Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Fran Lebowitz on Men Wearing Shorts

"I have to say that one of the biggest changes in my lifetime, is the phenomenon of men wearing shorts. Men never wore shorts when I was young. There are few things I would rather see less, to tell you the truth. I'd just as soon see someone coming toward me with a hand grenade. This is one of the worst changes, by far. It's disgusting. To have to sit next to grown men on the subway in the summer, and they're wearing shorts? It's repulsive. They look ridiculous, like children, and I can't take them seriously." 

 ~Fran Lebowitz

Read: 'Yoga Pants are Ruining Women' and Other Style Advice from Fran Lebowitz

Related: "The Short Swimsuit: A Personal & Historical Account"

And: "A Good Drunken Sleep on the Beach: A Men's Summer Style Guide"

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

John Jeremiah Sullivan on the "Weird Implicit Enmity" of American Males in Crowds

"I've been to a lot of huge public events in this country during the past five years, writing about sports or whatever, and one thing they all had in common was this weird implicit enmity that American males, in particular, seem to carry around with them much of the time. Call it a laughable generalization, fine, but if you spend enough late afternoons in stadium concourses, you feel it, something darker than machismo. Something a little wounded, and a little sneering, and just plain ready for bad things to happen."

 ~John Jeremiah Sullivan from his essay, "Upon This Rock."

Monday, February 23, 2015

Miranda July on Motherhood

"But as the sun rose I crested the mountain of my self-pity and remembered I was always going to die at the end of this life anyway. What did it really matter if I spent it like this—caring for this boy—as opposed to some other way? I would always be earthbound; he hadn’t robbed me of my ability to fly or to liver forever… If you were wise enough to know that this life would consist mostly of letting go of things you wanted, then why not get good at the letting go, rather than the trying to have? These exotic revelations bubbled up involuntarily and I began to understand that the sleeplessness and vigilance and constant feedings were a form of brainwashing, a process by which my old self was being molded, slowly but with a steady force, into a new shape: a mother."

~Miranda July from her novel, The First Bad Man

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Reasonable New Year's Resolution: Enjoy Your Food

The New Year is a time of optimism and hope. Just visit your local gym. You'll be sure to see a crowd of "resolutionists" courageously weightlifting, cycling, and running their way to the new, healthy person they'd promised to be. Unfortunately, we know from our own experience as well as scientific studies that most people will relapse into bad habits. As Maria Konnikova wrote in the The New Yorker last year:

"When the psychologist John Norcross researched New Year’s resolutions, in the nineteen-eighties, he found that more than fifty per cent of Americans made some sort of resolution. After six months, only forty per cent had stuck with it. When Norcross followed up two years later, the number had dropped to nineteen per cent."

So why do we feel so compelled to make New Year's resolutions--and why do we so often fail? In her post "Why We Make Resolutions (and Why They Fail)," Konnikova writes about timing and optimism. Apparently, as Konnikova writes, "The beginning of a week, a month, or a year forms what the psychologist Richard Thaler calls a notational boundary"--a turning point or new beginning.

The beginning of weeks and months inspire optimism for many people, and the beginning of a new year inspires extreme optimism for most people. Unfortunately, this optimism is hard to sustain. And so many people end up failing. Why? Well, too often we're "too positive." We set unreachable expectations, and condemn ourselves to failure. As Konnikova writes,

"Many backsliders relapse because they have overestimated their own abilities, underestimated the time and effort involved in staying the course, or have an exaggerated view of the effect that the change would have on their lives."

Overestimating abilities. Underestimating time and effort. An exaggerated view of change. I find these qualities often apply to people who, for whatever reason, wish to change their relationship with food. Unfortunately, instead of making subtle common-sense changes that we can easily maintain, we often shoot for the moon with all-or-nothing diets, extreme fasts, and/or expensive cleanses. The problem with these approaches, as most of us have experienced, is backsliding--we just can’t maintain our enthusiasm.

Or perhaps lack of enthusiasm is not the problem. We’re humans, after all, and our relationship with food is governed by nuanced emotions and shared memories--qualities that most "diets" completely neglect. Let’s face it: almost all "diets" present emotionless views of food and eating.

I have a tremendously complicated relationship with food--a relationship defined as much by illness as joy. What I’ve learned from exploring this relationship, if anything, is that truly nourishing food is about pleasure. In my opinion, an Epic Bar eaten in penance is not as healthy as a piece of chocolate eaten with reverence and joy. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Braque Shocks Picasso

"Fruit Dish and Glass", Braque's first papier collé (1912)

"I felt a great shock and it was an even greater shock to Picasso when I showed it to him."

~Braque, on his first papier collé, "Fruit Dish and Glass", possibly the first ever collage

Source: The New Yorker: "Cubist Masterworks at the Met."

Thursday, October 30, 2014

How to Eat--and Enjoy--Sugar

I was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes nearly ten years ago, on my honeymoon in Barcelona. If you Google the phrase “Honeymoon Horror Story”, my essay about the prelude to this diagnosis (I was hit by a car) appears on the first page results. I’m perversely proud of this fact. But really, I do not remember my honeymoon as a “horror story." My diagnosis saved my life and set my path. With daily insulin injections, I recovered my health and transformed my lifestyle.

Since my diagnosis, I’ve performed a rigorous daily experiment upon myself: each day, I’ve tested my body’s response to the sugars in foods (up to 12 times a day), and I’ve calibrated my insulin needs and lifestyle to best suit optimal health. I believe my experience might prove instructive for others--especially as we enter the holiday season with its promise of cookies and candy and cakes.

1. Sugar (in most forms) is not necessarily unhealthy. We all need sugar to thrive. Glucose, specifically, is the optimal form of energy for the human body. Every cell, every bacterium uses glucose for energy. The trouble begins when we consume more sugar than our bodies need. If you received your sugar (fructose) only from vegetables and fruits, you’d consume about 15 grams per day—a far cry from most diets.

2. So how much sugar do you need? The answer to this question is specific to each individual, depending on your relative body type and activity level, but most estimates say that the human brain needs about 120 grams of sugar per day. If you're of the scientific persuasion, peruse this handy PDF from Dr. Brandt of the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Dr. Brandt says:

"The brain uses about 120 grams of glucose daily: 60-70% of the total body glucose metabolism. The brain has little stored glucose, and no other energy stores. Brain function begins to become seriously affected when glucose levels fall below ~40 mg/dL."

There is much debate about this requirement, but for our purposes, using 120 grams as a baseline for 70% of the body’s needs, we see an estimate of 174 grams of sugar per day. This can come in the form of carbohydrates, which are converted to sugar (my favorite bread recommendation provides 17 grams of sugar per slice) or the pure sugar found in juice or soda (a 12 oz. Coke Class provides 39 grams of sugar).

3. Sugars exist in apparently healthy foods: Apples. Brown rice. Sweet potatoes. All carbohydrate foods are eventually metabolized as sugar. From a limited perspective, the sugar you receive from a bowl of grapes might be more than the sugar you receive from a Coke Classic. Of course, in vegetables and fruits, sugar is mixed with fiber and beneficial phytonutrients, which can potentially moderate any negative metabolic effects. The best way to consume sugar, of course, is to eat vegetables--like the winter squash dish below.  In any case, it isn’t that sugar itself is bad -- it’s excessive sugar that harms health.

4. Sugar that is not used is stored for later use. Any meal or snack with carbohydrates generates a rise in blood glucose. To adjust for this rise, the pancreas secretes the hormone insulin into the bloodstream, which lowers blood glucose levels. Insulin is essentially a storage hormone, evolved over millions of years, to store the excess calories from carbohydrates in the form of fat.

5. If you don’t use it you gain it: The upshot? Not matter what type of carbohydrate or sugar you eat, if you do not match your sugar requirements with your sugar consumption, you will likely gain weight.

With this in mind, I think it’s important to remember that sugar can exert a powerful and potentially positive emotional effect. So how can we modulate our holiday sugar consumption so that we can enjoy our favorites while still enjoying our health?

1. Exercise, Exercise, Exercise: To my point of view, there is no better way to truly enjoy a potentially sugar-heavy dish (like"perfect" mashed potatoes) than to truly earn it through exercise. When you exercise (especially intensely) your muscles become more efficient at absorbing sugar for a period of 24 hours or more.

2. Enjoy every bite! If you’re eating sugar this holiday season, make sure you enjoy each and every bite. Try to be conscientious about what and how you’re eating. All cookies are not created equal. And all eating experiences are not created equal. Save yourself for the best cookie and enjoy it with the appreciation and gusto it deserves.

3. Eat the real deal: More and more evidence now reveals that sugar is actually less harmful than sugar alternatives.


Perfect Mashed Potatoes

This recipe is adapted from the Cook's Illustrated mashed potatoes in The New Best Recipe. The recipe calls for peeling the potatoes by hand, but a ricer works wonderfully, producing the most light, airy potatoes imaginable.

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
4 tablespoons grassfed butter, like Kerrygold Butter
1/2 cup coconut milk (full-fat is best)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Place the potatoes whole in a large saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer until the potatoes are tender, 35-45 minutes. Drain. Reserve pot for mashing. Meanwhile, warm the coconut milk in a medium saucepan over low heat. Season the coconut milk with sea salt, and black pepper to taste.

While still warm, cut each potato in half, then peel the skin with fingers or a small paring knife. (Alternately, and much better, place the potatoes, skin-on, into a ricer or food mill.) Drop the peeled potatoes back into the pot you used for boiling. Gently mash the potatoes with a potato masher. Add butter and mix. Add the warmed coconut milk, and gently season with additional salt and pepper, adjusting seasonings to taste. Serve.

Roasted Acorn Squash with Squash Risotto

I always get depressed in December because squash season is almost over. So I grasp at the last of season and try to make something immaculate. I originally developed this recipe for Whole Foods Market. It's published here.

4 acorn squash
3 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
6 cups water or gluten-free vegetable broth
1 cup finely chopped leeks
2 1/2 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash
2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped sage, divided
2/3 cup pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped thyme 

Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut each acorn squash lengthwise in half (from tip to stem) then scoop out and discard any seeds and stringy flesh. Brush insides of acorn squash with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt. Place acorn squash, cut side down, in a baking pan and roast until tender but still firm, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, start the risotto by bringing the broth just to a simmer in a small pot over medium high heat. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy 3-quart pot over medium heat. Add leeks and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add butternut squash and cook for 3 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until grains are fragrant. Add wine and stir constantly until almost completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the hot broth to rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is almost completely absorbed. Continue adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time, making sure that most of the liquid is absorbed before adding more. Continue until rice is almost tender, but still firm to the bite, about 20 to 25 minutes total. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the sage and season with salt.

Meanwhile, put pine nuts into a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Stir in thyme, remaining 1/2 teaspoon sage and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside.

When acorn squash is cooked, remove from oven. Reduce heat to 300°F. Carefully turn squash over and fill each cavity with about 1/2 cup of the risotto. Gently press about 2 tablespoons of the pine nut mixture on top of the risotto in each squash half. Return squash to oven and bake until topping begins to brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer to plates and serve.

Roasted Acorn Squash with Squash Risotto [Source: Whole Foods Market]

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Recent Obsessions: Gustin's Fabrics

I learned about Gustin from Put This On, the most literate and thoughtful style website this side of the Pacific Ocean. Gustin employs a zero-waste, direct-to-consumer business model (much like Everlane) that cuts out the middle man. What makes Gustin unique (or relatively unique) is its crowdsourcing business model: they don't make any product without appropriate funding.

In Gustin's own words:

So how does it work? We design boutique-quality handmade menswear. We create a campaign for an item, you back it. Once the number of items backed reaches the campaign goal, the item is successfully funded and we start production.

When do I pay? When you hit “Back it!”, you’re not paying immediately. We’ll validate your credit card number initially, and charge you when the item reaches its funding goal. If the item reaches its funding deadline without reaching its goal, you will not be charged.


Gustin is known for their raw, selvedge denim jeans, but they make plenty of other products, including chinos, jackets, and bags. I have yet to back a project (honestly, I've been discouraged by the complaints on Style Forum), but I've followed the brand for a year, and I've really enjoyed looking at their unique fabrics.

I would've backed the Japan Azure (below), but it was funded within an hour! In any case, I've posted a few of my favorite fabrics below. If you're looking a unique variety of colors and
textures, Gustin is your place.

Postal Herringbone: an Italian raw selvedge denim

An indigo plant dye chambray shirt fabric from Japan
A Japanese double indigo fabric for a dobby shirt. The swaths reveal how the shirt wears. 

A peach blue plaid cotton poplin shirt fabric from Japan
The Japan Azure: For me, this color evokes the vintage blues of JAWS (below). I love it.

At least five blues here