Monday, December 29, 2008


I’ve been considering the motives behind those who feel they must judge the bodies or lifestyles of others. While I do allow for the possibility that there may be genuine concern for the health of others (however misplaced it may be), it seems more often that the health issue is more often a convenient hiding place for something no one is quite comfortable admitting aloud.

“ I am Envy, begotten of a chimney-sweeper and an oyster-wife.
I cannot read, and therefore wish all books burned. I am lean
with seeing others eat. O, that there would come a famine over
all the world, that all might die, and I live alone! then thou
shouldst see how fat I'd be. But must thou sit, and I stand?
come down, with a vengeance!”
-Christopher Marlowe, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus From the Quarto of 1616

There is of course some doubt as to why anyone would envy a group that is so regularly despised and marginalized by their cultural, peers and selves. On the other hand, the stigma that fat is the result of “letting yourself go” is telling. The stereotype may have negative connotations of laziness in our culture, but when you remove the Calvinist interpretation there is much more lurking underneath. In our business and object-oriented society we spend our lives figuratively scrambling up the cliff face by our fingernails in order to reach the top before anyone else. We are never asked to consider whether there is anything on the top of the cliff worth reaching; we only know that we must climb.

What really happens when you let go? The trouble is that no one can really know until they do so. They are told that at the top of the cliff lies immortality, wealth, beauty and love. To climb they must work themselves into illness, give up all pleasure, experience the pain of tearing and stuffing and cutting their bodies, seek out and subjugate themselves to those higher up the cliff while hanging on to the edge of panic over how long they’ll be able to continue climbing.

What they are not told is that they are chasing a mirage. They know on some level, of course. This is why they envy and hate those who simply choose not to climb. They are afraid that if one stops climbing, others will notice and begin questioning the worth of the goal. If all stop climbing, their efforts will be wasted. They will have to admit the impossibility of immortality and the risk of love without purchase. They will have to decide what they really want, rather than giving up volition to follow the masses. Nothing strikes fear into the hearts of humanity more than self-examination.

“Clutching her cornet of sweets the small girl turns to go, reconsiders, turns again. ‘You won’t ever guess his favourite,’ she says. ‘He hasn’t got one.’
‘I find that difficult to believe,’ I smile. ‘Everyone has a favourite. Even Monsieur Muscat.’
Lucie considers this for a moment. ‘Maybe his favourite is the one he takes from someone else,’ she tells me limpidly. Then she is gone, with a little wave through the display window.”
-Joanne Harris, ‘Chocolat’

Envy is not just the desire to have what others have. It is summed up in the phrase “If I can’t have it, no one should.” Personally I have experienced body envy. Honestly I’d doubt any woman who claims to have never, even during their teens, resented another human being simply for having a particular physical trait. Speaking from that experience I can say that envy is an ugly thing. Even stripping away the Judeo-Christian concept of sin, it remains an ugly thing. Envy is a grasping, selfish, hateful feeling that twists everything it touches. If you’ve ever experienced it, you can perhaps understand why the envy of those who don’t feel as if they have the right to be happy can express itself in hate.

This is, of course, an explanation rather than an excuse. Anyone who’s watched monkeys in a cage at the zoo will recognize many basic human behaviours. If you watch long enough you may even be able to check off the Judeo-Christians’ seven deadly sins in their entirety. This is an instance of a religion’s rules of behaviour having perfectly sound reasoning behind the dogma. The “sins” separate us from the chimpanzees. They are what make us civilized in the most basic sense of the word. As Granny Weatherwax would say, all true sins begin with treating people as things. Including ourselves.

(P.S.: To the one who made me re-visit Marlowe, and you know who you are, thanks for inspiring this post!)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Recipe Box: Sweet Baked Ham with Red-Eye Gravy

I'm not a big fan of pork (and boyo do I realize how many dirty jokes you could make out of that statement!) However, since pig in it's various forms is traditional food this time of year, I've experimented to see how I can make it so that I actually do like it. Even so this is a once a year recipe for me.

I prefer fresh ham over cured/salted/smoked or processed. Unfortunately it's getting harder and harder to find. This year I had to resort to a cured ham, but it was a success at the party anyway. I wouldn't use a fully cooked/ready to eat ham as I don't like the salty flavor.

The ingredients list is what I use for a 12 pound half-ham (serves about 10-12 people without leftovers). If you have a much larger or smaller ham, just eyeball the ingredients. They're not that precise because they don't really need to be. Don't stress out over which size can of pineapple, just dump it on in.


Whole or half ham (butt or shank end)

2 cups (1/2 of a fifth bottle, give or take) pineapple schnapps (can substitute pear or apple if you can't find pineapple). Look for schnapps with natural flavoring. Don't use things like apple pucker with all artificial flavor and color or trust me, it will be gross (and a funny shade of purple).

1 can/1 cup of crushed pineapple with juice
1 can/8-10 slices of pineapple with juice
1 bottle red maraschino cherries with juice
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup whole cloves
1 whole Cinnamon stick


Place the ham in a large roasting pan (cut end down if using a half-ham)

Poke the cloves. (my this post is just full of dirty statements!) Push the sharp end of each whole clove into the ham until you have a pattern of dots spread approx. 1/2 to 1 inch apart over the entire surface (not the cut end if you're using a half-ham). Think Pinhead from Hellraiser if you need a visual. If you get your cloves from a whole foods or organic store they will generally be larger, stronger, tastier and easier to work with than the bottled type.

Use wooden toothpicks to tack maraschino cherries onto the ham, then hang the pineapple slices from the toothpicks (this looks impressively Dickensian when it's finished).

Dump the rest of the pineapple, maraschino cherries, Cinnamon stick and brown sugar over the top of the ham. Don't drain the juices first, just throw it all in. Pour the liquor over everything.

Cover the roasting pan. If the cover won't go on because of the size of the ham, make a "tent" from aluminum foil that peaks over the top of the ham and is crimped onto the inside edge of the roaster. Don't leave any gaps for steam to escape, but remember that you'll need to get in to baste. The point is to trap the condensation while it's cooking so that the ham does not dry out.

Bake at 135 degrees for approx. 35 minutes for each pound (i.e. 6 hours for a 12 pound ham) Yes, this means it'll be in the oven all day! Baste at least every hour, turning the ham if possible.

Uncover and bake an additional 1/2 hour to 45 minutes, baste/spoon the juices liberally over the ham every 15 minutes.

Serve! Remove the toothpicks (the pineapple should stick on it's own at this point) and either cut off the skin or remove the cloves before serving.

Red-Eye Gravy:

Stir up the ham drippings at the bottom of the roasting pan.
you can use a spoon, baster or large-hole sieve to separate the juices and drippings from the fruit. Set aside the fruit to serve as a side dish.
Make a pot of very strong coffee. Add 1/4 cup coffee for each cup of liquid and drippings to a pot on medium-low heat.
Add flour a tablespoon at a time (or corn starch 1 tsp at a time dissolved in hot water).
Stir constantly until gravy thickens. This makes a sweet and savory gravy that goes well with ham and sweet potatoes.


The perfect use for leftover ham from this recipe is to use it, bone and all, as a base for soup. I do bean soup, but it would work as a base for potato or split-pea as well.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Comfortable in my Skin

Have you ever met someone who makes you feel entirely unselfconscious? I've encountered a few in the last months, and it was the absence of the initial "once-over" look that made me aware that such a look existed.

You know the look (or at least now you'll be waiting for it). You meet someone new and there's a moment where they assess your clothes, body, shoes, income, hair and stance in a single superficial sweep, conscious or otherwise. You can see certain questions being checked off in their much does she weigh? How tall is she? What is she wearing and what does it say about her? Does she have money, a wedding ring, good/bad makeup? Are her shoes new/cheap/appropriate for her outfit? Is she trying to be trendy/goth/punk/hip/conservative in her dress?

Of course I'm of multiple minds on this. On one hand it's a perfectly normal part of human communication to use non-verbal cues to figure out how to approach people or to correctly interpret or anticipate what they say. It's such a natural part of communicating that most of us don't realize that it's missing in these days of IM and chat. We've learned, to some extent, to adapt to the lack of visual cues, but this lack is part of the reason there are so many more arguments and misunderstandings in online conversations.

On the other hand, as Samuel Clemens said, "common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen". When someone does the "once-over" look, are they filtering what they see through a collection of prejudices that includes the Calvinistic belief that I am all of the negative character traits associated with fat people? That I am lazy, stupid, etc. ? When I defy that belief, is the surprise increased because of those prejudices? (Which, one could argue, might be used to my advantage).

But, as I said, I've met a few people recently outside my regular circle of friends who met me without the usual once-over. Coincidentally, they turned out to be people I'm really drawn to, have a lot in common with, and will hopefully end up as close friends. I don't want to use the absence of the "once-over" as a magic eight ball of potential friendship at this point, but I'm going to at least pay attention to it as a barometer; one more tool when it comes to knowing how people tick.

Then again, using the absence of a superficial assessment of my personality as a superficial assessment of their personality is quite probably hypocritical of me.

Then again, I never did claim to not be a hypocrite.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Health Ramble

Is it my own shift in perspective, or is the "be thin and live forever" market beginning to lose it's edge? The same tired lines, the ever increasing desperation to sell as many magic pills as possible before someone catches on... Weight loss promises seem to be going the way of so many modern Americana trends, and commercials for weight loss now seem at home on the late night infomercial slot sandwiched between the miracle shammy and the gadget that lets you cook chicken on your carburetor. In other words, it's getting old, and it seems people are now looking for the next big thing to throw time and money at in hopes of an eternal life. Maybe if we're lucky it'll be HAES.

At what point do we realize that everyone, fat, thin, smoking, vegan, kosher and jogging, will one day die. Odds are they will also get sick first. The idea that artificial thinness somehow grants immortality or control over fate is so ridiculous that even I have problems believing that I bought it for so long.

If someone does, by some fluke, break through the barrier of immortality, we all know that it'll be some rancher in Wyoming who chain smokes and eats steak at every meal. That's how the universe works. Irony is the subtle weapon it uses to poke at our illusions of control.

In the meantime, I have gone from being able to say "I'm fat but I'm perfectly healthy" to PCOS. Which means I have to say, "There are plenty of healthy fat people, I'm just not one of them." Somehow it lacks oomph in my own mind, even though either argument will fail if someone is truly determined against the idea. It's even a bit unfair to myself, as I am relatively healthy outside of PCOS. It doesn't mean that I don't feel that my body has somehow let me down, or fear that having something wrong with me will give fat-haters an "aha!" trump in any discussion, but in all honesty I'm still generally healthy, regardless of weight. Who knows what it all means in the end, except that perhaps it never really mattered in the first place. Health has always been a red herring for the underlying issue that human beings will always need a group to feel superior over. In the absence of an official hierarchy, an unofficial one will always spring into being. At some point weight was selected in the public mind to be the basis of that hierarchy, and here we are today supporting a $50 billion weight loss industry.

That begs the question...are the thin really at the top of any social scale, or are we simply duped by industry advertising dollars into thinking they should be?