Dear Kotex: I heart you, but do I really need to feel so "edgy" about my feminine hygiene products?

Bless your souls, Kotex Marketing Team, for keeping third wave feminism alive and well.  As a feminist and firm believer in equal rights for men and women, I should applaud the neo-neo-feminist angle on your U by Kotex marketing campaign.  As Kotex marketing director Aida Flick declared, we need to stop hiding behind "feminine care euphemisms like vajayjay and hooha, the very things that represent the barriers facing young women today."  Yes, I agree.  People, not just men, are entirely too uncomfortable with words like "vagina," "menstruation," and even just "I'm on my period."

My friends and I are guilty as charged, saying things to each other like "I'm exploding right now,"or "My good friend TOM is visiting (Time-Of-the-Month)."  We are in fact the target audience for this campaign.  And I sure loved this super-savvy ad when I first saw it on network TV:
My favorite parts:
  • "I'm a believably attractive 18-24 year old female."
  • "You can relate to me because I'm racially ambiguous."
  • "Don't all these angles make me seem dynamic?"
The thing is, something about the new campaign doesn't sit quite well with me.  Maybe because it's just manipulating me in another direction: trying to make me feel smart, in-the-know, and smug, like part of this cool, hip club.  Not to mention the super cool, hip, and edgy branding and packaging of the product itself: slick black cardboard, housing ultra thin pads wrapped in an array of loud neon plastic.  For anyone who's ever visited the feminine hygiene aisle at their local mass retailer, you'll know this kind of packaging sticks out among the sickly sweet pastels of the other brands.
But what about the product itself?
That's what I really want to know, because honestly, even as a feminist, I have to say all this talk about "empowering women" is getting stale.  It's so 2001 (the year I first saw Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues, which I'll admit changed my life).  And it's starting to sound a lot like whining.  I find it hard to whine about the "glass ceiling" when I work for a company in which 2 of the 3 most powerful people are women - we have a female president and a female Chief Technology Officer.  Let me say that again in plain words: a woman, in charge.  Of like 200 engineers, most of them men.  Do these women complain about "glass ceilings" and "sexism"?  No - they simply get the job done, and produce awesome work while they're at it.  When they say they don't think about gender at my company, I believe them.  If I'm really going to be a feminist, I'm not going to just sit back and object loudly while the men around me work towards their promotions.
Anyway, I saw the U product today at Target.  It was hidden sort of to the side, and I almost missed it, staring at the shelves looking for my usual favorite product.  I bought these today for a few reasons:
  • My usual favorite pads actually are by Kotex.  I remember I was once a victim Always marketing, thinking they were the last word in pads.  One day during college I realized I hated my Always pads because that "Dri-Weave" that was supposed to make them so awesome was actually really uncomfortable.  It was my roommate Wendy who turned me on to Kotex, which I would never have looked at twice otherwise because I'd never heard of them (guess their marketing team wasn't so strong back then).  I remember when I converted - it was like seeing the light, and I have never gone back. 
  • They didn't have my usual favorite pads in stock today.  I guess because Kotex is replacing them with the U line, and I sure as heck wasn't going to give Always another try.
  • I gotta admit I was attracted to the slick packaging. Especially the bright neon colors!  I often judge a book by its cover.
  • I wanted to see what the hullabaloo was all about.  I know it's a fallacy to equate quality of the marketing with quality of the actual product, but I just had to find out what was it about this product that launched a thousand, or at least one very smug, but funny marketing campaign.
Having just finished a cycle, I'll have to wait another 35 days to try these out (yeah, I'm on a 5-week cycle) and see if they live up to the hype.  Poking around YouTube, I found some more interesting videos the Kotex team put out.  
At first I feel lucky to be surrounded by men who are much more enlightened and understanding than the ones in this clip.  But then I realize I don't really like the message this video is shoving down our throats, because objectively speaking, it's kind of unreasonable and obnoxious to expect anyone, men or women, to feel comfortable buying something that a stranger is going to put between her legs.  I mean really, if some dude off the street asked me to buy an equivalent product for him (I dunno guys, a pair of boxers?), I'd think he was downright creepy.
Disclaimer: I should hope this was obvious, but just because I consider myself a feminist does NOT mean that I hate men!  Au contraire, we need more true men in this world.

I was duped by an uncommonly cruel April Fool's prank.

I have to learn not to be so damn gullible.  Especially on April Fool's.  Last week I sent this very excited e-mail to a group of fellow foodies:

Hi foodie friends!
This is the most exciting news I've gotten all day (yes, it's early, but still).  I've been following this incredible blog for a while, Alinea At Home, in which this woman cooks her way through Grant Achatz's Alinea Cookbook (which, incidentally, Tony C. Yang got me for my birthday last year). This woman has ALREADY cooked her way through Thomas Keller's French Laundry cookbook, and just looking at all the steps it takes to produce 8 bites of flavor experience makes me want to faint.
Anyway, she has decided to take her cooking on a cross-country road trip, and she'll be serving food out of her truck!  She comes to SF (at 18th and Dolores) on May 14-15.  Some of the things on her menu:
  • Hot dog air
  • Banh mi explosion
  • Sweetbread and lobster popsicle
  • Falafel liquid shot
  • Pho on a pin
I am definitely going, and if you're interested we can all mob her truck together!  Then, we can go to Bi-Rite or Delfina or Tartine for some more filling food.  How 'bout it???
You can imagine some of the excited responses I got from this e-mail.  People promising, "I'm in!" and "Sounds awesome!" and whatnot.  But then, I started reading some of the comments on the woman's blog post, and that creeping feeling of dread came over me.  And before long it became clear that there was to be no cross-country road trip after all.  And so I was compelled to send this very shameful follow-up e-mail:

I am so sad and embarrassed to say this.

But I think I (and all ya'll) have been duped.  After reading comments on the blog post, I'm realizing the whole thing was most likely a very well conceived, very cruel April Fool's joke.  Apparently I don't follow the blog closely enough to realize she's done the same thing for a few years running.

Which means Carol (that mean person behind Alinea at Home) will probably not be taking a cross-country road trip after all.  And there is probably no such thing as "hot dog air," though I didn't doubt for a second that there could be such a thing as a "rich, flavorful hot dog stock."  Sorry to get your hopes up!  Believe me, I am beYOND crushed.  Le sigh.

Oh well, I still plan on making Grant Achatz's black truffle explosion sometime this year, but first I have to get used to using my new pasta roller/cutter (which means practising a lot with ravioli, if you want to join for that).  Or if you feel like drowning your sorrows in a pint of Bi-Rite and a ham and cheese Tartine croissant, then call me up.


I'm glad my friends were understanding, but the whole thing still sucked and I'm quite salty about it still.  I just might refuse to go if the Alinea woman DOES decide to do a real cross-country tour, I'm so mad.  Might.  But probably not.

Some of the funny and touching responses I got (interestingly, my friends use a lot of emoticons when they are being nice and understanding):

HAHAHAHAH!  omg.  happy april fools to all!  Dont' worry Steph, I was equally as excited and equally as fooled...although I did find her truck to be a bit suspicious....darn her clever ways!

Taco shots?  Ugh.  Didn't even want to try those ANYWAY....maybe.  Cheers and thanks for the invite in any case!

Poor Steph!  That was a very elaborate April Fool's joke.  I didn't get it, either, and I've been thinking about hot dog air, wondering what keeps the vapor from going back to liquid, and how, when you bite into the balloon, you keep from burning yourself on the hot vapor.  I was thinking of coming up, just to find out.

The sweetbread and lobster popsicle seemed pretty disgusting--even to me, who eats pretty much anything.  :)
Miss you!
HA!  I was sort of sad that I didn't get pranked all day.  

I was pretty excited about the Pho Pin. I'm going to have to sit down and think about what that means for my life. Thanks for the giggle, Stephanie. :)

so sad, i wanted to go to this with you... but like many people, it was the only april fool's joke i got, so that's one good thing about the prank :)

OMG, this gourmet truck food sounded like a dream coming true for a quick second ;-) 
Let me know when you decide to make fresh pasta again--I can bring some recipe ideas from Batalli's (or Tyler's) book.


Dear Corn Refiners Association: Are you nuts?

I might be a bit late getting on board this train, but you must forgive me; my insufferable yuppie-ness meant I refused to buy a TV for the past four months, since I sold Garry's old 200-pounder and moved to my tiny studio.  So I have been living in a cave, or under a rock, for a while.  I finally got this giant 40" Samsung on Black Friday, which looks totally out of place but has nevertheless become the focal point of the whole apartment and gives me strange comfort when feeling lonely at night.

The channel I've been watching the most is, of course, the Food Network (followed closely by the Style network, but they are not quite as good-natured).  In fact, we did not once step out of my apartment the entire day on New Year's Day, opting instead to watch about 10 hours of the "Who Will Be the Next Iron Chef?" marathon (I was rooting for the crazy-eyed Indian guy who was super creative).

ANYWAY.  Today, while watching Alton Brown's Good Eats (of all shows!), I saw this absurd commercial sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association as part of their "Sweet Surprise" ad campaign:

My eyes nearly bugged out of my head - I thought it was some kind of sick joke.  Were they kidding?  "It's made from corn, doesn't have artificial ingredients and, like sugar, is fine in moderation."

Now I am not one to support refined sugar either, but this was ridiculous.  I love the tagline especially: "Get the facts.  You're in for a sweet surprise!"  It sounds like a pedophile luring unsuspecting youngsters into dastardly deeds.  At least the actresses were good (great comic timing!).

Besides, everyone knows a Mexican Coke just tastes better because it's made from sugar instead of that nasty high-fructose corn syrup.

In case you haven't gotten enough of the sweet surprise, here's Ads 2 and 3 from the campaign:

How poor management can ruin everything.

As recently as this past spring, the La Habra Ranch Market was a bustling local market, full of people jamming tiny carts past each other in their eagerness to trade their hard-earned money for a cornucopia of fresh, beautiful fruits and veggies.

I posted about the market a little over a year ago, noting the fantastic prices, variety, and bounty to be had. (Check it out here.)  Watermelons for $2/each! Raspberries 2 boxes for $1!  Just amazing.

Some time in the last year though, the original Mexican owners cashed out and sold the market to a Korean family (indicative of SoCal socioeconomics on a macro scale).  And the market hasn't been the same since.

I don't know if it's because the suppliers are now different, but I was so depressed to visit the market last week and see its transformation/degeneration firsthand.  
I wasn't even sure it was open that day, there were so few cars in the parking lot.  Inside it was dismal, eerily silent and so very empty.  And let's not even get into the produce - such poor quality stock, all shriveled up and on the edge of molding.  Not to mention, the shelves looked like they hadn't been stocked in a couple weeks.

It's been less than a year since the changeover but I am flabbergasted by how poor management - poor supply, poor set-up, poor pricing, poor customer service/experience can completely run a successful business into the ground, and so quickly.  

All I can think is, how sad, and what a waste!

Apartments on the peninsula really run the gamut.

I have been apartment-hunting this week and have seen everything from super tidy crate-and-barrel square-box apartments in Foster City to cramped but warm/friendly communal spaces in Bernal Heights.  

One house I saw near downtown San Mateo really took the cake when it comes to oddball yet strangely fascinating.  It was a 5-room house with a huge backyard that included a number of fruit trees (avocado, fig, apricot, fuji apple, lemon, orange) and other fruit-bearing plants (10 different kinds of tomatoes, a blackberry bush), a full garden with corn, squash and the like, and a fire pit around which they "conduct Buddhist ceremonies." They plucked a ripe fig off their tree for me to take home.

The house is populated by "hippies who shower," though I had to raise my eyebrow a bit at that claim.  Here's an excerpt from the intro e-mail one of the girls wrote to me (yes, she included the scrolly header up top)...

Hi Stephanie,

We met briefly last evening when you came over to see the house, and I regret not being able to talk to you a bit, and get to know you.  

A little about us:  M****** and I are both healers and we work day jobs, M****** builds magical healing tools, and I do intuitive readings.  M****** works at a coffee shop, and I work at a local furniture store.  We are both masseuses and energy healers as well, and we are pretty free about offering help to people in our lives if they need it.  I love nature, painting, dancing, and singing, and M****** plays guitar.  M****** teaches [Renaissance] swordfighting in the backyard, and I teach channeling classes out of the house sometimes.  Generally, authentic, deeply compassionate, honest people are a match for us.  Creative, nature loving, spiritually interested people are especially welcome.

Warnings: Sometimes the house gets messy, and stays that way for a week until someone has the energy to clean it.  A couple of our housemates smoke, but they do it outside.  And, there is cat litter.  'nuf said.


How I feel about the Twilight Saga...

It is exactly, I mean exactly, like these stupid crushes I used to have in high school where I would actually be embarrassed to admit I liked the guy because he was usually kind of oddball, dorky or just plain weird.  Ashamed but strangely drawn in.  (Nothing, by the way, like the way I feel about my favorite founder.)

It's weird to think that one can have a crush on a book series, but looking back at the progression of the past week, it developed exactly like that.  So does, I guess, my relationship with many other books/movies/tv shows that I get really into.  It starts with curiosity, then denial, turns into compulsion, and finally fullblown addictive obsession.  (Sooner or later, more or less, I recover.)  In this case, I watched the movie over the weekend out of curiosity, to see what all the fuss was about, and then I've been sleeping at 3-4am this week because I stay up reading the books.  And now all I want to do is talk about it to anyone who will listen.

I still feel pretty conflicted about it.  The writing is totally atrocious - I tell people the dialogue is like reading my old AIM chat logs from high school, and the rest of the first book is like my high school diary where I would pontificate on the various perfections of some guy I never even talked to.  I think that's where it really sticks in my side, and maybe that's the genius of it--Stephenie Meyer managed to make us see just how absurd and silly we all were at that age (or still are).

I don't like most of the characters either - I despise Bella Swan and I think Edward Cullen is tiresome in his tortured angst.  The actors from the movie are another story; I think they are all adorable, even Kristen Stewart, whom I hated in the movie, but in real life she's like this spunky, awkward-funny amalgam of Janeane Garofalo, Alexa Chung, and Avril Lavigne (only not so bratty).  And yes, the chemistry between her and RPattz is like, super hotttt!

But I read some of the first book because, I don't know, I was feeling indulgent.  Then I read the synopses of the others to get the gist of what happened.  I started New Moon, and then the character of Jacob Black hooked me and drew me straight into the vortex of Twilight hysteria.  He's the one realistic, multi-dimensional, funny, tragic, incorrigible, naughty, beautiful, humane, immature, and wonderfully charismatic character in the whole series.  Plus I've had a mild fetish for Native Americans since I was young (I know.  Totally objectifying an entire culture).  When I got impatient with the smarmy, saccharine, and boring vampire-Bella bits, I started flipping through and only reading the parts that involved Jacob the werewolf.

I wonder if I should start the fourth book.

I'm actually thinking of getting a t-shirt that says "TEAM JACOB: I run with wolves."  When did it become okay to be this dorky?  And let's not get into how dirty us women feel about the sunny, likable, and newly ripped (but not quite legal) Taylor Lautner.  Control yourselves ladies, he's only 17.

And finally, the New Moon trailer:


If Audrey Hepburn has a funny face, then I'm Quasimodo.

I didn't particularly care for Breakfast at Tiffany's and I definitely prefer the 1995 version of Sabrina to the original.  I did enjoy Roman Holiday a lot and I actually really liked My Fair Lady - because it was witty/funny, not really because I'm some kind of Audrey fanatic.

I just watched Funny Face for dinner and was struck by how modern it was.  I could see where movies like Down With Love got their inspiration and I thought it was an interesting commentary on the world of haute couture.  Not to mention that I can't get over just how good Audrey and Fred Astaire really were at singing/dancing.  True all-around entertainers they were.

Anyway it's still a stretch for me to buy someone like Audrey Hepburn as a mousy chick who needs to get made over into a swan.  I wish more people who made Pygmalion-type movies would pick someone who looks really crazy in the beginning and does a total 180, like the main character in Baz Luhrmann's Strictly Ballroom - you can hardly believe it was the same actress from beginning to end.

Williams-Sonoma's evil plan to rob us all blind.

Yupsters, we need to talk.

About how so many of us register at Williams-Sonoma when we get married or move to a new house.  About how we might turn the pages of its catalog with such loving fingers, about how we aspire to a certain kind of cook's heaven where everything you could possibly envision doing in the kitchen has a very specific appliance or utensil designed just for that purpose.  About how Williams-Sonoma seems hellbent on perpetuating this myth in our lives by trying to sell us more shit we don't need.

Let's get one thing straight -- all you really need to cook a decent meal in the kitchen is 1) a knife and something to cut on, 2) a pan, 3) something to stir with.

I've seen at least 1 or 2 Williams-Sonoma catalogs floating around Garry's apt, and I've been downright appalled at the unabashed waste it so gleefully promotes.  I experience similar shock and dismay when I somehow find myself at a Sur la Table store.  I'd like to share some of the more absurd items I found and humbly ask: why in heaven's name would anyone actually NEED that?  I'd love to hear about a) your favorite unnecessary kitchen item or b) your argument for their existence.

Williams-Sonoma Products (and what I would use instead)

Salad Scissors $24.00 - it's called regular kitchen shears!  or a knife!
Nutmeg Grinder * $25.00 - it's called a coffee grinder, or regular grater!
Batter Dispenser * $29.95 - it's called a measuring cup!
Icing Spatula $32.00 - it's called a knife!
Straight Rolling Pin $18.00 - it's called a wooden dowel!
Avocado Slicer * $15.00 - it's called a spoon + knife!
Mozzarella Slicer * $25.00 - it's called an egg slicer!  Or (gasp) a knife!
Brining Bags, $16.00/Set of Four - it's called a ziploc bag!  Or a bucket!
Avocado Masher * $20.00 - it's called a fork!
Chocolate Bar Brownie Pan $29.00 - ... you're kidding, right?
Pizza Sticks Pan & Cutter * $24.95 - it's called a knife!  Or a pizza cutter if you wanna get fancy!

Other Products

Pig & Cow Molds $59.00 - ... I have no words for this.
Quesadilla Maker * $29.00 - do you think the Mexicans use a quesadilla maker?
Cake Tester * $2.50 - it's called a freaking toothpick/chopstick/knife!
Cinderella Waffle Maker * $34.99 - awwroaraargh
Oster Egg Cooker * $32.00 - it's called a pot
Treat Dipper * $44.99 - it's called a pot!
Tomato Slicer - it's called a knife!
Ceramic Pie Weights - it's called a can of tuna or something!

* Hint: if the product name ends in an "er," especially the word "maker," you probably don't need it.

Figures =(

I have this cow-brown Kenneth Cole cropped, double-breasted leather aviator jacket with huge lapels that I bought on major sale two years ago ($150, down from $400).  Until today, I never wore it because I thought it would make me look like an assassin (all I need are spike-heeled boots and big sunglasses).  Or, at least, an aviator.

When I took it out of the garment bag this morning, cut off the tags and put it on over some regular clothes, though, I realized it looked fine.  Good, even.  So I was pretty happy about that as I went to work.

Then of course, at lunch, I somehow got hummus smeared onto the sleeve.  Now it's got these ugly stains and I don't know how to get rid of them without ruining the leather =( =( =(

Isn't it ironic?

Bad driving: Something random I worry about.

I've never really admitted this to anyone, but something I worry about from time to time are idiot transplants who move to Los Angeles from other parts of the country and dilute the quality of driving there.  Growing up, my conception of Southern California drivers was this: aggressive, but generally competent and more courteous than any other part of the country.

Case in point:  In the Los Angeles metro area, when someone in the next lane flips on their turn signal and wants to merge into your lane, what is the right thing to do?  The answer is positively revolutionary: you YIELD.  

Amazing, right?  And what happens in every other part of the country?  You speed up, as if out of spite.  Like you would lose your place in line or something if you let someone in before you.

I've shared this observation with a bunch of people, especially non-Angelenos, and they insist that Los Angeles drivers are just as obnoxious as those in other parts of the country.  I disagree and am willing to bet that anyone in LA, who does not yield when you flip your signal to get into their lane, is a transplant from another state (including the Bay Area).

When driving here in the Bay Area, I hate to admit that I usually adopt this abhorrent practice of speeding up to avoid letting people into my lane.  I rationalize it by being late to everything.  But once in a while I get to feeling evangelical (setting a good example and all), and when someone signals to merge into my lane, I slow down to yield.  This usually results in much confusion on the part of the other driver, who pauses and makes no move to merge, though their signal light is still blinking. And I have to motion frantically to them and yell "GO, you mofo!"

But if that person yields to another driver the next time someone wants to merge into his lane, then it was worth it!

The other thing that really frustrates me about Bay Area drivers is when I'm driving at a steady speed of about 35-40 mph on a surface road, and I approach an intersection, and I see a car at the intersection that looks like it is going to make a right turn into my lane.  Now, most people who have a decent sense of safety will opt to wait until the coast is completely clear before making a right turn (or any kind of turn).  I definitely make sure there are no oncoming cars before I make any sort of turn.

But what to many Bay Area drivers do?  Of course, they take a chance and turn right into my lane when they CLEARLY don't have enough room to accelerate.  This causes me (and often the car behind me) to slow way the heck down in order to avoid rear-ending the retard who made the right turn.  It's not only an obnoxious thing to do, but it's also totally stupid and dangerous.  It's these kinds of blockheaded maneuvers that cause accidents.  My parents always say it takes only 1 idiot to cause an accident.  They are great drivers, so I'm inclined to agree with them.

Moral of the story: Don't DWI (Drive While Idiotic).