30 November 2015

The Purple Carrot Update and Other Healthy Food Delivery Options

We changed our minds quicker than I expected about The Purple Carrot, and are anticipating another delivery this Wednesday. A couple of immediate spurs to this this decision: last week due to foul weather I didn’t make it to the grocery store on the day I’d planned, and then the meal I’d planned to make required ethnic ingredients that weren’t available in my neighborhood. So my good intentions basically collapsed due to poor planning.

Instead, we ordered from Sprig, which a friend had tipped me off about: it’s an organic meal delivery service. On the upside, the meals are priced reasonably, arrive relatively quickly, and are made of wholesome organic ingredients (which—along with calorie counts—are clearly communicated). On the downside, the flavors (on the two occasions on which we ordered) are underwhelming.

My new interest in grocery and/or meal delivery pointed me to another service, Lighter, which serves Chicago.  Like The Purple Carrot, Lighter delivers the ingredients and recipes of wholesome meals; however, ingredients are sourced locally and delivered in person rather than by FedEx (you schedule your delivery so you can receive it).  Other big differences: you can choose a plan that includes meat or only vegetables and meal plans start at nine meals a week and go up from there—but meals may include breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner—you choose how many of each (The Purple Carrot offers a standard meal size/type).  Further, Lighter has a more custom bent: the idea is that you choose your goals, indicate what foods you can’t/won’t eat, and their nutritionists design a meal plan.

I like the idea of a more complete, customized meal plan, and would prefer that my ingredients aren’t sent from across the country, but our schedule right now doesn’t permit us to try Lighter.  Maybe next year.

In the meantime, we look forward to our next delivery from The Purple Carrot. Since we are traveling a few days each week until mid-December, it’s actually going to be a great convenience to have the ingredients of three healthy vegan meals delivered to our home—during a very hectic period we won’t have to plan anything. We are also excited about the opportunity to learn more relatively quick techniques (preparation of the meals takes 45 minutes or less). In the first week of using The Purple Carrot I learned to make tahini sauce, massage kale, and make the quickest black bean burger ever, all of which I found pretty thrilling. Also, every (Mark Bittman-written) recipe we have tried from The Purple Carrot has turned out delicious, which is hugely persuasive.

17 November 2015

Checking out The Purple Carrot

Last year around this time, I read Mark Bittman’s VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health . . . for Good after hearing him talk about it at last year’s Chicago Humanities Festival. Bittman was promoting the idea of eating vegan, whole foods for breakfast and lunch—and relaxing restrictions at dinner. He explained that he invented the system to deal with his own health issues (creeping weight gain, newly borderline cholesterol, blood pressure, and pre-diabetes conditions) and found it to be eminently doable, effective, and also delicious.

I found his talk inspiring, and his book equally so. The book includes great advice, like prepping vegetables when you bring them home from the grocery store, so it’s less of a chore to cook on a weeknight. For some months I was cooking a lot more at home, but frequent travel would get me out of the habit.

Recently Bittman left the New York Times to join The Purple Carrot, a vegan food delivery service. It’s a business that suits his ideals, encouraging families to eat vegan at least a couple of times a week. He makes the recipes, and the delivery service makes it easy by providing the ingredients you need to cook those recipes, already portioned out.

So I tried it. The recipes are great, but I was underwhelmed by the delivery service. Last Wednesday I got a big heavy box, with ingredients for three recipes. I found all the packaging embarrassing. They make a big deal about how you can recycle the cold packs (slit them open, dump the gel in the trash, and then put the plastic in the recycle), but doing that weekly just seemed an awful waste to me. And I didn’t see the need to get stuff delivered that I normally keep in my pantry (cans of black beans, or cumin). So while I had success with the recipes (even with one for which the packers omitted one of the requisite vegetables), I cancelled.  I thought I’d work with the recipes (which are available to anybody) and do my own shopping.

Today I’m questioning that decision. I’d planned to go to the grocery store, but it’s pouring. And tomorrow I can’t shop, either.


Maybe in the new year I’ll rejoin.

13 November 2015

The Thompson Center

There’s an interesting post about the Thompson Center on the Chicago Architecture Foundation website. Victor and I hated this building for a long time. It seems out of scale and out of keeping with its surroundings, round for the sake of being round; it is accompanied by an extravagantly ugly piece of public art; and the interior, with its enormous atrium showing the galleries of floors above reminds me of a really depressing Hyatt Regency Hotel. 

The building was designed by prominent architect Helmut Jahn, and our opinion of him was quite low for a long time in spite of the way he is often highlighted on the CAF boat tours we take approximately annually with out-of-town guests.

Two things changed our point of view about this building (somewhat). First, some years ago, with a friend visiting from out of town, we had a chance to visit the tippy-top of the Hard Rock Hotel, which is located in the former Carbide and Carbon Building.  They were renovating at that time, and the elevator took all the way up even though it was under construction. We had a chance to look out the windows, from which the views down on the city were just fabulous. And when I saw the Thompson Center from that vantage, I said, “Oh, I know why they chose that design. In a maquette it would have looked awesome!”

Second, we visted Berlin a couple of years later and encountered the thrilling Sony Center, also a Helmut Jahn project. It is hard to find good photos because the complex is so enormous, but when we saw it Victor and I both thought, This is what the Thompson Center was practice for.

Our attitude toward the building thus transformed. Perspective is all.

11 November 2015

Substitution in Thinking about Activists

There is something so very wrong when college students are subject to racial epithets and ugly vandalism and nothing is done, as has happened at Missouri State University. Now, because the football team decided to strike, there are at least some administrative changes in the offing, but there is still not much clarity around how the racist behavior at the root of current events will be addressed. 

And when the protesting students make (perhaps) a misjudgment (the refusal to tolerate a media photographer at their tent city on campus), the world rushes to condemn them.

As if pushing one reporter away outweighs addressing any harm the students have suffered and will suffer due to entrenched racism in the university community.

I suppose it is because racism makes us so uncomfortable. We much prefer to believe it doesn’t exist, or if it does, then it isn’t our responsibility to fix. 

The other night I was glued to Twitter, reading a conversation between Roxane Gay (who recently spoke at the Humanities Festival here in Chicago) her friend, sociologist Dr. Tressie Cottom, and David Simon, the former journalist who created the great television series The Wire and Treme. David Simon was arguing for absolute freedom of the press, criticizing the protestors for barring access to photographer Tim Tai. Gay and Cottom were making a more nuanced argument, accounting for the protesters’ wariness of media and their desire to foster a safe space.

What stunned me most was how much Twitter energy was going into arguing over this incident—one viral video. This was more worth discussing than how we fix the real problems that those protesters are facing? Tim Tai himself tweeted, “Just want to reiterate that while I think we need to talk about the 1st Am issues from today, the larger story is not about that.

Yet The Twitter conversation went on! I was deeply disappointed in David Simon, although this discussion has been proposed as an example of a useful debate on Twitter.

Can we have multiple conversations (e.g., about racism and about the importance of the first amendment)? It seems like we ought to be able to. But when one conversation is difficult, we tend to supplant the difficult conversation with the easier one. And if the easier one involves switching blame to the victims we might be complicit in harming, so much the better.

We not only get to avoid the difficult conversation, but we get to weasel out of our responsibility to fix the root problem. It’s like focusing on a rape victim’s tacky fashion sense, or—even more typically—focusing on the shoplifting activity of an unarmed teen killed by police.

I don’t know what stops this. Per Daniel Kahneman (Thinking, Fast and Slow), answering an easier question when we’re asked a hard one is something we just do. Recognizing that we do it is one step forward, but only the first.

P.S. Good article by Roxane Gay on student activism here.

06 November 2015

Out of Love with Twyla

Victor and I went to see the Twyla Tharp 50th Anniversary Tour performance at the Auditorium Theatre last night and were disappointed.  It wasn’t the first time. We were underwhelmed by Tharp’s Movin’ Out on Broadway (in 2005) and by a subsequent performance in Chicago.

I was introduced to Twyla Tharp by a couple of 1980s movies. I was struck by the choreography in Milos Forman’s Hair, which remains one of my favorite movies of that era, and in White Nights, which I went to see in the theater repeatedly (it remains a guilty pleasure to see again on video).  The idea of ballet had always bored me, but now I felt that there was something to it. I was utterly thrilled by the mix of movement and emotion.  Perhaps it was Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines as much as Twyla Tharp who enraptured me. Regardless, she went to the top of my mental list of who to go see live when I had means and opportunity.

That took more than a decade.  We were living in Columbus, Ohio. The Wexner Center for the Arts brought Twyla Tharp in 2002. She had a long association with the Wexner and appeared in person after the performance to crankily answer the questions of dance students in the audience.  While I don’t remember the performance specifically, I remember feeling much the same thrill—and feeling very fortunate.

I can’t say the same of Movin’ Out, which I’d looked forward to intensely.  After all, I’d grown up adoring Billy Joel’s music. Adding my favorite choreographer to the mix could only be a bonus.

That was a miscalculation. The choreography was so literal and uninspired, I felt embarrassed. I remember saying it was like watching the Solid Gold dancers. Almost every choreographic move was sexualized, as if mimicking sexual intimacy was the only interesting choice. (In fact, when you make that choice every time, it becomes dull.)

While the current performance isn’t all about sex, it is unfortunately much about sameness. After a brief First Fanfare, the new Preludes and Fugues (the music is from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier) contains a number of lovely and surprising moments but they are repeated without development over 45 minutes, which diminishes their impact. The second act starts with a stunning Second Fanfare—brief, like the first. The striking choreography of this piece is enhanced by silhouette effects on and behind the curtain.  The long Yowzie has a vibrant early jazz soundtrack, but in spite of some delightful moments, the repetition without development eliminates any feeling of excitement you might have had at first.

This is a busy time of year for us, and I think our disappointment was sharpened by the feeling that we could have had a night off!  Our powerfully positive early impressions of Twyla Tharp have been pretty definitively wiped out. 

We will no longer be going out of our way to see Twyla.

05 November 2015

The 606

I rode my bike over to the new 606 trail yesterday with a friend. It’s a hugely popular new elevated park, on the site of a disused rail line. It’s similar in concept to New York City’s Highline, but a different animal. The 606 is twice as long (just over three miles), allows bicyclists, and is located in a part of the city that’s a lot less dense. That means most views from the 606, while pleasant, lack the spectacular punch of views from the Highline. You see a lot of different residential real estate (some of which looks brand new—as if built or rehabbed to leverage a potential gentrification boom around the 606’s popularity) so it feels more neighborhood-y, which is appropriate to the kind of city Chicago is.

On a beautiful Wednesday afternoon, the trail was heavily used by strollers, loungers, bicyclists, joggers, speed walkers, and school kids. Part of the vision for the 606 is to connect to different parks on Chicago’s West Side, and it looked likely that the school group was using it for that purpose. The new park works a more beautiful way to commute between Bucktown and the far West side and as a beautiful (and perhaps delicious) way to explore a different part of town, if you’re not from there. 

During both my visits to the 606, I ate with companions at 90 Miles Cuban CafĂ©, which is just north of the trail on Armitage Avenue at Rockwell in Logan Square. So it’s a great resource for neighborhood residents and also offers potential for turning these West Side neighborhoods into destinations.

The plantings along the trail are still in process, and will doubtless take some years to really come into their own, but even now the greenery creates a tranquil environment, and the several seating areas and short parallel trails (some with soft walking surfaces, surrounded by more heavily planted areas) make the trail even more parklike. As parks continue to be developed near its access points, the 606 will be an even more attractive greenspace.