I was waiting for the train with my brother J when he asked, “Have you seen the new Dove commercial?” I hadn’t, and so he proceeded to explain that, well, he just felt uneasy about it, although he couldn’t place exactly how or why.

“I think it was equating a woman’s value with her beauty or something,” he said, “but I really think we should talk more about it once you’ve seen it.”

I agreed to watch it.

Photo courtesy of Abby Abisinito.

The stupendous salad. Photo courtesy of Abby Abisinito.

Then my friend shared this Tumblr post on Facebook: Why Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” Video Makes Me Uncomfortable… and Kind of Makes Me Angry. She said some of the same things my brother had, and I asked myself, oh my, what is this commercial about!?

And then my friend M wrote this blog post: Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches – Analyzing the Bad, Taking the Good, and basically disagreed entirely with the previous two commentators.

And then my friend A came over, and we made salad and enchiladas.

The meal was stupendous.

And I asked her about the Dove commercial, but she hadn’t seen it, either.

And we said, what if we cook together all the time? And what if we invite more friends, and discuss things like gender representation in media and polyamory and religion and literature while dining on delicious homemade concoctions?

And so I texted my brother and I texted another friend, and A did too, and then someone created a Facebook group, and someone else said oh! it’ll be like Gertrude Stein in 1920s Paris, and we shall call it The Supper Club.

And so we did, and then we met, and we made the most incredible creamed mushrooms on chive butter toast, and gnocchi, and chocolate ganache bread pudding, and we drank pinot grigio, and sat on the living room floor, and talked about Dove.

Photo courtesy of Abby Abisinito.

The stupendous enchiladas. Photo courtesy of Abby Abisinito.

Dove summarizes its commercial like this:

“Women are their own worst beauty critics. Only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful. At Dove, we are committed to creating a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety. So, we decided to conduct a compelling social experiment that explores how women view their own beauty in contrast to what others see. And don’t forget: YOU are more beautiful than you think! Join the conversation at: #wearebeautiful” (italics mine)

M has a very artsy side. She has done professional theatre and has memorized sections of almost every literature classic you can think of. One could say she is, in fact, my personal book consultant. When I urgently need a conversation partner after reading a revolutionary book, she is there for me within the hour.

She believes in simply enjoying the good parts of a work and then eyeing the rest with a critical eye.

Long story short (and it was a long story), M made a very practical point. Dove, you see, is a company that makes beauty products. Why would they tell people that beauty doesn’t matter?

Creamed mushrooms on chive butter toast.

Creamed mushrooms on chive butter toast.

And then J asked: well, what if change were incremental? What if Dove first made some women realize that others view their beauty more positively than many women viewed their own, but then, some day later, a woman president or CEO or poet or blogger or mother or, really, anyone, made women realize that they can still achieve things they’d like to achieve without being preoccupied with their beauty at all?

(Or, a more desirable outcome to me: men started becoming as concerned with their beauty as women are with theirs.)

And we talked about why a commercial depicting near-naked women draped over “sexy” cars is, in my opinion, entirely an objectification of women (main message about women: sexy car=sexy woman), whereas an Axe commercial depicting a man attracting near-naked women is not offensive to women at all (main message about women: many men want them. Um, duh).

And I said, well yes, Dove needs to make money, but I certainly support movements like Miss Representation, which tries to “shift people’s consciousness,” change the cultural norms that keep the objectification and commercialization of women’s bodies something mainstream. (You can participate, by the way, simply by tweeting the link to unfortunate misrepresentations along with the hashtag #notbuyingit).

But ultimately, I came to a new sort of understanding about myself at this Supper Club meeting. I can enjoy things such as Gone with the Wind or The Handmaid’s Tale as long as they don’t depict women as a kind of backdrop to a man’s thing of interest or as a generic “kind of thing” of interest themselves.

And I also realized something else about myself. I am not practical when it comes to such things.

Gnocchi.

Gnocchi, buried.

I don’t want to wait for incremental change, and I especially don’t want to forgive a company for taking advantage of the way our society emphasizes women’s beauty and neediness, even if it makes sense that doing so will help them sell beauty products.

I don’t feel represented by the women in that commercial, and I resent Dove for preying on the vast majority of American women who will buy into that need for affirmation with scarce a critical eye, in order to make sales.

Indeed, isn’t the commercial also reinforcing to men that women are, after all, things of beauty, and indeed can have strong emotional reactions (implicit message: are manipulable) when people tell them they are more beautiful than they think?

Shouldn’t a company be more concerned with bettering society than making money?

Oh silly me. Is that actually what I was implicitly saying? How very impractical of me.

The gnocchi came out perfectly.

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There is no place better than Chicago.

However, I miss the delights of dining in China so much that I actually have moments in which I wish I were there instead of here.

And this is what friends are for.

Thank you to Jisbar Gomez for sharing this image from his latest meal in Beijing.

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Wood-ear mushrooms are one of my favorite types of mushrooms, right up there next to tea tree mushrooms. They absorb spices and flavor super well, and the texture is unique.

And texture is very important in the sensual experience that is feasting.

The menus in Beijing often have very unfortunate translations. Good thing I have trained myself to put mind over matter.

Now, when I see “fungus,” I can easily switch from thoughts of the Walgreens foot care aisle to thoughts of dark, delicious, wood-ear mushrooms.

Look forward to pictures of ridiculous menus on Curiously Yours in the future.

***

Do you have a good wood-ear mushroom recipe? Do share below. Or, email it to me at TalesByCuriouslyYours at gmail. I am dying to know how to cook this myself.

Happy salivating!

A Kiss on a Whim

April 24, 2013

They are wrinkled and quiet, she with her elegant earrings and careful ‘do, he with his handlebar mustache. Their table is covered with a large number of assorted plates. There is too much food for two.

If he peered down from above his mustache, just past his bulging belly, he could glimpse the newspaper balanced on his knee. But he doesn’t; instead, he stirs his coffee, and handles his fork and his knife. She sips from a cup, gazing out the window, or perhaps at the TV screen above it.

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I think, subconsciously sadly, that they look so traditional, the man actively reading the paper, the woman passively watching TV. Perhaps he is a business man, and she a sweet wife accompanying him on a business trip.

I think, subconsciously happily, that it would be lovely if I were similarly old and wrinkled and in such company, but spontaneous, and smiling frequently, and kissing on a whim.

The newspaper still on his knee, the mustached man leans over to ask her a question in Spanish, and she points at various dishes, describing, and looking back at him as she talks. But he is not looking in the direction of her finger, but at her face, and leans over more, and she leans forward, and they kiss, as if on a whim.

And then he picks up the newspaper from his knee, and doesn’t bother about any other dishes, and she returns to her people watching.

Often, the setting is as enjoyable as the food.

2013-02-02 12.56.48 copy Another Last Supper in Beijing, at Green Tea. February 1, 2013. Photo courtesy of Ren Jun.

I love food. Most of us do, in fact.

In honor of this culinary romance, I hereby introduce you to Salivation Saturdays.

(Disclosure: depending on the state of my food coma, this topic may manifest itself as Salivation Sundays.)

Once my kitchen is appropriately stocked, I hope to share some of the details of my own cooking escapades. For now, enjoy some miscellaneous inspirations and concoctions.

Expect lots of Chinese.

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Enjoying one last hot pot feast before leaving Beijing: January 29, 2013.

Their condo was beautiful. Kind of amazing when I consider how recently they arrived to Massachusetts from Sri Lanka as barely-20s.

I was going over for dinner, but it seemed that I was arriving for afternoon tea. There was not a single dish in sight in that magnificent kitchen, and not the slightest scent of curry.

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We stood in the kitchen while she made us tea, and then we took a tour of the upstairs, and then we sat at the dining room table and talked some more, endlessly.

Those cutie pies. They had married so young, and remain so happy, so in love, so joyful at the new evidence of their successes.

Around 8:30, they asked me if I was hungry. I said I could certainly eat.

I commented on the candles as she removed the dishes from the oven and heated them in the microwave. “Yes, the candles,” she said. “Did you smell anything when you came in?”

“Yes,” I said. “It smelled like candles! They are beautiful.”

“Oh,” he smiled, “she loves her candles. They’re just so expensive!”

“Yes,” she grimaced, “but you know, when you cook, then the whole place smells like curry, and it gets into my clothes and my hair, and then at work, people think we’re Indian.”