn’t so thrilling. Basically, the author ate a bunch of pre-packaged, preservative-laced meals/snacks, excercized, and lost weight. That’s fine, but it’s far from revolutionary, nor is it remotely resonant with the imagined target demo. Lean Cuisines? Really? If anything, Cizmar’s diet-related chapters read like the rhetoric from the weight-loss guides of the ’80s — which could be hip, if you think about it (the lycra! the geometric eyeshadow! the typefaces!), but it’s deicdedly unhip in Cizmar’s hands.

I’ll admit: I read this book ’til the end, loathe it though I did. I had to, if I wanted to kvetch about it. If the prospect of irritatedly blogging hadn’t been motivating me, however, I’d have stopped after the first paragraph. My advice: don’t waste your time on this book. If you want to know how slim hipsters eat, track some down in the wild for observation. It’ll be a bit like the hunt for Bigfoot, but with more Tecate.

***

*That is, in light of the fact that he’s addressing a non-existent audience.

Image sources: [1], [2], [3], [4]

I Am Getting Comfortable with This Holiday Mayhem

FML! Oh! I mean, Merrrrrrrrrrrrry Christmas! To be clear, I am pro-Xmas. I am not in favor of all this holiday stresssssss. As of now, I have only half of my cards written, two-thirds of my gifts wrapped, and absolutely nothing packed for my trip to Minnesota. Heh heh heh: it’s gonna be a lonnnnnnng night.

Today, evidently, is a day for extra consonants.

Though I’ve spent most of it running around like a cat on meth, this week hasn’t been without its bright spots. One of these was Alex’s and my dinner at Pakwan, which I’d always meant to try but never had. Finally, my chance arrived.

[Image source: Yelp]

If you haven’t been to Pakwan, be aware that it’s far from glamorous. In fact, it’s dumpy: in possession of a linoleum floor, pressboard tables, and the sort of chairs found in church basements. The fluorescent lighting will accentuate your midwinter pallor, and you may be badgered out of your seat by hungry would-be diners. Don’t let these superficial drawbacks deter you; to do so would be a Great Personal Disservice.

Alex and I were famished and also couldn’t decide what to order, so we got a big ol’ heap of food: chicken tikka masala, garlic naan, achar gosht, bengan bhartha, rice. Pakwan is BYOB, and you can bet that we brought it: oh yes, we did.

That right there is the chicken tikka masala, which was, in a word, delightful. The chicken was tender (and gristle-free! = bonus) and the sauce was RICH, just as I like. I will say that I’d have preferred more chicken for the amount of sauce; I will also say that I have no problem sopping up sauce with naan — things worked out OK.

This blurry pic sort of looks like the terrain of an unnamed planet, but the subject is actually garlic naan — surprise! Flavorwise, the naan killed it. I tend to order non-garlic naans because lots of places overdo it with the garlic and I end up reeking for days.* To my surprise/pleasure, this naan was juuuuuuuuust right: a little garlicky, but not so much that a few brushings & flossings couldn’t eradicate ma garlic breath.

Texturally, the naan was so-so — it was a bit crispy in parts: a bit too crispy, if you ask me, and I hope you’re asking me. It wasn’t burnt-burnt, but the edges were a little crunch. Just sayin.

Our best dish, hands down, was the achar gosht. The lamb was the tenderest — we barely poked it and it fell apart.The sauce had a delayed-onset heat that, after about three seconds, hit the back of my mouth. Yesssssss.

One other thing: Pakwan is ueber-reasonably priced. Our dinner came to $30 ($40 with the beers we brought), and we had leffffffffftovers. (Those Fs represent the magnitude of leftoverage.) Nothing inspires holiday cheer like a well-made, inexpensive meal. Hallelujah!

In other news, I’m heading to the Great Midwest tomorrow — posts might be fewer/farther between, depending on My Internet Situation. (And really, the Internet Situation is anyone’s guess.) On that note, Happy (early) Xmas!

***

*I don’t mind garlic breath so much, and I rarely use the possibility of the condition as an excuse to avoid garlic (I mean, WHY would I avoid garlic?), but I dislike eating extreme quantities of garlic, esp. raw.