Wednesday, December 31, 2008

happy new year to you too

Ok, that's it, next year I'm flying back early and having a real NYE, like the one I've never had, with TD at some party where I wear a hot dress (my fantasies are tacky and cliche and so the dress involves sequins) and kiss him at midnight just like in the movies. To heck with being a dutiful daughter and staying for a whole two weeks and spending the evening at home, in my room, reading Nan Lin's Social Capital: A Theory of Social Structure and Action with Survivor Man on in the background. This visit was two weeks because 1) I am a dutiful daughter and they expect me to come for as much time as possible, and 2) I didn't know when TD would be back from Mexico when I booked my flight. So anyway, I'm currently grumbly.

I feel awful--there is so much to be thankful for. I have good health, a becoming-less-dysfunctional-and-possibly-more-supportive family, someone I love who loves me back, and I'm doing interesting stuff that I genuinely enjoy at a great school in a great city. Most of the time, I feel these blessings acutely and am happy and easy to please because I am generally truly pleased, having known for years what true dysfunction, deprivation, and loneliness are like. But because I am a bad, petty person who never weathers even short separations well, I am feeling all lonely and party-poopy. So I was all grumbly on the phone with TD, and bit of a downer. Bad Belle.

It's unfair to begrudge him his good experiences, because what I really mean to say is that I wish I were sharing in them--the interesting adventures and vacations afar, the cliched parties, the NYE kiss (silly only in that it's a tradition, but kisses are always good). Every year, it's the same (remember traditional strict Asian parents, folks--I came home from the wedding on Saturday by 11:30 pm). I'm in my room reading and watching TV. My sister comes in at midnight (if she's still awake) and wishes me a happy new year. Because I have insomnia whenever I visit my parents, I continue to read until 3 am. I fall asleep. I know that this isn't an awful way to celebrate a new year. But it's always the same, and I've never had a proper new year, and as cheesy and cliche as it is, just once I would like one. TD tells me not to feel bad. Of course, he's at a friend's party right now, which sounds infinitely more fun. He's tired and didn't even want to go, but all I can think tonight is that I'd rather be with him, whether at home or out. Instead I'm reading about social networks that I lack and social ties when I am missing a really important tie.

So while I'm glad for the things I do have, and for 2008 ending as well as it started, right now I'm an ungrateful little bitch who can only focus on current boredom and loneliness. I resolve to be better next year. And organize my books and files. And do research. And waste less food. And go to some place outside of the U.S.

What are your resolutions? Happy new year, by the way.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

how to cook and work at the same time

(This is my kitchen. Note that the dining table right next to the stove can double as a desk, so you can work and watch the stove at the same time. Missing is my beautifully organized spice jar drawer.)

In response to Anna's comments in the previous post (this started off as a comment, but I wrote too much):

I read while I cook. Seriously. TD and I eat a lot of soups and roasts. So, I spend about 15 minutes doing prep--chopping, browning, etc, and the rest of the time, the oven or stove takes over and I read while it's cooking on low heat for 3-4 hours. I am getting pretty good at chopping things. I don't really do 30 minute meals as much as 15 minutes of prep + 3 hours of simmer or braising or roasting. It's great for the winter. Makes my apartment warm, saving on energy. I will write a post about my quickest cooking meals, although they are not necessarily my cheapest (pork tenderloins are $5-6 per 1 lb loin which lasts like 1.5 meals). In general, more time saves more money, because a pot of beans is $1 but takes like 3 hours to cook. I can't eat the same thing two days in a row, so I pack up leftovers into lunches for TD, I eat maybe 1-2 days of leftovers max, and I'm onto the new thing.

This of course, is useful if you work from home. So here's my work from home meals:
  • Braised beef short ribs
  • Beef bourguinon
  • Beef and barley soup
  • Chicken soup (I make my own stock, takes like 3 hours)
  • Pot o' pinto beans (or any beans)
  • Pernil al horno (adobo style slow roasted pork, 3 hours)
  • Lasagna (I don't know why, but it takes so long to assemble even with no-bake noodles)
But some times I don't get home until 7:00 or 7:30, and TD comes home at 8:30 or 9:00. So I have to cook at night just like people do, after work. Either I do prep work in the morning before I leave and have chopped up stuff in cling-wrapped bowls to come home to, or do all the prep work in the hour before dinner. We are blessed with no hungry children who do not need to be fed right away, or else I would be prepping the night before or the morning of every day and would totally give up my soup/stew/bean stuff except on weekends. So, meals that can be made in 30-60 minutes, after you've done your reading and writing:

  • Any type of pasta tossed with butter and cheese, served with some pan fried cutlet of meat of your choice, add some sauteed vegetables
  • Pizza made with Trader Joe's pre-made pizza dough ($1.29).
  • Pork tenderloin: quickly marinade in hoisin, honey, soy sauce, garlic and ginger, serve with rice.
  • A quick ragu: 1 lb. ground beef mixed with a can of diced tomatoes, diced onions, garlic, served with spaghetti or tagliatelle. Sort of like bolognese without the milk.
  • Fish fillets, pan fried, served with whatever
  • Frittatas or omelets with whatever vegetables or meat you want.
  • Dumpling soup if you have pre-made dumplings. I do mine all at once and freeze them and use batches, add bok choy and ramen and there it is.
  • Stir-frys.
  • Ramen, do not worry about making your own dashi.
  • Quickly baked pieces of chicken, you can buy quarters and serve with whatever starches or vegetables.
  • Roast chicken. Seriously. It takes 45-60 minutes to roast, but it can be pre-dressed in the morning with rosemary and lemon and garlic.
Yeah, quick is not as cheap. I hate buying meat pre-cut up, because it's so much more expensive. But it's also quicker, as is buying your vegetables pre-peeled and chopped. I never do that though, because I am a cheap bastard. I love my slow cooked meals though.

Baking is a joy and a hobby, something that is not as conducive to reading, because I am super careful and tend to bake in individual batches because my electric oven doesn't heat evenly. It is a disaster cooking two trays of cookies at once. So I can't tell you how to bake and work, because I really don't. It's my break. I walk to school and thus get exercise + commute, but I can't figure out how to combine delicate baking and work. I totally will never be able to knit and read at the same time, certainly. Some things are just time-intensive and require full attention, which is why they're so fun.

But cooking is fun too, and not necessarily too time draining. There's no need to go for expensive take-out or out to dinner (which takes up a lot of time, waiting for the meal to be cooked and served!), and fast-food is so bad for you. You save a lot of money cooking. Even my most bourgie, time-saving meal where I buy chops and cutlets and pre-cut vegetables are less than the price of one person's take-out order. I always think of going out to dinner as a date, but not a default. There's no official bargain on this, but on weekdays I cook and I pack him up lunches, and on the weekend, he takes me out to dinner at my favorite Mexican place where can split a fish ceviche for $3.75 and a carne asada burrito the size of a child's leg for $5.95, and I totally do not feel guilty for ordering an extra order of pork tamales, because we take the leftovers home. Mmm. Guess where I'm going to ask him to take me to dinner on Sunday when I get back. Oooh, and 2 liters fo agua fresca for $1.50.


to buy or not to buy

The answer, most of the time, is "not buy." Spare yourself needless expense! Which comes in all forms, especially if you like being stylish and fashion forward! Still, I am pretty good at not spending much money, as I eat out only socially, pack lunches if I can choke down yet another sandwich (no public microwave at school), do not frequent cafes by making my own coffee in the morning and packing my own cans of Diet Coke to get caffeine jolts throughout the day, and vow never to buy anything I can make. I am really good at resisting buying baked goods, because I have that supercilious "I can bake better" attitude that is super annoying. I am weak when it comes to ice cream cones though, especially when it's gourmet ice cream like sage praline or candied walnut cardamom. I can make really good soup though, so I can't justify my $3.50 soup and cornbread at S.A's, except that it's the cheapest healthy lunch I have found (not that I don't love $3 hotdogs, $2.50 pizza slices, $1.50 bagels with cream cheese).

But there's a few things for The Great Organization/Life Rehaul 2009 that I am contemplating buying. After three years on my not-so-luxurious Ikea Sultan Fangebo foam mattress (5 7/8" thick, purchased in 2006 for $149), which resides in my Dalselv pine frame ($99), I have decided to upgrade it slightly by adding a Serta 4" memory foam mattress rejuvenator, along with a down-alternative cover. For the price of women's shoes, I am going to sleep more comfortably. I think that this is a reasonable investment, and I have a couple more years to enjoy it, so cost/night/nap should average out well.

Thus, not-purchased will be this dress, these shoes, this coat, or anything else that doesn't actively enhance my quality of life on a daily basis and of which I already have too many. Sigh. I am considering buying rain boots though, because they would improve my life on a daily basis for at least 3-4 months a year

Purchased was this bookshelf, because I ran out of shelf space half a year ago and my books in total disarray. This one came with free shipping (great for no car people) and pre-assembled (great for clutzy and busy people). I really like it. I may have to buy another one because I am continually buying books (which if academic and useful, are not counted as frivolous buying, and if fiction on sale/used, are budgeted the way coffee/ice cream cones are, 1-2 per week), which would mean not buying this dress. We never go on datey dates anymore anyway, and I cook better than most places that are not so expensive I choke on my amuse bouche of sweetbreads and flute of Roederer with guilt. But those dates are so fun. Before TD I never went on those kind of dates. Great way to celebrate an anniversary or birthday! But what makes them so fun is their rarity, and the fact that they signal really important occasions or special absconding from responsibility for an entire weekend. In general, I am super happy with going out once a week for a burrito or Chinese food or chicken and waffles.

But we're trying to improve my life on a daily basis, here, folks, and I eat in every weeknight and cook 2-3 times a week. I think that this recipe would go really far in doing that, and I would have leftovers for a couple of days, and I could use my new Le Creuset. I am looking forward to buying lots of ingredients for soups next week, and baking everything from cookies to scones to cake. Maybe I'll make candy too. So I resolve that if I buy stuff, it be for the purpose of eating and working better, and resting up so that I can eat and work some more.

This is almost a set-up for New Year's resolutions, except mine are extremely boring and aim really low.


Monday, December 29, 2008

random roundup

1. Via OrgTheory, an incredibly interesting first-person account of the Madoff scam by one of its victims--who also happens to be a psychology professor and expert in trust and gullibility.

2. The comments thread to this Crooked Timber post on the responsibility of Western feminists to be careful to avoid adding xenophobic fire to Islamophobia when calling attention to human rights violations in non-Western countries is really fascinating. I come on the side of bringing attention to human rights violations. I would do the same with my own non-Western backround, despite occasionally coming off as a cultural difference apologist. But some things are too terrible not to decry, and the Pakistani Taliban threatening to kill all girls who go to school is exactly that sort of thing.

3. This Dada-esque sociology satire/hating-on/pie-throwing blog is completely incomprehensible and I never understand the point of anything they write. And I'm a fan of the theatre of the absurd! That they're obsessed with Scatterplot and Jeremy is very weird. I almost wish that there was a weird Dada-esque law satire/hating-on/pie-throwing blog, but then again so many out there are unintentionally self-parodying.

4. The wedding yesterday was super beautiful and really fun. I cried, seeing the girl I knew at 14 somehow transform in a day to this beautiful bride. It was a traditional Catholic ceremony followed by a Chinese banquet reception. But everything was really elegant and non-traditional. By non-traditional, I mean that the venue was completely lacking in red and pink, was not at Seafood World in Garden Grove, and instead of the bad Vietnamese cover band (Lipstick on Your Collar at my brother's first wedding, no joke) a jazz quartet led by a college friend. It was all so elegant and beautiful. I actually danced. I had the prettiest date at the wedding--The Journalist. TD is currently in Mexico (no, I'm not bitterly jealous). I cried. I ate. I danced. Good times. I still want the smallest and lowest key wedding possible though, like a small garden ceremony or City Hall, followed by some chill barbecue or catered whatever. I love big, beautiful weddings (and this was actually a small wedding), but you know, to attend. Big parties are great, but only when the attention is focused on someone who is not me, and too many people in one room is an incredibly enervating experience for an introvert. Supposedly weddings are not for the bride and groom though. When I get married, I want a short dress, a chuppah, that stepping on glass thing, and a chill party with food where I can actually talk to my friends.

5. I went to an engagement asking celebration today. This is a traditional Vietnamese ceremony, in which the groom's side formally asks the bride's family for permission, and both in-laws and the betrothed pray to the ancestors for permission. There's lots of little rituals, from the lighting of the candles on each side of the altar by both sides of the family to show that the families will be blended into one, to the presents the groom's family must bring to the bride's family (a roasted pig, sweet sticky rice, lotus candy, etc.) and the future mother-in-law gives the bride a gift of a bracelet and necklace, but it's a special kind that is like a stiff bangle and collar. They remind me of shackles. Needless to say, while I adore some traditions and occasionally kick it old school, I do not want this antiquated patriarchal ceremony.

6. All of this wedding and family stuff make me want to life-delay even longer. Ironic, no? Even as all of my friends are getting married and settling down, I'm kind of enjoying taking the time to catch up.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

that time of life

I'm at that age where I have a schedule of at least 2-3 weddings a year. Often more weddings than I can attend, especially if they're destination weddings. Today I'm going to a really good friend from high school's, just as we just passed the time for our ten year reunion (hell no I won't go). I can remember the day we met, at the age of 14. We are now 28 years old.

Tell me, does it get any easier? The progression from 14 to 28 should be described as "rocky," at best. Oddly though (and for this I blame the patriarchy) it feels as though the real adventures and milestones of life are just beginning to happen. No, seriously. Not even the graduations. Especially if you have been racking up degrees like I have. Only now are my friends and I getting settled into careers, partnering up, settling down, and contemplating starting families. It feels like the big adventures and undertakings are just starting.

I know that this is probably a perpetual student mindset. But for all the ups and downs and drama of the past ten years (and I have been through a fair amount, given the insanity that runs in my family), I feel like I'm just starting. This is actually a good feeling. I don't like the insanely painful and dramatic past. Certainly not enough to reminisce about it over some ridiculous occasion like a reunion. All of the people from my past that I want to carry over to the future are going with me. Today's wedding will feel like that--lifting the past into the present, to be borne into a new future. It's a great feeling--one tinged with the hope of the new while carrying the deep comfort of familiarity.


bourgie cooking/shopping advice, please

I normally cook on a budget, which means lots of non-fancy soups and pastas and casseroles and roasts. Plain eatin', folks. Apart from my pastry creams and crepes, TD never wants me to bake anything too fancy. He loves chocolate chip cookies, and I aim to please. Every week. Not kidding.

But I cannot deny that I have occasional fits of foodie-ness. And I like to try to bake slightly complicated things, and I have this utter fondness for paella that I can't fulfill much because most of the time it comes with shrimp. Unfortunately, I do not want to spend much money, and therefore do not shop at Whole Foods.

Tell me, where can I buy vanilla beans, saffron threads (or even fake saffron strips), and heirloom beans (I like big white ones, but I don't know the name for that, so if you do, let me know)for cheap online with cheap shipping? OK, perhaps it is asking to much to find expensive things for cheap, but dude, the internet + free market = crazy delicious. I mean, I got my Nordicware commercial pots discounted like 70%. Why not saffron? Like this 1/2 pound of vanilla beans sounds like a good deal, but way more than I would need. Probably. I use vanilla extract a lot, but I get mine cheap-ish at Trader Joe's. I probably don't need 56 vanilla beans. So where can I buy some but not a lot and not for a lot?


Friday, December 26, 2008

i wanted to be the one to break it to you, bryan

...but our beloved Cloud Cult is now shilling for Esurance. Weren't we just talking about selling out?

But not to worry, apparently it's all about environmental ethics:

"We've been approached by a number of different companies over the years to use our music for various types of commercials," the band's lead singer-songwriter, Craig Minowa, told Songs for Soap. "Because of the extreme environmental ethics of Cloud Cult, we've had to turn down a lot of offers that could have been quite lucrative. It's hard to say 'no' to, but we've gotten used to it. I didn't know Esurance very well when they first offered the idea, but I researched the company, and for the first time, I actually felt comfortable doing something like this."

Minowa has been pushing green music initiatives since those faraway days when Al Gore was just a boring vice president. His record label Earthology Records, run from his organic farm, specializes in renewable materials and, well, releasing Cloud Cult albums. According to the band, all of its merchandise is made from 100% post-consumer recycled materials, and it's purchased energy offsets for tours through So when the septet played the Monolith Festival at Red Rocks last year and learned the Esurance had helped to green the gathering, it was only a matter of time before they became "eco-buddies."

Esurance became the green sponsor for Cloud Cult's current 27-stop tour -- to support the April LP "Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes)" -- and the company has picked up the tab for carbon offsets, printed green tour posters and subsidized the bio-diesel the band uses in its tour bus. Cloud Cult has been "great to work with," says Kristin Brewe, director of brand and public relations at the direct-to-consumer insurance company. "They're some of the nicest people you'll ever meet, great in live performance, and also, doing good while sharing their music with people."


three-day vacation for two

If you had three, four days max to go somewhere in the United States, Canada, or Mexico, and wanted to get away for President's day, where would you go, and what would you do? I can't swim really. I don't gamble. Let's say the budget is grad student-y.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

happy holidays from belle

(This is on the heels of Phoebe's and Rita's excellent posts, and so I am not claiming originality.)

And a Complicated Happy Holidays to You!

Growing up, we were way poor and way Buddhist, and so we never celebrated Christmas. But it was more due to slow assimilation and poverty than a normative position on the non-celebration of Christmas. We definitely didn't celebrate Christmas in the two bedroom apartment that accommodated the eight of us, but when we moved to the suburbs into a four-bedroom house, we started stretching out a bit. We got a fake tree and we wrapped an empty box and put it underneath. Somewhere in junior high school, some siblings grew up and got jobs and I started getting a present or two, like a watch, a pair of shoes, etc. I was eleven years old when my first nephew was born, and with the new generation kids came a reason to celebrate. Putting up the fake tree became a tradition starting in high school.

When I was in college, there was an explosion of childbirths. By the time I graduated from law school in 2005, there were already seven grand children. Now there are nine total, ranging from 2 years to 17 years. So now Christmas is huge with us. I bake. There's decorations and icicle lights hanging from both our house and the gazebo my brother built. Stacks of presents. The kids love it, the parents (my siblings) feel at once assimilated and able to provide the American dream for their children, and even my parents like the festiveness of it all. My parents love gaudy colors and decorations, and my dad likes the garland and lights.

And I'm not immune from all of this too--you kidding me, with my innate sentimentality? I don't decorate my apartment now, but two years ago I had Christmas lights and a 9" tree with ornaments. Somehow, in the most recent move in January 2008, I decided to chuck everything. It just felt like clutter. I didn't need extra cheer or gaudy glamour anymore, being free of drama and feeling better about school and just starting to get comfortable in a new relationship. It just felt like a pile of tcothkes, and I was, with this third move in 1.5 years, sick of extra stuff. So I gave all the lights, little tree, and ornaments to Goodwill. It felt great and liberating. I don't miss them at all.

Except when I visit my parents, and remember how much I like all the lights and decorations. And on Christmas day, when the kids take a picture in front of the tree. That's nice too.

Why do I talk with such nostalgia? Because the idea of the holiday season is fascinating to me right now. People only grudgingly admit that they like some of the trappings of the holiday season, because for some reason being happy is a bad thing. I can imagine why being happy for consumerist, gluttonous reasons other than Jesus's birth might annoy certain Christians and Catholics, but in general, being schmaltzy isn't a bad thing, unless you have a slavish devotion to irony or grinchishness. But I do get why non-Christians are irritated at the excesses of Christmas--it's just so much in-your-face if you don't celebrate on purpose.

I've been talking to TD a lot about it--which traditions we'll allow when we start a family. Even now my apartment is spare for the aforementioned reasons and it just seems weird to mess up my relatively minimalist decor. And Christmas isn't for me, it's for family. But one day I'll have a family of my own. I only recently got used to celebrating Christmas, and one day I'll get used to not celebrating it. TD asks me why we celebrate Christmas. I don't know--it just seems the thing to do in America, being Americans, so we do it. But I guess one day I can just as easily not do it, even though it would greatly amuse me to dress up our kids in velvet holiday dresses and put reindeer antlers on them. Sigh. So, no more trees or carols, but I get to still bake cookies (of course). I'll swap Christmas decorations like wreaths for Hanukkah decorations like who-knows-what. Menorahs and dreidls and latkes will replace my bells and reindeer and Santa. Snowmen are apparently always lame, especially in Orange County, so I guess I can give that up, unless they are of the tortured/existential Calvin and Hobbes variety. We can have presents, of course. He's anti-Christmas, but not anti-holiday spirit. That's good. I am just bursting with holiday spirit time of year. I sent out a bunch of cards last week, and am still making mixes this week to send out!

So that's good to know. I am probably barred from playing my four favorite mostly secular holiday songs, but for the reasons that they're schmaltzy pop than anything else. Apparently, Mariah is not welcome in the house. So I'll play them for you! Happy Holidays!

Here we go:



Tuesday, December 23, 2008

In the Spirits of the Holiday...

Everytime someone listens to a song by The Majestic Twelve, an angel gets its wings.

Pass The Fuckin' Egg Nog (Original Version) by The Majestic Twelve

Pass The Fuckin' Egg Nog (Drunken Christmas Party Version) by The Majestic Twelve

Happy Holidays everyone!

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i should burn this stuff

The dangerous stuff that lurks in drawers and closets:

  • Clothes that date from 1998, like my Buffy-era vinyl jacket and that liberty print pique dress that looked good on me before I "blossomed." Also, something I called my "lucky skirt", which you may take to mean what you will. It used to be cute and flirty. Now I can't fit it anymore. It now makes me look like one of those girls in high school. You know what I mean.
  • That one picture from the one high school dance I went to when I was on the prom committee and went stag because no boy liked me. I am wearing glasses in the picture!
  • My English essays from high school. My essays from college, which weren't that much better until my junior year.
  • A box of prints of the magazine we "published" when I was president of my high school literary club. Some awful shit in there, and some of it mine.
  • A box of prints of some feminist newspapers we published when I co-edited the feminist newspaper in college. Some good stuff in there, some of it mine, but also some really bad poetry, some of it mine.
  • A mix CD from my first boyfriend. I'd put up the playlist, but it includes Goo Goo Dolls and Hootie and the Blowfish and Dave Matthews. All on one disc!
  • A huge stack of letters from friends who are no longer friends, merely because we grew up and grew apart. Sometimes, you gotta let go.


Monday, December 22, 2008

my brother

True facts: he is 5'11" and 200 lbs and looks more Samoan than Vietnamese, wears cowboy hats and Frye boots, drives a Jeep, and his all-time favorite songs are:




Which is why I can't ever really hate any of these songs and insist on listening to them when they come on the radio.


aw, man

I'm hanging out with my 14 year old nephew today. We watched Kung Fu Panda. I am really offended by the slanted eyes on the animals and the stilted, slow, staccato talking like David Carridine from Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. If there were a better name for the Jack Black-vocied panda character, it'd be Chinky McKungPao. Dang, these are the only options for American-born Asian kids? This or Mu Lan? In which Eddie Murphy is the voice of a Chinese dragon from Los Angeles?

I was talking to TD about how we would raise our future kids with both a Jewish and Vietnamese heritage. So far we have settled on curried sweet potato latkes and pho.



I find these methods of cutting labor costs to save jobs positive and promising:

A growing number of employers, hoping to avoid or limit layoffs, are introducing four-day workweeks, unpaid vacations and voluntary or enforced furloughs, along with wage freezes, pension cuts and flexible work schedules. These employers are still cutting labor costs, but hanging onto the labor.

Companies say they are considering other cost cuts, like mandatory holiday shutdowns, salary freezes or cuts, four-day workweeks and reductions of contributions to retirement and health care plans.

Companies seem particularly determined to find alternatives to layoffs in this recession, said Jennifer Chatman, a professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. “Organizations are trying to cut costs in the name of avoiding layoffs,” she said. “It’s not just that organizations are saying ‘we’re cutting costs,’ they’re saying: ‘we’re doing this to keep from losing people.’ ”

She said the tactic builds long-term loyalty among workers who are not laid off and spares the company having to compete again to hire and train anew.

The magnanimous feeling will probably pass, said Truman Bewley, an economics professor at Yale University who has studied what happens to wages during a recession. If the sacrifices look as though they are going to continue for many months, he said, some workers will grow frustrated, want their full compensation back and may well prefer a layoff that creates a new permanence.

“These are feel-good, temporary measures,” he said.

But John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a company that tracks layoffs, said employers were being driven now not by compassion but by hard calculations based on data they have never had before. More than ever, he said, companies have used technology to track employee performance and productivity, and in many cases they know that the workers they would cut are productive ones.

“People are measured and ‘metricked’ to a much greater degree,” he said. “So companies know that when they’re cutting an already taut organization, they’re leaving big gaps in the work force.”

But of course, that goes hand-in-hand with this unfortunate necessity, that will hurt workers a lot now, and even more down the road:

Companies eager to conserve cash are trimming their contributions to their workers’ 401(k) retirement plans, putting a new strain on America’s tattered safety net at the very moment when many workers are watching their accounts plummet along with the stock market.

For workers, the loss of a matching contribution heightens the pain of a retirement account balance shriveling away because of the plunging stocks markets.

“We are taking a beating,” said another FedEx mechanic, Rafael Garcia. “In a year, I lost $60,000 of my 401(k). You can’t make that up.”

To many retirement policy specialists, the lost contributions are one more sign of America’s failure as a society to face up to the graying of the population and the profound economic forces it will unleash.

Traditional pensions are disappearing, and Washington has yet to ensure that Social Security will remain solvent as baby boomers retire and more workers are needed to support each retiree.

The company cutbacks may mean that some employees put less money into their retirement accounts. Even if they do not, the cuts, while temporary, will have a permanent effect by costing many workers years of future compounding on the missed contributions. No one knows how long credit will remain scarce for companies, or whether companies will start making their matching contributions again when credit loosens and business improves.

“We have had a 30-year experiment with requiring workers to be more responsible for saving and investing for their retirement,” said Teresa Ghilarducci, a professor of economics at the New School. “It has been a grand experiment, and it has failed.”

An employer’s contributions to a traditional pension plan cannot be switched on and off at will. Federal rules set a firm contribution schedule, with deadlines and penalties for companies that fall behind. Employers also get significant tax and accounting benefits from operating a traditional pension plan, so they tend to think long and hard before freezing such a plan to save money when the economy cools.

In a 401(k) plan, by contrast, the employer has much greater freedom to stop making matching contributions when times are tough. The contributions are normally measured as a percentage of payroll, and the savings from any cuts are realized immediately. That greatly simplifies planning and making changes.

“Every percent you cut is a percent of payroll,” Ms. Munnell said. “It comes down to the choice of laying people off, or cutting back on some fringe benefits.”

In addition to stopping their 401(k) matching contributions, companies have been freezing salaries this fall, shifting more of the cost of health care to their workers, and laying people off.

“These are really hard times and people are losing their jobs, and in some ways, a suspension of a 401(k) match, while bad, is probably one of the lesser evils out there,” Ms. Munnell said.

Tough times for all. I know so many people who are stressed out, and I just don't know what to say or do.


belle's lemon bars

I am known as "that girl who bakes" at TD's work. I love baking, but I can't and shouldn't eat all that I bake. I would bring stuff into school, except that I have no cohort or department to speak of and my friends are scattered. Also, I don't want to be "that girl who bakes" at my own department, but am happy to be that vaguely pre-feminist person at TD's. So I just tell TD to bring the bulk of my baked goods to work to share with the coworkers. Half of the time he does this: apparently, the rest of the time he eats that batch of cookies or loaf of challah himself. But my lemon bars are a big hit at his workplace, and so here's the recipe:

I like this recipe because it has a brown sugar shortbread base, which is thick and has a warm, toffee-taste. I double the curd, and reduce the sugar slightly for a super bright, sweetly tart lemon experience. It's just a nice mix of textures and tastes.

Hot shortbread base:

  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Pre-heat oven to 350 F. Cut butter into 1/2-inch pieces. In a food processor process all ingredients until mixture begins to form small lumps. Sprinkle mixture into a 13 x 9 x 2-inch greased baking pan and with the bottom of something flat (I use my metal measuring cup) press evenly onto bottom. Bake shortbread in middle of oven until golden, about 20 minutes. While shortbread is baking, prepare topping.

Lemon Curd

  • 8 large eggs, beaten lightly
  • 2 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbs. flour
  • 3-4 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice, strained
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Whisk eggs, sugar, and flour in medium bowl, then stir in lemon zest, juice, milk, and salt to blend well.

Assemble and bake:

Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Stir filling mixture to reblend; pour into warm crust. Bake until filling feels firm when touched lightly, about 40-50 minutes. (Check at 40 min). I check by prodding the middle with a dry spaghetti stick: wobbly is bad. When it stops wobbling, I check again by piercing it and seeing that the sphaghetti stick comes out mostly clean. Transfer pan to wire rack; cool to near room temperature, at least 30 minutes. Cut into rectangles (I do rows of 6x6) and apparently they disappear within five minutes and are a big hit with your officemates and help you get favors.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

why do we do things that are bad for us?

I get why people do drugs and alcohol. I don't myself, but I get it. I get eating indulgently, obviously. But why I continually indulge in advice columns, the Fashion and Style section of the NYT, and romantic comedies I'll never know. And I can't seem to stop! During breaks when I visit my family in very boring Orange County (it is boring not so much inherently, since I don't do much that is interesting where I live, but because I don't have much freedom to do whatever I want whenever I want, am always busy with family and babysitting and chores, etc.) I eat a lot of candy and watch a lot of romantic comedies.

The candy binges I can handle, and in fact, relish. But this weekend, the movies I have seen:

  • Made of Honor (apparently for a second time)
  • P.S. I Love You (for a second time)
  • Definitely, Maybe (for the first time)
  • Love Actually (for the umpteenth time)

I am a huge, shambling mess of womanly emo right now. I have choked up, teared up and openly bawled. I have written TD emails at various plot points in real time expressing commiseration, shock, or crushing sadness. I know a girl who reads emo things on purpose, just to feel emo. I get that. It's like the teenage girl I was, lying on my bed listening to sad music and reading along with the liner notes. But eeesh, if I am sobbing at Ryan Reynolds telling his daughter why her mom and him aren't going to work out, someone stage an intervention.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

back in orange county

Dang, why is it cold here? I am wearing my college sweatshirt! Over the scrub-like, asexual pajamas my sister made me that look like rose-printed couch upholstery with hand-sewn labels saying "Made with Love." The family drama, it has already commenced, although it doesn't concern me. And I rank between second or third (it has shifted) in the disappointing child contest. Yes, you can be drug-free, academically successful, and still disappoint your strict Asian parents. I got through discussing the bailout(s), Blagojovich, bankruptcy policy, Obama, etc. without incident though. Yes, Santa, I do believe in miracles.

Right now I'm watching Made of Honor. Wow, it is like everything you expect a romantic comedy starring Patrick Dempsey to be. That is not necessarily an endorsement.

Tomorrow there is family stuff in the form of eating at a buffet restaurant and shopping for some presents for the kidsand going to Costco. I am back in OC*, baby!

*I will never, ever say "The OC." Ever.


Friday, December 19, 2008

belle's recipe for spaghetti and meatballs

Mine is a variation of this recipe, altered in that I have fiddled with the proportions of the types of meat in the meatballs and reduced the amount of ground beef (which I consider to be the driest) by 1/2 lb, made a totally different chunky sauce so that you can oversauce your pasta, etc. I like my recipe better, because my meatballs are totally juicy, tender, and fatty-tasting, and they're smaller and more manageable with a good outside-inside balance of crust and tenderness and flavor. I feel like I'm setting up this post to be an parody of Schweddy balls, but seriously, try my recipe.

For the meatballs:
1/2 pound ground veal
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground beef
2/3 cups fresh white bread crumbs (about 3 slices, crusts removed, or just buy them)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
1 extra-large egg, beaten
Vegetable oil
Olive oil

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 small onion)
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 good pinches of red pepper flakes
1/2 cup good red wine
1 (8-ounce) can pureed tomatoes
1 (28-ounce) can chopped or diced tomatoes

2 tablespoons tomato paste

5-6 roma tomatoes, chopped

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon sugar (seriously!)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For serving:
1 pound spaghetti, cooked according to package directions
Freshly grated Parmesan

Make the meatballs:

Place the ground meats, bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, salt, pepper, egg, and 1/2 cup warm water in a bowl. Combine. Wet hands with water, but not so much that they're dripping. Using your hands, lightly form the mixture into 1-1.5-inch meatballs. I make 22 meatballs each time. It is a mystery, but that is my number.

Pour equal amounts of vegetable oil and olive oil into a large (12-inch) skillet to a depth of 1/4-inch. Heat the oil. Very carefully, in batches, place the meatballs in the oil and brown them well on all sides over medium-low heat, turning carefully with a pair of tongs. You will so totally get splattered with hot oil. It hurts a lot. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard the oil but don’t clean the pan.

Make the sauce:

Heat the olive oil in the same pan. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook for 1 more minute. Add the tomato paste, stir. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Stir in the chopped roma tomatoes, and can of diced tomatoes, can of tomato puree, salt, pepper, and sugar. Lower to a simmer for 1 hour. Chill out. If you have an immersion blender and want to make the sauce smooth, blend to make a proper marinara. If you don't, like me, mash up the chunks of tomatoes with the back of the spoon and call it "chunky tomato sauce". Could you use a jar of marinara? Yes, but why. This tastes so much better, and coats the pasta so much better, and is so the opposite of Spaghetti-Os.

Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. Add parsley at the end, stir. Serves 4-6. We are only two people, so we each eat about 1/4 lb of pasta and I pack him a lunch and I still have two more servings worth for the next night. Except that I ate it for lunch and dinner today too, and so now I have to make pizza for dinner tomorrow. In theory though, this makes a lot of food for two people (or a gluttonous Belle) for under $12.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

why does some music make you want to shake your butt?

I have never felt this impulse or wanted to ask this question, but apparently it's been asked of The Explainer at Slate, and you can vote on whether you want it answered, or you can ask whether:

Is it just me, or do all national anthems the world over, no matter how rich and exotic the culture, seem to sound like European marching-band music? Wouldn't one expect China's national anthem be more "plinky"? Shouldn't Iraq's national anthem sound a little more "Arab-y"?

or this non-question:

If one gets a personal e-mail from a very famous or important person, such as the president, or the queen of England, or the Pope, or Paul McCartney, can that e-mail have monetary value? I guess not. It's just an electronic transmission on a screen. There's no original. There's no way to buy or sell it. Seems a shame tho.

and I used to think undergraduates asked the worst questions, until I started tutoring my high-school age nephew, but this takes the cake:

I wonder what's going on with Obama's eyes. When he made his keynote address to the Democratic Convention in 2004, I noticed his eyes had a bit of a pretty eyes makeup look. I concluded that it was just the makeup they put on him for the TV cameras. But then yesterday on TV I saw some older footage of Obama and again his eyes had that same pretty look. This was before he was nationally known. I looked carefully and I think that look comes from having long eyelashes. I mentioned this to some other people and they noticed it too. But so then where did those long eyelashes go? Maybe eyelashes get shorter with age. Do they? BUT also I'm wondering if Obama has had his eyelashes shortened. If he has had them shortened, I think that's an excellent idea. Because that long lashes pretty eyes look actually doesn't look so good on a man. At least not if he's running for president.

This might be my favorite:

Burma's dictator has a chestful of bullshit medals. What's up with that, Explainer?

Though I suspect Karl submitted this question:

I live in Chicago, where taxi drivers are constantly talking on their phones. To whom are they talking?

Doesn't this sound like a law school fact pattern?

I have been accused of assault in Ohio. The woman fell over a box in the hall backward, and my brother opened the door, saw her lying there, and started hitting me. I got him down and held him down. It was all over a fight concerning my niece. What do you think will happen?

And for free, I'll answer this question:

Why do women like soup? Is it for perceived health benefits? Is it because it's a quasi-comfort food?

I dunno. It tastes good. I can eat a couple of bowls of it and feel full and yet not too-full in that painful I-wish-I-hadn't-worn-jeans way. As a woman who shops at stores that insist on making things with waistbands, I am grateful for this. It's warm. I like to use my deep French cereal bowls and if I'm making it, it has all of my favorite things like meat and potatoes and hot broth.

Anyway, back to the question in the blog post title: why does some music make you want to shake your booty? As Gradmommy notes, Asian people dance like white people, who don't really know how to dance and just move around a lot, especially their hands and feet and they don't match each other, much less the movements of their butts. This astute sociological observation, while suffering from a small-N, is spot-on. Come on, admit it.

I don't really dance at all. I kind of nod my head to the beat and sway a little, but I don't dance. My butt definitely doesn't want to move if the rest of me is generally unwilling to move, and I don't know how to move it without looking like I've got a kink in my hip. This is why I take ballroom dancing classes, people. Salsa was too hard for me, because I had no idea which butt muscles to flex and in which ways, nor how to twitch them into certain directions. The waltz! It is all about the gliding movements of the feet and a high, arched back. I mean, if I do say so myself, I have quite the fine ass, but it doesn't work right, at least in response to music. In fact, I think the enchanting swaying of my rear when I walk is due to my surgically-corrected arches that make me slightly overpronate. It's not because I have rhythm in my gear, alas.

So, in the comments, nominate some butt-shaking songs that I might like and I will play them and see if my booty responds.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I'd like to give Burger King a Whopper...

From the files of "Are You Fucking Kidding Me?", comes the latest advertising campaign from Burger King. I heard about this a few days ago, but had no idea just how royally screwed up it was until I actually saw it:

It's really amazing to see everything that is so horribly wrong with our American consumerist culture in one defining moment. This really has it all - cultural insensitivity, jingoistic arrogance and toxic dumping. I mean - the country is in the middle of a rising obesity epidemic and Burger King is forcing its crappy food on indigenous people for the sole purpose of proving... that McDonalds sucks. How about this? Both hamburgers suck, and people shouldn't eat either of them. Where's that fucking taste test?

Not to mention the whole video has an air of "oh, look at the silly brown people in their funny costumes trying to eat a hamburger. Aren't they so... cute?" To hell with it - it's not "culturally insensitive", it's fucking racist. It's like something that would be on the Chappelle Show as a joke.

Did I mention the video is called The Whopper Virgins? Yes, because if it wasn't already dehumanizing enough, there's now a sexual context in which Burger King is somehow "devirginizing" these people. There's a whole new level of the wonderful implications that go along with that term.

Doesn't everyone dream that their first time will be with Burger King?

(If you can't tell by now, I am actually getting angrier and angrier as I write this.)

If all that wasn't enough, the worst part of all this was outlined by Tom Hundley of the Chicago Tribune:

"While [Burger King] spent millions of dollars happily tracking down people with no 'hamburger awareness' the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has to go begging because they can only get one-thirtieth of the money they need to rebuild the developing world's shattered food systems," said Food First, an advocacy group that fights hunger.

Uh... yeah.

Incidentally, Stacy Peralta, who directed this nonsense, has done some great documentaries - namely, Dogtown and Z-Boys and the equally excellent Riding Giants, but he really should be ashamed to be involved in such a horrible, horrible campaign. This isn't "selling out" - this is selling your soul, and there is a difference.

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top chef, synchronicity, and sell-outs

I just started watching Top Chef with TD, who's an avid fan. Of course, this means he has to watch all of the previous four seasons again. I like the show a lot. Drama and vote-off intrigue with a touch of the Real World, except that these people are actually talented and I care about their product. TD and I both like food, from street food to fine dining, so this is one of the few shows that appeals to us. I can't get him into Buffy, alas.

Anyway, in keeping with Jungian synchronicity, I now notice Top Chef references and the people featured therein everywhere. Like this guy, the improbably named Rocco DiSpirito. Cute, no? In a slightly rogueish, creature-of-the-flesh way, and any guy who loves bacon is a fun guy in my book. A lot more fun than this creature-of-the-bones woman. He is apparently a very talented chef, or was. Is? Was? He is still talented, but doesn't cook anymore. His culinary cohorts are hating on him (hate the game, not the player!) for being more of a fixture on food tv, schilling for Bertolli, and dumbing down his craft with processed foods and dancing with the stars (seriously?) than cooking haute cuisine:

The word “sad” seems to surface a lot when you bring up Mr. DiSpirito’s curious career arc. “We were talking the other day, another food-obsessed person and I, and we were just saying how sad it was that he has disappeared,” said Gael Greene, the grande dame of New York food scribes, and one of the first to celebrate Mr. DiSpirito’s talent 13 years ago when he was the chef at Dava. “I do believe that ‘Dancing With the Stars’ is kind of the last stop. This person said, ‘Oh, he’ll never be back, if he can make a living doing commercials and appearances and TV and books.’ I don’t understand — has he totally lost that passion to cook? Because there are chefs that don’t like to cook, and they just want to be stars. How could somebody be so talented and so gifted and just write it off?”

Of course, these days plenty of chefs are hawking products and hustling for TV gigs — Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, Tom Colicchio, Mr. Bourdain himself — and yet very few of them come in for the vigorous hazings that Mr. DiSpirito endures.

That, Ms. Greene explained, is because Mr. DiSpirito no longer oversees a kitchen. “Mario still is doing restaurants, and his restaurants are mostly wonderful, if you see him there or not,” she said. “Anthony Bourdain was so funny and so amusing that he became a show-business personality, and we don’t question that, because he was not a great chef who sold out. He was just a perfectly ordinary cook. But somebody like Rocco, who is exceptionally gifted, seems to have thrown it all away — that’s why people are so upset about it.”

Within a few years, the meticulous wunderkind from Queens had turned into a food-show Zelig. These days he has his A&E show and a new cookbook, also called “Rocco Gets Real,” a name that seems as much a mission statement as a title — an attempt, perhaps, to merge the public and private and past and present Roccos and get back to basics. In contrast to his near-psychedelic experiments with flavor at Union Pacific, the “Rocco Gets Real” book (Meredith, $19.95) features recipes that often hinge on brand-name ingredients like a can of Progresso lentil soup, a jar of Heinz pork gravy or a cup of Splenda.

Mr. DiSpirito defends his career path with missionary zeal. What he loves to do, he says, is to bring his rarefied culinary skills to regular folks everywhere: “The vast majority of what I hear from the people who appreciate what I do — which is I think more of the general public, more of America, versus the people who write and read Gawker, a small but very influential group of people — is that they love what I do, and they feel like there is someone from the professional world advocating for them,” he said.

I normally don't care what people do with their careers, or whether rareified elitists decide to become populists, but the idea of "sell-out" is interesting to me in an abstract way. Seriously, who isn't a sell-out? What does it take to preserve ___ cred, if you sell out in every other way? Is it squandering talent not to use it in the most pure, least-accessible, least-remunerative way? Does a street busker have more authenticity and unsullied talent than Bob Dylan, at least after he started schilling for Victoria's Secret?

A lot of this tracks elitist/populist arguments, and while I am a die-hard elitist about some things (especially academia), I am also one of those pro-gente types who likes the idea of making ideas accessible, and hates the sanctimony of those gatekeepers who artificially inflate the value of things. See, e.g., Gawker and the insufferable NYC literary elites.

DiSpirito seems to still possess talent, and he is living his life. What's the problem? How is this selling out? He appears to still have a passion for food, but is merely more democratic about distilling this love for the plebians, capitalizing on his celebrity if necessary. Should street buskers refuse record deals? Is every "legitimate" band who decides to do a Christmas song an artistic sell-out? What is artistic purity, and aren't the haterz who decry the degradation of their art mere hypocrites for saying "I sold out to X extent, but since you sold out to Y, you deserve my scorn!" This is not unlike the sobered-up Susan Cheever's schadenfreude at watching other people get drunk. She knows what it is to have lapsed and compromised herself--and ha! look at other people do it too, the suckers! I'm not saying Rocco comes off untarnished in this article, but Mario Batali (srsly?) and Anthony Bourdain just come off as sanctimonious hypocrites.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A long-expected party response post


(Finally, I can come up for air! Better late than never?)

I agree that compromise is necessary for any relationship, but they have to be compromises that you can live with and that won't drive you mad by inches, or undermine the connection between you. I was mostly joking about the gravy thing, but if one of you is a meat and potatoes person and the other is a vegan, you may miss out on the joys of being able to share meals together. I think most small annoyances are traceable to a more fundamental conflict of values and priorities. And some levels of difference just bewilder me; this woman is either a saint, or crazy, or both. But if you are comfortable treading the same path in life, stopping at the same way stations, then you're right that silly things like frat membership or musical taste are probably not dealbreakers. Your dealbreakers sound reasonable to me, and reflect more or less what I've winnowed things down to. Maybe add "not gay,": I have learned not to assume anything.

It doesn't actually sound like you could have been happy with your first love, and you weren't. There was no way to keep you from growing apart as people, unless you got married right off the bat and started cranking out babies.* But there's nothing like young love, is there? It's so overpowering and heady.

I normally dislike Caitlin Flanagan, and her generalizations are, as usual, flawed, but there's something there that speaks to my experience, at least, as a girl: The way that reading provided an utterly immersive emotional experience, and how deeply a young woman "wants to know that the boy she loves, and with whom she has shared her body, loves her and will put no other girl in her place." Not that boys can't have these feelings, but it takes so much more trust on a girl's part to do that, if only because it's physically riskier, that being spurned by young men can send you into a tailspin that's hard to pull out of. It sounds like you were willing to risk it all for your first love, and for your new one. That reminds me of this comment from Coates's second post, in reply to Phoebe, in which a commenter notes, in response to a story about someone unwilling to date non-Jewish men because she couldn't see marrying one:
And frankly, good on her. A Jewish guy in one of my college classes said he would only marry a Jew once he was old enough to be ready for that kind of commitment, but was perfectly happy to date the goyim until then. He was completely flabbergasted when the shiksas came down on him like a ton of bricks. It was hilarious; the poor guy truly could not understand the idea that ANY woman would be offended by the attitude that she's not marriageable, but perfectly fine for a rather meaningless sexual relationship.
It's a funny remark, although it presupposes that the guy was being dishonest with the girls, or that they had different goals themselves. Some people can pull off the casual dating thing, or the relationship-with-a-statute-of-limitations thing, and who wants to keep them from pursuing their serially monogamous bliss? But even the well-intentioned can go in with eyes open and expectations set low, and still learn over time that they crave more, and then you have a messy breakup. As a friend of mine says, "Have you ever had a relationship end well? I see it occasionally, but most of them end in unhappiness or death, or unhappiness leading to death." A fatalistic viewpoint, to be sure, but almost universally true.

So what have I been doing for the past week, besides musing on love?

Cooking: This onion tart is now my go-to dinner dish for company. It's savory, easy to make, fragrant, and disappears rapidly. I also made this feta salsa and these stuffed mushrooms, along with carrot cake cupcakes and my standby Bundt Cake of Love & Joy. I also made grilled cheese and this delicious creamless creamy tomato soup.

Partying: Most of the above food was consumed at my little housewarming party. Your Cheer Up! mix CD of middle-school-era R&B favorites was a source of great amusement for all. (I'm also listening to it in my car. Janet Jackson 4eva!)

I suppose this bears on the article you linked; I drink a little wine at parties, and the occasional G&T, but my peers and I are probably closer to Susan Cheever's than Moe Tkacik's in terms of alcohol consumption. Is drinking a feminist act? No more so than anything else, I warrant. That article reeks of lazy reportage and fake trendiness. But much of the woman-targeted media these days is flabby and dull. The XX Factor and Broadstreet are watered down and only marginally justify themselves (they function mostly as enclaves where female writers feel free to be chatty, with little concern for deep or acute analysis), while Jezebel has become, with its latest redesign, unreadable outside my Bloglines feed. Feministe and Feministing are bare shadows of their once-thoughtful selves. What's a lady blogger to do? (And nobody say Ladyblog! I only read it for Phoebe.)

On that tip, reading: My grandparents, generous and loving souls that they are, bought an odd assortment of books from my Amazon wishlist as Christmas gifts: A vampire/zombie apocalypse novel, which owes more than a little to 'Salem's Lot but which is fairly well-written and not "relentlessly simplistic" as some allege of the genre; a true-crime story set in Florence, which was good until the author entered the story, and some Hélène Cixous. That I haven't gotten to yet, being presently mired in some Xenophon.

What's new in your kitchen and bookshelf?

* One of my commenters likes to quip that couples have children so they have an interest in common after they begin to grow apart. This is probably the most misguided theory of relationships ever, in practice; how many times has a marriage in trouble actually been saved by a new baby? For a quick dose of maturity, you're better off in the army.


Why I'm Not Going to AALS This Year

$300 registration fee, and that's the student rate?! Fuck that! In addition to flight and hotel, and I was planning on sharing with the inimitable Gowder, and we were planning on getting a double room at the cheapest motel possible. And you have to pay extra for sessions, breakfasts, and lunches?! I'd rather fly out to meet up with my law prof friends on a more informal basis, or go to conferences with more interesting (and free!) paper presentations.

See you at Law and Society in Denver in May, and the American Sociological Association in San Francisco in August! I'll be presenting at the former likely, and hopefully at the latter as well.


wtf of the day: "drunkenfreude"

Oh, what makes it into the hallowed pages of the NYT today:

As dessert ended, the woman in the red dress got up and stumbled toward the bathroom. Her husband, whose head had been sinking toward the bûche de Noël, put a clumsily lecherous arm around the reluctant hostess. As coffee splashed into porcelain demitasse cups, the woman in the red dress returned, sank sloppily into her chair and reached for the Courvoisier. Someone gently moved the bottle away. “Are you shaying I’m drunk?” she demanded. Even in the candlelight I noticed that the lipstick she had reapplied was slightly to the left of her lips. Her husband, suddenly bellicose, sprang from his chair to defend his wife’s honor. But on the way across the room he slipped and went down like a tray of dishes. “Frank! Are you hurt?” she screamed. Somehow she had gotten hold of the brandy.

That dinner party was almost 10 years ago; it was the last time I saw anyone visibly drunk at a New York party. The New York apartments and lofts which were once the scenes of old-fashioned drunken carnage — slurred speech, broken crockery, broken legs and arms, broken marriages and broken dreams — are now the scene of parties where both friendships and glassware survive intact. Everyone comes on time, behaves well, drinks a little wine, eats a few tiny canapés, and leaves on time. They all still drink, but no one gets drunk anymore. Neither do they smoke. What on earth has happened?

If alcoholism is an addiction — which it is — how can people control their drinking just because it is no longer acceptable to get drunk? What about smoking, another addiction? Addicts are supposed to be powerless; is a little social disapproval more powerful than all the rehabilitation centers and 12-step programs and fancy new drugs?

Does fashion trump addiction?

Addiction specialists and scientists have identified three causes of most addictions: early trauma, genes, and environment. Still, addiction has eluded all attempts at a precise definition or a complete understanding. In most models, environment is thought to be the least of the three so-called causes. But maybe environment is the elephant in the room. In an environment where it is not attractive to get drunk, no one gets drunk.

In the old days, drunkenness was as much part of New York City society as evening clothes. This is the city where Zelda Fitzgerald jumped wildly in the fountain in front of the Plaza, the city of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” written by another fabulous alcoholic, Truman Capote. It’s the city of late nights with sloshed celebrities at the Stork Club. It’s the city that gave its name to Manhattans and Bronx Cocktails, the city of John O’Hara and Frank O’Hara, of drunken brilliance and brilliant drunks.

I don’t drink. I know the savage, destructive power of alcoholism. It’s a soul stealer. Yet, there’s a mischievous part of me that misses all that extreme behavior, all those nasty but somehow amusing surprises, all that glamor even when so much of it ended in pain, institutions and early death. For us sober people there is a kind of drunkenfreude to watching others embarrass themselves, mangle their words and do things they will regret in the morning — if they even remember them in the morning.

After our host poured the woman in the red dress and her husband into a taxi that long ago night, we all chortled over our nightcaps at their behavior. In his sober years my father used to mix killer martinis for guests and then watch with amusement as they tried to navigate down the stairs of his house to the driveway — stairs that they had bounded up so easily a few hours earlier.

There are certainly moments when it is embarrassing not to drink. A friend will start to pour me a glass of wine and then apologize profusely. At a party someone will notice my club soda and decide to make an issue of it. Why can’t I just have a little white wine? But there were many more embarrassing moments when I did drink, and that’s what watching other people get drunk helps me remember. For me, the psychology is often in reverse. I learn from seeing what I don’t want and avoiding it, rather than from seeing what I do want and aspiring to it. I have been to many wonderful Christmas parties in the last decade and seen many glorious women behave with dignity and grace. I don’t remember them. It’s the woman in the red dress I won’t forget.

I know I just endorsed having bad, petty thoughts and vices, but dude, this recovered alcoholic is one nasty person. See, she goes overboard with her nastiness, wishing others pain so that she can feel morally superior and amused, and inventing dumb ass words to boot. It's the word "drunkenfreude" that pains me most--it's not just that she derives perverse satisfaction from seeing people make fools of themselves while drunk, it's the added sanctimony of her being herself a recovered alcoholic, vicariously living through their drunkenness and feeling morally superior for being abstemious.

Plus, this is another example of bogus trend writing. People are drinking less? Maybe her people. She is old--65? She's old. By now most of her friends are probably under doctor's orders to abstain for the sake of cirrohsis. Maybe she should hang out with the young drunk girls so that she can get them to flash people while they're drunk and laugh at them afterwards and then write about the deep insights and sense of shame she gained from the experience. Then again, Susan Cheever (who sullies her father's name with her awful writing!) seems to be an addictive memoirist, exploiting and embarrassing herself for the sake of sharing the insights.

This is a terrible piece of writing, and Susan Cheever is a terrible person. Not that John Cheever was a great person either, but at least he was a brilliant writer.


pro-vices and anti-sanctimony, and in favor of the ritual wallowing

I talked to the inimitable Gowder for an hour or so on the phone this morning about many things: the IAT, stuff we like to eat, the irritation of the necessity of schmoozing at conferences (thus we will do this together: two snarky misanthropic misfits who like to raise both roofs and hell are the slightly-bitter-but-still-delicious equivalent of a Double Double), pretension and excess-or-lack thereof, and vices. You see, Paul is currently in New Orleans. Is that the city of sin or is that Las Vegas. What is New Orleans if it is not sin city? We got to talking about what is the proper amount of sin in which to indulge.

I am not actually that good a person, although I have few real vices. I don't drink much or do drugs at all, yet I don't really care if others who are not in my immediate family do such things, as long as they don't do them to excess and do not impaire the health and safety of others. Well, I think hard-core drugs are probably pretty bad for you. Don't do those. Alcoholism is bad too. But all things in small doses, right? Sugar is bad for you. So is fat. Yet I eat sugary, fatty things regularly, just in small quantities and counterbalanced with better behaviors, like exercising and eating healthily. It's not even that such behavior is rare: I probably eat something sweet every day, even if it's just one cookie or one square of chocolate. There's something unhealthy every week. Sometimes it's after every meal. I can imagine that those who drink a glass of wine with dinner every day are similarly of the frequent-but-limited indulgent type. But I've never been happier or healthier (or this slim) than with this slightly-indulgent lifestyle and I say this to you as someone who has struggled with weight and eating in the past.

But what about other vices and bad habits? Paul and I agree that the thing we hate most about the Slow Anything movement is the dross of moral sanctimony that seems to cover every aspect of perfectly good or rational behaviors with its unctuous and palpably viscous veneer of -ier than thouness, as if by being a slightly more superlative (and by superlative I mean exaggerated) version of a perverted ideal, one gets the keys to the holy doors of Prius. Yeah, Paul and I kind of bring out the hater in each other. We don't need no haterade. But seriously, moral sanctimony aside, and while I'm not a complete relativist, it is far from certain that I'll accept your moral view--what about other bad behaviors?

As a lapsed Buddhist, I supposedly am supposed to refrain from judgment, resentment, or anger. My great-aunt on my dad's side is a Buddhist nun. My dad is devoutly Buddhist. He is also the angriest, most judgmental, and occasionally violent man I know. So I know I lack for role models here, but if one of my few vices are thinking bad thoughts about people and harboring deep resentments and grudges, then can I not, like my sugar habit, indulge in that a little? Lawyers reading this will know the difference between mens rea and actus reus--as long as I am not actually throwing people under buses, am I such a bad person for occasionally having flashes of anger and visualizing bad people (for a long time, Bush is a standard figure, as is Former French Friend) being hit by buses? I am not saying that this makes me a good person. But does this make me that bad a person, given all of the vices I could indulge in, and the limited extent to which I indulge in this behavior? I try not to over-indulge in this behavior: I don't dwell long enough to engender such poisonous thoughts that I may as well be homicidal. But I do have a lot of "first against the wall" thoughts, and not merely in the cheeky way that intellectuals have of imagining Maureen Dowd shot for being such a horrid writer and opinionist. I try to balance out my judgmental, angry, resentful tendencies by being overall a very nice, generous, friendly person who forgives all manner of sins and slights, or simply does not care enough to get angry about such things as long waits, casual friends who drift off, or waiters who drop things on me.

So anyway, I told Paul that he should indulge in all manner of vices while in NOLA--every vice in the book, from booze to drugs to women to greasy food, and while you're at it, be a bad person too and indulge in nasty thoughts and ruthless misanthropy at the idiocy and brutish atavism of others. It's cleansing to get them out. One can't always be a nice, good, clean-thoughts person, and you don't even pretend to like everyone. Perhaps people with religion can (though I doubt it), but for atheists and not-that-good people like us, best to indulge in moderation and admit to such thoughts and kind of gleefully muck about in them like pigs in mud. The wallow is itself a ritual cleansing, and only by getting it all out of your system can you then wash up for a fresh start. This is why, during the summer when I felt rather poorly for certain reasons, I just totally indulged (for a month) in my desires to sleep 10 hours and watch 7-8 hours of Buffy and eat only toast and chocolate. Those who tell you to be strong and take the high road don't know how good it is to dig a pit and throw yourself into it and lie there for a while with your worst thoughts and feelings, till you don't feel them anymore--or rather, feel them much less.

I suppose the one thing I am sanctimonious about (and Paul is sort of like this too), is being anti-sanctimonious and anti-pretension, which is itself a pretense. Yeah, there's a lot of cognitive dissonance about that. Still can't get around it, as this means I am really as bad as other people, and in a way that I think is bad.


Monday, December 15, 2008

law review article of the day

This may be controversial to say, but sometimes a really well-written law review article is the best way to understand a complicated area of law or a nuanced two-part legal standard--not necessarily a casebook or horn book!

See, e.g., Kenneth A. Bamberger, Chevron's Two Steps.


problem with netflix

I put my Netflix account on hold last month because I figured I'd be too busy with work and away for the holidays for too many weeks to benefit from it until January. I put the DVDs I had in the mail, because if you don't, they charge you. Apparently, they have not received one of my DVDs, although it's not my fault the Federal government failed me or some sticky-fingered neighbor lifted it from the communal drop slot in our building.

What do I do?


call for recipes for french oven

TD got me a Le Creuset french oven (5 qt, in chestnut, isn't it rustic and pretty) for the holidays. I know that this'll be good for braised dishes (braised short ribs, brisket, pot roast, beef bourguignon, lamb shanks, etc.) and stews. Also, apparently chili and gumbo. Some people seem to use it for casseroles, although I prefer my Le Creuset enameled stoneware for that.

Any other suggestions for things to cook and ways to cook them or cooking tips for my new pot of awesomeness?

Supposedly you have to slowly bring it to heat, is that right? I wish I had gas burners. I am excited about it's stovetop-to-oven function. Also that it's pretty enough to go right on the table. Of course, my table is wood. A fabric pot holder is probably not enough to protect the table, right?


Sunday, December 14, 2008

this was my evening

We went out for a carne asada burrito the size of a child's leg ($5.95), chicken quesadillas with an obscene amount of guacamole and sour cream on the side ($6.95) and white fish ceviche tostada ($3.75) and 2 pints worth of strawberry agua fresca ($1.50). Oh and a Diet Coke for him. Over dinner we started talking about innovation and trend predictions and the history of the world and how solutions can be developed to solve both existing problems future projected conditions. Somehow we got to talking about economic/labor migration and what/where was going to be the next big immigration. We started talking about push/pull factors for immigration. The table next to us looked at us funny.

When we got home, and as I got settled back into my only moderately interesting stuff I'm writing, he decided that we had to run a regression/conjoint analysis of our previous discussion. So we came up with a short list of combination push/pull factors such as economic, political stability, educational opportunity, culture, political/civil rights, and something called "natural disasters". Our model isn't rigorous, and sort of controls for too much, and is way under theorized. I'm waiting for him to finish so that we can run the regression on which variables we weight more under which conditions, and whether we would prefer to live with zero income with no chance of education in a chaos-filled dictatorship where natural disasters occur every year, or you know, something different.

This will not be an important study. But it's something to do other than work, or say watching a Top Chef marathon.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

TD's Curried Sweet Potato Latkes

Traditional old world recipe--perfect for Hanukkah, and just like your bubbe used to make! If your bubbe was into fusion food and liked Indian food.

They are super delicious though--great flavor, nice seasoning, sweet with a kick, good crisp outside with melt-in-your-mouth inside. Way better than boring and flavorless russet potato latkes. Some recipes are better reinvented. We modified the recipe by reducing the milk. Next time we might reduce further by 1 tbs. to see if it gives a crisper texture, and maybe add a bit more cayenne. Best served with mango chutney. To ensure right texture, drop by small spoonfuls and prod into flat patties in the super hot-but-not-smoking peanut oil, and cook in small batches and allow the oil to get hot again for the next batch.

I made a noodle kugel, but it was over-baked and there was something not kugelish enough, so I won't blog that recipe until I get it perfectly kugelriffic. Sigh. I just have to console myself with the fact that I'm not really Jewish, and I don't really know what a good kugel is supposed to taste like. Actually the kugel I made is probably pretty good, but just not to TD's particular liking for no apparent reason.

I made really good challah though, and good pan fried salmon with garlic ginger scallion sauce, so there.

Curried Sweet Potato Latkes

  • 1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (at least 1/4 teaspoon of salt!)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup milk (approximately)
  • Peanut oil for frying

1. Grate the sweet potatoes coarsely. In a separate bowl mix the flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, cayenne pepper, curry powder, cumin, and salt and pepper.

2. Add the eggs and just enough milk to the dry ingredients to make a stiff batter. Add the potatoes and mix. The batter should be moist but not runny; if too stiff, add more milk.

3. Heat 1/4 inch of peanut oil in a frying pan until it is barely smoking. Drop in the batter by tablespoons and flatten. Fry over medium-high heat several minutes on each side until golden. Drain on paper towels and serve.

I ate like eight latkes. They were awesome. I would eat this again.


cantaloupe island

TD totally rocked the sax solo on this tonight. He also rocked singing backup on this song.

I am a total groupie. The band was really good! Everyone had talent and great stage presence, and they were all dressed to coordinate. They were the best part of the evening.

I still can't be one of "those girls" though. You know, the girls in the front row gyrating and flinging their arms about and almost pole dancing with the extra microphone stand and getting on stage and freaking their particular musician. I took lots of pictures and whooped and catcalled and nodded my head to the music and swayed a bit, was all. I also did the appropriate bit of looking like the hot date and chatting pleasantly with the coworkers. But you know, please. I have a little bit of dignity, and my hems aren't high enough. Not on purpose, though. Dang, short women have a hard time finding mini skirts. But no level of drunkenness can induce me to do sexy dances, and since I was drinking Diet Coke, there wasn't any chance of me doing any more than singing along to "Santaria."


Friday, December 12, 2008

when life gives you lemons....

I bought a craptastic Samsung ML-2510 laser printer from Best Buy in March 2007. It continually fails to draw paper through its wheel thing to print. It is so not 12 pages per minute! It is such a lemon. Do I buy another printer? Seriously?!

The only benefit is that by twittering my printer-cidal thoughts, I have managed to amuse myself by thinking up "yo printer" jokes like:

It jams so much, Phish is jealous and people are wondering if the Grateful Dead are touring again. It is so jam-happy, peanut butter is drawn to it. It sucks so hard, it's like opening the cargo bay door in Star Trek. It is so bad, Michael Jackson says "ok, you win" before moonwalking away in defeat.

Ok, so I'm not that funny. But I have papers to print out! WTF! Grrrr!