Chocolate Cream FAIL

So, a few nights ago, I had friends coming over for dinner and I tried to bake a chocolate cream pie. Maybe people who are better hosts/hostesses than I am only serve guests recipes they’ve cooked a zillion times and got down. No, I view my friends as guinea pigs for my cooking experiments, which usually go well. This time, not so much. I was using the Joy of Cooking recipe, and its chocolate cream pie is based on its vanilla cream pie. Not only with the addition of chocolate, but with different amounts of sugar and cornstarch. Which I forgot. I also forgot to bring my butter up to room temperature, so adding it to the bubbling mixture cooled it off immediately, and I had to put it back on the heat to get it mixed together. Anyway, I stuck it in the fridge and it made a valiant attempt to set, looked like it was gonna be okay, and then collapsed into a liquidy mess. I tried to salvage it by putting it in the freezer, but that just produced rock-hard chocolate ice.

The fact that I have the disposable income and time to play around with recipes, and no real damage is done if I fail, that’s a privilege. If, say, that were the only time this week or this month that I could scrape up the cash to have a nice dessert, you can bet I’d have bought something from the grocery store instead and not taken the chance. Maybe a prepared dessert, maybe a simple boxed cake mix. Because for all that people say home cooking is always superior, I have *never* screwed up a cake mix, not even when I was, like, ten.

In the discussion of the “$20 Showdown,” one of the things that struck me was Dr. Grumbles’ reply on Tumblr.

Regarding buying the “cheapest generic on sale” items, there is research that states that some of those in poverty don’t actually buy generic. This sounds really odd at first, but when the people who say they won’t buy generic explain themselves the constant theme is that they, “can’t afford to fail.” They trust the name brand, but if they waste 2.00 on generic orange juice that ends up being soured, that’s a failure and they have no juice to drink now.

I think the “can’t afford to fail” concept is one of the corollaries to the Sam Vimes Theory of Economic Injustice. It’s another way that it’s more expensive to have less money.

On fluffier and happier topics, the husband, having successfully baked a butterscotch pie, is going to help me with Chocolate Cream Pie 2, and with any luck, the sequel will be edible.

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Religious Imagery

JeninCanada replied to a post of mine, mentioning how a lot of Pagan religious imagery portrays the Goddess as a fat woman, with the Venus of Willendorf being the most famous example. I was curious about artistic representations of goddesses and saints, and for the most part, it’s a lot of conventional beauty. The cool thing is that looking at art from different times shows how beauty standards change. Like, I really like Jan van Eyck’s Virgin Mary in the Ghent Altarpiece. Kind of an inbetweenie, with a roundish face. A beauty by Renaissance standards, probably less so by today’s. I think she’s really pretty.

I just find it interesting how varied religious images are, and how they say more about what the people of the time and place idealize than the figures they’re supposed to represent. Like, Jesus–not a white guy with blue eyes. No, really. On a similar note, it bugged me a bit when I noticed that every figure in my nativity set, with the exception of one black wise man, is white and very European looking.

This idealization of whiteness is problematic for so very many reasons. One of the more subtle ones is that it makes it easy to other or dismiss people who are different when we (as in white, American Christians) go around with an image of Jesus in our heads that looks like us. And I can only imagine how alienating it must be for a non-white Christian to have an image of Jesus who looks nothing like them, especially knowing that he actually didn’t look like that.

On the weight score, it strikes me as a little messed up that so many representations of Mary are thin, especially in the Nativity. You know, right after she had a baby.

I admit to not knowing much about how religions other than my own represent fat and thin, other than the obvious that there are a lot of fat Goddess and fat Buddha images. -=

Comparing Apples to Big Macs

I’ve been meaning to dissect this bit about the affordability of fast food vs healthy food. (Thanks, John, for the link.) This “$20 Food Showdown” is a comparison of fast food to “healthy”* food. They take a fast food or frozen “junk food” meal for a certain price, then compare it to a random pile of “healthy” food for the same price.

First up, a Big Mac value meal for four people, as compared to a random assortment that includes a package of meatless burgers, a pound of ground beef, cashews, strawberries, 10 pounds of potatoes, orange juice, frozen veggies, and dried pinto beans.

The major difference that jumps out at me between the two is that, yes, the “healthy” pile contains a lot more food. But the “junk food” is an actual meal for four people. You have entrees, sides, and beverages that generally go together. I mean, I like my OJ as much as the next girl, but I don’t think it goes with burgers. The food items don’t seem to go together either. We have burgers but no buns or condiments, then some random veggies and legumes.

Other piles are even more bizarre. The “substitution” for a large Domino’s pizza and breadsticks is a package of tilapia, one and a quarter pounds of Italian sausage, some ground turkey, peanut butter, green tea, and Kashi crackers. Really, guys? Really? What am I supposed to do with that?

Okay, I probably *could* make a meal out of that weird assortment of food. But that’s because I have reasonably stocked cupboards, including dry goods, cooking oil, and every spice you could ever want plus some I never use. I also watch entirely too much Chopped, where the whole challenge is “here’s a random bunch of ingredients and 30 minutes, go make something with it.”

This article tries to suggest that everyone can eat “healthy” on any budget, but it sets up a laughably false comparison. Not only is the “junk” side of the comparison mostly restaurant and convenience food (of course they cost more, you’re paying someone else to cook it!) but the “healthy” side doesn’t even include the things you’d need to cook them. Even assuming you have all the kitchen gear you need, there are no herbs and spices, no salt or pepper, no butter or oil or cooking spray. Add those in, and the cost goes up.

Also, if they want to beat the “everyone should cook more” drum, it should be acknowledged that their target audience contains a lot of inexperienced cooks. (The people who cook all the time aren’t the ones they’re railing against for ordering bad, evil takeout, right?) An experienced cook can experiment with random things and usually turn out something decent. But a novice cook, particularly one who isn’t all that confident in their cooking skills, needs recipes, which they often have to follow exactly. If you’re cooking strictly by the book, the fact that you can buy a large quantity of food if you grab whatever assorted mishmash is on sale–Not. Helpful.

This is the thing that irritates me every time people get preachy about how cheap and easy it is to cook nutritious meals for yourself all the time. There’s lots of assumptions made that conveniently ignore the time, effort, and money these things really take. I’m all for helping people who want to cook more do so, and tips for food-shopping on a budget are great, but I’m not in favor of being sanctimonious about it (which the opening two paragraphs really are). I also think that if you need to set up heavily skewed “comparisons” to prove your point, then you may need to re-evaluate your premise.

I would’ve loved to see a cost comparison of like to like. Homemade pizza or burgers and fries, versus their fast food counterparts. I know a couple friends have given up on making pizza because ordering it is cheaper, at least for them. (It’s probably heavily dependent on where you shop and whether the pizza places near you have good deals going.)

I know, this is a little fluff article on a diet site. I shouldn’t expect evenhanded, rigorous analysis. But I would kind of like to see comparisons that have some basis in realism. In Kelly’s Perfect Universe, writers would be made to read If Only Poor People Understood Nutrition before going on about how easy it is to eat healthy on a budget.

*Yes, I will be putting “healthy” in scare quotes throughout this entry. They presumably use healthy to mean low in calories, fat, sugar and/or salt. This being a weight-loss site, presumably they also mean “conducive to weight loss” (which, for many people, might mean “made with real unicorn”). Based on their selections, they might also mean whole or minimally processed foods. I’m not a fan of demonizing or glorifying specific foods, so those quotes are a reminder that SparkPeople’s definition of healthy food is not some universal rule handed down from on high. Same thing for “junk food.” Chocolate, broccoli, pizza, and brown rice are all part of a balanced diet–and depending on your own food tolerances, allergies, or other health quirks, any of them could be great for you or terrible for you.

Home again, Home again

So, I’m home after a week of work travel. Spending the week in a much more urban environment than I’m used to was nice, because there were a zillion good places to eat, all within walking distance. It’s fabulous when you’re traveling to not have any food decision more complicated than “Which of the nearby places do I want to eat tonight?” or “What should I order off this menu that’s being passed around?”

I had sushi, Thai food, Lebanese food (stuffed grape leaves and a lamb wrap sandwich in pita), and a fantastic bacon cheeseburger. I was particularly psyched about the cheeseburger because the restaurant, Busboys and Poets, is big on local produce and free range meats. I’m a confirmed meat eater, but I like to know that the meat I’m eating led a decent life. I’ve actually avoided watching Food, Inc. because I know that factory farming is cruel, but I also don’t think I can commit to free range, well-treated everything all the time. Or to never eating at restaurants other than that one and, when I’m not in DC, Chipotle. So, the critters would be no better off for my having seen it, and I would be worse off by virtue of being run over by the guilt bus.

Anyway, I’ve actually missed cooking. So, today I’m taking advantage of the federal holiday to make lasagna and a chocolate cream pie. There will also be garlic bread and a nice salad to go with it.

I also missed being totally in charge of my eating schedule. We had fruit and granola bars in the meeting room, so I managed to get in my normal morning snack, but it’s not quite comfortable to have other team members talking about their various diets while I’m walking to the back of the room for a banana and a piece of chocolate. I also like to eat lunch way earlier than most people, so even with a snack, my stomach would be growling pretty impressively by the time we took our lunch break.

A couple quickies

First off, my little ego is doing a happy dance that I’m being quoted all over Tumblr. I know, of course, that this is purely due to my own awesomeness and not the fact that I’m on the Fatosphere feed. Or, for that matter, Lesley’s fricking brilliant post on the urge to control our bodies at all costs that got me thinking in that direction. [/sarcasm] The particular quoted bit is:

“In our culture, we have the idea that health is controllable. If you eat the right foods, do the right exercises, live “virtuously,” you will be thin and healthy for 80 or 90 years. And if you’re unhealthy, you must have done something to deserve it, and if you start doing the right things, you can fix it. Again, at its heart, it’s about control. We don’t have near as much control over our health as we’d like to, and we can’t get around the fact that everybody gets sick and everybody dies.”

Second, the search engine terms by which people find their way to my blog are a never-ending source of entertainment for me. My two current favorites:

  • “feminazi” (yeah, once I get people to stop using sexist language and quit paying women less than men for the same work, I’m totally taking over Poland)
  • “kelly divine” To whoever came here with that term, I’m not the porn star you’re looking for. Move along. (And no, for anyone wondering, I didn’t know that off the top of my head. I had to look it up. Also, Google safe search…isn’t, necessarily.)

Third, it would make my week if people would stop talking incessantly about their diets, oh, excuse me, their lifestyle changes, around me. I accept that it’s a hugely important thing to some people, and that people who are hungry and miserable need an outlet for venting. But after you’ve gone on about points and calories and the things you’re allowed to eat for fifteen minutes, I want to jump out a window. Or vindictively eat ice cream at you. The diet talk isn’t what I’d call triggering per se…just annoying. Nails on a chalkboard, kind of. And it’s so often people I don’t know well enough to mention my own thoughts on diets, particularly when they’re coworkers.

Speaking of ice cream, vindictive or otherwise, Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey is the bomb. Banana and walnut with chocolate pieces. The combination of textures with the subtle banana flavor, and the creaminess of good ice cream. Aw, man. I bought a pint of it, enjoyed some tonight, and will probably be having ice cream as a bed time snack for the next day or two. (I will resist the urge to eat it in front of the dieters, hoping that they give me lip about it so that I can reply, in perfect honesty, “Sorry, just following my nutritionist’s instructions.”)

Controlling Our Bodies

Lesley over at Two Whole Cakes wrote a brilliant piece on fat, eating disorders, and the desire to control our bodies.

A culture that supports weight loss by any means necessary is a culture that supports eating disorders. It is a culture that supports the sickening and weakening of us all, in the name of improving our health, the very thing that we sacrifice. It instructs us either to succeed or be destroyed by the effort.

To some extent, eating disorders are a compulsive urge to control the uncontrollable — one might as well try to lasso the ocean. At a certain point, past denying, past deprivation, we don’t have intellectual control over our bodies any longer. No matter how hard we try, no matter how fierce our conviction. We don’t have control. The only way to win the fight with our bodies is to die. The winners are the ones who are dead. They are the ones who have triumphed, decisively, over the needs of their bodies, forever.

Every diet I’ve ever been on has had that same motivation at its heart, that desire for control. This is not to say that everyone who diets has an eating disorder (though I think deliberately eating less than your body needs is disordered eating). It’s just that they’re manifestations of the same thing.

It also doesn’t matter whether it’s about beauty, health, or some of both. It still comes down to what Lesley said about controlling the uncontrollable. In our culture, we have the idea that health is controllable. If you eat the right foods, do the right exercises, live “virtuously,” you will be thin and healthy for 80 or 90 years. And if you’re unhealthy, you must have done something to deserve it, and if you start doing the right things, you can fix it. Again, at its heart, it’s about control. We don’t have near as much control over our health as we’d like to, and we can’t get around the fact that everybody gets sick and everybody dies.

Part of me feels like faith, or more faith, would correct that. “Let go and let God” is the common saying in a lot of Christian circles. Relax, trust, and accept that you don’t control the universe, you were never meant to, and that’s okay. And maybe on an individual level, for people with that particular sort of faith, that’s part of it. But the focus on control–particularly on controlling the body and ignoring its desires–is deeply intertwined with Judeo-Christian religious ideas. Half our focus on controlling our bodies so strictly is because we think they’re sinful. I talked about it a couple days ago, about a devotional urging Christians to quit being fat.

DRST expanded on Lesley’s post, talking about the role of religion in the cultural push to beat our bodies ruthlessly into submission.

There’s a whole thread deeply involved in body policing that stretches back to Judeo-Christian religious philosophy and sin and how we must control ourselves at all times and resist all temptations – this mindset that hails a God that supposedly created us in His image, which means we are like God in all ways, but simultaneously put in us urges to do all sorts of things that are inherently ungodly (like stuff our faces and have lots of sex) and the way we prove our devotion to that God is to deny the most basic urges He supposedly put into us. It sets everyone up to fail from the start, basically, because what we’re programmed (by God) to want to do is somehow sinful and the only way to be really faithful is not do things we want to do. This is, IMNSHO, a really sadistic view of God. I mean, what kind of person/being/whatever would do that to anyone?

This is a hugely important point. We fear our bodies, we fear our desires, we think they are sinful, and we think God wants us to live in a constant state of denial and deprivation. And that has so thoroughly soaked into our cultural consciousness that we still talk about this denial in religious terms. Chocolate is described as sinful and sex as impure and salad as virtuous in completely secular contexts.

I wish we didn’t have this focus on control and rigid discipline. I wish that my first church had had two or three God loves you, warts and alls for every Thou shalt nots.

Religion and health are alike in that we pursue them in ways that are drudgery, when they should be joyful.