Saturday, November 21, 2009

That's Not An Outfit

There are numerous trends and fads that have long outlived their novelty, and which I wish would finally come to a long-awaited end: the re-imagining of childhood comfort food as gourmet cuisine, a cultural fascination with cupcakes, calling people, “Bro.”  However, the one most in need of departure; the one for which I’d endure all the others, is the idea – persistent among the American public - that workout clothes are an appropriate outfit for anything other than working out.

I had to travel on business again this week, and was reminded of my disdain for this interesting fashion choice upon boarding my flight to Phoenix.  Of the three passengers in my row, I was the only one who hadn’t elected to wear some form of athletic pant.  To my immediate right was a large (and really, didn’t you see that coming; no one who wears athletic clothes as “fashion” is actually athletic in any way) woman in a tight (‘natch) pink velour sweatsuit.  And to her right, on the aisle, was a large (‘natch) gentleman who had cleverly chosen to pair his grey windpants with a polo shirt and a grey blazer, taking the concept of a sweat"suit" to an interesting place.  Outside of costuming a character in a Wes Anderson film, such a sartortial choice should really be left to the criminally insane.

Nice try, though.  Workout clothes are NOT an outfit.  Jesus wept.  So did Tim Gunn.

I hate traveling.  I love going to different places, but – in today’s day and age – I just hate air travel.  It’s not just the delays, the crowded airplanes, the limited schedules, the indignities and inefficiencies of airport security, or the public in general.  It’s badly dressed fat people cramming themselves into a seat and overflowing into mine.  And the airlines for keeping those seats to a size suitable for Japanese tea hostesses.

As a former fat person, let me explain, because this is less unkind than it sounds (though, to be fair, not by much.)  First, it has to do with accommodating the reality of how fat America has become.  Over one-third of adults are obese, and studies project that number will exceed 41% in the next few years.  (That increase is due to two factors – the first is the increase in the number of people who become obese, and the second is the aging of already obese youths past the age of 18, at which point they get rolled into the adult population statistics.)

Why then, don't our public conveyances reflect the reality of American bodies?  When you board a train, bus or subway – and particularly an airplane, why do the seats seem to be built for people who are six inches shorter and sixty pounds lighter than most Americans?  I know we’ve been making sport of airline seats for years, but we’re at a near-comical point where the two are so misaligned it feels like it’s being done to intentionally embarrass the passengers.  The woman next to me couldn’t get the armrest all the way down!  Her thighs kept pushing it up, where it then interacted with her love handles and created “muffin top.”

Second, how can we be having a national debate about health care and not only be skipping a serious conversation about controlling costs but also be skipping a serious conversation about nutrition and obesity, which are a top cause of the health care costs we incur and of the increases we’ve encountered in the past few decades?

The guy on the aisle ate more cookies in four and half hours than I ate during both Bush presidencies.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t splurge, but there’s a time and a place.  And be careful with quantities.  Elastic waistbands should be a choice; not a necessity.

Here's a recipe from our kitchen that's completely satisfying, and pretty good for you:

Throw a couple of chicken breasts on an indoor grill (the George Foreman works great for this, as do many others.)  If you don't have one, put a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat.  Sprinkle salt, pepper and rosemary over the chicken and cook almost to completion, approximately 5 minutes on each side.  Spray a non-stick cooking spray, such as Pam, in a shallow casserole (Pyrex works great) and add the chicken.  Cover with marinara sauce (you can use jarred, or combine a can of crushed tomatoes (28 oz), two cans of tomato sauce, and some basil, oregano, italian parsley, onions and garlic.  Cover the chicken with sauce.  Cover with a little shredded mozzarella or parmigiano-reggiano.  Bake for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a skillet or wok, heat some olive oil and add hot red pepper flakes and minced garlic.  Add one package asparagus, cutting each stalk into quarters (and disposing of the bottom quarter, only using the top three.)  Cook for 8 minutes over medium-high heat.

Yes, it's a fake chicken parm, but it's delicious.  And when you do splurge, make it worth your while – and worth the calories.  Here are two tips; one highbrow, one lowbrow.

HIGHBROW SPLURGE:  landmarc – Time Warner.

A midtown branch of the TriBeCa institution that opened to raves in the early part of this decade, landmarc on the third floor of the Time Warner Center retains many of the qualities that earned its sister such glowing reviews (extensive wine list with minimal mark ups, great quality ingredients, varied menu, excellent preparations.)  It also takes the downtown vibe and transplants it to the gateway of the Upper West Side.  landmarc gives the neighborhood a jolt of energy and maximizes the location overlooking the southwest corner of Central Park. 

landmarc is not only a thoroughly modern steakhouse, but arguably the best steakhouse in the city.  Dining at landmarc is a much more limber experience than more traditional steakhouses, due in part to its shrugging off the heavy steakhouse conventions that just weight down the meal. (Does anyone else NEVER need to see a presentation of the meat ever again?  Can we all agree to skip gelatinous bowls of creamed spinach and some dork in a tuxedo carrying a peppermill that looks like it was torn off a four-poster bed?)  What’s left are a variety of inventive appetizers and salads (try the marrow bones), a selection of great cuts of meat (I’m partial to the strip, but the skirt is a great value, too) served with delicious sauces (shallot bordelaise is my preference).  Though – honestly – half the time I never eat the sauce because the meat is so well seasoned.  If steak isn’t your thing, there are more than a dozen other choices, from a generous double cut pork chop or a moist chicken, to a daily pasta special (Bucatini All’amatriciana on Wednesday; Cacio e Pepe on Sunday – both worth engineering which day you go.)

Save room for dessert – and make a point of ordering the not-on-the-menu cotton candy along with a pastry selection or ice cream cone (mint chocolate chip.)  And if you haven’t busted your pants, you’ll get a handful of homemade butter caramels on the way out the door.

You gotta get on a plane, but it’s seriously worth the trip. I’ve done every burger place east of the Rockies, and do have a fondness for the Shake Shacks and the Stoned Crows of the world.  But nothing comes close to In n Out burger – as close to religious experience as you can get for $10 and still keep your clothes on.  6 words:  Double-Double, Animal Style, Chocolate Shake.

Now – some perspective.  I eat steak once a month.  My visit to In n Out was my third in five years, and my first since the spring of 2008. 

After all, if you want to look like you should be wearing athletic apparel as fashion, you should shoot for a swimsuit, not a sweatsuit.


DO THIS, New York:

Make my fake chicken parmesan.

Go to landmarc.  Get the strip steak.

Double-Single, Animal Style, Chocolate Shake.

Wear real clothes.

DON'T DO THIS, New York:

Leave the workout clothes at the gym, please.

Go to the gym, please.

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