28 June 2011

Alternative to Bottomless Mimosas

Last week, I received an invite for Dim Sum Sunday Brunch. I had no idea what Dim Sum meant at the time, but I accepted without hesitation regardless – How could I say no? Waking up Sunday morning, I immediately regretted my decision to agree to meet at 10:30. What was I thinking? But, as I dragged myself out of bed around 10:15, craving lo-mien, and thinking what I could perhaps get some at Dim Sum – Chinese, right?

When I finally arrived, I realized that apparently this was the Dim Sum place to be, as the crowd waiting to enter the restaurant filled the sidewalk outside the restaurant. It had opened at 10:30 and after getting our name on the list at 11:30, I think we sat down close to 1:00pm. (Though, I think that this may be part of their trick — keep the customers waiting, so by the time they actually eat, they are so hungry everything tastes amazing!)

The way Dim Sum was described to me, as we waited for our table was “something like Chinese Tapas.” It was similar to tapas – a large table sharing small plates. I think that we ought to eat more meals in this fashion. It can be slightly overwhelming for me because I love to try it each new food that arrives in front of me. I appreciate the acceptance of sharing the food and tasting every flavor.

However, the challenge in this situation is that idea that I was never sure exactly what I was eating. In my Dim Sum experience, there was no menu of options, but the food is carted around the restaurant and the diners need to flag down the staff to get food. These women are efficient and don’t have time to explain what may or may not be in the said dumpling on the plate. I managed to get one-word answers as I pointed: “Pork” or “Shrimp” were the most common.

It was not the most balanced meal, to say the least. Most dishes involved something with rice dough, or fried. The dishes we almost all the same shade of brown or yellow, which went against the rule that a balanced meal should be colorful. There were few vegetables, though I managed to find pickled cucumber and carrots mixed in a slightly unappetizing cuttlefish dish. For the most part, the dishes involved meat, and I think even the tofu dish came with a pork topping.

The best part of going to Dim Sum is not the food, but the experience. We sat in a crowed place, pulling unrecognizable small dishes off of carts. The women cut each dish – dumpling or roll – with a pair of scissors, no, I am not kidding, and then launched into each dish with a pair of wooden chopsticks the minute it hit the table.

I am very glad I went, and I think it is an experience that was worthwhile, if for nothing else but the chicken feet. I really could not say “No” to it. How many times does a dish of chicken feet show up in front of you? I’ll tell you, this is only the second or third time, and I think I passed the first two. So, I sucked it up and ate a chicken foot. It didn’t taste bad, but the fact I was eating a chicken foot still bothered me – texturally it was strange.
I am sure I would go again, but only if it was suggested to me, however. I doubt I will suggest it any time in the future. Call me traditional, but next week, I will stick with my Eggs Benedict and Bloody Mary for Sunday brunch.

19 June 2011

MyPyramid, MyPlate, My Life

It is somewhat amusing to me that fats and sugars are not even included on the new MyPlate released late last month. As advertisements inundate us daily adamantly telling us otherwise; we are, of course, all adults, and we can figure out what we should without the government telling us, right? So much of our decision-making is influenced by what we are told though marketing schemes—from private sector corporations or public service announcement from the government. And if we are not explicitly told, are we sure we know what to do?

The USDA has stepped it up with new a direction of food checking with MyPlate. This lovely image, featuring: (ta-da!) a plate, with the essential food groups clearly depicted, so we will all understand what we should eat and how much should be consumed. This, of course, replaces our old friend, the food pyramid—and what ever did happen to that food pyramid anyway? It has been in limbo for a while, first, the USDA tried for to implement a personalized MyPyramid, which was supposed to be altered according to the individual person (and it included exercise as well, showing a little man running up it). Though I can honestly say I never quite understood that pyramid—it came out after I was out of school, and who learns this stuff anyway, besides school children? Plus, there were no pictures of food on it—how can it be a food pyramid if there is no food on it?

The most recent development, MyPlate is the new alternative, offering a not only logical, but also realistic idea of what one should eat. No more counting servings a day (and did anyone actually know how much is actually in a serving?), now you can just look at your plate and figure it out based on the fraction the food covers (much like a pie-chart). The idea behind it is that it will encourage people to eat healthfully, who don’t have time to think about food intake for the day, but they can think about it in the moment. Parents can better feed their children a balanced meal when all they have to do is look down at the potions on the dinner plate. And though the abstract image doesn’t have pictures, we can all figure it out easily as it is a plate—which is an improvement from the past pyramid that we had.

As Stephen Colbert kindly commented on the new developments of MyPlate, he exclaimed: “Americans don’t use plates anymore. Our food comes from cases, bags, cans, tubes, and envelopes made of themselves!” And, yes, I am quoting Colbert here, he does have a point: How many of us actually sit down at the dinner table and eat a meal set out on a plate. I consider myself to be a healthy eater and I maybe, if I am lucky, eat one meal a week on a plate arranged so that the servings are visible (Sandwiches don’t count here!). Part of the idea of MyPlate, is encourage eating from a plate, which means sitting down, not day full of snacks on the go. It means actually paying attention to what we consume.

The USDA launched MyPlate complete with an interactive website, so one can monitor the daily food intake meticulously using planners, trackers and even a foodpedia. I decided to try it, fill out all the information and see what I came up with—I was honest, I even added a candy bar to my daily intake, for those days when I just can’t resist! Beyond food, you can fill out your daily physical activity, and then compare the two. The site will track your history (if you diligently input information everyday) and give you an energy calculation, recommendations, nutrient intake…and the list goes on.

As I was sitting here, trying to think: what the hell did I eat today? How many blueberries were actually in the handful that I threw into my cereal in the morning? Do I have to count the extra cup of coffee I had at 3pm? I realized I could never do this every day, because I just don’t care that much. I think I have my food groups covered, though like everyone, I could probably stand to cut back on the carbs, and instead of hot fudge on the fro-yo, add the fruit topping. I think it was worth one day, sitting down and inputting a typical day in the life of food, and just see where you stand. (Though, I am still not sure where the candy bar landed on health index)

My final question to the recent developments of the government food recommendations: what size plate are we talking here exactly?

09 June 2011

DC PRIDE Theatre: SpeakeasyDC’s “Don’t Ask, Do Tell”

Last night, I attended my first D.C. Pride event and I am completely sold. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company presented SpeakeasyDC’s production of “Don’t Ask, Do Tell: stories about coming out, coming clean, or just plain coming.” SpeakeasyDC puts on a great show: bluntly honest, hysterical, and heartfelt. This production not only exceeded expectations, but it brought something else to the evening as well: non-judgmental Pride.

MC and Co-Director, John Kevin Boggs, made it clear from the start that this show was about Pride. He stated the stories were all as unique, diverse, and complex as the storytellers sharing with the audience. And the show certainly proved that: as each speaker took the stage, it was clear that each person was proud to take a stand to unabashedly share his or her personal experience.

As the audience applauded each person off stage, I though to myself, “man, I feel bad for the next one who has to follow that act” — but each individual spoke confidence and excelled. I began to see a pattern in the stories: each storyteller willingly stood alone on stage to share an anecdote of their life, expressing who they truly were and have become, and each moment was welcomed in a safe environment. Everyone had managed to get through whatever events, good or bad, life had handed them, coming out on the other end, not unscathed, but a different, individual, and unique person.

The stories shared were unique, ranging from explicit sex scenes, to hilarious anecdotes, to sharing real emotional trauma. Without giving too much away, stories ranged from: overcoming a language barrier for a sexual encounter; coming out as the first transgender college athlete on national television; a personal journey from an advocacy position as a “straight spokesperson for gay families” to embracing being a lesbian; and a story of dancing shamelessly at high school senior prom with the person you love, despite the family effort to “fight the gay.”

At intermission, when I had a chance to sit back and absorb the atmosphere, I realized not only the performers were welcome and accepting, but the audience was completely open and happy as well. (And, yes, at the risk of being cliché, Lady Gaga was playing over the loudspeakers at this point.) And as I attempted to decipher the sentiment behind this overwhelming vibe I was feeling, I realized that it was completely non-judgmental. Despite the judgment that was occurring within each story, at that moment, I felt the entire theatre offering a safe space of understanding to each instance of discrimination described. A judgment-free space is an uncommon experience, as I constantly sense judgment coming from all sides in a city like Washington, D.C. For the two and half hours of the show, I felt none of that—only empowerment and inspiration transcending from the stories to the audience.

In her story, Natalie Illum put the evening into perspective, describing a realization she had: that being queer isn’t always about who you love but about being comfortable in your own skin and helping other people to be comfortable with who you are. She recounted a slogan she had used campaigning for an event: “We’re here, we’re queer, we’re fabulous, so don’t f--k with us.”

01 June 2011

Culture, Cuisine and Globalization

How does culture shape a cuisine? Or does the cuisine shape the culture? I pondered these questions last week at a National Archives talk, Jewish Holiday Traditions and Cooking in America, between cookbook author, Joan Nathan and chef Spike Mendelson. The event was a pre-kick off to a new exhibit the Archives will be hosting for the rest of 2011, What’s Cooking Uncle Sam?, to discuss the government influence on food in American society.

The relationship between culture and food is mutual, as both maintain a certain influence on the other. Just as culture shapes a cuisine, changes in a cuisine can also change and impact the culture. Through experimentation of food, the regional differences, and the migration of cuisine that travels with the people, both food and culture are susceptible to change through either alterations or combinations. Joan Nathan, talked about the Americanization of food, which as she sees is the change in quantity and quality. Not only is the food bigger, but it also is often combined with other popular ingredients. (Extra large bacon-wrapped matzo balls, anyone?) This, in her opinion, is offensive to the traditions of the culture and food. Mendolson disagreed, saying that it can be inspiring to bring different traditions together through food, even if it means losing the authenticity of the meal.

As food takes on new levels of popularity, it is not just the foodies that appreciate a good meal and the significance behind it. The mainstream media has picked up on the trend and brought it to a new level of appreciation in the public eye. This feeds into the social acceptance of food as a career, moving it from the blue collar job from the past to the white collar status of the present. As Joan Nathan pointed out, a meal is not just a family dinner, but rather a high end restaurant dining experience. With this status shift, more people are involved in the industry, bringing additional influences of culture and change. The new generation in the food industry offers a new exploration to food; many are working to use creative means to finding their niche, put a twist on their own food whether the emphasis is on the cuisine fusion or even a return to purity and cultural tradition.

The arguable driving factor of food today, especially in American cuisine, however, is not tradition. Rather, the biggest influences come from the market and product. The market often drives society, and not only that but our food choices, as well. This is largely due to the availability and access to different products and also to the marketing techniques that often ultimately drives our decisions. Today we have fast movement of products and more options to choose from, enabling us to utilize the global economy for both product and cultural custom exchanges.

With globalization today, it often feels as if culture is completely fluid. Food has become one of the constant and most acceptable forms in which to share culture and heritage with one another. In some instances, it is the preservation of a culture, where in others it has become a culture fusion. Joan Nathan, recounted that while collecting her stories for her new cookbook she realized that she was preserving her culture through her the act of putting her observations on paper. Judaism is a food-centered religion and with the tradition of Friday Shabbat dinner, every family has their own story, their own customs, and recipes. Sharing all of that brings people together, helps us to remember, and creates a way to share with others.