30 October 2012

Life without Refined Grains

A few months ago, Victor came home from a business trip committed to a higher-protein, lower- carbohydrate diet.  Partly this was because he'd noticed a colleague of his had become significantly trimmer in the past year, and his colleague attributed his long-term weight loss to a higher-protein diet.

We did not want to omit vegetables of any kind, but we have found Michael Pollan's arguments against processed foods and over-consumption of grains persuasive (see In Defense of Food, for example) and so we decided to avoid refined grains, and try not to automatically "replace" with whole-grain versions, but really to change our eating habits (sashimi instead of brown rice maki). We used to eat all the bread in the breadbasket at restaurants--now we ask them not to bring the bread, even if the rolls are "whole-grain."  This means we deny ourselves some of our favorite foods, so once a week we allow an "exception." But practically speaking, we avoid bread, pasta, and rice.

It's a challenge, especially on-the-go, since sandwiches are out.  Nuts and fruit are a frequent fallback.  This morning I was at a big meeting, catered with "continental breakfast" that was mainly pastries and fruit.  So I ate the fruit. At mid-morning the food table was refreshed with cookies and--happily--granola bars. Oats--rarely if ever refined--are permitted. 

While we have been limiting refined grains, we have been increasing protein, in the form of animal products (eggs, milk, cheese) as well as meat, at the same time trying to maintain or increase the amount of vegetables that we consume. We eat saucy Asian dishes (stir-fries or curries) without accompaniment or over simple vegetables like steamed cabbage.

And we learn new things.  Today's lesson: buckwheat is not a grain.  Grain is only associated with cereals, which are grasses.  Grain is "botanically, a type of fruit" composed of endosperm, germ, and bran. Buckwheat, on the other hand, is the seed of a broadleaf plant related to rhubarb. It's called a pseudocereal because it's used as a cereal grain  but the name is as close as it gets to being grain. 

Why does it matter? It means we can eat buckwheat crepes!  And soba noodles! Yay!

What everyone wants to know is if we've lost weight.  Only a tiny bit.  But we seem to have at least halted the upward-sloping trajectory. And we've eliminated much of the "filler" from our diet--the useless stuff--which feels good.

08 October 2012

Woyczek on the Highveld by Handspring Puppet Company and artist William Kentridge

While I'm not a fan of Georg Buchner's unfinished Woyczek, I was anxious to see this production a couple of Sundays ago at MCA Chicago when I learned that the South African artist William Kentridge was associated with it. I first encountered Kentridge's work at an MCA Chicago exhibit in 2008-2009, and was enthralled by it.

This production was a remounting of a show that Kentridge first directed in 1992. The artist's dreamlike animations are the backdrop for the Handspring Puppet Company's remarkable constructions. The story, about a poor German soldier oppressed by the military and medical establishments to the extent that he loses his sanity and murders his common-law wife, is transformed in this South African retelling. Woyczek is now a black migrant worker.

Buchner's play doesn't need to be changed much to make Woyczek at home in South Africa.  Handspring's puppets and Kentridge's drawing make the story's new location seem so fitting that it's hard to imagine the play taking place anywhere else.  The performers carrying and speaking for the puppets are astonishingly good--their movements complement the puppets beautifully.  And Kentridge's animations are utterly haunting.

While I'm still not a big fan of Woyczek, Woyczek on the Highveld convinced me that Buchner set his play in the wrong country. And I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to see this production.

Note: While this show has come and gone at the MCA, you can find snippets of Woyczek on the Highveld on Youtube.

The Iron Stag King at the House Theatre of Chicago

Victor and I went to see this show a couple of Saturdays ago and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  To us it felt like a return to what we like most about The House Theatre: inventive staging of plays that are unapologetically couched in genres that you don't usually find in the theater. Specifically, science fiction/fantasy plays.  The Iron Stag King is straight fantasy: a hero's journey in a re-imagined universe, envisioned as the first part of a trilogy.

While the story is solid, it is not strikingly original. It would be pretty straightforward to trace aspects of the tale to other hero's journey stories we all know.  What's particularly striking about this production are the beautiful visuals--puppets, costumes, and props--and the conviction the strong cast invests in their multiple roles.

We're eagerly looking forward to the subsequent installments of this new trilogy.