Archive | May, 2016
22 May

Chrissy grandmaYesterday, this world lost one of the greats: my sassy, vivacious, tough-as-nails Grandma Rita.

Her love of dogs, gambling, and gossip (though she maintained she was merely “sharing information”) are well documented, but my most cherished memories of her will be how much she supported my writing–she read every word I ever published in The Hoya, bought every copy of Newsweek in Sugar Notch the summer I worked there (even when I didn’t have a byline), and always laughed at the jokes no one else found funny on this little blog. Even after I became a nurse and writing was no longer in my career path, there was almost never a phone call that went by without her reminding me, “You are a tremendous writer, you know,” and then, a crescendoing giggle, “And funny as hell.”

She was also the first person outside of the immediate family to meet MrKef, and I’ll always be grateful for how immediately and warmly she embraced him as part of the family. They bonded over paczkis and poodles, and he was an admitted and unabashed favorite of hers.

Here we are on our sort-of-secret first wedding day with her, because I couldn’t imagine getting married without her:

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And while I could go on and on about her, I’ll leave you with this absolutely-typical email she once wrote me, after she saw on the Facebook that I had gone to a shooting range, subject line: Annie Oakley:

chrissy—-so pleased that you have taken up the fine art of target shooting.  I told Jeannie and she was thrilled–she and I in our younger years were on rifle teams we competed every sunday.  Jeannie was a sharpshooter and all the guys wanted her on their team.  she never missed a target…….. she was one lady not to tangle with.  It is a great way to spend a day/////  hope all is well with you….the puppy is teething and driving this ole lady nuts.  To date he has eaten/chewed my new boots , the electric wire on my fan,one of Rose!s throw blankets last night he was very quiet, I was thrilled, after awhile I checked him he had my cell phone, chewed all the leather from the case top and bottom===we checked he did not make any calls.  Have a great day.  Love you                       rita and ryley

Two Books to Blow Your Hair Back

18 May

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There is no way to talk about this book that will do it justice– just go read it. It was recommended by pretty much everyone in the book world (NYT Best Seller, Amazon’s 2014 Book of the Year, Darling of Oprah’s Book Club), and none of them were wrong. I loved this book so much I walked to and from the grocery store instead of driving just so I could read it while I walked.

The novel follows a family as they deal with the sudden loss of their teenage daughter, Lydia. They’re a biracial family (a dad who’s Chinese American and a mom who’s white) in nowhere Ohio in the 1970s, and Lydia’s death opens the wounds long-since incised on their relationships. Honestly, there’s no point in saying anymore– the strength of this book is not in its plot but in how carefully Ng guides us through the history of a family via one very specific period. It’s definitely one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time.

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Last time I wrote about what I was reading, I was about half way through Consequence: A Memoir by Eric Fair. When I told people I was reading it, no one was surprised–my general literary interests are (in this particular order): identity politics, oppression, and stories about those who complicate oppressive identity politics. So the account of how egregious human rights abuses like Abu Ghraib became common place in Iraq and Afghanistan is pretty much a no-brainer on my bookshelf.

But this book should be required reading for everyone, even if oppressive systems ain’t your bag. I wrote last about how much I admire the way Eric Fair does not exclude himself when providing examples of cowardice, corner cutting, and callous disregard for human life and dignity. As I finished the book, I also came to respect his outright refusal to make a work of torture porn–there are no prolonged waterboarding scenes, no full pages of gory details. Instead, there are plain statements of fact that serve as an illustration of how in the hell we got here: forged resumes, faked credentials, and private corporations more than willing to look the other way in order to cash in on their lucrative government contracts. It’s an indictment of the military industrial complex and an endorsement of the military, a call to action and a plea for de-escalation. It asks as many questions as it answers, and complicates what we know with the simple statement of how much the American public does not know.

Next up: We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. It’s DC Greek Easter and then finals so it may be awhile… let me know if you’ve read it, too!

Greek Easter 2016: Starring Calliope, Gregory, and Jane.

16 May

Usually, my Greek Easter emails start with a picture like this one, which shows the care with which I transport nearly my entire kitchen up to my grandfather’s house for a weekend of cooking with JetSet in a kitchen that hasn’t actually been used in this millennium.IMG_5914But this year, the family Greek Easter celebration actually starts many weeks before the Pascha, when I skedaddled up to JetSet and KimmieKef’s very-well-appointed kitchen in NY for some very special preparation.

…But first, we bought bikes. Both JetSet and KimmieKef are turning 33 this year and, because they have a healthy relationship to numerical symbolism, decided that they should complete the TRIfecta by competing in the NYC TRIathlon (is my banging you over the head with the symbolism giving you a headache?). So, we spent some time with Jesse at Togo Bikes and got them all squared away for some cycling.

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Do either of those photos really need qualifying? I think not.

A few hours later, we walked into their apartment to find a kitchen full of chopped onions, minced garlic, and two expert chefs: Calliope and Georgios. JetSet and I have really gotten good at most Greek cooking staples, but one juggernaut has eluded us: spanakopita. So, we called in the experts from Calliopes Real Greek Food for a lesson in getting that flaky-dough, leafy-green genius juuuuust right.

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We also made some amazing leg of lamb (or so I’m told), imam baildi, and tiropita.

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And then, it was spanakopita time. Calliope guided us through the easier-than-we-would-have-guessed process of making the dough, resting the dough, rolling the dough, and–finally– assembling the dough into a pie.

The secret? A dough whose flour:oil ratio no one who cares about grams of fat wants to know.

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It also helps if you measure in teacups rather than measuring cups and focus on opening the dough rather than rolling it out– this adds to the authenticity of the whole thing.

Under Calliope’s careful guidance, the TerrorTwins + KimmieKef turned out an unimpeachably impressive spinach pie:

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I’d love to cut right to the Greek Easter family celebration, but first, some antics… like truffle popcorn in ceviche juice:

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An exercise in paying no attention to the people behind the curtain:

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And, of course, #shareashark

Not the actual picture to protect those slayed by Jane Danger’s wrath.

Okay, so now we can fast forward a few weeks and JetSet and I were making a mess in our grandfather’s kitchen in preparation for the big meal.

… but obviously that didn’t mean the shenanigans were over. The moment below is our celebration of  our first solo spanakopita, which we both agreed was on par with Gregory’s.

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If you’re a real Greek you will know this is not necessarily the highest of praise. If you’re Greek-American, you will think we are the best cooks on the planet. No matter who you are, your theory that we are freaks of nature has been confirmed by this picture.

For the first time ever, we finished all our cooking on Saturday, with time to spare! We headed up to an Orthodox monastery for Easter midnight service, where we accidentally disturbed strict gender roles by standing next to each other and I was accused of being a man because I wasn’t wearing a skirt.

After all that cooking and confusing the Orthodoxy, I was pooped and ready for some sleep. Before I knew it, it was lunch time on Sunday!

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Our pies weren’t nearly as perfect as the ones we made with Calliope (but they definitely qualified as χωριάτικη).

JetSet won the game life by combining by turning the tiropita into dessert–twice!

First, the left over filling + blueberries:

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And, the next day, warmed with a drizzle of honey.IMG_5941

Once KimmieKef had her second serving of baklava, Greek Easter 2016 was a wrap. Less than a week until I do it all again in DC!

Sweat Box DC Review

4 May

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If you’re into fitness/working out in DC and the internet algorithms have been doing their job, you have probably been inundated with Sweat Box ads across every social media platform on God’s green earth. Never one to miss a new workout, I signed up for the first class on the opening day  to see what this was all about.

Like a lot of boutique fitness studios, most of Sweat Box’s hype is self-driven. The instructors are called “Bosses,” there are all kinds of complicated lighting schemes in the studio, and the front desk staff wishes you a haughty “good luck” as you enter the studio. None of this is too surprising, though–  the studio is an offshoot of Vida, the fashion show masquerading as a gym with memberships ranging from $94-$129 per month. Whatever.

Anyway, the check in area doubles as the locker room (protip: they’re the ones you can set your own code to, so need to bring your own lock), but do know that there’s no actual changing area except the single spa bathroom, so come ready or early. It also gets a bit crowded between classes when one group is coming and the other is going–so if, like me, you are not into any scene where Lulu-clad fitness freaks stand around sizing one another up, just come dressed in your clothes with 3 minutes to spare and head right into the studio. Yes, you know what I’m talking about:

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ANYWAY. The workout itself is similar to interval training and is set up similar to an Elevate or Barry’s, but, instead of separating the class into separate cardio and strength groups, you have your own little station that has a TRX setup, a set of dumb bells, and an awesome stationary bike. The class consists of three strength circuits alternated with ~5 minutes of work/recovery on the bike. The bike was really the interesting/novel part of the the whole thing– you answer a series of questions on the bike computer to get your Functional Threshold Wattage (FTW), and then the computer lights up in either blue, green, yellow, or red to indicate the “zone” you’re working in relative to that FTW.  Again- I am not that into gimmicks/gadgets, but I actually found this to be super helpful in maximizing those short spins and kept me working hard better than the usual 1-10 scale of spin classes. It was also REALLY accurate… when my instructor–err, Boss– said that, “By the end of class, Red should feel like you’ll die if you do more than 30 seconds,” he was spot on.

You can also use a heart rate monitor (has to be a MyZone), though my instructor didn’t focus very much on that. There are two screens in the studio so you can keep track of it yourself, though if you are really into HR training you should pick a spot right in front of the screens because otherwise they are hard to see.

The class was tough, and the instructor Isaiah kept us on cue and upbeat. The moves were easy enough to follow and I loved that it was a focused class (shoulders/chest) rather than total body. I was tired at the end of class but not totally pooped. I found the workout tougher on strength than cardio, and would probably pair this with a run in the future.

Pros:

  • they bring you a cool towel at the end, and this is heaven
  • great strength training with great attention to working the same muscle(s) in different ways
  • good instructor (mine was Isaiah) who read the room really well and pumped us up when we needed some pep and pushed us further when we needed a kick in the pants
  • nice, spacious setup with everything you need for class in one spot
  • awesome way to mix up your workout routine

Not My Favorite:

  • kind of a scene, though this may dissipate as the novelty wears off
  • tough to see the screens where heart rate and other data is displayed
  • a lot of bells and whistles, which I know jazzes some people up but kind of turns me off… just give me the workout, man!
  • high price point ($29-$39/class, depending on number of classes purchased)– I would pay $30/class for SolidCore because it is the world’s most insane workout… this was not that, and should be priced lower accordingly.
  • no locker rooms/shower– I sort-of snuck upstairs to use the main Vida showers (which are AH-mazing, btw), but I’m not really sure I was supposed to, so plan to shower somewhere else.

Bottom Line: I’d go back if I were really in a rut or if a friend really wanted to try it out, but I don’t see this becoming part of my regular routine.

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