Archive for the ‘Other Blogs’ Category

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 #13: Squash Blossoms & Corn Smut, y’all!

June 26, 2011

I love this time of year.  I have Fridays off, which means I have a chance to have a nice, leisurely lunch with Allan– the perfect opportunity for serial dining!  Last week’s Friday lunch was at Masala, which was really spectacular.  How to top that?  Fortunately, the next restaurant on our serial dining list was De Mole, 4502 48th Ave on the far western edge of Woodside.  We’ve been there many times before and we love it.  It’s my go-to place for enchiladas verdes con pollo.  The restaurant is cute and clean, with friendly staff and good service.  We’ve never, ever had a bad time there.  And today, the forces of alphabetical order decreed that we must go there for lunch.  Here’s what it looks like from the outside:

De Mole

De Mole

I included two shots of the exterior because I want you to see the intricate brickwork on the outside of the building.  This has nothing to do with food, but I must give a shout-out to all the Italian-American bricklayers who built so many of the gorgeous brick buildings in Queens and the other boroughs of the city.  Obviously I don’t know for sure that my fellow Italian-Americans built this exact building, but truly beautiful, lasting brick edifices are one of the many fruits of the labor of Italian immigrants, and once in a while I like to point that out.  But I digress.

Before I get back to De Mole, I want to include this shot of China One Taco across the street, for people who live in the suburbs and don’t see this type of place.  China.  Tacos.  You just don’t expect it, you know?  But it happens a lot in New York.  The street between De Mole and China One is, I believe, the dividing line between the Woodside and Sunnyside zip codes.  So we won’t cover China One in our serial dining adventure, but it’s fun to look at, so here it is:

China One Taco House

So.  Back to De Mole.  They serve Mexican food, including a lot of southern dishes in the Pueblan style.  There are lots of reviews of De Mole online if you’re interested, mostly raving about the food and its authenticity.  In fact, when I Googled before we went, I was surprised by how many times it’s been reviewed– far more than any place we’ve been to so far.  You can read about De Mole at Yelp, Urban Spoon, Chowhound, the Eating in Queens blog, Shauna Eats Sunnyside, New York Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and even Zagat and Michelin, which often overlook a lot of outer-burrough restaurants.  I can’t post links to those last two because they require paid subscriptions, but if you subscribe, go read– I bet they’ll tell you De Mole is fantastic.

The menu had some staples you see in any Mexican restaurant in the city like burritos, tacos, and enchiladas, plus a variety of more unusual items.  The chef is from the state of Puebla in southern Mexico, so if you’re used to northern Mexican food, you’ll notice some interesting surprises.  There are also vegetarian-friendly dishes; I noted many favorable comments from vegetarians and vegans among the comments around the web.  Here’s the interior of the restaurant:

De Mole from the inside!

Also, check out their super-colorful menus:

As I said, this is my go-to place for enchiladas, and I also love their guac, which is fresh and chunky.  However, this being our official serial dining visit, I decided to try something new.  For a starter, we ordered the Ceviche Vera Cruz.  They make it with either fish or scallops.  We chose the fish.  It was fresh and tangy with a variety of finely chopped vegetables to go with the fish.  They serve it in a little tortilla bowl, and you can eat it either alone or on the tortilla chips that come with the complimentary salsa.  We added a bit of salt to it to bring out the flavors.  Overall, I liked the Ecuadorian-style ceviche at Braulio y Familia better, but I definitely enjoyed this dish.

For a main dish, I chose quesadillas and Allan chose a carne asada burrito.  Our server could tell from our discussion that we both intended to taste both dishes, so he helpfully cut the burrito in half and brought it out on two plates.  Like I said, the people are nice and the service is good.  There are two types of quesadillas at De Mole:  tradicionales, which are made with corn tortillas, and sincronizadas, which are larger and made with flour tortillas.  Tradicionales come in four varieties:  corn mushroom, shredded Pueblan-style brisket, squash blossom, and Oaxaca cheese.  They’re not huge, so we decided to try all four.  If you’ve never had this type of quesadilla before, I highly recommend this strategy– you’ll taste some amazing new things.

The burrito was great.  One of the better ones I’ve had.  However, the quesadillas tradicionales were mind-blowing.  First of all, I’m accustomed to quesadillas that are basically two flour tortillas stuck together with melted cheese, with or without chicken or some other type of filling.  These are not that.  They actually look more like tacos– corn tortillas folded in half, with shredded lettuce and other fillings, always including cheese.

“Corn mushroom” is a euphemism for a corn fungus called huitlacoche in Mexico and “corn smut” here in the U.S.  I had never even heard of it before, much less tasted it, but I found this neat article from the Huffington Post explaining it, complete with a smutty photo.  All I can say is, whoever was the first person to taste a smutty ear of corn was either desperately hungry, very brave, or both.  However, I’m glad they did, because the stuff tastes good, and according to the Huff Post, it’s extremely nutritious and economically advantageous to grow, because you can charge more for the smut than the corn it grew on.  How cool is that?

The brisket quesadilla had a nice smokey flavor and just enough saltiness.  Oaxaca cheese is basically Mexican mozzarella, and it goes perfectly with a corn tortilla.  However, the squash blossom quesadilla was the real standout.

Here’s my squash blossom story:  My father’s people are Italian.  When they immigrated to New York from Naples in the early years of the 20th century, if they had a a house or apartment with access to a patch of dirt, in addition to tomatoes and figs, they had a grape arbor and let the vines grow up over everything including the house.  You still see grape arbors here and there in the city, and a handful of families still make their own wine.

For more recent immigrants from Latin America, apparently squash vines are the new grape arbor.  Last summer I was fascinated to watch a family just north of the 69th St stop on the 7 subway grow squash vines in their tiny yard and let them grow up the side of the house onto the roof.  I wondered what would happen when the squash themselves got big; wouldn’t they roll off the roof?  Well, I never had a chance to find that out, because apparently the squash weren’t the objective in the first place.  The blossoms were.  Once the flowers bloomed on the vine, they were quickly harvested, and the vines eventually withered away.  I thought that was weird– wouldn’t it be better to have the squash?  After today’s lunch, I get what the big deal is.  I actually took pictures of the flowering vines from the subway platform, but this was more than a year ago and I seem to have deleted them at some point.  I mean, how could I know those pics would actually come in handy someday for a blog post on squash blossom quesadillas?

Anyway, here’s our food:

Complimentary chips & salsa

Ceviche Vera Cruz

Steak burrito

Quesadillas tradicionales: Oaxaca cheese, squash blossom, brisket, corn mushroom

Obviously, after all that food we skipped dessert.  However, I have to make a plug for the flan at De Mole.  We’ve had the coconut flan and the orange flan, and both are absolutely amazing.  If you go, as difficult as this will be, try to save room for flan.

Total price for all of this delicious food plus a Coke for me and a banana licuada for Allan:  $34.57 plus tip.

De Mole on Urbanspoon

SD #12: I need Masala, Masala. Masala, that’s what I need.

June 18, 2011

According to the list, the next stop on our serial dining adventure was to be Darul Kabab, an Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi restaurant allegedly located at 3926 61st St.  I could find only one review of it online:  undated, in the Queens Tribune online dining guide.  Turns out, that’s because it doesn’t exist anymore.  It has been replaced by another Indian restaurant called Masala.  We went there for lunch today.

If you don’t have a lot of time to read, let me sum up:  Go there.  It’s awesome.  One of the very best Indian restaurants we’ve been to, and that’s saying a lot, since we’ve been to many.  Keep reading if you want the details.

Masala is mere steps away from the 61st St station in Woodside, so even if you’re not from here, it’s easy to get to.  Here’s what it looks like from the outside:

Masala Restaurant

Masala

In that top picture, you can see the beauty of Woodside dining– there’s such amazing diversity in the food here.  Thai food right next to Indian food right next to Mexican food.  There are no icky corporate chains here other than things like McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts– you can bet these restaurants are owned by people who come from these cultures and grew up eating this food.

Masala is widely and very positively reviewed on the web.  You can read about it on Yelp, Urban Spoon, Chowhound, Restaurant.com (bonus: you can buy a $25 gift certificate for $10!), and the unfortunately now-defunct Shauna Eats Sunnyside blog.

The service we received was efficient, attentive, and friendly.  We thought it might have been because we were there at an odd hour and were the only ones in the restaurant, but several of the reviews I’ve since read online note the excellent service, so maybe it’s like that even during busy times.  The lighting was just right, the place is clean and tastefully decorated (well, except maybe for the Mahatma Ghandi Rules of Customer Service posted by the door, seen below), and there is authentic Indian music playing softly in the background.

The Mahatma Ghandi Rules of Customer Service

Our server was friendly and informative– I suspect he’s either the owner or the manager, as he was exceptionally knowledgeable and really, REALLY wanted us to be happy with our dining experience.  He recognized Allan, who ate there several times for lunch when he lived on 62nd St more than four years ago.  That’s impressive.  He turned us on to their cheese lassi, which is simply incredible and is not listed on the menu.  Since he wasn’t terribly busy, he also made us an Indian lemonade just for the heck of it and tossed it in on the house.  Their cheese lassi contains homemade cheese, pistacchios, and rosewater, and they garnish it with saffron.  The lemonade is frozen and likewise topped with saffron water.  Here they are:

Cheese Lassi

Indian Lemonade

Our server told us the cheese lassi is considered a very healthy drink, and it’s a popular choice on farms in India on really hot days.  Of course, I don’t need to tell you that a frozen lemonade is just the very best thing on a warm day in June.  On top of these amazing drinks, they also have regular soft drinks, and our water glasses were never empty.  They do serve beer and wine, and next time we may order a bottle to go with this amazingly flavorful food.  Oh yes, there WILL be a next time.

Absolutely everything on the menu sounded good.  Lots of standard Indian fare: curry, tandoori, biryani, and malasa dishes among others, plus a few things I’d never seen before like masala crab cakes.  Like many Indian restaurants, there’s a variety of vegetarian fare.  They also now serve a Nepali grill plate, which is not on the menu.

We ordered lunch specials– various meat curries with either soup or salad.  I had lamb curry with Mulligatawny soup, and Allan had chicken curry, also with Mulligatawny soup.  We also got some naan (they spell is “nan” here), and since I’m simply not capable of eating Indian food without it, we got some raita (they spell it “raitha” here).  Here’s the food:

Mulligatawny soup

Lamb curry

Chicken curry

This is the best Mulligatawny soup I’ve ever had.  It’s pureed, which was new for me, and it had exactly the right amount of salt.  They also leave a slice of lime floating in it for extra flavor.  Like the threads of saffron atop the cheese lassi, this type of attention to detail could be found throughout the meal and really made it special.

The lamb curry was also the best I’ve ever had.  They will adjust the level of spice to your taste– the majority of their clientele is not Indian, so they don’t assume everyone’s taste for heat will be the same.  I asked for mine medium, and it was absolutely perfect.  I could feel the heat for sure; it was enough to add significantly to the flavor of the curry without making it challenging to eat.  Allan felt the same about his chicken curry.  The rice was also extremely well done.  The nan was just average– it wasn’t as delicate as other naans I’ve enjoyed more, but still enjoyable.  The only thing I didn’t really care for was the raitha, which was too sweet for my taste.  That’s okay, though, because it frees me up to try some of the other appetizers and accompaniments on the menu next time we go.  Online reviewers rave about the samosas and the Bombay mushrooms, and I’m dying to try the masala crab cake.

Prices are very reasonable.  This entire meal was $25.30 plus tip.  Go eat!

Masala Indian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

SD # 11: Two flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest

June 6, 2011

On our latest Serial Dining Woodside adventure, we wrapped up the “C” category.  Here are the relevant entries from the list:

Chu Ying Chinese Restaurant, (718) 458-8588, 6721 Woodside Ave
Cimtech, (718) 205-7333, 6708 Roosevelt Ave
Corp Lourdes, (718) 606-1791, 5802 37th Ave
Cozy Deli, (718) 777-6631, 5027 31st Ave
Cuckoos Nest, (718) 426-5684, 6104 Woodside Ave

Does Cimtech sound like a restaurant to you?  Yeah, us neither.  Corp Lourdes was a wildcard, but it seemed to us that what we’d likely wind up doing food-wise with our Sunday was lunch at Chu Ying, a quick trip to the Cozy Deli for cold drinks and a snack some time in the afternoon among the errands, and an evening of live entertainment, good eats, and artfully poured Irish beer at the Cuckoo’s Nest, which has live music every Sunday night.

We started by dutifully checking out Cimtech, just to make sure.  The verdict:  Not an eatery.  Not even close.  It is– or rather, it was — a second-floor office of some type, and appears to be for rent:

Cimtech: Not a restaurant, and not much of anything else anymore, either.

Next, we headed over to the other unknown:  Corp Lourdes.  Turns out, it’s a Filipino restaurant called Lourdess, and it was closed up tight in the middle of the day on a Sunday.  There were no hours of operation posted on the door, so it’s hard to tell if they really just take the whole Sunday = Day of Rest thing really, really seriously, or if they’ve gone under, or what.  So I Googled.  The comments and reviews on Yelp, Chowhound, and Urbanspoon were mixed, and in such an out-of-the-way location in a part of Queens with lots of Filipino dining options, you probably have to rock pretty hard to stay afloat.  I’m guessing Lourdess is defunct.  Here’s what it looks like:

So.  Lunch from Chu Ying.  This place is not new to us; in fact, it is a great favorite of ours.  It’s less than half a block from our apartment.  Allan eats there for lunch a lot when he works from home, and I’ve been there with him for a dinner a bunch of times.  They’re nice people, and good neighbors.  If you call for pickup and they know you live nearby, they’ll call you and let you know when your food is ready.  My only complaint is that when they’re not really busy with dine-in customers, the wait staff kind of hovers over your while you eat, so I suggested we call for take-out.

Chu Ying is Korean-style Chinese food.  Many of the dishes are typical of Chinese restaurant menus, and in most cases there’s no discernible difference in the way they look or taste.  In other cases, however, there’s definitely a Korean touch.  Everything comes with kimchee and pickled daikon.  The fried dumplings are deep fried, not pan fried.  Some of the dishes are either straight up Korean or a Korean version of Chinese.  You see that a lot in Queens– a restaurant with food that’s the way it would be if you were ordering Chinese food in some other country.  After all, Chinese food is everywhere.  In this general part of Queens, we have Mexican Chinese, Peruvian Chinese, Thai Chinese, Malaysian Chinese, and Vietnamese Chinese, to name just a few.

We ordered some fried dumplings to share.  Allan ordered noodles with black soybean sauce– easily one of the most popular dishes at Chu Ying, and apparently a staple Korean-Chinese dish served at virtually all restaurants of this type, either cold or hot.  I almost always order moo shoo pork from Chu Ying, but this time I decided to try something new and get the sesame chicken.  There was some broccoli in it, but not enough to convince me it was there on purpose.  It’s almost as if it snuck in from another dish being prepared at the same time.  However, we’ve seen this in Chinese chicken dishes before, like the time Allan ordered General Tso’s chicken at China Taste during our last serial dining adventure.  Therefore, I have concluded that adding a ridiculously small amount of broccoli to a dish is actually intentional.  I have decided to call this the Token Broccoli Effect.

Except for the Token Broccoli Effect, all of the food was excellent, as it always is as Chu Ying.  Here it is:

Delicious takeout from Chu Ying.

Total cost: $28, including plenty of leftover sesame chicken for lunch the next day.

Fortified by a delicious lunch, we headed out to run our typical Sunday errands:  laundry, a trip to Petsmart, groceries, etc.  While we were out and about, we stopped by the Cozy Deli for drinks and snacks as planned.  As with many of the Yahoo Yellow Pages entries, this establishment has a new name, but at least it is still a going concern.  Here it is:

ATSJ Deli & Grill, nee the Cozy Deli

What is there to say?  It’s a bodega.  It has bodega stuff.  Its most distinguishing feature is that it sells a wider variety of “classic” candy like Now & Later, Atomic Fireballs, and stuff like that than most bodegas.  We both grabbed some Arizona drinks (Arnold Palmer Half & Half for the win!) and headed back to the car to munch out:

Arnold Palmer Half & Half: Nectar of the Gods

Sunday night we walked down Woodside Ave to the Cuckoo’s Nest.  Woodside used to have a huge Irish population, and there are still a fair number of Irish-Americans and recent Irish immigrants here.  Several of the old Irish bars and restaurants are still here and doing well, such as Stop Inn, Donovan’s Pub, Saint & Sinners, Sean Og’s, and the Cuckoo’s Nest.  A bunch of these are walking distance from our apartment, and we’ll serially dine at all of them eventually.  Anyway, so there we were at the Cuckoo’s Nest.

The Cuckoo’s Next is an absolutely spectacular bar, and there’s a lot on the web about it if you’re interested.  It has been rated and reviewed on Urban Spoon, Citysearch, Yelp, New York Magazine, The Irish Emigrant, the Hitting the Head blog, and various other spots on the web.  It hasn’t been reviewed on Chowhound yet, but you do see it mentioned favorably on the boards there. (ETA: I was wrong.  Chow.com has a review of the bar here, talking about the very dish I ate!)  With very few exceptions, the reviews are terrific and describe a cozy, gorgeous Irish bar with good food, good music, and a fantastic bartender named Joe who pours a good glass of Guiness.  I have to admit, I did not know there are different ways to pour Guiness, nor did I know that doing it right makes a difference, so I can’t speak intelligently on that aspect of this bar.  Aside from that, however, our experience there matches the high praise it receives online, and we had a lovely evening.

I had a Smithwicks and some fish and chips.  Allan had a Guiness and a cheeseburger.  (This being, first and foremost, a bar, it seems appropriate to list the beers first.)  The food was fantastic, the service was good, and the musicians playing live Irish music were the real deal.  Here’s the food and a shot of the bar, complete with Celtic cross:

The rest of my pictures all came out like crap, so I suggest you click on some of the links above to see what a truly beautiful bar this is, inside and out.  On the way home, however, I did snap a shot of the 61st St station at night, and the front of Chu Ying, which I didn’t catch during the day.

61st St station at night

It occurs to me all of a sudden that, holy cow, I ate a HUGE HEAPING BUTTLOAD of deep-fried food on this particular day.  I’m usually not much for fried food, but there it is, right there in the photographs:  fried dumplings, sesame chicken which is fried before it is sauced, fried fish, and french fries.  Dude.  Somehow, I failed to hear and heed the plaintive wailing of my arteries while I was actually chowing down, but now that the deed is done, I feel I owe it to my circulatory system to go have a nice green salad somewhere.  But you know… damn that was good food.

Cuckoo's Nest on Urbanspoon

Chu Ying Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Should the faculty and staff of a women’s college be losing weight for cash?

January 5, 2011

Last fall, a wealthy, weight-obsessed alumna of Stephens College, a women’s college in Missouri, dangled a $1 million donation in front of the cash-strapped college with one condition:  the staff had to collectively lose at least 250 pounds by January 1.  In addition, the donor will kick in an additional $100,000 if the college’s president, Dianne Lynch, loses 25 pounds herself.  Here’s a link to her photograph.  Does she look to you like she needs to lose 25 pounds?

I worked for a women’s college for a few years when I still lived in Ohio.  It was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.  Women’s colleges are special places.  They produce a disproportionately high number of female leaders.  This isn’t surprising, considering every leadership position on campus goes to a female student– they are the captains of every sports team, the presidents of every club,  the valedictorians and salutatorians of every graduating class, and they constitute the entire membership of the student government.

Women’s colleges are one of the few places you can go that seem to truly value women for the content of their brains and their characters, not for the way they look.  Since there are no male students around, the pressure to have perfect hair, makeup, and clothes in order to look pretty for the menfolk is largely absent.  I remember being thrilled to see the students roaming the halls in clothes that were casual but modest, with hair that was combed but not carefully coiffed, and faces largely devoid of makeup.  It was about the learning there.  Not about the competition to see who is the thinnest and the prettiest.

Then the college went coed, largely for budgetary reasons, and it nearly broke my heart.  The very next semester, even with relatively few male students on campus, the behavior and appearance of the women noticeably changed.  They began dressing differently– less for comfort, more for display, especially the display of lots of skin.  I heard stories of women putting on prom dresses just to go visit the men’s dorm, in some cases to do their laundry for them.  The makeup came back.  The hair came back.  In short, the emphasis on women’s bodies and physical appearance came back, and how.  (Also, the very first semester we had men living on campus they set fire to their own dorm, but that’s a story for another time.)

Despite the benefits of attending a women’s college, a campus devoid of men is a very hard sell for teenage girls today.  Keeping enrollments up is a challenge, and aside from an elite few, women’s colleges are all under enormous pressure to raise money any way they can.  When you have a chance to bring in a cool million, it’s hard to say no.

These were the things on my mind when I first read the story about Stephens College last fall.  Now there’s an update:  The staff has lost just over 300 pounds total, and the president is more than halfway to her individual goal of 25 pounds.  Looks like Stephens is going to get the money.  But does this monetary end justify the means?

Is this donor really health-obsessed, or just weight-obsessed?

The evidence points to the latter.  The thing of which she seems to be most proud is that, at age 86, she weighs exactly the same number of pounds she did when she got married.  Not that her blood pressure or cholesterol or endurance are the same, but that the size of her body is the same– a trim 117 pounds.  (Incidentally, it tells me a lot that the donor shared her weight with the president, the president shared it with the press, and virtually every article and blog post I read on this story specifically mentions it.  Unless she’s really, REALLY short, at 117 she has got to be very thin, and it’s obvious that we all seem to find that fact to be very important to the story.)

Does she really want the staff at Stephens to be healthier, or just thinner?  Again, the evidence points to the latter.  The metric she chose was not improved health outcomes such as better blood pressure, lower cholesterol, a better resting heart rate, healthier blood glucose levels, or anything else.  It also wasn’t an easily measurable exercise goal, such as total miles walked (easily measured with personal pedometers), total hours logged at the gym, participation in fitness classes, nutritional counseling, etc.  Nope, just pounds lost.  As far as I can tell, there was no instruction on how this was to be accomplished, no way to monitor how it was being accomplished, no concern for whether weight loss was indicated or even prudent for each individual participant, and no attention paid to whether the participants would be able to keep the weight off in the long term.  We know that these types of contests tend to encourage unhealthy weight-loss strategies.  We also know that virtually all dieting leads to regain of the weight and that weight cycling itself is dangerous– maybe moreso than just remaining fat (for those who were fat to begin with).  As far as I can tell, these issues were completely ignored for the Stephens contest: by the donor, by the president, by the participants, and by virtually every member of the media, mainstream or otherwise.

Now that the weight has been lost, we know who did it, and how it was done.  Photographs and videos show that even people already well below the upper bound of what is considered to be a “healthy weight” attempted to lose weight to earn the money for their employer.  The president herself appears to have been at a healthy weight before the competition even started, and it’s not clear at all that a weight loss goal of 25 pounds was appropriate or even safe in her case.  If she consulted her doctor before she began her diet, she hasn’t mentioned that to the press.

Did Stephens really want its staff to get healthier, or did they really just want the cash?

Again, the evidence indicates the latter.  It’s pretty clear what motivated Stephens to take on the challenge.  At the outset, Lynch said this about the challenge:  “This is a good thing.  If we do this, we’re $500,000 ahead of our budget goals.”  In fact, the part about adding an additional $100K if she lost 25 pounds was apparently her idea.  That’s disappointing coming from a woman in a leadership position with multiple degrees in feminist history.

Since then, the college has tried very hard to frame the contest for the press in terms of getting healthier.  But if they really wanted to get healthier, they could have done so at any time.  For the contest– but not at any time prior to it– Lynch paid staff to spend an hour a day at the gym.  For the contest– but not at any time prior to it– nutritional counseling and healthy snacks were provided for the staff.  Lynch normally keeps a snack jar in her office for visitors.  For the contest, she put fruit in the jar.  Prior to the contest, there was candy in it.

How Writers Covered the Story

Not surprisingly, the Stephens story has been covered very differently by different writers, with the mainstream media largely choosing the lazier “weight loss automatically and universally signifies better health and is therefore always an unqualified good” view and bloggers thinking a bit more critically.  Very few mainstream publications, including the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Education, questioned the wisdom of academics allowing themselves to be bribed into losing weight on a deadline, however they manage to do so, whether they need it or not.  Elizabeth Kissling, a blogger for Ms. Magazine, wr0te the very best piece I’ve seen on the Stephens story.  I know most of you don’t click on the links in my posts, so I’m telling you now, stop reading this post, click on this link to Kissling’s piece, and go read it.  It’s way better than anything I’m going to write.

Here’s some other thoughtful coverage on the story:

The Sustainable Food blog at Change.org took Stephens and the donor to task not only for an ill-conceived project that is not supported by research, but also for not spending the money more wisely on things more likely to actually make a lasting impact.  Here’s a bit of what change.org blogger Tara Lohan had to say:

[W]eight-loss challenges like this one address Americans’ growing waistlines in the wrong way. Obesity is such an epidemic because of a host of complex, interrelated issues like our dysfunctional food system, poor health care, food deserts, junk food marketing, an increasingly sedentary culture — the list goes on and on.

So while it’s great to see people become more fit, the idea that shedding pounds for a one-time goal (of money!) would help achieve that seems ludicrous. What this competition — and all weight-loss competitions, for that matter —  is more likely to do is make the staff feel really bad about their bodies. Plus, singling out the president is just downright insulting. Also, this is a staff-wide endeavor, which means that anyone can lose the weight, even people who really shouldn’t.

At Care2, Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux puts it this way (there are some great comments under the post, too, especially noting the poor message the contest sends to students by focusing on pounds rather than true measures of health):

Lynch seems to have bravely put on her game face in an attempt to snag the cash, saying, that the donation is “unique” because it’s not about creating a scholarship or new program (you know, those silly programs that help the students) – no, it’s about “investing in the people who work at this college.”

Investing in them?  Or making them feel inadequate and body-conscious?  The donor in question seems to have no shortage of self-righteousness; “fit and fond of organic food,” she wants to generously use her wealth to incentivize weight loss among America’s obese population.  But there also seems to be a heavy dose of body image issues – according to Lynch, the donor, at 87, “weighs exactly what she did when she married her husband—117 pounds. It’s a point of pride for her that she has maintained her youthful physique.”

In her Size Matters blog at Bitch Magazine online, Tasha Fierce wrote a great piece about the relationship between this type of contest and the detrimental effects of body shaming.  Here’s a quote on point:

As if size discrimination wasn’t enough to deal with, many workplaces are instituting weight loss incentive programs, which further marginalizes fat employees. Incentive programs that include rewards for departments or teams that lose the most weight create a hostile atmosphere in which fat people are shamed for not being able to lose significant amounts of weight. For example, an alumna of Stephens College in Missouri recently pledged to donate $1 million to the college if the staff loses a collective 250 pounds by January 1, 2011. This puts undue pressure on fat staff members who may or may not be able to lose enough weight to contribute “their part” of the collective 250 lbs.

In response to this, folks may point out that many of the follow-up stories include very positive comments from participants on the staff and no reports of shaming.  To those folks, I would say this:  Trust me, one of the only things western society likes about the fat people they shame is their silence.  If there’s somebody at Stephens who spent her whole life yo-yo dieting and is now intractably fat as a result of a lifetime of disordered eating, I guarantee you two things:  First, that this contest triggered feelings she has worked very hard to overcome, and second, that shes suffered in silence through the whole contest and didn’t say one damn word about it to anybody.

Been there, done that.  One day I’ll write a post about the time my coworkers wanted to gather enough participants to form an on-site Weight Watchers group, so they had a membership drive that consisted mostly of fat-shaming emails and fliers combined with in-person hard sells.  If you didn’t participate, not only were you failing to make a “healthy choice” for yourself, but you were also letting down your coworkers by depriving them of the minimum number of participants they needed to lure a WW counselor to their worksite.

But I digress.  Shameless Mag has this to say about the Stephens contest:

Coerced weight loss for money? Really?

Manipulative?

Unfair?

Promoting a healthier lifestyle? Why tie it to weight loss and not to activity levels or fruit and veggie consumption, then?

A commenter under the post said this:

Wow! Young women can barely escape being bombarded by unrealistic/harmful/dangerous(!) beauty ideals outside of the classroom, but now their whole academic experience could be tainted by the same messages.

Elena at Women’s Glib said this about the contest:

Why isn’t this anonymous donor pledging one million dollars if the school gets most of their food from within a 50 mile radius? Or if the school creates a program promoting physical activity? Also, if I ever got to meet President Lynch, I think I’d talk to her about many things other than whether or not she should lose weight. Evidently, it’s not enough that Lynch has many academic achievements, seems to be very well-loved by the student body (she became president after I left, and actually sent me a very nice email), or writes a very cool blog.  She evidently also has to fit an anonymous donor’s (who evidently weighs 117 pounds) idea of what is an acceptable weight [emphasis mine].

The Columbia Tribune ran the story, and a commenter posted this beneath it:

I’m not going to lie, I’d quit if I worked there. The consequences of a program like this are potentially disastrous. While the intentions are good and I agree with the statement that many people in America have very unhealthy lifestyles this is absolutely not the way to motivate people to change.

Programs like this lead to disordered eating. If the program is optional those women who do not participate are automatically stigmatized. Those that are visibly overweight will feel pressure to participate because they have the potential to lose the most pounds…people with (probably) already poor body image and self esteem will be placed in a situation where they are put on display…even if they do not participate this will be the case. Their coworkers, students, the community (this was published in the columbia daily tribune and the community benefits from having a successful university in their town) will wonder why they have opted out. They are arbitrarily using pounds as a health indicator and financially incentivizing body shaming. There has GOT to be more creative things they can do to promote healthy living on campus for ALL (students, faculty and staff) than create a 4 month rat race to some arbitrary 250 lb mark all of which, statistically speaking, will be gained back in the next year.

Columnist Amanda Woytus at the Columbia Missourian had this to say:

Students at the women’s college won’t participate, but some employees hope it will set a good example.

By a good example, I’m sure they meant inspiring students to live healthier lives, but the challenge isn’t a wellness challenge. It’s a weight-loss challenge [emphasis mine], evidenced by the goal’s measurement being pounds lost.

Healthiness is related to weight. Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and certain types of cancer and gynecological problems are all linked to obesity. But you can also be thin and binge drink, chain smoke and eat nothing but Yogoluv’s frozen yogurt.

Losing 1 1/2 pounds, though it might start a pattern of healthier living, isn’t going to significantly improve an individual’s health. I don’t see the point. Maybe, as Lynch volunteered, the point is to put the school ahead of its budget goal.

Daniel Luzer, who writes for the College Guide blog at the Washington Examiner, points out that this “may well be the first time a college president managed to leverage a donation out of [a] conversation in which an alumnus basically just indicated that she was too fat.”  He’s one of the few male authors I’ve seen who questioned the wisdom and appropriateness of Stephens’ contest.

Time Magazine and  A few writers point out that the Stephens weight loss challenge (note nobody ever called it the Stephens Get Healthier Challenge) happened during the same time period as another initiative happening on college campuses last fall– the No Fat Talk Week.  Recognizing the damage done by constantly commenting on the sizes of women’s bodies and using the word “fat” as a weapon, women leaders developed No Fat Talk Week to begin to counteract the problem.  Apparently, Stephens didn’t get the memo.

Well, well, well. Another weight loss drug bites the dust.

October 8, 2010

This time it’s Meridia.  And once again, it’s because people who take it are showing an increased risk of exactly the medical problems that everybody claims are the reasons fatties should be taking these drugs to begin with:  heart attack and stroke.

Saw it first here at Living 400Lbs,  which in turn led me here to a CNN article about it.  According to the CNN article:

1. The drug increases your weight loss by only 5%, but…

2. It increases your rate of heart attack, stroke, and death by 16%!

Did you catch that?  Meridia harms people at more than THREE TIMES the rate it helps them!  What a FABULOUS FREAKIN’ DRUG THAT IS!

And by peddling this monstrous thing to 8 million people worldwide, Abbott Labs was projected to make $30 million profit this year.  But, heroes that they are, the humanitarians at Abbott Labs are voluntarily pulling the drug from the market.  Maybe they’re concerned about our health and welfare.  Or, y’know, maybe just keeping the size of the class in the class-action suit under control.

 

Blaming the fatties for the cost of healthcare: Who’s being lazy NOW, hmmm?

September 20, 2010

Saw this excellent post tonight on the HealthBeat blog.  Contained in the post is a link to a previous post by the author which is also worth reading.

The upshot of both:  Yes, the average annual cost of treating fatties is higher than the average annual cost for treating non-fatties, but fatties are actually cheaper in the long run, and that’s not what’s really behind the sharp increase in healthcare costs.

There are several reasons why healthcare has become more expensive, the big one being that there’s so much more healthcare to be had.  There is new technology, new procedures, and new medications that did not exist before, so sick people of all shapes and sizes have more treatment options available to them, and all of those things cost money.

The average annual cost to treat a fatty is higher than for a thin person, but fatties don’t live as long, so the lifetime cost of our care is lower.  And that’s not even taking into account all those years of Social Security we won’t be collecting.

And thus, even if you found a way to shrink every fat person down to a size four, you won’t solve the crisis of healthcare costs.  Yet all we hear from public officials, policy wonks, etc., is that the obesity epidemic is to blame for spiraling  healthcare costs.  Because it’s easier to say that and play blame-the-fatty than to understand, discuss, and address the truth.  Who’s being lazy now, hmmm?

You know what I like? When someone else says it so well, it saves me the time of saying it.

September 9, 2010

You should read this, because it covers everything.  Absolutely everything.

Fat and Health, A Response

By guest blogger ZuZu at Feministe


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