Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tuesday treasures...a summer edition

road at Clagett Farm As much as I grouse about summer heat, even I have to admit there's a good side to this time of year. The food!

While the heat gets you down, the good fresh food puts a smile on your face. It's the time of year that makes healthy eating almost effortless. Exhibit A is the haul from Clagett, today's share.

vegetable haul from Clagett Farm Pictured above are squash, green peppers, rainbow lights Swiss chard (which tastes, and is prepared like, spinach), eggplant, four ears of Luscious corn (a bi-color variety), Hungarian hot pepper, couple of garlic bulbs, and two pounds of various types of tomatoes, including the uber-sweet Sungold and the unctuous Paul Robeson, which tastes as rich as its namesake's baritone. Also pictured are flowers and herbs I picked, the latter consisting of sage, mint, and basil. Time to make a tomato salad (just throwing together sliced fresh tomato with slices of pickled tomato)--sooooooo good.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Summer, and the living is easy? Summer madness...

It's summertime, and summer weather decided to make a comeback...which may not be so good, as it makes me feel like doing this...

Nonetheless, a relative has to interact with the health-industrial complex tomorrow, so along I go. I only hope I can tune out the incessant noise from cable channels, to avoid nausea from hearing their negative spin on healthcare reform while in the waiting room, with their sudden concern about the budget deficit, an invisible concern during the Bush years.

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Former CIGNA public relations person, now health insurance industry whistleblower, Wendell Potter, who recently testified before Congress, is sharing his views on the reforms needed now. As he relates,

..."remember this: whenever you hear a politician or pundit use the term "government-run health care" and warn that the creation of a public health insurance option that would compete with private insurers (or heaven forbid, a single payer system like the one Canada has) will "lead us down the path to socialism," know that the original source of the soundbite most likely was some flak like I used to be."


In case you wonder how other industrialized nations have universal healthcare coverage to their citizens and residents, and why, the website of Germany's Ministry of Health and Social Matters mentions this basic reality as a motivation..."a health care system is not a "normal" market." Think about that fact anytime someone raves/lies/spins about the Democratic healthcare reform proposal as taking away choice (as though the insurance company bureaucrats aren't already doing that).

Once more to Potter--he's none too fond of one type of health care insurance "plan" dear to conservatives' hearts, Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). He mentioned that while employed at CIGNA, the company forced employees to switch from HMOs and PPOs and into high-deductible plans (euphemistically called "consumer-driven plans"), and that other companies are following this awful trend of forcing employees into these plans (almost rhymes with "scams").

Lastly, all the people smugly crowing about how wonderful their current health insurance plans are should know about all the other folk, who previously also believed that they had solid health insurance before they decided to use it, who unfortunately found out about the nasty practice of "rescission," when an insurance company decides, retroactively, that you are no longer covered for treatment! (Info from the Baseline Scenario site).

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Just thinking about this stupidity makes me upset. Time to chill out to the ultimate summer classic from Kool and the Gang, aptly named Summer Madness.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Comfort eats on the cheap--indie edition

across the street from the Amsterdam Falafel House(View from the Amsterdam Falafel Shop.)

Sure, most of us have been metaphorically tightening our belts, as money's been tight. But sometimes even budding chefs want to get away from their own kitchens. Of course, there are choices for cheaply treating yourself without picking up food from a national chain, which often don't care what's in their food.

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The hearty aroma of fried food that a family was eating outdoors lured me to the Amsterdam Falafel Shop (although I actually ate elsewhere that evening), so I decided to quaff the in-house lemonade, for three bucks. While waiting for my liquid refreshment, I practially drooled at that giant salad bar, aka toppings bar, with all sorts of unusual things to top the fried garbanzo cutlets--fried squash, eggplant, beets, as well as the usual toppers. I have to go back--fried nutritious food and french fries (to be followed with delicious lemonade)--is too much to resist forever. After all, a half pita filled with three spicy fried bean balls for $5.50--with three kinds of salads, two kinds of sauces, and assorted pickles--this could fill you up for a couple of days.

Instead, I went to the bar down the street, the venerable "dive," Madam's Organ. Of course, the music playing and the company was all great, and it's a decent sized space, but the food and drink are, shall I say, the right price, with considerably sized portions. (What else could you expect from an establishment with its famous mural?) You can mix and match with the veggie plate, so I chose coleslaw (they don't stint with the cabbage, although it's a bit sweet), fried okra (just so-so), fries (I don't care for batter-fried fries), but the homemade cornbread is awesome. All at close to $9. However, cornbread and beer sounds like a good way to pass the time while there, so that's what I'll get next time, although the macaroni and cheese is calling.

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Teaism Penn Quarter lower level To fortify myself for a rough day, I recently headed to the Teaism at Penn Quarter, this time to get lunch (usually breakfast is my meal there, of ginger scones and anxi oolong tea). The time I came was the sweet spot, early, so it wasn't yet crowded. Thus, it only took five minutes for my sweet Japanese green tea (only $2) and stir-fry seitan (just under $10).

seitan stir fry and iced green tea If you're thinking there's a lot of food on that plate, you'd be correct. Spinach, macadamia nuts, chile pepper, seitan, and brown rice, in a slightly sweet and spicy sauce equals yum. Again, no skimping on ingredients (although there was slightly less spinach this time than a previous visit, but I quibble). That also means that after this delicious, filling meal, there was no room for dessert, which was a shame. Maybe next time. (I haven't had the chocolate torte and green tea ice cream in a while. Uh oh.)

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Haven't had pizza in a while, so a craving may be coming on. I normally make my own, but if I eat pizza out anytime soon, I want one of the fantastic pies at Matchbox again. We had the terrific "Fire and Smoke" pizza (which was preceded by tiny brioche balls as appetizers); not only is that pizza rich and smoky, with a thin crust, but the place also has a reasonable (as in, you won't fall down laughing when you see the prices) wine list.

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I did fulfill my craving for Caribbean food when I went to the local chain, Tropicana, to pick up the small size of the brown stew tofu, a rich, mysterious, delicious concoction which comes with rice and peas and cabbage. Did I mention that I got the small size? For under $9, it was enough for dinner for two, plus lunch the next day for one. I'm curious to see how many people the large size could feed for one dinner!

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Of course, you can't forget Chinese food, particularly the lunch specials, when you want good food cheap. I had reason to scoot near, and have lunch at, The Vegetable Garden in Rockville, which was full, as usual, at lunchtime. (And also does plenty of carryout business.)

The weekday lunch special includes a soup--the spicy hot and sour soup is what I always get--along with the moo shi cilantro roll, which is OK, and some type of mysterious homemade bread, which I can forgo without guilt.

I tried a new dish, the emerald bean curd, which was nice and spicy and also seemed to contain bits of crispy mushroom. As usual, tasty and filling, but again, no room for dessert, which would have been the key lime pie, if I weren't concerned that I might explode with additional food.

The only downside to eating there, if it's rainy, is that in supposedly public transportation-friendly lower Montgomery County, you have to gently wade through this muddy mess to get through the strip mall parking lot, when coming from the subway:

Rockville Pike near the Vegetable GardenUm, can't one of the most affluent jurisdictions in the nation afford to put a few bricks down to make a walkway from a popular subway stop? Way to encourage people to use public transport, MoCo!

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Periodically, the site Wisebread hosts the blog carnival, Carnival of Pecuniary Delights--I have a vintage post there, but there are lots of other good ones there as well, so stop on by. You can never have enough info on saving money, I say.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Gone, but not forgotten...

On the anniversary of Minnie Riperton's passing (has it been 30 years?), a "duet" with Michael Jackson, "I'm in Love Again," released on her posthumous album, "Love Lives Forever."

Nothing else to say but "wow"!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Friday Follies (pre-Independence Day edition)

Oh, to relax on a holiday weekend--after the potato salad, barbecue, watermelon, corn, whatever--and before the fireworks, in a semi-blissful state...

Of course, it's easier to rest if you take steps to make it easier on yourself if having folks over. If you have some vegetarians over, break out those new Morningstar "Hickory BBQ Riblets," as they are chewy and delicious, with a nice smoked barbecue sauce (which is sweet, but not as sweet as many others, and the smokiness is a good contrast). However, for premade veggie burgers, Boca brand is the best, if you put them on a grill after microwaving to make sure they are slightly chewy on the outside. Also, oddly enough, the bulk packages of Boca burgers from Costco not only have more burgers than you can purchase at the grocery (10 in a Costco pack), the burgers themselves are noticeably larger. Because at a barbecue, more is better--isn't that the American way?

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Has hell frozen over? (AMA is now open to public health insurance option.)

trees and sky over MarylandDidn't think I'd ever see a headline saying that the American Medical Association, which has been obstructing Americans' opportunities to obtain universal health coverage since before 1948, is now open to the idea of a government-funded health insurance option. Perhaps the fact that not only is much of the public in favor of such an option is one reason for the turnaround. Another may be that most physicians are not AMA members (surprising), and many feel like Harold J. Fallon, M.D., who perceptively notes that "Universal coverage a must for effective health-care reform."

The only problem seems that many seem to want to put the health care cart before the horse--worrying about the costs of covering everyone beforehand--instead of worrying about the present costs of NOT covering everyone, which creates some of the tragedies that America is now grappling with--from emergency rooms overflowing with patients who don't have consistent access to medical care (a situation that's a public health crisis in its own right), to millions of Americans being underinsured.

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More good news is that the Senate committee working on health care reform, HELP, the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, has retained the public option in its bill. Senators Kennedy and Dodd maintain that their bill will "dramatically reduce the number of uninsured_fully 97 percent of Americans will have coverage, a major achievement."(Associated Press via the Huffington Post.) A major achievement, indeed. Let's hope that Democrats maintain a spine and press for the public option, as opposed to some weak "cooperatives" bill.

The only real question is, who are the three percent who will remain uncovered by the HELP legislation?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

There's No Health Care Choice Now!

In the continuing drama that is health care reform, President Obama will be holding a town hall meeting at the White House today. I hope he will be pushing for a public option in any health reform legislation that goes to Congress, in order to give Americans a real choice regarding health care, because even with the plurality of companies offering health insurance, the insurance companies, being insufficiently regulated, offer what they want, IF they want, at whatever price they want, to whomever they want.

One consequence of this one-sided market is that some companies offer, in addition to ostensibly real insurance policies, offer "limited benefit" policies, which can leave policyholders worse off than before, as chronicled in today's New York Times article, "Insured, but Bankrupted by Health Crises."

Now, there's more than one way to underinsure, and some of them involve leaving patients with fewer choices, as I found out the hard way years ago. Yes, like the couple in the article, I was covered by my employer's insurer, which happened to be Aetna. I assumed that it was regular medical coverage, so I blithely went to a highly recommended doctor at a nearby clinic near Wisconsin and Western Avenues in DC.

When I provided my insurance card, I was told that I was not covered. How could that be, I asked. I was then told that my type of coverage, I could only be treated by a doctor in my jurisdiction, MD, not in nearby areas like DC, not even at clinics which were almost directly on the MD-DC boundary like this one. Huh? Most of my co-workers also lived in Maryland (they were the ones who recommended this excellent physician), and were covered. I found out that the most recent hires (me and two others) were covered under a slightly different, more restrictive coverage plan than more senior employees at this small consulting company. Ick.

So, I sucked it up and paid for the office visit out of pocket. Thankfully, no tests were needed, or I would have been up the creek. Thus, in practice, I was underinsured. Of course, no one was told this at orientation--it's likely that the HR manager was not fully aware of the consequence of the change in policy. Nonetheless, that such a restrictive health insurance policy change was even implemented speaks to the squeeze that small businesses are placed in regarding insurance premiums, as they pay high prices for coverage because they are not in large coverage pools.

Oh please--as it is, the American public doesn't have health care choice--you are covered by an insurer your employer chooses, by a policy chosen by your employer, etc.--IF your employers offers health insurance, and even that's only if you don't have a dastardly "pre-existing condition." Anytime one of these Republican talking heads screeches that a universal health care plan would reduce patient choice, ask if the coverage of their Congressional representative is restrictive.

Members of Congress who refuse to vote for a true public option (not some watered-down state cooperatives) in the reform plan should be seen as backstabbers.

Unfortunately, one prime reason that Congressmen and women (and anyone else, for that matter) become backstabbers is the love of...