Friday, August 30, 2013

Foods of the 90s: I was an 80s kid but a 90s chick

For a long time, I've assumed that the foods of the 80s and 90s were pretty similar, but upon further reflection I've decided that is not the case.

I was a kid in the 80s but many of my formative years of schooling (part of high school and all of undergraduate and graduate school) were spent in the 90s.  So I asked myself, what trends were UNIQUE to the 90s....

1. Fat-free desserts
Image credit: Babble

In previous eras, it was assumed that desserts contained butter and sugar and weren't particularly healthy. The 90s brought forth the idea that you could have your cake and fit into your fashionably tattered grunge jeans, too.  Of course I ate Snackwell's.  The boxes of these fat-free treats, amped up with artificial sweeteners to compensate for the lack of fat, were always curiously light. I loved the rubbery texture of the frosting. You could eat the entire box (500 calories) and still have room for a (400 calorie) pint of fat-free ice cream. Snackwell's vanilla sandwich cookies tasted stale, but I kind of liked slightly stale foods. I even ate those Weight Watcher TV dinner desserts that you had to nuke at low power for a few seconds in the microwave.

2. French bread pizza

Image credit: Brand Eating
I lived in New Jersey, which was densely-populated with Italian-Americans.  And yet I ate these things. Because of the convenience?  Because The Scarlet Pimpernel was a really cool mini-series and set in France?  My favorites were Stouffer's but you had to actually finish those off in the oven to brown the top, so usually I just said fuck that and got Healthy Choice because you could nuke 'em and have 'dinner' in minutes. 

3. Muffins
Image credit: Triad couponing

Muffins were everywhere.  Maybe because they could so easily be made low-fat: the diet brownie cheesecake muffin epitomizes 90s cuisine.   Maybe because they could be stuffed with oatmeal.  Regardless, long before Red Velvet doughnuts and bacon chocolate chip cookies became mainstream, muffins were everywhere.  I loved senior year AP Biology because on non-lab days in the study hall after class I could buy molten hot chocolate chocolate chip muffins or cheese danish-stuffed muffins oozing under the heat lamp for breakfast in the cafeteria. I had a peanut butter and jelly muffin and Tasti-D-Lite from the 7-11 after nearly every swim practice in high school. I loved the buttery corn muffins and sweet oatmeal muffins from my college dining hall.  I even liked the rubbery fat-free muffins which were made with applesauce and no fat, no fat at all because fat was the very devil in the 90s.

4. Ice cream with weird shit in it

Image credit: Favorite Copycat Recipes
Despite the low-fat frenzy, the 90s was the decade of throwing shit in ice cream.  Before, ice cream came in three flavors: vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry and your topping options were hot fudge, caramel, or sprinkles.  Ben & Jerry's changed all that.  In the 90s, the quality of the ice cream wasn't the point (because more often than not, it was fat-free), the point was that you could throw a brownie, a candy bar, and half a pound of nuts in a container, eat it all, and say "I just had a dish of ice cream."

5. Frozen yogurt

Image credit: Mrs. Fields
I worked for TCBY and nearly got assassinated when I gave a woman sugar-free vanilla fro-yo rather than fat-free fro-yo. I was obviously trying to spackle fat to her thighs (even though the sugar-free had fewer calories).  Dude, why did they put the two vanillas in the same machine to confuse me? The yogurt was low-calorie but we had enough toppings (again, weird shit in the ice cream) to compensate for that.  We even had a SLIM FAST frozen yogurt milkshake.

6. Really unhealthy cafeteria food

Image credit: Fabulous Chick Gets Fit
At my 80s elementary school, there was no cafeteria and while I realize this would give Jamie Oliver a heart attack, the homeroom mothers would bring in food we could buy from the outside.  The choices were limited--one day was hot dog day (plain, mustard, or ketchup),  one day pizza day (just plain, no choice of toppings by the slice), one day was sub day (1/4 or 1/2) and my favorite was McDonald's day (choice of small burger, cheeseburger, or 6-pack nuggets).  And ice cream and milk were available for a quarter.  Was this health food?  No, but it was portion-controlled for the normal kid's appetite. Just like the mystery meatloaf of my mom's childhood or her brown bag peanut butter sandwiches were pretty modest.

In the 90s cafeteria, not only were their ginormous muffins, but also breakfast sandwiches oozing with cheese, square mystery pizza every day, snack cakes like Chocodiles and Linden's Buttercrunch Cookies I could ONLY get in school (thus motivating me to eat them more frequently).  French fries and bagels, bagels galore.  There were even processed foods I have NEVER have seen outside of a school cafeteria like breaded cinnamon sticks.

My typical high school day often involved a heat lamp-melted cafeteria muffin, a bagel with low-fat cream cheese and some kind of snack pastry. And go home and have a Lean Cuisine TV dinner.

7. Bagels

Image credit: Piggy's Deli
Along with muffins, bagels were everywhere.  Student council meeting?  Mock trial meeting? Study break in the dorm?  Lecture by famous Professor X? Debate team breakfast?  THERE WILL BE BAGELS. PILES AND PILES OF BAGELS.  With little white knives and very thick un-spreadable whipped butter and cream cheese. They were perfect because they were cheap, filling for about an hour, and took lots of time to eat (and thus you could discuss your teen angst over them and all the dieting girls could 'peel' them, eating the skin and then the soft innards to make them last longer).

Once, I brought bagels to a class for breakfast and took the unconsumed bagels to my next study hall.  I still remember how a group of freshman boys took up my offer to finish them off.  They ate the bagels with butter and cream cheese AND THEN ATE THE BUTTER AND LICKED THE CREAM CHEESE CONTAINER CLEAN.

It was then I understood the appetite of teenage boys: I hasten to add they did thank me profusely even though they ate the cream cheese with their hands.

8. Snapple

Image credit: Dr. Pepper Snapple Group
Snapple was great because you could wrap your hair scrunchie around the top of the bottle. It really wasn't very healthy, despite the label, but thanks to Snapple, no scrunchies were lost in the 90s.  Now you find hair ties all over the ground because people have water bottles.

9. 'Character' kid food

Image credit: Blue Buddies
Teddy Grahams were all the rage and while sugary cereals had been in style for a long time, the 90s oversaw the rise of Teenage Mutant Ninja and Smurfberry cereal, taking food-as-entertainment to a new level.  At least the Flintstones cereal was inspired by a classic show...

10.  Food so sweet and processed that only children can eat it

Image credit: Calorie Count
I also think this was the decade when French toast 'sticks' and pull-apart frozen waffles became in vogue (because it is so hard to make French toast or to cut your own damn waffles). And yes, Lunchables.  Fortunately, I was too old for these things when they came out. I can't fathom eating them any more than I could eating the leg of a Barbie doll. They are that natural.

10. Incredibly unhealthy 'healthy' yogurt

Image credit: Crazy Food Dude
Say what you will about the 80s, but there was pretty much five flavors of yogurt in the supermarket and all were whole milk. In the 90s, this changed and everything became fat free. Other than Fage, today it is almost impossible to find real yogurt in the supermarket.  In the 90s, plain yogurt almost disappeared and was replaced by flavors like Key Lime Pie and Strawberry Cheesecake.  Extra bonus points if the yogurt came with stir-in Oreo crumbles. And don't get me started on Gogurt.

11. The Extra Value Meal at McDonald's



Image credit: McDonald's
Before Supersize Me, the ability to order a super-sized meal by number with minimal interaction at the drive-through was seen as a great asset.  I went on countless road trips in college during which we rewarded ourselves for sitting in a car for six hours by getting our special 'value' meals.  I usually went for the healthier option of the grilled, mayo-laden chicken sandwich, fries (of course), and a vanilla milkshake.  Diet Coke if feeling virtuous.

12. Funky-ass pizza

Image credit: Tumblr
Ham and pineapple like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Buffalo chicken. Because if you put enough toppings on a Domino's pizza, you forget how awful and cheap and SWEET the tomato sauce and bread are...

Hmm...in reviewing these 90s trends...all of which involve 'diet' food that is not really diet, immense portion sizes, and food that is designed to minimize the effort of eating and thus encourage you to eat more...I may have found the solution to the 80s paradox of why kids were so skinny in the 80s and we all got so fat in the 90s...

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Why I don't break for yoga

Yesterday, I was stopped in a long line of traffic behind a red light. 

I noticed that the car in front of me had a bumper sticker with the logo of the yoga studio where I practice.  And some other bumper stickers about peace and rainbows and some outdoorsy ones, too.

Image credit: Ace Fitness


The light turned green and the cars in front of us began to accelerate, one by one.  The car immediately before me didn't move, and I noticed that the driver was looking at something else slightly below the dashboard, distracted.


I wasn't surprised--the light was very long and it is easy to momentarily forget where you are in such a tedious situation.

I gently tapped my horn to get her attention that the light had changed.

She stuck her middle finger out of the window at me and pulled away.

I assume she was breathing when she flipped me the bird.

Although it was a different kind of crow than the one I'm used to seeing in yoga class.

Image credit: George Watts
I guess this is where, if I was a yoga blogger, I would write things like "I need to learn to slow down" and "it is moments like this when the yoga happens." 

But seriously, when you are driving you have to get your shit together and keep moving forward. Don't expect people to wait for you to slowly grow mindful to the fact that the light is green.

Hopefully, all the exercise I do will keep me fit enough to defend myself when the driver tries to kick my ass when I go to my next yoga class and she sees my vehicle in the parking lot. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

80s food trends that have returned

When I was nine or so, I thought I was the Coolest Girl Ever because I had a pair of fake Indian moccasins.  I assumed that this trend had gone the way of crunchy perms and neon rubber bracelets, but recently I was paging through the most recent Delia's catalog and saw these:

Link for those of you who want to buy a pair for your very own
As a middle-schooler first pair was in white, my second in pink, more like these:

 But you get the idea.

Was reviving this trend necessary? I thought we had come so far in understanding native cultures since the 80s.  Did the Indian (okay, the actor who played him was really Italian) in the anti-litter public service announcements cry in vain?  Did I make those Lenni Lenape Indian dioramas in grade school to show my sensitivity to diverse cultures, only for these shoes to become trendy again? 

And I also saw overall dresses and jean jackets worn with flowery skirts and Converse sneakers in the Delia's catalog.

Although I've talked about 80s trends in food that seem to have died, I have also noticed a few that have been revived, just like leggings and lacy skirts.

1. Liquid diets



Remember when all the skinny high school girls were drinking Slim-Fast to be fashionable at lunch?  I bought a 'starter kit' which included a plastic container in which you could shake your Slim Fast to make it 'fresh.' I was so desperate to be cool, I bought the strawberry flavor like one girl I admired, although I even despised strawberry ice cream, much less its diet version.

Symbolically and literally, my Slim-Fast was always lumpy, since we didn't own a blender and that shaker thing sucked.

Now everyone I know is juicing, which is really 21st century Slim-Fasting.  Of course, the juicers say they are doing it to detox and reach a higher realm of consciousness. The fact that eating 800 calories a day in liquid form makes it easier to button their jeans is a mere, irrelevant side effect.

2. Artificially-colored food 





Rainbows were big in the 80s so bright-colored foods were big in the 80s. No one had any compunction about dying their kids' innards a rainbow of fruit flavors, even though blue raspberry is a shade only found in marshmallow cereal-land.  However, I've noticed that hues not found in nature are back.  Red velvet cake is like hipster Frankenberry and Booberry.  

Original image credit (and recipe): Pinchmysalt


3. Turkey (and other low-fat meat substitutes)

Ah, turkey burgers, turkey bacon, supposedly oh-so-much healthier than pork.  And Sizzle Lean, which we had just as much at my house as bacon.  What was Sizzle Lean?  Damned if I knew and probably had just as many chemicals as non-fake bacon. I loved it with buttered rye toast.



Now, they have nitrate-free turkey bacon and bologna.  And do I buy it?  Hell yes, because I am a child of the 80s although I use the now-pronounceable ingredients in the organic brands as my defense. Truthfully, I am not much of a fan of pork and like chicken and beef better.  But I've never claimed to hold authentic foodie credentials.

4. Raw food

Sushi went mainstream in the 80s, thanks to the popularity of the charmingly inauthentic California roll.

Image credit: sinosplace

 Now there is a whole subculture of people who eat only raw foods--even feed their pets raw foods.  Since I do a lot of yoga, I encounter raw foodists and aspiring raw foodists often, and the vegan ones are particularly militant about how it is all a lie that primitive man ate much meat and they are living in a totally natural way, as was originally intended...which is why they have a $500 juicer and a $300 food dehydrator on their kitchen counters...

5. Hostess snack cakes

I'm sure they must be healthy if Superman eats them


Hostess is back, despite the oft-proclaimed premature death of Twinkies when the company went bankrupt for about five minutes.  Now everyone is touting their love for these sugary, chemically-enhanced little nuggets of childhood nostalgia.  Although if you sent your kid to school with one in his Snoopy lunchbox (ah, I remember the peelable skin of sugar exfoliation on the blueberry, lemon, cherry, and apple pies with such fondness) I'm sure Jamie Oliver and Michelle Obama would tackle you.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Why I work out...outside

About six or seven years ago I briefly harbored the delusion that I should return to graduate school and get my PhD in English literature. Fortunately, I came to my senses but I did take a graduate class at a local fancy-pants university to bolster my credentials and to prove I could still think about obscure issues no one outside of academia cares about.

One day, towards the end of the semester, a PhD candidate whom I had befriended came in with her coat slung around her shoulders.

"What the hell happened to you?" I said.

She explained: every night, after her classes were over, usually around 10pm or so (early by grad school standards) she'd pop open her portable DVD player, prop it up on her desk and work out to The Firm.  She used The Firm step aerobic program, which came complete with a pink, plastic step for a complete workout experience.
You know it has lots of incomprehensible choreography because of the instructor's 80s leotard and the crunchy perm.

For the record, I have worked out to DVDs from The Firm series. But the Firm series involves lots of grape-vining, and immediately when a video has lots of grape-vining and dance moves that require fine motor skills and small hand weights, I get lost.

The only DVD series I've really been able to benefit from is Jillian Michaels, who uses stuff like squats, jumping jacks, crunches, and moves so basic even I can't fuck them up.  Also, she is a short brunette, not a leggy blonde, and says motivational stuff like "I'm not going to give you modification you fat ^%#&.  I have 300 pound people doing this so you can too."  I respect that.

But anyway, my friend was grape-vining away on her little pink step and suddenly the step slipped out from under her, causing her to fall on her arm at what she described as a weird angle.

She tried to continue but was unable to do so and her arm began to turn a weird purply shade.  So she went to the student health center.

"What did I do?" she asked the person on staff.

The woman poked the multicolored part of her arm.  "I was doing The Firm," she explained.  "The step version of The Firm," she explained, to indicate why she was troubling the healthcare center with a workout video-related injury so late at night.

The person on staff offered her some acetaminophen and told her to go back to her dorm.  I like to think the healthcare worker offered her some condoms and a pamphlet on breast self-exams as well, as my college was wont to do, but perhaps I am projecting.

When the student returned to the dorm, a friend of hers looked at the injury.  "You know, that doesn't look good.  I think we should get a second opinion."

At the ER, after a long wait, the graduate student finally got examined (If you want someone to rush to see you, I guess don't tell them you have a Firm-related injury).

"It hurts."

"That is because you have a broken arm."

Yup, when I said, "what the hell happened to you," I was referring to her cast and sling.

In defense of the university health center at fancy-pants university, it is one of the Ivy League schools that doesn't have a medical school. If that puts your mind at rest about the quality of healthcare in academic medicine. 

She was pretty upset because that meant having to type all of her semester papers with one hand (her left, non-dominant hand). And also upset because, as she said to me, "how am I going to work out with only one arm?"

I suggested using the treadmill at the awesome free fitness facility at the university--which if she had been using in the first place, she never would have broken her arm.

"But it's not The Firm."

Sometimes I'm surprised when people tell me the activities I like to do outside (like running on the roads) are 'dangerous' given that I'm so often reproached for having the heart of a mouse and a weenie one at that when it comes to risk-taking. 

I've been told on many an occasion that the only safe place to exercise (for a woman) is safely cloistered inside doing appropriately girlish activities like lifting 2 lb. barbells and the dreaded grape-vining. I always use this anecdote to justify the safety of my 'fitness regime.' And in answer to the question if all the people who go to Ivy League schools are really smart. 


Thursday, August 22, 2013

My typical grocery list...

Oh, NPR readers, sometimes you are just  so, um, NPR-ish. 

Recently, NPR ran this story entitled "How a chef really shops: An annotated list."  It was basically a ripped-from-the-notepad grocery list of a professional chef and included stuff like sour gummi candy, Progresso lentil soup, and Honey Bunches of Oats as well as more basic stuff like Fage yogurt (duh, only the most awesome yogurt on earth) and cheap, generic olive oil.

The list didn't surprise me too much, given that a friend of mine who worked in various capacities in the restaurant industry informed me that one of his closest chef friends seemed to subside entirely on Mountain Dew and Pop Tarts. If you think about it, this is the perfect chef diet from a practical standpoint, given it is cheap, requires no preparation, is laden with caffeine and sugar, and can be eaten while cooking on the line.


However, a number of readers posted angry missives about how much processed food was on the chef's personal menu:

"How disappointing. Most of his 'food' picks are processed junk food. I thought he was going to give us an actual healthy restaurant quality selection grocery list."

I had to laugh about that one, given that according to Kitchen Confidential, the definition of a healthy chef's diet is 'not too much cocaine, easy on the heroin.'

Also, the guy was Greek and, can I say this since I am half-Greek--the Greek side of my family tends to be OBSESSED with food in a very quantity-focused rather than quality-focused fashion. Order a gyro platter at a diner, complete with traditional Greek French fries, and I rest my case.

Image credit: Yelp
Anyway, here is my typical grocery list.  I obviously don't buy everything all at once, but these are my staples.  As you can see, I have a kind of 'quasi-Paleo, low-sugar' list right now that doesn't shy away from fat and animal protein but minimizes starch.  It's working for me and although I wouldn't eat Progresso lentil soup with goldfish crackers like the NPR chef (I guess the lentils and fish make it Mediterranean) I don't judge people on their grocery lists, either.

I also should note that this isn't ALL I eat, just my main 'staples.'

Image credit: Switch to Veggies

My 'master' grocery list

Vegetables
Zucchini
Broccoli
Spinach
Cauliflower (mostly in fall and winter)
Avocados (less frequent)

Meat
Organic, grass-fed roast beef
Organic chicken and turkey lunch meat
Cheapest cuts of organic chicken I can find (usually chicken quarters)
Cheapest cuts of organic beef I can find (usually grass-fed hamburger)

Because it is pricy, I have to limit my beef consumption and really shop for sales

Fish
Salmon (fresh or frozen fillets but usually because of cost, I have to go for the farm-raised)
Tuna (canned)
Tilapia (don't really like it, but sometimes am seduced by the price)

Dairy
Full fat Fage Greek yogurt
Some kind of hard, snacking cheese, usually really sharp Provolone (or Swiss, Cheddar, Parmesan)
Some kind of moldy, crumbly cheese like Blue or Gorgonzola
Butter for cooking, but since I'm not baking that much, I don't need to buy it that frequently

Nuts
Dry-roasted macadamia nuts
Raw almonds
(I used to eat more nuts and almond butter but the addiction was getting out of control to the point I was not eating other foods in a normal fashion because I was OD-ing on nuts)

Spices
Organic, salt-free mustard (which still tastes salty)--have to get it salt free because I am obsessed with mustard and can literally eat it using a few pieces of veggies as a vehicle for mustard
Thyme (dried or fresh)
Rosemary (dried or fresh)
Garlic cloves
White vinegar
Lemons, occasionally limes

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Alas, Toyota, I thought I knew you well: Or, why driving a car with your feet looks way more fun on the Flintstones

When I bought my used 2003 RAV4 in 2010, it was during the height of the Toyota recall media frenzy but I saw the problems Toyota was having as an opportunity--a negotiating point, a way of talking down the dealer--not something to worry about. After all, if there was a problem, Toyota would fix it, right? 

I did get a good deal on my trade-in for a 1990 used Corolla and bragged about how cheap I'd gotten a reliable, fuel-efficient SUV. I knew some people hated Toyotas, but I ascribed that to anti-Japanese prejudice. I had never driven anything other than Toyotas.

At some point, I got a letter in the mail that there was a class action settlement regarding a 'harsh shift condition' due to a 'total failure of the ECM' (electronic control module, basically the computer-brain of the car) of 2001-2003 RAV4s and that Toyota had agreed to extend its warranty to ten years to all owners of the car with these specific 'check engine light' codes, blah, blah, blah, but I thought little of it.  After all, a harsh shifting condition didn't sound too bad.

I began to notice at some point that the car did take longer and longer to accelerate going from a stop; then longer to accelerate between gears.  I made an appointment with my mechanic to check things out.  The next time I drove it, the car would barely go at all--I was on the highway with my foot on the gas pedal, basically flooring the vehicle and while wheezed and grinded to a near-stop. I felt like Fred Flintstone, trying to power my vehicle through peddling rather than with power.

Fruity Pebbles was kinda gross, and I never had any desire for a Flintstones car.
Harsh shift condition, indeed!

The check engine light then went on.

I had forgotten about the letter about the class action settlement at this point so I dropped the car off at the mechanic's, fully confident that he would fix it in a few hours for a few hundred bucks.

The mechanic told me that my car was the vehicular version of 'brain dead' and like Frankenstein's monster, a new brain was needed called an ECM. A new brain that would cost me over 10 percent of what I originally paid for the car.

He said he had seen this with a number of RAV4s in the past several months.

After crying and screaming and throwing myself on the floor, I suddenly remembered the letter.  Heavenly harps were heard in the distance as I re-read its contents.  The warranty was for 10 years. My car was a 2003.  Toyota had agreed to reimburse owners for the ECM.  Saved!

I got the car repaired, downloaded the claim form off the Internet and sent in the paperwork.  In my mind, Toyota was still the most awesomest car company in the world.  Sure, they made mistakes, but they were willing to fix those boo-boos.  My image of Toyota was as follows:

Sorry!  We made a boo-boo!  We will make it all better

That is, until I got a letter in the mail saying that technically because the original owner bought the car in December 2002 (which I could not have known), Toyota did not have to honor the 10 year agreement to reimburse RAV4 owners with the defective part.

Instead, I found that despite my cuddly image of one of my most favorite companies, the reality was more like this:
You're lucky to be driving in one of our cars, b*tch!


Much fighting, cursing, and messages with supervisors resulted, but Toyota's response was firm.  The car had left the Toyota lot more than ten years ago, Toyota had only agreed to pay for repairs during that window of time according to the class action settlement, so sucked to be me.  Oh yes, and Toyota acknowledged (as did the original lawsuit) that the computer problem often permanently damaged the transmission, so I guess I was lucky I didn't have a big bill for that, too. 

The whole thing is pretty screwed up, because for such a potentially dangerous failure, Toyota should have just issued a recall (reimbursing everyone who owned the cars) and fixed it, to avoid problems.  A 10-year warranty extension was just a band-aid solution (ha!) for the problem of a car that, unlike the more publicized problems with Toyota, suddenly wouldn't go, versus suddenly wouldn't stop.  I guess 'unintended deceleration' isn't as sexy as 'unintended acceleration' so the media didn't latch onto this problem with RAV4s.

Anyway, the take-away lessons from my issue are as follows:

1. If you buy a Toyota, don't assume that if something goes wrong they are going to be eager to reimburse you unless they are strictly compelled to do so by law or media trial-by-fire.

2. Don't buy a RAV4 from the years 2001-2003.

3. The day after I heard from Toyota, I got a container of bad yogurt from Wegmans.  When I took it back, they refunded my money immediately, without question. So there still are good companies out there, just not Toyota.

Friday, August 16, 2013

You know you grew up in the 80s if you ate...

I admit I'm a sucker for those Buzzfeed lists like 50 Things Only '80s Kids Can Understand because they are so, so terrifyingly true.  Here is the food version.

You know you grew up in the 80s if you...

1. Got Cool Ranch Doritos and other weird-flavored salty snacks in your lunch box

Vintage bag
What the hell is Cool Ranch? I don't know but when they came out with exotic blue bags of Doritos, they were THE hot thing to have in your lunch box. Did they taste any different from the Doritos in the red bag?  I don't think so, but it didn't matter.

Honorable mention to Combos pizza-flavored processed cheese stuffed pretzels as 80s vintage food. The commercial always said that it 'cheeses your hunger away.'  I'm not sure if cheese is a verb but even as a relatively piggy kid, I admit that the salt/fat bomb of pretzels, cheese, and pepperoni pizza 'flavoring' was pretty satisfying.

When was the last time you ate these?
On another note, what was up with those packets of little crackers that came with a plastic red wand and cheese spread?  They never tasted really good, yet they were terribly fashionable.  I do admit to going through a phase of eating those cheese sandwich crackers with peanut butter, though.

2. Thought sprinkles were a food group

Ah, the 80s...exotic ice cream flavors were for the adults and most kid's ice cream was some combination of chocolate and vanilla and the occasional artificial strawberry.  And no one was making frozen yogurt smoothies with green tea and fruit...instead we ate ice cream sandwiches, Chipwiches, Good Humor Bars, Carvel frozen custard with chocolate sprinkles and ice cream cakes with crunchies wedged in them. The whole point was that the ice cream LOOKED cool, like a toy. Which was almost as cool as getting a toy with your food, like you did at McDonald's



The symmetry is breath-taking

Of course, the very best was to get ice cream AT McDonald's with a toy.  I remember the comedian Margaret Cho doing a routine which contained the line: "you know you have an eating disorder if you order DESSERT at McDonald's."  Well, then all of us did in the 80s!

3. Thought McDonald's was kinda a health food

Well, they did sponsor the Olympics and had those cool games in which you could win prizes!  Also, my elementary school allowed us to order in McDonald's once a week, so it couldn't be that bad. Heck, we all went to McDonald's after athletic events and EVERYONE ate it--yes, all of the skinny kids, and there were no 'healthy' sliced apple choices, either.

At school, I usually got Chicken McNuggets and was always comforted in my darkest hours as a schoolroom outcast by the fact that the nuggets always had the same, predictable shapes.  My favorite was the one shaped like the boot of Italy.

I actually thought I was the only person who noticed this and then I encountered the Internet.
Despite the fact I am probably still digesting some dipping sauce in a corner of my small intestine, I do have to note that McDonald's had way cooler, high-quality Happy Meal toys back then that I wish I had saved.



Wish I'd saved these! As durable and colorful as one of the hamburger patties!

4. Got rewarded with pizza as a class for being good in school

Pizza party!  No need to justify it with salad!

It's totally okay to reward kids with food for reading and stuff!

5. Ate brown sugar and s'mores-flavored Pop Tarts

No frosting?  How austere!
I began eating Pop Tarts in blueberry and strawberry flavors as a kid (and was perplexed by the availability of unfrosted Pop Tarts. Why would you EVER forgo frosting)? Gradually, flavors grew more and more artificial as I grew up.  For awhile, the cool thing was to have a hot Pop Tart in the morning and then a cold tart later for a snack, for textural contrast. I eventually 'aged out' of Pop Tarts when they started packing them 8 to a box versus 6, which is probably a good thing.

6. Your parents gave you Fruit-Roll Ups and Quaker Granola Bars as healthy snacks

They came in a multi-flavored box and I always ate the chocolate first.
No one really liked the Fruit Roll-Ups but my, they came in such bright colors! And the Quaker Granola Bars in the peanut butter flavor (the natural kind) and the chewy chocolate chip (the not-so-natural kind) were awesome and tasted almost as good as candy.  Because, um, they were, kinda.

7. Ate cereal that came with prizes...and poured whole milk on it...

For extra credit, name the cereals

I was never that into drinking straight-up milk,even as a kid, but I know some kids would use a bendy straw to slurp up the sugar-sweetened milk.

Once, at a British bed-and-breakfast, I was served corn flakes.  I had only recently arrived in the UK and I wondered: "what is it about these simple corn flakes that tastes so delicious?"  Then I realized it was the whole milk...which I hadn't had since I was nine.

I now forgo cereal entirely but have abandoned skim milk.

8.  Ate lots of peanut butter 

80s Gold
Either Skippy or Jif.  No natural stuff, no almond butter.  Reece's Peanut Butter cups and Reece's Pieces (thanks to E.T.) were more valuable than money.

9.  Baked using this.  And you ALWAYS made a golden cake with milk chocolate frosting, never chocolate with white frosting or chocolate frosting
I didn't even know you could buy flour as a kid!
 

10. Found that despite eating all of this crap, on the whole most of you and your friends were thinner than kids today

Much like the French Paradox, the 80s Paradox continues to be a subject of debate amongst parents and dieticians alike.

Monday, August 12, 2013

And this is the episode in which I watch the train wreck of someone else's life

Flickr: jauhari
A few months ago, I was waiting for my eye doctor to finalize my prescription and write up my bill, when the next patient--a young girl with her mother and brother--wandered into the office.  Or, rather, her mother wandered and the girl flounced into a chair, swung one leg upon the neighboring seat and used the other leg to repeatedly kick a nearby cabinet displaying eyeglasses.

The girl's expression I can only describe as one of glorious rage.  She was very fair, with large blue eyes, thick, sensuous pale lips, and thick, rather jaggedly cut black hair. She was beautiful in a way that was even more striking because she had obviously taken no pains to make herself pretty (she was wearing a baggy soccer uniform and wore no makeup or jewelry) and because of the intense, fixated expression on her face, which I almost never see on a young child in public. She looked like Joan of Arc as a warrior, without the saintly patience.

In contrast, the girl's mother moved uncertainly, timidly.  The mother was a large weeble-wobble of a woman, with a rather small head and small feet, large breasts and large hips.  Her daughter was a study in white, blue, and bright yellow but mom wore muted shades of brown which gave her an unfortunate sofa-like appearance. The mother also had a crunchy perm she was growing out that hugged her face and poofed out at the ends. She was carrying a ridiculously large, equally brown sofa-purse. I would describe her as a 'comfortable' looking woman, the kind of nice mother whose house was always kind of messy but who would always have boxes of Oreos and Little Debbies and Hi-C  and store brand grape and orange pop on hand and would never tell you not to spoil your dinner.

The brother was a similarly attractive boy--he wore wire-rimmed glasses, had a shock of Colin Firth girls, and immediately sat down on the floor of the waiting room despite the availability of chairs and began playing a hand-held video game.  He had a smirk on his face that never altered throughout the following exchange.

The mother accepted the paperwork for new patients from the receptionists and began to fill it out. The girl kept glaring and kicking until she grew bored and started reading over her mother's shoulder.

"THAT'S ABOUT ME!" she shouted.  Her mother looked nervous and confused.  The girl read some of the items aloud.  "Have you had a stroke?  Have you had heart disease?  HOW CAN YOU FILL OUT THIS INFORMATION ABOUT ME?"  The girl ripped the pen from her mother's fingers, sat down, and started to flick the pen open and closed.

The mother looked tired and helpless and quietly asked for another pen from the receptionist, who gave it to her without stopping her conversation with the woman in charge of billing.

This time, the girl snatched away both the pen and the chart. "LIES!  ALL LIES!" she shouted, looking at the checklists of preexisting conditions.  "How can you know this?  How can you know this about me?"  Her voice had a beautiful, clear, bell-like quality without the mumbling or harsh accents that sometimes characterize children's speech.  It was like watching a play and the child star was stealing the show.

I wanted to see the end of this drama, but unfortunately at this time my own paper work had been completed, and I realized it would be rude to wait and stare.  So I left the girl with her chart 'correcting' all of the things her mother had written "I HAVE HAD AIDS I HAVE HAD MALARIA HOW DARE YOU WRITE THAT I DID NOT" while the mother sat there, nervously uncertain of what to do and the brother simply went on, playing his game, as if this happened every day.  Perhaps it did.

I suppose the 'moral' some people would want me to draw from this tale was that the mother was a weak and ineffectual parent but since I was a very angry, odd young woman I found myself relating to the behavior of the girl...although I don't know why she was so upset about having to see an eye doctor...

There was also something about her voice and her demeanor, as well as the detachment of her brother that made me thing that there was something 'else' going on...could it be the mother was intimidated by her attractive yet Asperger-y kids?  I had the overwhelming sensation of someone on her own train track who suddenly found herself running beside someone else's train wreck of a life.

I did on occasion behave that badly with my mother, although rarely in public.  I realize some people are going to say "if my kid did that she would get smacked soooo hard" but honestly, even if my mother had been a hitter, when I was that pissed off at things, it wouldn't have made a difference.  When you are that angry you don't feel pain and the point (if there is a point) is getting a reaction from other people, even a bad one.

Of course, I am projecting on and questioning things about which I have no 'real' knowledge.  Who knows what the family situation is, truthfully? It was something private made public for reasons unknown.

We all have private secrets that are sometimes thrust into the public eye--in this case, the woman's 'public private' secret was that she could not manage her children.

I'm just grateful that mine most public private secret is that I like to eat broccoli dipped straight into a dish of mustard--like, a disgusting amount of mustard--as a snack.  I recently admitted this to a friend who said she liked to do the same thing and it made me feel less weird. 
Flickr: torbakhopper


I hope that woman realizes at some point that she is not alone in struggling with her children...because she seemed very confused and lonely.

Friday, August 9, 2013

More adventures with the Clean Plate Club

I saw a special 'trial offer'-sized bag of this natural dog food at Wegmans and since my dog was running low on her IAMS, I decided to give it a try. Well, more accurately, I decided my dog was going to give it a try.  I love my dog but not enough to be her personal taste-tester.

This is the lamb version; I bought the chicken version.  But you get the idea.  The first ingredients were meats, not corn or meat by-products, so I thought it might be better than what she is currently eating.

I mixed in the EVOLVE with what was left of her IAMS.  My dog came running over eagerly to her plate.  Suddenly, she looked taken aback.  She reviewed the landscape of her supper, picked out all of the IAMS (an impressive feat, given how small the kibble of that brand is), and then threw herself on the ground with a sigh.

The next day, she was so listless and depressed, I considered calling the vet.  I tried the EVOLVE once more, which was greeted with a disgusted sneeze. Since I was low on her rations I tried sprinkling it with Parmesan cheese and throwing some of my own organic hamburger on top of it. She licked off the people food and left the dog food.

I remembered how when she was younger I tried several healthy brands and she refused to eat them, despite being a dog that lives for mealtimes and who has no qualms devouring squashed McDonald's  Quarter Pounders by the side of the road.

I went out to the grocery store at 7am to replenish her IAMS, came back, and served it to her for breakfast.

More drama.  She now looked at the IAMS as if to say, once again: "what the fuck is this?" Or "I realize I can stay strong and go a day without eating! I feel so empowered!  Hold out for better food!"

I started panicking.  Maybe it wasn't the food at all. Maybe she wasn't feeling well. There was only one test.  I rustled a wrapper of a package of roast beef and immediately her appetite miraculously returned. (And yes, I am a softie so I gave her some.  It is the good, grass-fed, expensive kind, too!)

It took a day, but she grudgingly returned to her regular IAMS food, which she had always loved before.

Damn, if even I can panic that much about the idea that "she is not eating, therefore something is wrong," I can better understand how parents can get 'all weird' if their otherwise healthy children skip a meal.

To be fair, my dog is eleven years old and I know her food habits very well and although she has a very young spirit, she is not quite a spring chicken.

If she was reading this right now, she would be thinking...mmm...chicken...

Although the nice thing about dogs is that, unlike sullen teens, they can't start Facebook pages complaining about their owners with names like: I'M NOT GONNA EAT KIBBLE--ORGANIC BEEF BURGERS FUR-EVER!

My old dog held out about the indignity of having to eat Mighty Dog for long enough that my mother eventually capitulated and started feeding her people food.  Fortunately, Asta is not as strong-willed.

Depressed, pathetic heap when contemplating healthy dog food shot....