Suck it Trebek

When I was a teenager, I took a Driver’s Ed course offered by my local public school. It was competitive to enroll, because it was far more affordable than taking classes through a private company, but still met the state requirements to get your license. The instructor of the class was a very ornery old man who had a lot of opinions about a lot of things. The opinion he expressed most often was that women are emotional airheads who shouldn’t drive.

He told us a story about having to go rescue a poor hapless lady driver stranded in the snow because she didn’t have enough room in her delicate little brain to remember to fill her car with gas. He told us another story about how his secretary once broke her nose when her airbag went off in a crash, using that as an example of a reason we shouldn’t get behind the wheel. You know, just in case we mess up our pretty faces, the only real assets we have. These are just a few of the many gems he spewed out at us over the length of the course. Don’t even get me started on some of the things he said to me while I was actually in the car driving with him.

Tonight while watching Jeopardy, one of our favorite family bonding activities, I had a very vivid flashback to my Driver’s Ed days when Alex Trebek made one of the most condescending comments I’ve heard him utter in a while. After the cast of female contestants correctly answered all the questions in a category about Madden Football, he could hardly contain the surprise in his voice as he noted that the “ladies” did very well with the category.

Sigh.

Naturally, as I do with many things, I took to Twitter to voice my dissatisfaction. What surprised (and delighted) me was how so many others did the same. Not only that, but I’ve found almost no voices out there who are arguing the other side of it. Considering the internet is generally a chest-thumping chorus, I’m going to revel in this brief moment of solidarity. Here are just a few of the comments on Trebek’s condescension du jour.

On qualifying interests

I’m going to start out this post with the sentence that drives some of my friends crazy – I don’t watch Game of Thrones. I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.

32019067

I gave the book series a chance before the show was even a glint in HBO’s eye. I read the first one, and felt solidly meh about it, but figured I’d read the second and see if the storyline got more interesting. In my opinion, it did not. So, when they announced they were making a television series from the books, I didn’t feel any need to watch it. Even with all the hype, and the merchandise, and the societal obsession, I still don’t feel any need to watch it.

Part of what bothers me about the constant badgering to watch it is this idea that I have to like a certain thing simply because I like certain other things. I love science fiction, but I’m not a fan of fantasy. To put this in book terms, I love the Foundation series of books but I honestly can’t stand Lord of the Rings. And this isn’t just me deciding I don’t like LOTR because I don’t like fantasy. Just as with Game of Thrones I read them and didn’t like them.

What’s worse is the idea that I have to like all of a certain type of thing. For example, I’m a huge fan of dystopian writing. Brave New World is on my top 10 book list, and I recently got around to reading (and loving) Battle Royale after being a fan of the film for quite some time. But that doesn’t mean that I’m obligated to like every piece of dystopian fiction ever published. I read the Hunger Games and thought the series was ok, but not great. I read Divergent and thought the trilogy was absolutely atrocious. Yes, I know that those are YA books, but it shouldn’t matter what audience a book is written for if it’s good. The Giver is dystopia written for teens and it’s a phenomenal read for all ages.

Photo on 2012-09-01 at 14.16

I think society is still way too focused on trying to put things into boxes, the same way kids seem to instinctually form cliques. We may grow older, but I don’t think we grow out of the need to feel part of a distinct group. For me, it’s more about managing expectations than anything else. Because I like Batman, people expect that I like all comics when the truth is I simply like Batman. I don’t actively dislike comics (except Spiderman, but that’s a story for another day) and there are other comics that interest me, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a fan.

The bottom line is that humans are wonderfully complex by design, and that means their thoughts and opinions are as well. I could rattle off examples all day of things I like and dislike, but I’d much rather you get to know me (and in the process, my interests) by getting to know me. Rather than say, “I can’t believe you don’t watch Game of Thrones!” I’d prefer you ask me why I don’t watch it. I’ll be happy to tell you what I think of the books, and I’ll be open to hearing what you think about them as well. I love that my friends and I don’t always agree on things, because life would certainly be a lot more dull if we did.

It’s a dirty job

Since returning to America, I’ve had the chance to watch a fair bit of daytime television. This also means that I’ve had the chance to watch a fair bit of daytime advertising. The ads (appropriately so) are demographically split pretty evenly between retired people and women, since these are the two groups most likely to be at home during the day. After noticing the glaring sexism in a recent insurance campaign, I started paying closer attention to the rest of the products being marketed to female consumers.

blog-01-ad

To say I was less than impressed with their strategy would be a gross understatement. Stepping away from the ad trend a few years ago of poking fun at “doofy” husbands, it seems that advertisers now think wives have completely given up on thinking fondly about their hapless mates and moved on to thinking about greener (and often younger) pastures. The first to catch my eye was a Liquid Plumr spot that does its best (worst?) to spoof more x-rated viewing.

While you’re letting that gem sink in, let me explain how this is not just a one-off ad. It’s actually part of a larger campaign supposedly meant to “inform” women about plumbing issues. I put that word in quotes because all they really seem to do is insult women’s intelligence by assuming:

  1. They don’t know how to unclog a drain
  2. They want to ogle men rather than learn how to unclog a drain
  3. In the end, they’d rather someone else just unclog it for them

Oh, and also, apparently women are just dying to get “double-teamed” by two sexy workmen. I legit cannot believe they actually went there, especially considering that the parent company of Liquid Plumr is Clorox. Their corporate site has a very extensive explanation of their code of conduct (which you can download here), and I’ve excerpted a section I think is relevant:

Driven by our passionate desire to do the right thing, every day, our commitment to family well-being is core to who we are, and we are proud to continue the tradition of strengthening our communities.

It goes on to explain their harassment policy, although when I clicked on the link for the full anti-harassment policy I could not read it without an employee password.

Harassment of an individual in the workplace (whether or not they are an employee) for any reason, including race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, marital status, citizenship status, religion, age, physical or mental disability, ancestry, veteran status or any other protected category is strictly prohibited. Harassment of an employee off Clorox premises is also prohibited. Retaliation against anyone for rejecting sexual advances, making a good faith report of discrimination or harassment or providing information or assistance in the investigation of such a report will not be tolerated.

Despite this very public posting of their code of conduct, they seem to think it’s perfectly fine to harass potential consumers. Or, I guess I should say former potential consumers, because I’m not buying anything from them anytime soon.

blog-06-ad

Speaking of harassment, Dannon has also gone completely off the deep end while attempting (and, in my opinion, failing) to be funny. They’re running a series of ads with John Stamos, where women can’t keep their lips off him. I guess he’s meant to be a sort of metaphor for the yogurt? It’s all very unclear to me, as I was blinded by rage.

Hey, fellas! Want a lady to put her mouth in your lap? Just drizzle a little yogurt on your junk. Ladies can’t resist the call of the yogurt.

But apparently it’s ok, because they get interrupted by two more guys who just happen to be in the room watching her lick yogurt off him. So, don’t worry about the demeaning dairy foreplay, because it never actually leads to anything. Something tells me that this is also contrary to the company policies at parent company Danone, who has this to say about diversity:

Following on from the open-mindedness and culture of difference which Danone wishes to preserve, diversity must manifest itself in balance, representativeness, respect and even confrontation… We must be able to evaluate it, measure it, and nurture it. The company must promote diversity as an opportunity everywhere; a source of performance and team agility rather than a regulatory requirement. Danone has set itself priorities: to promote equality between women and men, to encourage the mixing of generations, to support the representation of cultures and nationalities, to improve variety in career paths and qualifications.

They even go so far as to demonstrate their empowerment of women with this handy infographic.

Diversite1

Maybe if their executive core was comprised of more than 13.5% women, they’d be able to actually promote equality between men and women, rather than just talk about it.

blog-02-ad

Runners-up in this race to the bottom include Hefty and Renuzit, who both trot out a veritable stable of men for you to fantasize about.

Hefty tries to mitigate it by also throwing in a “regular” guy, but it just comes across as too little, too late.

blog-05-ad

Renuzit doesn’t even attempt to mask its intentions, with an ad campaign titled Choose Them All. Just in case you didn’t get enough leering in during the 15-second ad, their YouTube channel has behind-the-scenes footage of all the men being sultry in slow-motion.

If you want me to buy your products, the sales pitch really isn’t all that complicated - Just show a little respect. Give me a commercial that shows scientifically why Hefty bags are stronger. Did you invent a new material? Is it the process? Does that strong bag still biodegrade? This is how I’d like to make my purchasing decision.

Now, I know, you only have a limited time to make an impression. Generally that’s only 15-30 seconds. And, you want that impression to be memorable. You’d also probably like to be edgy, or some other equivalent buzzword. When you sexualize a product in order to sell it, the impression is memorable but not favorable. Treat me, treat women, treat all people with the respect and dignity you’ve so carefully outlined in your corporate statements, and you’ll earn my brand loyalty.

Baking with beer

Leave me alone for long enough, and I will start cooking things. It’s just what I do. I’ve shared a few of my recent from-scratch health-food experiments, as well as my foray into the wild world of condiments, but last week my kitchen thinking went a little outside the box. Or perhaps I should say, inside the box.

beer-baking-01

I’ve made 2-ingredient cupcakes before, so I know that the boxed mix and soda combination does actually work. Branching off that premise, I thought, why not beer? It’s fizzy and flavorful, plus I always see Guinness baking recipes pop up each year when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around. Working with what I already had in the house, I figured that the cardamom kick in this wicked saison would actually work pretty well with the pumpkin flavor.

beer-baking-02

I mixed it up exactly the same way I would have done for soda cake – just poured 12oz of beer into a bowl with 1 box of cake mix and whisked it all together. I baked it according to the package directions for cupcakes, opting for the lowest cooking time in the suggested range. The general chatter on the web is that soda baking yields slightly fewer cupcakes than traditionally prepared boxed mix, but I got 24 perfectly sized cupcakes out of this combination. I’m thinking the yeast in the beer helped plump up the batter. Either that, or I just got lucky.

beer-baking-03

These cupcakes are not perfect. For starters, they needed to set overnight before they actually had any structural integrity. Secondly, they do have a (very slight) bitter aftertaste to them. Also, after a day, you’ll definitely want to store them in the fridge. All that said, I still really like them. I’m a fan of bitter desserts, especially the sort of bitterness that comes from a very dark chocolate. This was sort of reminiscent of that, and also tempered by the mix of spices.

beer-baking-04

I made a 2-ingredient cream cheese frosting to go with it by combining whipped cream cheese with sweetener until it hit the right balance. This was a really successful hack, allowing me to skip the addition of butter and also the time usually spent waiting for the cream cheese to soften. After tasting one topped the traditional way, I decided to smash two cupcakes together like a whoopie pie. You know, for science.

The verdict? This dessert isn’t for everyone, but it’ll be a hit amongst beer lovers. If beer isn’t your thing, I’d still recommend trying out soda baking. It’s quick, easy, and lets you fool around with fun flavor combinations. I know it’s not exactly in keeping with healthy eating, but hey, I’m only human.

On a serious note

When I was in middle school, I went on a student trip to Europe. We spent three weeks touring, starting in Spain and working our way through the mountains into France, then a detour through Switzerland on our way to Germany before ending our trip in Paris. It was a transformative experience for me, instilling a love for travel, a need to explore, and a desire to continually enrich my life with the new.

Because I have a photographic memory, it’s easy for me to relive any portion of the journey with just a bit of earnest reflection. I pressed my face to the bus window as we drove on winding roads, the Pyrenees towering over us with lush greenery. I watched the sun slowly sink on the horizon over the Black Forest from the deck of my host family’s home, the father dropping by to wish us, “Good morning!” because that was the only English phrase he knew. I was breathless looking out from the window of a cafe on Mont Blanc, having never before understood just how beautiful snow could be. I still feel my heart race when I remember being in the center of Paris on Bastille Day, running away from children who made a game of throwing lit firecrackers at the American tourists.

notre-dame

Because I have a photographic memory, it’s also impossible for me not to relive a specific portion of the journey whenever current events bring it back to the surface. We were all exhausted on the trip home from France, and it felt like torture trying to stay awake as we transferred to our connecting flight. We were led down a long corridor to a sort of glass rotunda to wait for the plane, a small section of the terminal completely isolated from shops or restaurants. There were just a handful of gates, and benches, and people.

Seeing another group of students, we sat down with them to chat and pass the time. They were a little bit older than we were, but they were friendly and eager to hear about our trip after finding out we had just come from Paris. They were on their way to France, and were particularly amused by our stories of fleeing fireworks, so vividly told as it had only happened days prior. We only sat with them briefly before it was time to board our flight, but I remember waving as we went through the ticket check.

By the time we landed in DC, their plane had already crashed just off the coast of New York. There were no survivors.

I’m not afraid of air travel. I don’t worry about accidents or mishaps, because I have a firm grasp of statistical probability. I know that crashes are rare, and I know that I probably engage in activities on a daily basis that are more dangerous than air travel. But still, whenever I hear about a flight that goes down or goes missing, I remember that short, chance encounter. It reminds me that life is unpredictable, that misfortune is often random, and that we are all lucky to get the opportunity to experience today. In all its ups and downs, today is amazing because it is here and we are here with it.

Bite me

I’ve been performing a lot of kitchen experiments recently. It’s partially because I’m enjoying the access to a variety of ingredients that comes with moving back to the States, but mostly because I love the whole process of mixing and testing and eating. It’s like alchemy – part art, part science, and part wishful thinking.

A lot of my experiments of late have involved almond flour, which seems to be the hip health food these days. It’s reasonably high in protein, low in carbs, unbleached, and gluten free. Also, it’s made of almonds, which are delicious. Thinking I’d found the perfect replacement for flour, I jumped right in and tried to make peanut butter cookies. The house filled with the delightful smell of fresh-baked goodies, and I patted myself on the back for being such a culinary genius.

gluten-free

They were a disaster. It’s partially my fault for even attempting a recipe with “vegan” in the title, and also probably the hubris of ignoring some of those vegan instructions by using butter and Splenda. They looked like cookies, but when you touched them they disintegrated into this sad nutty dust like a vegan vampire. I vowed to stay away from cookies (and vegans) and reserved my almond flour usage for more structured things like muffins and meatloaf.

This was all well and good until about two weeks ago when I really wanted a chocolate chip cookie. Like, wanted one in a way that could only have happened via post-hypnotic suggestion. The problem was, I knew that there was no way I could exercise self-control in a situation like that. Baking a dozen chocolate chip cookies would result in having 10 more cookies than could be safely left in a room with me.

I punched in some very specific search requests involving the requirement of butter (I wasn’t going to take any chances this time) and stumbled across a recipe that seemed to be both simple and comprised of actual human food. With only a slight adaptation of my requisite sugar swap, they not only looked and smelled like cookies, but actually stayed together like cookies. Eggs and butter, people. Eggs and butter.

mandel-bites

Because of the almond flour they taste much closer to mandelbread than chocolate chip cookies, so I’ve taken to calling them mandel bites. I’ve also taken to blissfully eating them by the handful. You can find the recipe over at The Wannabe Chef, but be warned that these are about as addictive as they are easy to make.

How to feed a niche

I have a not-so-secret love for products with only one, very specific use. It takes a fantastic amount of chutzpah to get someone to spend money on something like a piece of plastic to fold shirts just a little bit more neatly. The gold standard of tunnel vision innovation is, without question, Williams-Sonoma. They have a knack for not only finding niche markets, but inventing niche markets just to sell products to them. I’ve put together some of my favorite items from a recent scroll through their website.

herbsicle

The Chef’n Herbsicle is an “ingenious little device” that compresses herbs into a tube so you can put them into the freezer and store them for later. All you need to then do is apparently saw through the frozen hunk to conveniently use the herbs any time! Or you could just use sandwich bags. Or blend them and pop them into ice cube trays. Or even freeze them in olive oil. But, you know, it sounds a lot cooler to say “herbsicle.”

The Chef’n Herbsicle is $9.95. They recommend you buy several of them for each variety of herb you want to freeze.

pie-lifter

Also from the apostrophe-loving folks at Chef’n, we have the Mini Pie Lifter. This specialty product does exactly what it sounds like it would. It is specifically made to lift mini pies from a mini pie pan so you don’t accidentally ruin the perfectly round structure before you can post it to Instagram. For the times when you don’t trust your own hands, there’s the Chef’n Mini Pie Lifter!

The Chef’n Mini Pie Lifter is regularly $12.95, but is currently on sale for $6.99. Don’t even think about shopping around for a better price – this item is available exclusively at Williams-Sonoma.

Looking to build yourself the kitchen of the future? You’re definitely going to need the Philips Viva Digital Air Fryer. There’s honestly no way I could describe this little gadget better than they can:

We predict this revolutionary machine will forever change your ideas about frying. The first of its kind, the Air Fryer uses patented technology to fry your favorite foods to crispy, golden brown perfection, using little or no oil. It works by precisely circulating hot air, yielding results that are virtually indistinguishable from traditional deep-fried foods. From French fries and fried chicken to homemade doughnuts, this remarkable innovation lets you enjoy all your best-loved fried foods—without the guilt.

Aside from the fact that you have to be careful not to accidentally push the button and release the contents of the basket all over your floor, I’m guessing that you’re likely met with a puff of very hot air whenever you have to open the contraption to stir (which is apparently often). But what’s a little steam burn on your knuckles when you can enjoy fried chicken guilt free? Call me crazy, but I think I’d rather just have an actual piece of fried chicken once in a while and skip the guilt.

The Philips Viva Digital Air Fryer can be purchased for the bargain price of $299.95, plus the last shred of your self-dignity.

bunny-pan

The Nordic Ware Easter Bunny Cake Pan is one of those things that seems like a good idea but is actually a surefire way to traumatize your children. Imagine the delight on their little faces as you bring out a “playful cake in the shape of the season’s signature rabbit.” Now, imagine their horror as you pull out a knife, stab the bunny, and serve it up to them on plates. Mmmmmmm, tastes like buttercream frosting mixed with tears.

The Nordic Ware Easter Bunny Cake Pan is $39.95. Counseling costs may vary.