SD #19: Even I Cannot Live On Guac Alone

March 9, 2013

Now that we’re trying to get back in the swing of Serial Dining Woodside, our quest to eat at all of Woodside’s many restaurants in alphabetical order, I think I remember why our adventure stalled out a while ago:  La Cabanita.  This is the restaurant that opened up at 6406 Roosevelt Ave after the closing of El Paso, which was the next retaurant on the list after El Nuevo Izalco.  Sometimes I think I’m the worst food blogger ever, because I love almost everything we’ve tried, so my posts are all like, “This was awesome!”  Not so La Cabanita.  It’s small, and because they have the jukebox, the radio, and at least one television going the whole time we were there, there was a constant, pointless, totally off-putting cacophony of noise that only the most idiotic of restaurant owners would create.  The service was slow despite the dining room being almost entirely empty.  We were alone almost the entire time we were there.  Finally, somebody else came in, but it turned out he just wanted to use the bathroom.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a guacamole fiend.  My guacamole consumption habits are officially sanctioned by my doctor and by my former food nazi, both of whom felt I needed more heart-healthy fats and magnesium in my life.  These are the little sacrifices we must make in life.  Some people have to eat more broccoli.  I have to eat more guac.  It sucks, you know?  Anyway, every single time I go to a Mexican restaurant, I try the guac.  La Cabanita was no exception, and in fact, their guac was really good.  I don’t remember what we ordered after the guac, but both Allan and I remember it being very slow to arrive, and not worth waiting for once it did.  In fact, we didn’t even save the pictures.

That visit was some time in December of 2012, and that was the last of our Serial Dining adventures.  I think the experience of coming across bad Mexican food in Woodside was just too much of a shock.  I’m pretty sure they’ve already gone out of business.

More than a year has transpired, and we’re ready to get back in the groove.  There are hidden gems in Woodside yet to explore, and we mean to find them out!  Stay tuned for further Serial Dining Woodside adventures!

SD #18: Pupusas. Almost as much fun to say as kumkwat.

March 9, 2013

Pupusas.

Pupusas.

Isn’t that fun?  It’s almost as fun to say “pupusas” as it is to eat pupusas.  We discovered this in November, when we serially dined at El Nuevo Izalco, which was the next restaurant on our serial dining list.  It’s located at 6405 Roosevelt Ave, easy walking distance from our apartment.  Here’s what it looks like on the outside:

El Nuevo Izalco Restaurant

Here’s the inside:

We went at lunchtime on a Friday in November, so the place was pretty quiet.  The host, who I took to be the son of the owners, was very friendly.  He took the time to explain to us not only all about pupusas themselves, but also about El Salvador.  Izalco is the name of their hometown, named after a volcano located there.  It has been dormant since the 1960s, but it erupted pretty regularly before that, and it’s an iconic image of El Salvador the way, say, images of the grand canyon or the Rocky Mountains are for the United States.  There’s a big picture of the volcano in the restaurant.  There are also little ceramic buses on the walls, decorated with the names of the various states in El Salvador.  Here are a few of them:

Since I had never had pupusas before, the host suggested a combination plate.  My suggestion to you:  Don’t.  You can order pupusas separately with a lot less on the side, and you’ll probably be less overwhelmed and enjoy them more.  Unless you’re REALLY hungry, or you plan on splitting it with someone else.  It’s a TON of food.  Don’t get me wrong– it’s really GOOD food.  But it’s a TON of food.  Here’s what we had:

You always get pickled cabbage with pupusas

Horchata. Kind of like chocolate milk, but made with rice

So here I am at the bottom of this post, admitting to you that this dining adventure took place in November of 2011, more than a year ago, and I wrote everything above this sentence in April 2012.  Yeah, life got busy, and I got lazy about the whole serial dining thing.  Right now it’s a Saturday night in March 2013, and my partner and I are trying to figure out where to have dinner.  I keep saying we’re going to get back to Serial Dining, but I refuse to do it until I get around to posting about the last few restaurants we’ve been to.  I had hoped to add to this post the exact identities of everything in these pictures and the price we paid for everything.  The thing is, I can’t remember.  We’ve been back to El Nuevo Izalco since then, and the prices are very reasonable.  The owners and wait staff have been just as friendly in subsequent visits as they were on our first one.  They seem genuinely happy to see everybody who walks through the door.  It’s a good strategy, because it makes us want to go back there.  It’s like hanging out at your uncle’s house, if your uncle was a nice old Salvadoran guy who owns a restaurant.  If he started hugging the diners, it wouldn’t seem the least bit out of place.

Another good thing I can report: Since our original visit to El Nuevo Izalco, the jerks who opened Pupusa Zone RIGHT THE HECK NEXT DOOR to it have already gone out of business.  It’s like opening a burger joint right next to another burger joint, hoping to do it better and faster and put the old guy’s family business out of business.  Glad they failed.  Pupusa on you, jerks.

Izalco on Urbanspoon

No Poo Update: It turns out, hipster beer is not a magic elixir

June 24, 2012

When last I posted about my adventures in going no-poo, I had just discovered the joys of washing my hair with beer.  I was at a conference in Seattle, feeling humiliated about parading my greasy “transition phase” hair about in front of hundreds of my professional colleagues and one old friend from college.  The night before I had to give my own presentation at the conference, just in the knick of time, I decided to try washing my hair with beer.  I bought a big can of Pabst Blue Ribbon because it was cheap.  It worked, and my hair looked great for my presentation.  I thought I was on to something.

Yeah, no.  As soon as I got back home to New York, it stopped working.  Maybe the tap water is just different here.  Who knows.  It was the same type of let-down I felt when the magic wore off after my first weekend of baking soda washes.  None of the subsequent washes worked as well.  Beer definitely breaks up the oil in my hair, but instead of washing it out, it seems to just sort of redistribute it along the shafts in a big, goopy, half-oil, half-beer natural disaster.  It does not look good.  It does not feel good.

By the end of April, pretty much everyone I knew was begging me just to go back to shampoo, perhaps because they were tired of looking at my nasty hair, but definitely because they were concerned about the state of my mental health.  I, of course, was stubborn, and refused to give up.  It’s not so much that I am inherently full of the desire to persevere.  It’s more that I refused to accept that all of my suffering up to that point had been for naught.  Either way, though, I definitely needed a new game plan.

For a while, I followed roughly a three-day rotation of baking soda, beer with or without green tea, and either a second day of beer/tea or a water-only wash.  Every day, my hair looked like crap– just different crap, depending on that day’s treatment.  I kept telling myself I was still in the transition phase, and it would gradually get better as my scalp produced less and less excess oil.  But when the hell was that going to be?  Would I still be sane when that day came?  Would my nasty hair have alienated everyone I know?

Things finally came to a head, no pun intended, on one particular Monday in May.  Even though I had done a baking soda wash in the morning, my hair was still a major greasepit by the time it dried.  Also, I was experiencing the same problem I had every day I washed with baking soda:  MASSIVE static electricity that would not go away, despite the fact that the hair strands themselves were weighed down by an Exxon Valdez-level oil slick.  It was like the worst of all possible worlds.  At this time of the semester, I couldn’t even hide in my office, because I was in the middle of supervisory observations, watching my staff work in the most public area of our department.  By the end of the day, I felt overwhelmed with humiliation.  When I got home, I ran to the bathroom, grabbed a bottle of shampoo from under the sink, and washed my hair with it.

The key point here is that I washed my hair in the sink.  If I had just hopped in the shower, I might not have noticed this:  The rinse water coming off of my hair was DARK BROWN.  That’s right, boys and girls:  The baking soda had so completely failed to clean my hair that on the same day as a b.s. wash, shampoo was dislodging massive amounts of dirt from my hair.  This is New York City, after all.  We are not known for our clean air.   I guess it’s also possible that residue from the green tea and chamomile tea rinses I had been doing were building up, because the baking soda doesn’t even have the chops to wash THAT out.

So I’m done with baking soda.  I mean, really, fuck that.  The question is, why does it work for other people and not for me?  I reread some of the blogs and other pages on the web where I had gone for information when I first decided to go no-poo.  One of the things I detected in retrospect was a lack of agreement on what the baking soda is supposed to be.  Some people are using it as a solvent. like Windex or Lysol, dissolving it completely in water before putting it on their hair.  Others are using it as an abrasive, like Comet or Ajax, making a paste and scrubbing their scalp with it.  The other thing I noticed is on many of the more popular no-poo blogs, the blog posts come with dozens and dozens of reader comments begging for assistance with failed no-poo attempts.  The baking soda isn’t working for them, and they’re not sure why.  Usually the response is to suggest that commenters experiment until they find something works for them.  Now, I absolutely believe the people who report positive experiences with baking soda are telling the truth.  Many of them have the photos to prove it.  And I absolutely believe that “keep experimenting until you find what works for you” is very reasonable advice, and I do not find fault with anybody who says that.  But I have experimented for as long as I could stand it, and I’m giving up on the baking soda.

After doing a full shampoo on the Day of the Big No Poo Freak-Out, I discovered that, in fact, my scalp really is producing MUCH less oil than it used to.  So the theory that your scalp will calm the heck down if you stop stripping it of its oils every single day actually appears to be true.  But it still does produce enough oil to need to be washed in some way.  For now, instead of no-poo I am doing low-poo:  I wash with about a quarter of the amount of shampoo I used to use.  It’s not even enough to create a lather.  It’s enough to keep my scalp clean and free of oily-head-stink, but it leaves enough oil in my hair to obviate the need for conditioner or detangler.  When I feel like I can, I skip a day, and I do still occasionally do a tea rinse.

The one problem I have is with the blow-dyer.  Blowing my hair dry is harder on my hair now.  Natural hair oils don’t protect it as well as Paul Mitchell leave-in conditioner, which I had been using since high school.  But that conditioner contains the dreaded dimethicone, right up there with sulfates as something worth eliminating.  So I’m trying not to go back to it.  Now that the warm weather is here, my plan is to stop blow-drying my hair altogether, at least until it gets cold again.  Because of the type of hair I have, that invites a completely different type of bad hair day, but I’m going to try to make it work.

I don’t have photos of any of this right now, but I’ll try to post something in the next few weeks.

I still have three cans of PBR under my bathroom sink if you know anybody who actually drinks it.  Trustafarians need not apply.  Y’all can go buy your own beer.

The Big Fat Win-Win-Win Situation

May 9, 2012

Once in a while, you come across something that is absolutely brilliant, sprays benefits in every direction, and is purely the work of dedicated volunteers.  And you just feel freaking fabulous about it and you have to tell people.  Right now, that thing for me is the Big Fat Flea.  It is happening this Sunday from noon to 7:30.  So as soon as you’re done taking your mother to lunch for Mother’s Day, head on over to the LGBT Center and indulge in some serious bargain hunting.  The Sunday scheduling is especially great if you’re Orthodox and you’ve had to skip the flea in years past when it took place on a Saturday. (Hint hint, Nora!  Wanna go with me?)

So why is this event so cool?  Let me count the ways:

1. It caters specifically to fat folks.  In previous years, this event was known as the Fat Girl Flea Market and specialized only in women’s clothing.  This year, the name of the event has been changed to the Big Fat Flea to reflect the broadening of its mission to serve people of all genders and clothing preferences.  But it’s still all about the fatties, which I love, love, love.  You know what a great big giant pain in the ass it can be to shop for clothes when your size is a double-digit number, even in a city the size of New York with its literally thousands of clothing stores.  And don’t even get me started on the plus-size catalog ghetto.   As an added bonus, to a large extent, the task of sifting through the horrifying dregs of plus-size offerings is already done for you:  Here’s a chance to pick up and try on dozens of items that someone else loved enough to buy at some point before you.

2. It’s crazy cheap.  You pay $10 at the door, but after that, you’re paying rummage-sale prices for some really amazing stuff.  I’ve walked out of there in the past with two bags full of stuff for under $25.

3. It’s green.  While some the clothes for sale at the flea are new and come from corporate sponsors, the vast majority are donations from other fat folks who want to see their beloved togs enjoy a second life on a new body rather than wind up in a landfill somewhere.  They recycle, you reuse, and waste is therefore reduced.  Reduce, reuse, recycle!

4. Proceeds benefit a good cause.  All monies raised go to NOLOSE, and particularly the scholarship fund for the NOLOSE conference NOLOSE is an amazing organization doing important, uplifting work.  If you’re not familiar with their mission, click and be enlightened.  Your purchase makes it possible for someone to attend their conference who otherwise might not be able to go.  Hey, it’s a recession– this stuff matters!  In addition, the Flea takes place at the non-profit LGBT Center in lower Manhattan, and the fee for renting the venue provides revenue for the center.  (Incidentally, if you’ve never been there, it’s worth going just for the amazing Keith Haring mural on the inside where the old men’s bathroom used to be.)

5. Your participation rewards grass-roots volunteerism.  This event is entirely run by volunteers.  To execute an event like this takes planning, organization, dedication, talent, and sweat.  You can vote with your feet by showing up, and vote with your wallet by snagging some major bargains!

Do you see what I mean about spraying benefits in every direction?  The awesomeness.  It overwhelms me.

I’ve been a customer at the flea in years past, but this year I’m stepping up and giving back.  A few weekends ago, I spent my Saturday picking up bags of clothing from donors all over northwest Manhattan.  My partner Allan did all the driving– he has the best Manhattan driving skills of anybody I know– and our friends Nora and Ryan lent us their car, since ours is on the fritz.  I will be volunteering on the day of the event as well, but you can be sure I will be doing some serious shopping before my volunteer shift starts!

How can you find out more about the Big Fat Flea?  Check it out in these fine locations on the web:

Facebook, here and here

Twitter

The Flea has a Tumblr

And check out this writeup in Time Out NY!

No-Poo Update: In which my hair is saved by Alan Alda and some Hipsters

April 5, 2012

So here I am, nearing the end of week four of my no-poo experiment.  Time for an update.  They say the less you do with your hair during the transition period, the shorter the transition period will be.  If that’s true, I think my transition is going to take forever.  I’m trying.  I really am.  But the grease is getting to me.

In the two weeks since my last post, I’ve been out of town twice:  once to Washington DC for the Reason Rally, and again for a work-related conference in Seattle, from which I am just now returning.  Prior to the first trip, I had been reading a lot online about how conditioning with apple cider vinegar makes some people’s hair look and feel greasy.  I’m not sure exactly how that works, since there’s no oil in ACV, but that’s what people say.  As an alternative, some people condition with a simple chamomile tea rinse.  I didn’t have chamomile tea on hand, so I started rinsing with green tea instead.  In the morning when I brewed tea for myself, I just brewed a separate cup for my hair.  When I hit the shower after breakfast, I poured the no-longer-piping-hot cup of tea into my squirt bottle.  My perception is that it helped keep my head from smelling like greasy hair, but didn’t do much else.  Even after continuing to wash my scalp and hair with baking soda solution every other day, the buildup of oil in my hair was getting pretty unbearable.  Most days, the back of my head felt tacky like the back of a post-it note.  Not good.  I tried to convince myself it didn’t look filthy, but it really did.  It wasn’t such a big deal at the rally because we got rained on most of the day anyway, but showing up to work in that condition last week was rough.

Last Thursday, I decided to give my hair a really thorough washing with a triple dose of baking soda.  I was afraid it would really drying, so I followed with a rinse of minimal ACV in solution with chamomile tea, which I had managed to obtain by then.  While my first two ACV rinses made my hair look and feel great, this one just turned it into an even bigger grease pit.  My guess:  It has to do with the massive amount of oil that had accumulated in my hair in the intervening two weeks.  Maybe the ACV brings all the oil right to the surface.  I had to come up with a plan, because I was leaving the next day for a work-related conference in Seattle.  I packed some chamomile teabags and about half a cup of baking soda and got on the plane.

Like the green tea, the chamomile really helps keep my hair from smelling foul even when it’s really loaded with oil.  And my scalp didn’t seem overly gross.  But even on the days when I used the baking soda, my hair was still unbearably oily, and it still felt post-it-note tacky in the back.  I managed to drag myself out of my hotel room with my nasty hair on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, frightening small children at the Seattle aquarium and humiliating myself in front of my professional peers for the first two days of the conference.  I had a lovely dinner with a college friend I hadn’t seen in twenty years who happens to live in Seattle now, and although she was very gracious and did not bolt from the table at the sight of the dirty mess of hair that I had barely managed to contain with a new silk scarf, I felt self-conscious about it the whole time.

By Monday night, I was desperate.  I didn’t want to give up on the no-poo project, but this transition period was killing me.  I had developed a theory:  not only was the baking soda not really helping, but it’s possible the baking soda solution was somehow combining with the oil to form a paste on my hair, and that this was the reason my hair felt like a giant post-it note.  I mean, ewww.  Just, ewwwwwww.

Then all of a sudden, sitting right there at dinner on Monday night, I was visited by an apparition.  It was Alan Alda.  Yes, I realize Alan Alda is not dead.  But he appeared to me as an apparition nonetheless.  He had come to Etta’s Seafood in Seattle with this message:  BEER.  Remember the beer.

You see, when I was a kid, we watched M*A*S*H a lot at my house.  And after the famous final episode, we watched M*A*S*H reruns a lot.  And there’s an episode of M*A*S*H where one of the nurses gets her hands on a bottle of beer, and Hawkeye Pierce and his surgeon buddies are horrified, because rather than drink the beer, she planned to use it TO WASH HER HAIR.

I thought to myself:  Self?  The baking soda isn’t working for you.  At least not yet.  It’s weird that, in all of your googling, you have found no mention of no-pooers using beer to wash their hair.  But if Hawkeye Pierce came all the way from the Korean War to tell you about the beer, you really can’t ignore that.

You know the scene in Fiddler On the Roof where Tevye makes up the dream about how his wife Golde’s dead grandmother, Tsietl, came back from the dead to tell her it was okay for his oldest daughter, also named Tsietl, to marry Motl the Tailor instead of Laserwulf the Butcher?  And Golde immediately decides that if Dead Grandmother Tsietl came all the way back from beyond the grave to give the okay for Oldest Daughter Tsietl to marry her sweetheart, then all they can say is that it’s all for the best and it couldn’t possibly be any better?  You may not listen to the soundtrack of Fiddler on the Roof as much as I do, but just trust me.  That’s what happens.  And my visit from Alan Alda was kind of like that.  Including, if I’m going to be honest about it, that I just made all this shit up like Tevye does in the movie.  I didn’t really see Alan Alda at Etta’s.  But I really did suddenly remember the episode of M*A*S*H with the nurse who washes her hair with beer, and I concluded that I should wash my hair with beer, and that it was for the best, and couldn’t possibly be any better.

So now what I needed was some cheap beer.  After dinner, we walked around until we found a bodega that was still open and sold beer.  Everything closes earlier in Seattle than it does in New York.  We managed to find one, but it was in the hip downtown area, so while the beer selection was extensive, it was also hideously overpriced.  The store was closing soon.  I needed to find the cheapest beer, and fast.

I don’t usually drink really cheap beer.  Cheap beer may be cheap, but urine is absolutely free, and it looks and tastes about the same.  So why bother?  Unfortunately, because my eye was attracted automatically to the beers I actually know, I was having trouble locating some really cheap beer at this store.  And then I suddenly remembered:  Pabst Blue Ribbon, cheapest beer on the planet, and Official Beer of the Hipster.  Not to malign Seattle in any way, because I really loved it there, but I saw a lot of young people walking around Seattle who looked like they could have been from Williamsburg.  So I figured there must be some PBR for sale.  And there was!  I scored a 24-ounce can of PBR, and we hurried back to the hotel.

I did some googling, and it appears there is very little agreement over how to use beer in your hair.  Is it a shampoo or a conditioner?  Must you use it in conjunction with real shampoo, or can it function on its own?  What type of hair is it good for?  Every web site I found had a different story.  So I decided to trust that nurse from M*A*S*H, who, as far as I can remember, used it all by itself as a stand-alone product.

I made my first attempt that night.  In my trusty squirt bottle, I created a solution of half beer, half warm water.  I squirted it all over my scalp and hair and gave myself a thorough scalp massage.  All I felt was grease.  I went to bed with wet hair, hoping for the best.

Tuesday morning, my hair felt a little better, but not by much.  I decided to try another beer wash in the shower.  This time, although I am loath to admit this, I added a drop of the hotel shampoo.  Just a drop.  So I’m a backslider.  Sue me.  The thing is, although it did smell nice, that tiny drop of shampoo was so overwhelmed by the oil, it couldn’t even muster up a single bubble’s worth of lather.  I massaged in the beer solution, and again I felt a ton of grease on my hands.  The beer was breaking up the oil and dislodging it from my hair!  I combed through it to draw as much oil away from my roots and down the shafts of my hair as I could, and then rinsed the hell out of it.  The post-it-note tackiness was gone!  It definitely did not feel clean in the squeaky, stripped-of-its-oil sense you get with shampoo, but it was clearly an improvement.  And in fact, that’s what this no-poo thing is all about:  having hair that is clean and healthy without being stripped of its oils.  Had I hit upon the holy grail of no-poo?  Is beer the key to everything?

My hair looked better Tuesday than it had in three weeks.  A little flat perhaps, but shiny, and not obviously a pit of grease.  Wednesday morning I used up the rest of the can.  Results:  even better than Tuesday.  Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures to post, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.  Just because I  made up that shit about Alan Alda’s face appearing over my dinner table at Etta’s doesn’t mean I’m not being truthful right now.  This morning, I did a plain water rinse, and my hair looks just fine today.

So here’s my plan for the immediate future:  I’m going to go buy a sixpack of PBR and wash my hair with it every other day until it’s gone.  If I’m still happy with it at that point, I’ll reduce to every third day, and so on.  I want to see if I can reach the point where I’m washing with beer once a week, with water rinses in between.  Wish me luck!

No Poo Update: I can’t believe I left the house like this!

March 22, 2012

I am remiss in that I did not remember to take a true “before” picture when I decided to embark upon the no-poo express.  Actually, scratch that.  It’s already clear to me that this will not be an express.  The no-poo local, then.  Anyway, I didn’t take a “before” picture so anyone who doesn’t see my hair everyday anyway could still see how my hair is going to change (hopefully for the better) with this experiment.  But for what it’s worth, here’s a picture of my hair last night:

As close to a no-poo "before" picture as I'm gonna get

To recap, here’s what I had done to my hair prior to the taking of this photo yesterday:

  • A week of low-poo (daily shampooing with absolutely minimal shampoo) last week
  • A baking soda rinse (BSR) followed with an apple cider vinegar rinse (ACVR) on Saturday
  • Same thing again on Sunday
  • A simple water rinse (WR) on Monday
  • BSR/ACVR on Tuesday morning, but with less of each than I used on the weekend

My plan from here on out is to do a BSR/ACVR every other day with a water rinse on the in-between days.  I’ve read that brushing with a natural boar bristle brush helps distribute scalp oil away from the roots and down the shaft, which is good for you hair but also makes your roots a bit less of a grease pit in the in-between days.  So I bought myself a boar brush on the way home from work last night and channeled my inner Jan Brady.  Here’s what my hair looked like after several minutes of brushing to distribute the oils:

Same day as "before" pic, but after a thorough brushing with boar bristles

So yeah, lots of redistribution of resources took place.  That was last night.  Today was a water rinse day.  Monday was one too, but this was different from that for a couple of reasons.  First, before Monday I had done a BSR/ACVR on BOTH of the preceding days.  Second, Tuesday morning’s BSR/ACVR involved a LOT less BS/ACV, so my hair was carrying a lot more oil, as is horrifyingly obvious in the post-boar picture above.  This was going to be bad.  Baaaaaaaaaad.

I hopped in the shower, gave my hair a very thorough rinsing in water warmer than I would normally use, did the rest of my shower routine, and gave my hair another thorough rinsing and a thorough scalp massage to go with it.  I could feel a lot of oil up there during this process, and I knew I was in for an epically tragic hair day.  I was right.  Here’s a picture of my hair this morning:

My hair this morning, after a water rinse.

Now, ponytails just are not an option for me.  I have a pretty significant surgical scar on the left side of my head that starts over my left ear and curves all the way around behind my ear and down my neck.  Seventeen stitches worth.  Underneath my hair, I’m the Bride of Frankenstein.  Pigtails actually do a pretty good job of hiding it because the pigtail sits right on top of the scar rather than above it.  But I can’t really wear pigtails to work, and a ponytail exposes the whole scar.  It scares children.  I don’t say that for comedic effect; I say it because it actually happened.  Years ago, not long after I had the surgery itself, a kid standing behind me in line at the grocery store nearly lost his shit when he saw it.  So I generally don’t wear ponytails out of the house.

Fortunately, my wonderful mother-in-law had given me a beautiful scarf from the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a Christmas gift, so I decided twist it into a headband and pull a Hillary Clinton.  (For the very young:  back when she was the first lady, Hillary was the headband queen of the universe.)  It didn’t solve the problem, but it helped.

Tonight, I gave my hair another good brushing with the boar bristle brush.  I can definitely see the value of the boar brush and distributing scalp oil all the way down the hair shaft.  In fact, I really like the idea of going to bed and letting my moisture-starved ends suck up all of this oil overnight.  But doing this turns me from a localized greasepit to an all-over greasepit.  In fact, my hair actually looks significantly darker right now than it did yesterday morning.  You know when you drop a piece of salad on your shirt and you wind up with an oil stain, and the reason you know it’s there is because that spot is obviously darker than the rest of the shirt?  I think the same principle is at work.  Here’s what my hair looks like right this minute, just as I’m getting ready to post this and crawl into bed:

Tonight, after a good brushing with the boar bristle brush. Thank goodness tomorrow is a wash day!

Tomorrow I get to do another BS wash.  Instead of conditioning with ACV, I’m going to try a green tea rinse.  Tonight’s googling has told me that it may be a better choice for greasmonkeys like me.  Stay tuned!

This is it. I’m going no-poo!

March 19, 2012

You know what I’m not a big fan of?  Fat chicks going on YouTube or elsewhere on the web and declaring publicly, for all the world to see, that they’re Really. Going. To. Lose. Weight. This. Time.  I don’t think holding yourself accountable to the anonymous inhabitants of the Series of Tubes accomplishes much, and when the majority don’t succeed, as is inevitably the case, they leave themselves open to even more ridicule from people who like to kick a fat chick when she’s down.

On the other hand, I’m, like, totally comfortable making a public declaration on the internet that I’m going to try to break my shampoo habit.  Because I’m Really. Going. To. Do. It. This. Time.  No really, I mean it!

A few years back– I can’t even remember how or why– I came across this blog post by Sean Bonner, describing how he gave up using soap and shampoo, and not only was he not a big smelly, greasy mess, his wife actually preferred him this way.  That led me to the paleo web site Free the Animal, which is is mostly about dudes who follow the paleo diet, but also includes fascinating accounts by the site owner about his experience giving up soap and shampoo.  Basically, the idea is this:  shampoo is basically a detergent, and it strips your hair and scalp of your own natural oil, which you produce because it protects your hair and scalp and keeps them healthy.  To compensate, your scalp starts pumping out extra oil, which means your roots get oily even when your ends are dry, and you wind up having to shampoo every day.  The more you shampoo, the more you NEED to shampoo.  It’s like you’re a shampoo junkie, trapped in a cycle of addiction.  But if you could just stop shampooing, eventually your scalp ought to return to its natural state of balance, producing just as much oil as your hair needs to be healthy.  These two guys had done exactly that.

Further googling showed that giving up shampoo was a trend among women, too.  They call this lifestyle “no poo,” which is short for no shampoo.  The benefits seemed many; the drawbacks, few.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to help save the environment and reduce their own exposure to harmful chemicals while simultaneously looking better and saving huge sums of money?  Sign me up for that shit!  For that poo!  For that no-poo!

Although some women stop washing their hair with anything but water, many of the no-poo chicks wash their hair occasionally with baking soda.  Baking soda is cheap, y’all.  I could totally do this.

Alas, I chickened out.  The thing is, I have THAT hair.  The kind that qualifies me for OPEC status after just 24 hours without a wash.  I’m a greaseball.  A greasemonkey.  A greaseburger.  There’s grease, y’all.  That’s all I’m saying.

Don’t get me wrong.  I fully believed in the notion that, after a while with no shampoo, my scalp with calm the heck down and stop pumping oil like a Texas geyser.  I just didn’t think I could survive that long.  After all, I can’t lock myself in my apartment for two months waiting for the well to run dry.  I have bills to pay.  I have to work.  Gradually, I forgot all about this project.

In the few years between then and now, however, I have managed the housecleaning equivalent of giving up shampoo in favor of baking soda:  I have given up almost all other household cleaners in favor of borax.  I clean my bathroom with it.  I clean my kitchen with it.  I clean the tile floors with it.  I clean the fridge with it (it works WONDERS in the fridge!).  Sometimes I even toss it in the laundry.  Borax is sodium borate in powder form, mined in the desert and dragged out in wagons pulled by mule teams.  Hence the name 20 Mule Team Borax.  Maybe they don’t use mules anymore.  I don’t know.  But the point is, yes, it’s a chemical, but at least it’s not an evil concoction of multiple lab-created chemicals with evil side effects.  And it works in very, very low concentrations, so it’s crazy cheap.

A few weeks ago, my friend’s doula shared  this blog post to Facebook from Fulfilled Homemaking, written by a stay-at-home mom who went no poo.  Scroll through the pictures, and you will see that she waded through a hell of grease to come out clean on the other side, with absolutely gorgeous, healthy hair.  Her hair type is not that different from mine.  That means I can do this.  At least in theory.

I think my adventures cleaning my home with natural sodium borate sort of primed me mentally to be ready to start cleaning my hair with natural sodium bicarbonate.  So I googled some more.  What I discovered is that there are lots of women out there who have gone no-poo, some of whom seem to have hair like mine– very fine, very straight, goes from zero to greasy in under 24 hours.  Many of them have succeeded, and now follow either some variation of a regimen involving baking soda and apple cider vinegar, or nothing at all other than water.  However, I also noticed that the majority of examples I found were stay-at-home moms.  I applaud stay-at-home moms.  My mom was a stay-at-home mom.  So please don’t take this as a comment about stay-at-home moms.  But some of them — not all of them, but some– are less frequently required to go out into the world with what I will call “office-ready hair.”  In other words, their lifestyles are a little more suited to the initial greasapalooza period that happens in the no-poo transition before your scalp adjusts to not being stripped of oil every day.

I asked my own circle of friends if anybody who works full time outside of the home and has hair like mine (disappointingly fine and straight) had ever done this.  As it turns out, a few people I know have tried it.  I’ve seen their hair in meatlife, and I can attest that both of these ladies do, indeed, have very nice hair.  I was encouraged.  So I’m doing it.

I actually started testing the waters a bit last week.  For all of last week, I still shampooed every day, but I used half my normal ration of shampoo.  I managed to clean enough oil off the roots to leave the house without the risk of going up like Michael Jackson if my hair got a little too close to an open flame.  But my hair started feeling grungy almost immediately, and by the end of the week I could smell it.  I’m sure everybody else could, too, although nobody actually ran screaming in horror from the stench.  By Saturday, I knew I couldn’t go on this way.  Some women go cold turkey and just endure the greasapalooza as best they can, hiding themselves away from the world, or at least hiding their hair away from the world.  That’s just not an option for me.  So on Saturday, given the increasingly frightening state of my hair, I know one of two things had to happen:  Either I would give up in defeat and run screaming back to my bottle of Paul Mitchell Shampoo One, or I would take the plunge and try a soda/vinegar wash.

Let me back up a bit and talk about the whole soda/vinegar thing a bit so you know what I’m talking about.  It actually seems pretty rare for women who go no poo to actually go water-only.  Most of them still wash their hair with something.  Most often, that something appears to be baking soda in solution, followed by a rinse of dilute apple cider vinegar or some other acidic rinse as a conditioner.  A very common regimen appears to be washing and conditioning this way twice week, sometimes with daily water rinses in between, sometimes without.  Don’t ask me why, but I happen to have one of those red squeeze bottles you see for ketchup on picnic tables, sitting in a drawer in my kitchen doing nothing. So I tossed about two tablespoons of baking soda in there, filled the rest of the bottle with warm water, and hopped in the shower.

Now obviously, baking soda solution does not lather up the way shampoo does.  I felt a little bit like an idiot massaging my scalp in the shower with no bubbles.  But you know what?  Who says there should be bubbles?  The people who manufacture the shampoo, right?  Because they stand to gain financially if they can convince you you’ve never really lived until you’ve experienced the luxurious lather that only their shampoo can produce, and that you’re an idiot to do what I was doing just then.  So I soldiered on.  After all, nobody was watching.  I not-lathered.  I rinsed.  I repeated.

And after that, yes, I really did rinse my hair with diluted apple cider vinegar.  And no, monkeys did not fly out of my butt.  Apparently I did not dilute the vinegar quite enough, because even after a very thorough rinsing and drying, I was informed by my beloved that I “smelled like salad.”  Okay.  You live, you learn.  But here’s the thing:  MY HAIR LOOKED FREAKING AWESOME.  And it FELT FREAKING AWESOME.  Not only that, but I could run my comb through it more easily than I ever had in my life, and I didn’t hit a single knot.  It was like hair heaven!  And I had accomplished that with a couple of tablespoons of baking soda and about a quarter cup of vinegar.  I shit you not.  Or, I guess, I poo you not.  I was amazed, y’all.  Amazed.

On Sunday, I tried again, only that time I used only about a teaspoon of baking soda and a lot less vinegar.  A second sniff test by my beloved showed I no longer smelled like salad.  In fact, he stuck his nose right into my head and could detect no smell at all.

But of course, there’s a problem.  The thing is, you’re not really supposed to do this every day.  As glorious as the effect of the soda/vinegar wash is, if you do it too much, I hear it screws up your hair.  Severe drying and breakage, dandruff so wicked it creates blizzard-like conditions, you know, stuff like that.  In all things, moderation.  So I clearly didn’t want to do this for a third day in a row.  Thing is, I had to go to work on Monday.  It was time to poo or get off the pot, so to speak.  (An added benefit of going no-poo is being able to use the word poo all the time, which appeals tremendously to my inner five-year-old).  One of three things was going to happen:

1. Do the soda/vinegar wash for a third day in a row, which might totally screw up my hair

2. Whimp out and go back to shampoo

3. Not wash my hair at all, and go out in public anyway.  Not just in public, but TO WORK.  TO MY JOB.  WHERE PEOPLE I KNOW CAN SEE ME.

This was going to be the moment of truth.  In desperation, on Sunday I begged for input from the font of knowledge that is Facebook.  I actually found two people I know who have done this, and one of them even has hair that’s a lot like mine.  There’s every reason to do this, and the only reason not to boils down, really, to vanity.

So this morning, I rinsed my hair in the shower, but I didn’t wash it.  And then, I left my house and went to work.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you I’m having the best hair day of my life.  I’m not.  But I have never, ever voluntarily left my house without washing my hair.  In fact, the only time I can remember doing it, I actually was in an ambulance being rushed to the hospital.  Even last December when I found myself admitted to Lennox Hill for almost a week because my gall bladder was throwing stones, I begged the nurses to let me wash my hair on the third day because I just couldn’t take it anymore.  But today, I left my house without having washed my hair with anything other than water, and it doesn’t look that bad.  Even after just a few days substituting baking soda for shampoo, my scalp is already chilling out.

So here’s the plan:  I’m going to alternate a soda wash and a water wash every other day for a week.  If that works out, I’m going to see if I can cut back to washing with soda twice a week.    If I can make it for a month like that, I think I may be able to jump off the shampoo bandwagon forever.  There.  I declared it to the internet.

I think I take a special risk doing this because I’m a fat chick.  As I was googling, I noticed all of the women brave enough to post pictures of themselves going through greasapalooza were otherwise conventionally attractive, which of course includes being thin.  Leaving the house with other than pristine hair, I will risk reinforcing a lot of negative stereotypes about fat chicks.  You see a skinny chick with greasy hair, you probably assume she didn’t have time to wash because she was busy all day yesterday rescuing orphaned puppies or something.  You see a fat chick with greasy hair, you know it’s because she’s lazy, sloppy, unhygienic, and doesn’t care about her personal appearance.  Of course she’s gross– it’s because she’s gross, don’t you know?  In reading other women’s blogs over the years, I’ve noticed there’s sort of a secret list of things some fat chicks are really reluctant to do in public because it reinforces negative stereotypes.  They won’t ever order dessert in a restaurant, even if they haven’t had one on six months and they really, really want one, for example.  Or if they’re in pain for some reason having nothing whatsoever to do with their fat– say, their feet hurt because of a blister from a rockin’ new pair of kicks– they will go to great lengths not to let it show, because they know other people assume they “did that to themselves” and they deserve it.  Things that thin women never even have to think about.  This is going to be one of those things for me.  But the adjustment period shouldn’t last forever, and if I come out okay on the other side, the benefits will be worth it.

Stay tuned…

SD #17: Yes, This Is About Food We Ate In August.

January 10, 2012

Great Holy Monongahela, y’all!  I am wayyyy far behind on posting our Serial Dining Woodside adventures!  I plead insanity.  I was crazy busy this fall.

It’s really, really hard to top a trip to Donovan’s.  But being committed to our Serial Dining Woodside project, we kept calm and carried on.  On August 12, we ventured out again.  Next up on the list:

Dunkin’ Donuts, 3956 61st St
Ecuador Mi Pais, 5316 Roosevelt Ave
El Guarache Corp, 6806 Roosevelt Ave
El Mariachi Restaurant, Roosevelt Ave

Except for El Mariachi, almost nothing on this list is as it seems.  That Dunkin Donuts?  Surprise!  We’ve been there before, because it’s also a Baskin Robbins!  It does, however, appear twice on the list, and rules are rules.  So we resigned ourselves to the fact that at some point that day, we were going to have to indulge in some donuts.  Commitment.  It’s a bitch.

Meanwhile, Ecuador Mi Pais?  Turns out, no longer there.  No longer a restaurant, even.  Yes, if you look closely at the window in the picture below you will still see some vestigial Ecuadorian imagery:

The former home of Ecuador Mi Pais is, however, now a mosque.  For reals:

El Guarache?  We totally missed the boat on that one.  We had walked past it dozens of times and always intended to go in and try it, but alas, we never got around to it.  Now, the site of the former El Guarache is now the home of Tia Julia, which isn’t a restaurant so much as the place the awesome Tia Julia food truck in Jackson Heights goes to reload.  Once in a great while, in what appears to me a totally unpredictable manner, the dining room is open and you can eat there.  But not that day:

Tia Julia: Restaurant or truck depot?

So here was the plan:  El Mariachi for lunch, followed by (totally against our wills, I swear) a trip back to the Baskin Robbins/Dunkin Donuts.

There are lots of reasonably cheap Mexican joints in Woodside.  In fact, we have serially dined at several of them already, and all of them have been good.  It really blows my mind that a place like Taco Bell survives at all in this part of Queens, given all of the inexpensive, authentic, muy delicioso Mexican food around.  Case in point:  El Mariachi.  We liked it.  Here’s what it looks like on the outside:

El Mariachi Restaurant

From the outside, pretty much the same as any other Mexican restaurant of its type.  On the inside, however, it’s one of the most pleasantly decorated ones we’ve been to.  Colorful, and not cheesy.  Here’s what it looks like:

As is our tendency, we showed up at a weird hour in the middle of the afternoon, so the place was nearly empty.  However, we’ve seen crowds in there at other times, and they seem to do a lot o delivery and take-out business.  We therefore concluded that the quality of the food we tasted that day is probably pretty consistent over time.  Here’s what we ordered:

We started, as always, with guacamole.  You may have noticed by now that I am constitutionally incapable of entering a Mexican restaurant of any kind and not ordering guacamole.  If the guacamole sucks, I won’t go back, no matter how good everything else is.  Anyway, here’s the guac:

The guac was good.  Not the best I’ve ever had, but definitely enjoyable.  After that, Allan ordered a torta, and I ordered huaraches, which I had never had before.  Here’s the food:

Huaraches, baby!

Huaraches was (were?) new to me.  If they’re new for you too, here’s the scoop:  The word “huaraches” actually refers to sandals.  The base of this dish is a flat, oval-shaped layer reminiscent of the bottom of a sandal.  This bottom layer is made of fried corn dough, which is called masa.  On top of the masa can be piled all sorts of different ingredients, generally including both meat and cheese (queso fresco) and some some veggies, which in a way reminds me conceptually of pizza.  I had mine with pork.  My impression was that this was a well-executed huaraches, and if you’re into huaraches, El Mariachi is probably a good place to go.  However, I personally wasn’t a huge fan of the thick, chewy masa base, which is a basic feature of the dish and not specific to this restaurant, so I probably won’t order this again, here or anywhere else.  As I mentioned before, we have since ordered takeout from El Mariachi, on which occasion I ordered the chicken enchiladas verdes, and they were terrific.

Allan’s torta looked fantastic– very well prepared, with fresh ingredients.  I asked him what he thought, and he was too busy happily chewing to respond, which I took to mean he was digging it.  So there you go.

I’m sad to say that because I am so delinquent in blogging about this visit, I no longer remember how much we spent, but I know it wasn’t a lot.

So.  On to Dunkin Donuts.  Do I really have to describe the menu to you?  No, I thought not.  Can you guess what we ordered?  Here’s a photo of them, still in the bag:

Bet you knew that’s how they were going to look.  Bet you also know exactly how they tasted.  So rather than spending time on that, let me tell you what we discovered when we went back there.  Remember the Station Bar with the totally clapped out awning?  Apparently the owners have been busy sprucing up the place!  Lookie lookie:

We didn’t look inside, but I really hope they didn’t spruce up the interior, too.  It’s such a great little dive bar, it would be a shame to change it.

Won’t Somebody Think of the Potatoes?

November 9, 2011

Priorities, people. Repeat after me: Make the school lunches healthy, and then do whatever you must to pay for it. I don’t even have kids, and this principle is perfectly obvious to me. But apparently when it cuts into the profits of the food-industrial complex, it’s not so cut and dried. Behold, the cluster-f-bomb:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/02/us/school-lunch-proposals-set-off-a-dispute.html

I must give the USDA snaps for trying to encourage healthier diets in kids.  I still can’t get over how they actually help dairy farmers sell more full-fat dairy products by hiring marketing experts to design and advertise even-more-cheese-laden fast food items to sell us.  And of course, these are the people that brought you corn subsidies.  This time, they’re not the villain.  But their efforts to reform school lunches and reduce the amount of starch and sodium kids consume with their school lunch have been met with resistance from legislators and the industries who own them.  Apparently it’s not a good idea to put the kibosh on the school lunch potato parade, because that hurts potato farmers.  You’ve heard this song before.  It’s the same one the corn farmers sing when they’re afraid somebody might turn off the corn subsidy gravy train.

Even school officials in urban areas are fighting against the changes, because they don’t think they can afford the $0.14 per lunch extra it will cost to serve more non-starchy vegetables in place of so many potatoes.  How sad is the state of affairs when the very people charged with looking out for the most vulnerable are basically forced to say, “Please let us continue feeding crap to our kids.”

I feel the same way about the potato farmes as I do about the corn farmers and the dairy farmers who complained when Americans started buying fewer full-fat dairy products:  If your profits are based upon selling more of your products than is healthy for your customers to eat, I have no sympathy for you.

SD #16: The Best Cheeseburger in New York

October 26, 2011

On August 5, we had a visit from Allan’s good friend Brian, who was in town for work.  When lunchtime rolled around on Saturday afternoon, Brian was in the mood for a cheeseburger.  This being Woodside, our mission was clear:  Take Brian to Donovan’s Pub for The Best Cheeseburger In New York.  As luck would have it, Donovan’s was next on the serial dining list, so when we left the apartment, I took the camera along.

Donovan’s doesn’t look like much from the outside, but on the inside it’s absolutely gorgeous.  It’s like a a warm, dark, cozy retreat from the world, decorated with lots of dark wood and stained glass.  It’s not necessarily a quiet one, though.  The guys at the bar can get boisterous, especially if one of the local sports teams is on.  To me, it all just adds to the authenticity and charm.  Here’s what Donovan’s looks like on the outside.  Note the banner proclaiming them the best burger in New York:

Donovan's Pub

But here’s what it looks like on the inside:

The bar at Donovan's Pub

Donovan’s is widely reviewed and widely enjoyed.  You can read about it at New York Magazine online, Time Out New York, BurgerBeast, CitySearch, Yelp, Urban Spoon, and on the Outer Boroughs board at Chowhound.  You’ll see one or two complaints about rude or slow service, but generally people enjoy Donovan’s for the same reasons we do, and they worship.  The.  Burgers.

Early in the summer, Donovan’s had to close for a week or so due to a health code violation, but if rumors are to be believed, there was some skullduggery there involving a local competitor.  In any case, they addressed the problems and had the place open again very quickly, and we’ve never noticed any unclean conditions before or after.

The wait staff at Donovan’s have always been genuinely warm and friendly when we’ve been there, and many of them are the genuine Irish article, which adds to the ambience.  It’s not an Irish-themed pub staffed with college students wearing shamrock buttons on their green shirts.  It’s the real thing.  They do have menu items that aren’t traditional Irish or Irish-American dishes, especially on the list of daily specials.  But for classics like fish and chips or shepard’s pie, this is a great place to go.  And, of course, for their top-rated burgers.  That rating is from several years ago now, but the burgers are still the best in Woodside if you ask me.  Virtually everything I’ve ever had there has been spectacular– the burgers, the fish and chips, the soups (they do a killer French onion), and especially their Thanksgiving dinner.  The only thing we’ve had there that wasn’t all that impressive is the jalapeno poppers, which basically tasted like they came out of a box in the freezer section at Costco.  But hey, how high can the expectations really be for a jalapeno popper?

For this visit, I had the fish sandwich, and both Allan and Brian ordered cheeseburgers.  Unfortunately, the lighting inside Donovan’s is so low the food pictures didn’t turn out, with or without the flash.  Don’t get me wrong– I love, love, love the low lights in Donovan’s.  It’s my camera that doesn’t.  But trust me– the food looked as good as it tasted, and it tasted gooooooood.

I can’t recall exactly how much we spent there for lunch that day.  I want to say maybe about $45 for three lunches and three beers.  Don’t quote me on that.  Whatever it was, we paid it in cash, because Donovan’s is a cash-only operation.  Keep that in mind if you go.
Donovan's Pub on Urbanspoon


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