Monday, November 24, 2008

Weekly Dig: eat gooder

I forgot to post this quick writeup I did for the Weekly Dig's Greenland column, which is out this week. I interviewed Kenji Alt, the co-founder of, a new Boston and New York-based blog that features interesting stories about the intersection of food, politics and the environment. (Coincidentally, I'm thinking about buying a house at that intersection, cause I spend so much time there.)

My meetup with Kenji had to be quick -- he was racing from his job at Cook's Illustrated to the kitchen of Rialto, where Jody Adams was going to be demonstrating a recipe for his upcoming blog feature, Great Chefs @ Good Eater (which I mentioned in my writeup, but that bit was unfortunately cut from the Dig piece). While we sat down to chat and split a plate of sweet potato cod fritters at Green Street, the manager stopped by to talk about a seasonal cocktail recipe for the feature. Before his stint as a food writer, Kenji spent a while cooking in the Boston restaurant scene (at No. 9 Park, Clio and Uni), so he Knows People. I think his blog will be very successful, and I hope to see it rolled out in several cities beyond Boston and NYC in the coming years.

I'm propping Kenji's blog now not because I think it'll be novel to the best and brightest among Boston's food-conscious readers -- it won't be. But I know there are still people out there who have yet to get the memo. Sometimes it seems to me like everyone and their mother is caught up inside this local-seasonal-organic triangulation, but then I'll visit a restaurant in the North End, where veal is in every other dish and they're serving caprese salads with tasteless tomatoes and imported asparagus in effing November, and realize that this food revolution still has a ways to go. And I'm hoping that Kenji's methods (did I mention he killed a duck and posted the photos on his blog? Or that he advocates patronizing a startup mobile chicken slaughterhouse? Or that his co-founder, Josh, has suggested that, in the event of a major doomsday scenario in which our traditional communications and food systems break down, we all emulate the bartering methods of a little African country called Lesotho, where they communicate by colored flags?) might just get the message across.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bostonist: VEGAN BRUNCH?!

Woo! We stopped into Tamarind Bay yesterday for lunch, and ended up chatting with the manager, Naveen. Turns out he's a self-professed "health foods" guy, and wants to publicize the fact that this "coastal Indian eatery" has about a dozen vegan dishes on the menu (all helpfully demarcated with a big "V"). He's reached out to the Boston Vegan Society, and is considering beginning a vegan brunch on weekends. I think this would be awesome, so I gave 'em a holla on Bostonist today.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

My friends

...are full of mad style, apparently!

First, the Sartorialist-style street blog Beyond Boston Chic snapped photos of my friend Morgan outside her booth at the SoWa craft market...

...And then photographed her boyfriend Tyler (who is generally dressed like a rock star, but apparently Morgan can take credit for picking out these shorts...and yeah, they're ridiculously cute together)...

...And also my college buddy Vin.

Then, the Globe featured Morgan again in their biker style article (this math checks out, since Morgan is 200% more stylish than I am).

Then, the Weekly Dig featured our dear Alexis for both his personal style (he was apparently "Sipping a drink at a chic Newbury Street café, sporting pinstripes, rimless glasses and square-toed shoes" at the time of his interview) and his artistic style, as he put together the public music program Make Music Cambridge, inspired by those he's seen in his native France...

Then, the Globe named our friend Keyse as one of their 25 most stylish Bostonians of 2008. (Keyse's a jewelry maker and an avid Craigslist furniture hunter who loves bright colors - I'm betting it's her Brazilian blood.)

And just to prove that their photographed outfits were far from one-offs, I present to you Morgan and Alexis last night, at a Second Glass party hosted by Tyler and Morgan, at the Dig (so it all comes full circle).

I am so lucky to be surrounded by such stylish, creative, intelligent people, who are beautiful inside and out!

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Bostonist: dining out for Thanksgiving

I'll be honest: I don't quite understand why so many restaurants do special menus for Thanksgiving. Is it because we as a people are becoming less connected to our families and more obsessed with fine food? Is it because restaurants are neutral ground for families who would otherwise come into conflict over the cooking of the meal? (I could see some families I know fighting over latkes vs. pasta, or turkey vs. Tofurkey.) Is it because trying to have a traditional Thanksgiving is somehow too painful (for example, after the passing of a grandmother who always cooked the meal)? Is it because there are so many busy parents who just can't come to grips with a day full of cooking, and would rather take the vacation time to relax? I'd love to know.

I don't personally know anyone who will be dining out on Thanksgiving, but I did have fun with this post (and I'll admit that I did sneak in a subversive link to this NY Times story on the unfortunate mistreatment of turkeys, which is one reason why I'm not usually tempted by the big bird on Thanksgiving, although when I ate meat it was one of my favorites).

As for me, I'm headed out on an 8-hour road trip with my friend Jenna and our respective dogs to western New York for the weekend. My mom and I will be joining my dear friend Heather, her parents, and their entire Italian clan for what is sure to be an all-out food extravaganza, complete with Heather's extremely adorable grandmother. I can't wait.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Our new morning fix: Cafe Fixe

I forgot to add this little Bostonist post I did on Election Day. After waiting in line for about an hour, the b.f. and I were in need of some sustenance. We strolled up the street to find Cafe Fixe offering free coffee and tea to everyone as part of their grand opening. We've since been back several times to try different kinds of coffee (for the b.f.) and tea (for me).

What's good:

-Great pastries (the chocoloate croissant + french press is so far the best breakfast combination)
-Soothing atmosphere: white walls, jazz on the stereo (the Starbucks across the street is a hot mess)
-Reasonable prices (all the teas are under $3)
-Easy parking
-Free wi-fi

I'll probably add to this list over time, but for now -- we're diggin' it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Another rare political post - on Prop 8

Because the main purpose of this blog is to serve as a record of my professional work, I don't always feel that it's appropriate to use it for my personal musings. However, I recently contributed to this Bostonist post on the large Prop 8 protest that took place in several cities today, including one in Boston, which I attended. So I believe this merits an additional comment from me that gives some context to my position on this issue, especially since I am in the unique and fortunate position of being able to consult both my GLBT friends and my Mormon friends directly on this issue, rather than relying on the press or blogs. I hope that both groups will take this as an opportunity to start a dialogue with the other side, as I am trying to do -- no matter how much anger or distrust they may feel right now.

Okay. Here goes.

I have not always been sure about what I believe when it comes to amendments dealing with marriage. I find much of the rhetoric on both sides to be problematic.

I don't entirely believe that marriage is a "human" or a "civil" right, and furthermore, I think this rhetoric is somewhat beside the point.

I don't think that defining something as a "human right" is in and of itself a necessary step in helping make something, whether it's water or food or a life free of violence or discrimination, more available to those who clearly deserve it.

I don't think marriage should be defined as a "civil right". While many religious people are offended by the idea that anyone should seek to define "marriage" as something other than the union of man and woman described in the Bible, I am bothered by the fact that the U.S. government should have any say in matters of the heart. I am bothered by the idea of allowing a majority of people to vote on a metaphysical aspect of reality such as the origins of life or the validity of certain kinds of love. I am bothered by the thought that our government, which once allowed slavery and allowed women to be treated as property and deprived of a vote, should now lay its heavy, hairy hand on the shoulders of my friends and tell them that they, too, must wait another generation for Democracy to determine their "rights".

However, the U.S. government has opted to extend civil protections to couples. And so I do not believe we can extend these to some couples but not all.

Unfortunately, rather than redefining what these civil protections are called -- defining what the government provides as a "civil union" and what a spiritual institution provides as a "marriage" or any other word, which I believe would greater sanctify the idea of "marriage" -- GLBT advocates have decided on a different tack. They seek to redefine the word "marriage" without reforming the way the government gets involved in the institution itself.

The reason why they've opted for this strategy, it seems, is because if marriage as it relates to the government's actions were defined as a bond between two persons, rather than a bond between a man and a woman, the 14th Amendment would protect it, and the 14th Amendment is a powerful ally. If this redefinition were achieved, it would then guarantee the equality which gay couples are currently, tragically lacking in most parts of the country. The relevant text here reads:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

As this amendment is one of the most important in our nation's history, on which my own right to vote is partially dependent (the Constitution never mentioned women's rights, either, but they exist now), I do not take it lightly, and I'm sure that GLBT activists also recognize its resonance. I think that regardless of one's stance on Prop 8, every person should take this legislation's rise to prominence as an opportunity to meditate on what the 14th Amendment really means, and to decide for him or herself whether or not Prop 8 truly upholds the ideals inherent in this amendment.

The problematic part of using this tactic is that it has led people to believe that GLBT activists want to "force" them to recognize the emotional validity of their unions, to "force" churches to send priests to marry gay couples, to "force" teachers to teach about the existence (the mere existence) of gay unions. Not so fast, folks.

Setting aside the fact that there are still those who hold views about women and people of color that predate the civil rights and feminist movements, despite much legislation being passed in their favor, this is not the point. Most couldn't care less about what some random Utahn or Texan or Californian thinks. Remember, many GLBT folks do not even have the acceptance of their families, and no big gay wedding is going to change that. If a GLBT person has the courage to be out in the first place, he or she already has the courage to put up with those with differing beliefs about homosexuality.

The most attractive prizes at the bottom of this crappy little Cracker Jack box, as one lesbian friend of mine put it, are far more "boring". They want access to a partner's healthcare so one of them can stay at home with the new baby. They want to know that they'll be allowed in the ambulance and the ICU should the 911 call come one day. They want joint tax returns. And they want the incredible privilege of being able to take all that for granted one day, like straight folks do. That's what "equality" means in this circumstance.

And so, while I don't believe the government has a role in regulating what is for most a deeply spiritual and emotional bond, I don't believe that it's appropriate for those who are religious to be applying their definition of marriage to what is essentially a secular process, designed to provide protections and support to all citizens under the law.

As a person raised by a pair of divorced parents and a pair of devoted grandparents, I have always known that families come in all shapes and sizes, and they don't have to be "traditional" to be effective and loving. As a person who has come to know many gay persons and couples, I see no difference between the way GLBT persons support their partners and parent their children and the way straight persons do, inasmuch as there can be similarities at all (since parenting itself has become an ideological minefield). As a person who has loved and lived with all sorts of people, I've never doubted for a moment that you can't always choose whom you love. And as far as I can tell, being a child of a "traditional marriage" between a mother and a father has not made me any less confused about love. So I believe that all families, in all their forms, deserve the same protections and support -- as do their children, who often have little say in the matter.

I also find it problematic that members of the religious community have employed statistics - often uncited ones - to support their claims that homosexual couples should not be granted the right to marry or raise natural or adopted children because they are somehow less likely to succeed at it. Homosexual people are more promiscuous, they say. Their children will be more likely to be "confused", they say. And furthermore, families with gay parents will even affect the success of other marriages and other children.

For example, in "The Divine Institution of Marriage", an often fascinating essay on church and state issues authored by the LDS church, one paragraph reads:
It is true that some same-sex couples will obtain guardianship over children –through prior heterosexual relationships, through adoption in the states where this is permitted, or by artificial insemination. Despite that, the all-important question of public policy must be: what environment is best for the child and for the rising generation? Traditional marriage provides a solid and well-established social identity to children. It increases the likelihood that they will be able to form a clear gender identity, with sexuality closely linked to both love and procreation. By contrast, the legalization of same-sex marriage likely will erode the social identity, gender development, and moral character of children. Is it really wise for society to pursue such a radical experiment without taking into account its long-term consequences for children?
I do not agree that a heterosexual marriage, based as it would likely be in dishonesty, would be a much better option for these gay parents than living their lives openly with partners of their choosing. Just ask Alison Bechdel, whose father remained closeted his entire life, until he was finally outed after it was discovered that he'd had affairs with several of his male students. The miserable guy then committed suicide, and his daughter still went on to become a lesbian. (And a talented writer and artist, and a heckuva nice person to boot.)

Here's the thing: outside of Utah's Mormon majority, there is no such thing as a "well-established social identity", whatever that means. We're all apt to belong to dozens of groups, clubs, communities, and churches and even sexual orientations over time, and that's a good thing. As for "gender identity"? Meh. It's a mistake to be nostalgic for the days when Men Were Men and Women Were Women. Women, if you'll recall, got the shit end of that deal. I'd love to have my feminist mom and my egalitarian dad weigh in on what it means to be a "real man" or a "real woman" in 2008. Or better yet, Hillary Clinton.

And what about our "social fabric"? It's more like a patchwork quilt these days, with some kids coming to school with Islam-mandated headscarves, some with yamukas, some with cornrows and some with pigtails -- and ain't that America, home of the free. Personally, I think that if my friends' marriages can survive the parenting examples of Britney Spears and Angelina Jolie, we can probably stand the sight of two loving, healthy, non-anorexic, non-umbrella-wielding moms taking their kids to soccer practice.

I also think that if "what's best for the children" is the all-important question, then we must also look at which lifestyles the LDS church promotes and which it decries, using these suddenly-very-important statistics. Many of my friends in Utah are encouraged to marry in their late teens or early 20s, and to begin their families as soon as possible, as as the custom in the LDS community. Many statistics show that young marriages such as these are far more likely to end in divorce than those which begin later (as they do in liberal, secular places like Massachusetts). Others studies (including one done at BYU) show that the academic performance and overall success of a child is strongly linked to the age of the mother at the time of birth. The older the mother, the more successful the child (as older mothers are more likely to be educated, financially stable and/or independent, and emotionally mature). So, based on these statistics, the LDS church might consider encouraging its members to marry and procreate later -- or even supporting legislation making it illegal for people under 25 to marry, as it would be "better" for society. But it's not likely to do so.

In the meantime, my dear friends in Utah are forming incredible marriages, raising beautiful children, and are as committed if not more committed to making their marriages work and their children successful as any 30something post-grad pair in Massachusetts (and so, for the record, I have often defended their life choices as vehemently as I now defend the life choices of my GLBT peers).

Therefore, while the church and its members have gone out of their way to declare their love for the sinner and not the sin, and while many of the young LDS members I have seen commenting on blogs and Facebook take care qualify their arguments with, "I'm not bigoted", it is in fact a kind of bigotry to highlight scientific research when it supports your point of view, and to ignore it when it does not. It is bigotry to rely on these statistics rather than reaching out to the people behind them and actually observing the relationships and parenting habits of GLBT persons. It is bigotry to draw conclusions about people and lifestyles with which you have no direct experience, even if they are conclusions based in Scripture. It is my belief that if there is a God, He or She would prefer that you do your own research.

The truth is that GLBT people were hurt by the religious community's involvement in the issue, despite individual members' best intentions. They do feel less safe in the world thanks to Prop 8's passing, and for good reason. They certainly do not feel loved by the proponents of the Yes on 8 campaign.

And while some church members feel that GLBT persons should not now or ever gain the ability to marry, they will not now or ever be able to silence, erase or permanently marginalize the people, gay and straight, whom they have just engaged over this issue. The same process of democracy that approved this amendment could someday overturn it. We went from Jim Crow laws to President-elect Obama in less than a lifetime. The trend of democracy points toward greater acceptance of GLBT persons and gay marriage with every new generation. Elton John, Ellen and their peers are not ever going back in the closet. Best to start accepting this now.

I would also think that if you are someone who feels you must claim that you are "not bigoted" before you declare your views, then you must already realize that you have as your political bedfellows large swaths of people who are, in fact, deeply bigoted. And that's worth a thought, because I doubt that anyone I saw at the peaceful Prop 8 protest in Boston today would have been ashamed to be seen or associated with any of their fellow protesters, despite their philosophical differences (which do exist, even in the land of kumbaya secular liberalism). In fact, it was quite the opposite. Everyone was proud as hell to be there, standing by their neighbors, holding their children, and waving their flags in the rain.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cab convo

This is a pretty decent example of the Bostonist convos I participate in on a daily basis via Googlegroups.

Who Needs a Cab Between Noon and 8pm? A Meditation

Note: I am Bostonist #3.

Other note: this convo is inexplicably tagged "internal affairs".

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

I want to embrace everybody

Maya Angelou has been a hero of mine for quite some time. Watching her interview with Harry Smith on CBS this morning was very moving. (Unfortunately CBS will not let me embed the video directly, so do click on the link, it is worth watching.)

"This morning I’ve not slept, really," Angelou said today. "I can’t pull my nose out of the television. I go from one channel to the next, to the next, and I want to embrace everybody. I’m just so proud. And grateful."

These are my sentiments exactly.

She then goes on, at Smith's urging, to quote from memory her poem, "Still I Rise." Harry Smith was brilliant to suggest this. I love how haughty and proud this poem is. I love how feminine and strong it is. I love its weight and its lightness together.

I don't speak about politics very much on this blog, although I follow politics fervently and have a voracious appetite for viewpoints on all sides. I feel compassion for the Americans who, for reasons of their own, could not share in the transformative experience we have had as voters who have wished for -- and have now been granted -- the opportunity for change in the form of Barack Obama. I cannot express to them what a fierce battle it has been to overcome our cynicism, apathy, fears and disappointments to get there, because they have fought different battles in their time. I think that for the best of us, belief is always a struggle, and the meanings of events often become clear just as you are questioning the existence of meaning itself. It is a cycle. We are all living at different points in that cycle.

However, for now, I am jubilant, albeit a little bit scared. It has been almost surreal to watch how in spite of being shot by words and cut by glances, Obama has continued to rise, and rise, and rise. So for those of us walking with a little extra spring in our step and more than a few tears in our eyes today:

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

- Maya Angelou

After weeks of waiting...

The story that Clara Silverstein did on my 826 Boston workshop is finally out! I was starting to think this day would never come. The Globe's been holding it since late September -- and now it's out, in the new (and improved?) "G" section, in the issue announcing Barack Obama's incredible, historic election win. Not only is this timing an honor for me, but it may mean that 826 will receive increased exposure from the many people who will be buying the newspaper today. That would certainly make it worth the wait!

Here's an excerpt from the piece:

When children have a chance to play restaurant critic, they might describe a mound of pasta with cheese sauce as volcano-shaped, or compare a cheesecake to sugary socks. Being a restaurant critic feels like an adventure.

That's what happened when budding critics, ages 11 to 14, recently learned how to become more discerning diners through "Food Critic for a Day," a workshop at the nonprofit 826 Boston in Egleston Crossing. First, the eight students meet with teachers Ryan Rose Weaver, an editor at go2 media, and Jennifer Coates, an assistant professor of nutrition at Tufts University. They start by asking them to describe a Chinese sesame bun filled with red bean paste. The texture reminds T.J. Wasserman, 11, from Belmont, of a "Tempur-Pedic mattress." Eva Hernandez of Roxbury, 13, says the bun looks like "a deflated basketball."

After the first class, students visit restaurants around Boston, including Ashmont Grill, Beacon Hill Bistro, Bella Luna, Myers + Chang, UpStairs on the Square, and the Chocolate Bar at the Langham, Boston. Their assignment is to order dinner and review the experience. Restaurants donate the meals to the student and an adult...

Click here for the full story!

(Photo is mine; I took it during the workshop!)