Thursday, July 22, 2010

More is More

I've often heard the term "less is more," a claim that minimalism and simplicity make for better design. A perfunctory Google search found that the phrase is originally attributed to poet Robert Browning who, in 1855, wrote:
Who strive - you don't know how the others strive
To paint a little thing like that you smeared
Carelessly passing with your robes afloat,-
Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says,
(I know his name, no matter) - so much less!
Well, less is more, Lucrezia.

When it comes to New York City, though, more is more. Everything is bigger, brighter, noisier, busier. For the past two weeks I have sweat more, walked more and shopped more than I have all year. And apparently the city is embracing this concept and centering its marketing campaign around the word "more" - more to see, more to do. And perhaps it was the incredible East Coast heat and humidity, or the fact the I am currently dairy-free and more prone to notice, but I am fairly certain that NYC has more ice cream trucks than any other city in the nation.

When I first moved to Seattle it was still summertime and I remember the first ice cream "truck" I encountered. Since then I've seen all sorts of ice cream selling vehicles. Here are a few examples:

Ice cream for sale at the Fremont Solstice Parade

An ice cream van in Green Lake Park

While these sightings are relatively rare around Seattle (is it true that Molly Moon's has an ice cream truck this summer?), nearly every park, alley or street corner in New York has its own ice cream truck. In honor of National Ice Cream Month and Day I've compiled an album of NYC ice cream trucks. At first I took a picture of one to show to my friends in Seattle. Then each time I passed another I felt compelled to photograph it too. I couldn't help myself, but more is more, right?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Long, Hot Summer Fast

While I usually write about eating, today I am writing about not eating. At sundown last night a little known Jewish holiday called Tisha B'Av, or the Ninth (day) of (the month of) Av, commenced, marking the beginning of a 25-hour fast. Whereas Jewish holidays generally adhere to the rule: "they tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat", there are at least five days on the calendar where this is not the case. These days are designated as fast days - more of a "they tried to kill us, they succeeded, let's fast" approach, involving mourning and repentance. Like most Jewish practices, fasts are observed to varying degrees by members of the Jewish community. While it is a feature of many religions and belief systems, in traditional Judaism fasting requires - at the very least - complete abstinence from eating and drinking.

Tisha B'Av is a unique day, one that I approach with dread each year and not just because it lands smack dab in the middle of the summer, when days are long and hot. It is the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar. As far as fasts go, it is second in gravity only to Yom Kippur, the more widely recognized Day of Atonement, but the purpose, tone and mood of these two days are quite different from one another. Whereas Yom Kippur is a day to atone for personal and communal sins, to repent and start anew, to pray for the year ahead, Tisha B'Av commemorates major tragedies throughout Jewish history - the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem, the Spanish Inquisition, the pogroms, the Holocaust. This one day encapsulates every devastation that Jews have experienced over time due to anti-semitism and religious and political persecution. It bears the ominous message that despite protesting "Never Again," history has a nasty way of repeating itself. And rather than ignoring this fact, rather than quelling the fear and anxiety with food and drink, with the business-as-usual routines of everyday life, tradition demands that we forsake eating and instead feel those emotions, mourn the past, take stock of the present and develop steps toward changing the future. In the Orthodox circles I grew up in, this was not so much a charge toward self-assessment (that will characterize the High Holidays in a few short months) but a cry against complacency, getting too comfortable in the world. Spending a long hot day without food or even water is a struggle and physically mirrors the conceptual struggle I feel on Tisha B'Av. While searching for some articles that might lend more meaning to my fast, I came across this piece from a Jewish website that recast the theme of the day through an analogy to Howard Schultz and Starbucks. I miss Seattle.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The D-List

According to family lore, after my great-grandmother's second husband died, a roll of toilet paper was found among his personal items. On this roll he had written a list of grievances against my great-grandmother. During their short marriage he must have used the list as a coping mechanism. "Too much salt in the soup" still gets a laugh at family dinners, but what always stuck with me about the story is the methodical record-keeping. I am compulsive about making to-do lists, packing lists, shopping lists, on stickies and notepads and Word docs, but mine were always ephemeral. Unlike friends who record books they've read or places they've gone I have never documented anything consistently over time. So I was pretty impressed when I read about Jenny Rosenstrach who has been recording her family dinner in a notebook every night since 1998. This somewhat philosophical venture has since become a blog where parents can find dinner ideas and recipes. It also serves as another blog-into-book deal and I wouldn't be surprised if a movie is in the works. That seems like reason enough to start some sort of daily undertaking. Like my friend Molly's haiku-a-day project. I liked this one about raspberries.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Holier Than Thou?

In my former life as a film student, people would always ask me about my taste in movies. My favorite film, director, decade, style, national cinema, were all questions I dreaded but expected to hear. Over time I no longer enjoyed seeing movies with friends, who would, after screenings, defer to my opinion and ask what they had failed to appreciate. “Did you like it? Was it art?” my friend Amanda would ask, only half jokingly. I resented that my view suddenly bore more weight, that I was somehow better equipped to determine the quality of a film. And yet, that was exactly the case. I was better equipped! I understood the nuance, had studied the form. I had to face it, I'd become a film snob, refusing to see certain movies (Charlie’s Angels) and loving others that eluded mainstream taste (Mulholland Drive, The Believer).

Mounting evidence suggests that years later I may have inadvertently transferred this snootiness, this I-know-better-than-you-ness, toward my growing interest in and study of food and nutrition so that I have now become a food snob and never are my flaws more apparent than when I'm back in my hometown as I am now. I sense it when I visit my parents and my mother takes me on a tour of the kitchen highlighting the locally grown organic items (kohlrabi?!) purchased at the Queens farmer's market, and admittedly, I am pleased. I sense it when planning a trip with childhood friends and one of the texts me from Costco asking if I only eat organic fruit. No, I say, I try to atleast eat organic berries, but in reality I buy mostly, or pretty much only, organic fruit. When I notice that an apple sticker number does not start with a "9" which would indicate organic, I feel a twinge of it too. While getting a pedicure - something I never consider doing in Seattle, but somehow seems necessary in New York where I'm ashamed of my starkly naked toes flashing themselves in flip flops - and the Food Network is featured on the television and I have chest pains watching Paula Deen bake a fried green tomato cake that sounds healthy enough until she starts the batter with 2 sticks of butter, 1 cup of sugar and 3 whole eggs then moves on to the icing made of yet a third full stick of butter. When I reconsider buying sushi because the fish was likely farmed. When I step into Whole Foods in New York and cannot bring myself to purchase the organic Rainier cherries from Washington state because that seems wrong - like I should have just brought some with me from Seattle (which, incidentally I did). When, without asking, my mother prepares me organic kosher chicken for Shabbat but serves regular chicken to the rest of my family. That's when I start to wonder, am I being a total snob or a conscientious consumer? Have I fallen into my own trap, taking this whole food thing too seriously or should I be proud of the ripple effect its beginning to have on the people around me?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Overheard in NY

Last week I was attending a lecture and lunch at my old place of employment. A friend and former colleague would be addressing a group of teachers in a training session to discuss the genocide in Bosnia, appropriately timed just days before the anniversary of the Srebrenica Massacre. An impressively healthy lunch was provided to the attendees - various vegetarian paninis, wraps and a large Greek salad with water and tea and coffee as well. As soon as lunch was served one well-dressed, attractive woman reached into her purse and took out a Ziploc baggie with a sad looking sandwich. Between the two pieces of white bread I could clearly see some type of deli meat (ham? bologna?) and a bright orange cheese (American?). She finished the sandwich quickly and when the others sat down next to her to eat lunch they prodded her - aren't you having lunch today? She replied, "my scale has been tipping too heavy lately and I think it's time to cut back and start a diet." I had to actively restrain myself from shaking some sense into her. If I had allowed my inner food snob to vent I might have said something like this: "If you really want to lose weight and look better, perhaps you should consider cutting out the white bread and deli meat, and processed cheese and adding some vegetables and fruit and whole grains into your diet. And maybe take notice that the lunch being provided is actually better for you than the one you've brought from home!" Instead I took my cue from one of my favorite sites, Overheard in NY, the online equivalent of point and laugh.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Detox Redux

Since it's technically still a holiday, most people probably spent today doing something recreational and leisurely. I spent the day cleaning. After returning from a weekend camping trip I was ready to get my life back in order and sat down to go through papers, books, bags and piles, discarding the unnecessary items that fill my space and serve little purpose. I was nearly done when the time came to go to Whole Foods and once again lead a grocery tour for a detox group. The four people on my tour were interested in learning creative ways to eliminate the "bad" foods, incorporate the "good" ones and basically overhaul their entire approach to eating. I spent about an hour and a half discussing ways to prepare chard and kale and quinoa and tempeh and beets and hope they found some of the information useful. Together we read labels to understand why some items were not detox-friendly, and one of the participants asked if, at this rate, grocery shopping usually took me six hours. I explained that if you spend one or two times really looking at what you're purchasing, you can shop on autopilot from then on. Isn't that what most of us do anyway? We have our default go-to foods, and for that matter we have our go-to people, stores, websites, even driving routes that make our lives convenient and predictable. If we spend some time trying something new every so often - a new way home, a new store, a new food - we might be able to make room in our very busy lives for something different. And that's what "detox" is all about - breaking patterns, flushing out the toxins, the things that are cluttering our systems and not working for us, and trying something new and better.

Summer is a great time to detox and as everyone is Seattle knows, summer starts today, so here are some approaches you might want to try:

1. Diet: add in more fruits and vegetables (especially greens!) and eliminate coffee, alcohol, refined grains and sugars to start

2. Curb tv and computer usage (right now I'm on a Facebook detox myself)

3. Urban detox: hit the trails. Turns out nature is good for you.

A summer detox is a great excuse to start doing the things you've been meaning to do. Like eating more kale.