Friday, October 16, 2009

Why Is Everyone Calling Me Fat?

Apparently, I'm fat.

It all started a week or so ago, when Neil had his physical.  (He's fine, thanks for asking.  Anything worth worrying about is mental anyway - and that goes for both of us.)  Anyway, he came back and asked me if I knew my body fat percentage.

Of course I do.  I used to be 265 pounds.  I know my body fat percentage better than I know my social security number.  I can also tell you the calorie count of every major food item within a 5% standard deviation.  (Please - this is entry level.  You want advanced: my freshman year in college I shocked half my seminar by knowing that a can of Diet Pepsi had 35 mg of sodium.  Per serving.)

So I told him that my last fitness assessment, just a few weeks ago, indicated 9.7% body fat.  "Mine is 11%," he said. "How in the world is that possible?"

"It can't be," I told him - and this isn't just me being a good husband.  Neil still has a visible 6-pack and a 31-inch waist is loose on him.  "I'm sure there must have been something wrong with the test."

"There must have been.  How could I have more fat than you?"

No good deed goes unpunished, folks.

I allowed him to get away this (He gets away with everything.  I spoil him because I'm still so whipped.) but was forced to reconsider the issue when I met Marcelene for a drink.  "I just had my EquiFit done.  My body fat is 22%. What's yours?"

Can I pause to ask if these personal questions have all of a sudden become acceptable?  I spent a lot of my career in the south and it would never occur to me to ask someone what they weighed or what their bodyfat percentage is.  Questions like that can get you horsewhipped.

"A little over nine and a half."

"How is that even possible?"

All this is by way of explaining that I might not be as sharp as usual in today's post; the effect of spending an hour and a half at the gym on nothing but two apples and a grilled chicken paillard.

And there's much to talk about today, folks.  On the heels of the recent revelations from Levi Johnston, former Governor Sarah Palin has finished her first book.  I hear she enjoyed the process and just might read another one someday.

You know, she's an easy target but I fear the liberal establishment doesn't truly understand what makes her such a compelling figure.  Ensconced in liberal enclaves of money and education, it can be easy to forget that there's a population for whom analytical reasoning is the ability to tell the difference between Ring Dings and Ho Hos (HoHos are from Hostess while Ring Dings are from Drake, who's HoHopeful is really the Yodel).  Sarah Palin is their God.  If Hillary Clinton proves that a woman can ascend to great heights by working hard and always raising their hand first, Sarah Palin is proof that you don't have have degrees from Wellesley and Yale to do so.  For a country girl who stumbled through five colleges and ultimately eked out a degree to wind up Governor, and a Vice Presidential nominee, is empowering to a major segment of the population.

Don't laugh - similar strategies worked for Andrew Jackson.

So we maybe haven't seen the last of Sarah Barracuda.  (Don't you love that name?  Who doesn't want a tough nickname?  What would mine be?  Apparently Eric Elephant if you listen to Neil and Marcelene.)

Actually, I've been feeling a little fat lately - for some reason, my appetite has been out of control the past few days.  Maybe it's the rapid onset of winter (wasn't I just in a swimming pool on Saturday?) but I have been feeling hungrier than usual lately.

The fruit guy on Broad Street was attempting to peddle some very sketchy looking fruit, so I decided instead of controlling calorie consumption I'd control calorie usage and went to the gym.  Since I'm currently on a project in the financial district, I went to the Equinox on Wall St.

The Wall St. Equinox is a beautiful facility with wood paneling and architectural detail appropriate to the neighborhood.  The locker room is wide and spacious, with leather couches and a large flat-panel television which always plays CNBC.  After my workout, I noticed that the vast population of the locker room was congregated around the television.  This struck me as odd for two reasons - one, I've never seen so many straight men gathered around a television that wasn't showing a sporting event or what I believe is referred to as "hot girl-on-girl action" and two, because when there's a large number of men gathered in an Equinox locker room, they're usually giving each other hands jobs in the steam room before going home to their wives.  (Oh, and speaking of girl on girl action, there's apparently a reporter for the New York Times named Gina Kolata.  I find this inexplicably amusing.  I think this would also be a great name if you do lesbian porn or are a caribbean drag queen.)

The hub-bub was due to the Dow approaching (and ultimately closing above) 10,000.  Now, it's nice that there appears to be something of a market recovery - certainly my 401(k) and other investments have benefited from the rebound - but with nearly 10% unemployment and a lot of other soft indicators (consumer confidence, retail sales) still lagging, we're not exactly out of the woods.

Plus, to hear this information while on Wall St, in the company of the people who brought you the worst economy in 70 years just standing around in towels all wet and flabby and self-important, celebrating this news, well - I imagine it was like being on the O.J. Simpson legal team when he got acquitted.

We have such short memories on these things.  Remember 9/11?  Those towers are still nothing but a big whole in the ground.  Katrina?  The levees still can't withstand a major hurricane and the city hasn't been fully rebuilt.  The I-35 Bridge collapse?  According to the 2009 Quadrennial report by the American Society of Civil Engineers, nearly 80,000 bridges in the U.S. are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. And the number in urban areas is climbing.

Between my five-mile run and my righteous indignation, I was starving, so I bypassed the sketchy fruit and went straight to Chipotle.  I know - it's fast food, it's owned by McDonald's - I get it.  But there are far worse things you could eat.  Get a burrito bowl; rice, black beans, chicken or pork, and pico de gallo.  No cheese, no sour cream.  You'll live.  For $8, I felt OK about it.

For another great way to enjoy chicken - here's what Neil and I ate on our anniversary. That's right, as of Monday we've been married two years (and together almost 5.)  We celebrated with crispy skin roasted chicken, butternut squash, and tarragon peas.

For the chicken, take two split chicken breasts, skin-on, and halve them so you have four pieces.  remove all bones except the wing joint (most butchers will do this for you.  But not Fairway.  Of course, they also butcher your chicken on the same part of the counter where they butcher beef, which grosses me out.)

Rub chicken with a small amount of butter (1 Tbsp should work for all four pieces.)  Season with salt and pepper.

In a large cast-iron skillet, melt 2 Tbsp butter in 2 Tbsp Olive Oil over high heat.  Allow it to get very hot, but don't burn it (oil should sizzle but not sputter or smoke).  Add chicken, skin side down, and reduce heat to medium-high.  Allow to cook for 6-8 minutes.  Turn.

Add 2 chopped shallots, 2 cloves minced garlic, the juice of 1/2 lemon, 1/4 cup white wine.  Add rosemary.

Remove chicken to oven to finish (internal temperature of 160) and allow skin to fully brown and crisp.

Reduce sauce by one-third.

Serve chicken with sauce.

And now, for my long-awaited review of the Standard Grill.  We finally ate there and there's lots to report.

First, it's beautiful.  A great deal of thought went into the design and, given that it's a very large space, it is really exquisitely conceived and executed.  The decor merges the best of bistro and traditional elements, call it Pastis meets East Hampton Farm Stand.  It's comforting and generous, in black and white softened by yellow in the front room and anchored by deep red in the dining room.  Wall sconces and wainscoting add to the charm, and the section of flooring made entirely of pennies is unique and appropriate.  From the approach to the restaurant to the mood inside, the design elements succeed in being a modern take on a traditional look, and are entirely neighborhood-appropriate.

Neil thinks we were flagged in the system after our first experience, which is entirely likely - the hostess we tangled with on our first visit wouldn't look at us, and another one helped us instead.  Throughout the evening the service was excellent, solicitous without being intrusive, helpful without being supercilious.

Now - personally - I don't care if we were flagged and intentionally given superior service.  Whether it's the norm or a response to the previous condition, it's the right thing to do.  Early reviews focused on the uneven nature of the service, and it's comforting to find an establishment that listens to feedback, both individual and en masse, and addresses it.  The nature of a good business partner is not their freedom from flaw, but their responsiveness in addressing them.

We began with wine.  I had requested a Moroccan Syrah but was delivered an Argentinian Malbec.  No matter - it was quite delicious; Neil actually preferred it to the Cotes Du Rhone he sampled, so we both had a glass.

Additionally, the table was immediately covered with several nibbles:  a selection of bread served in a brown bag which hit the right aesthetic note.  The sourdough rolls were delicious, soft and airy inside with plenty of heft and chew to the outside, but the salted breadsticks were disappointing - dry and overly chewy, with no warmth and too much salt.  The bred was accompanied by a dish of aged parmigiano - a perfect accompaniment, and some radishes.

When did raw radishes become a delicacy?

I remember, growing up,  my mother putting out vegetables and dip - remember those large serving trays that were shaped like daisies where each "petal" could be used for a different item, and the dip went in the center? - and radishes were among them.  But up until a few months ago I never saw a restaurant just throw a bunch of wet salty radishes in a bowl and call it elegant.  The Red Cat, now The Standard Grill.

All the cheap basics of my youth are reborn as chic modernity.  Several years ago it was Hush Puppies - those boring shoes you wore in third grade and cost, like, $20 a pair, were now over a hundred bucks and hot hot hot (for five minutes.)  Short ribs, which were once a stew meat, a soup meat, the cheap meat we could afford in the early 80s when both my parents worked for the Board of Education, now require a down payment at the butcher.  Even Converse, the plain white canvas sneakers you avoided because they had no durability and the only sport you could play in them was hopscotch, revisited by John Varvatos at a premium price.

I half expect Wrangler's to show up in Vogue (with a price tag over $200.)

Where the hell was I?  Oh yeah, radishes.  Bleh.

Our server was helpful in guiding us to our entrees; encouraging Neil to the Swordfish over the Halibut. Marinated in soy, ginger and lime, the flavors are delicately balanced.  The fish was cooked perfectly, and was virtually weightless with the Asian preparation - grounded by the umami flavor of a tabouleh salad with shallots and herbs, the nuttiness balancing the slight acidity of the fish.

I'd like to say my pork chop was deserving of such kudos, though - to be fair - our server tried to get me to the strip steak instead.

The pork was a generous cut, but was likely cooked on a grill that was too hot.  The outside suffered from too much char, while the inside had the translucence that generally indicates incomplete cooking.  The meat was ultimately dry and tough, which was disappointing, since the flavors were definitely there.  The presentation, atop some scalloped apples (delicious, but scalloped apples always are - they could have been Stouffers and I would have enjoyed them) and served on a wooden cutting board, was otherwise beautiful.  Properly cooked, it would have been an excellent dish.

Every meal is served with crispy potatoes in a paprika aioli.  The dish, a close relative of patatas bravas common to Spanish tapas, is a nice accompaniment - a way to foster sharing at table, and a nice way to incorporate a side dish to the meal.  Not greasy, but very crispy, the potatoes are delicious and the aioli is smoky and rich.

Additional side dishes are available and we selected the brussels sprouts.  Crispy on the outside, soft and light on the inside, and very well-seasoned, we were happy we ordered them.

Overall, our experience was very good.  The service was excellent, the food well-conceived though not consistently well-executed.  If I were to offer any other comments, I would tell you that the menu is a bit all over the place.  Spanish potatoes, asian fish, a very American pork chop, French bistro design elements; it lacks a certain focus that might provide a tighter ship and more consistent execution.  Still, with great energy, young crowds and nice value, we'd recommend giving it a try and we'll definitely go back.

I'm Cinderella today.  The wash is in the dryer, the grocery store is calling (ugh, effing Fairway) and the dry cleaning won't pick itself up.  So, until my pumpkin turns into a Maserati (oooh, I should get pumpkin.  Pumpkin soup; pumpkin pie; little pumpkins decorating the kitchen) and before the Prince gets home to his castle, I better go.


DO THIS, New York:

Make my crispy skin roasted chicken.

Eat at the Standard Grill

Ooh - also go to The Red Cat and their sister restaurant, The Harrison - both excellent.

Get your body fat tested

DON'T DO THIS, New York:

I'm not feeling the celebration of the Dow when you're the one who crashed it.  It's like congratulating yourself for cleaning up an oil spill.  Yeah, you fixed it (sorta) but there's still a bunch of dead penguins.

Don't call me fat.  Bitch.

1 comment:

  1. Man, I watched The Crumbling of America TWICE (yes, that's 4 hours of my life I'll never get back again) and it scared the be-jeezus out of me. I have no idea how to spell be-jeezus, but you get the picture. Add to that that our preference for "shovel-ready" over actual infrastructure investment resulted in only 22% of the stimulus package going towards improvements that will actually make our country more productive. And there is NO BUDGET for the remaining freshwater, sewer, bridge, tunnel, road, etc. obsoletion. Again, I don't know if obsoletion is a word, but I'm not the blogwriter here. You catch my drift.
    Chicken looks delish!!