Thursday, 4 July 2013

Super-Chili Recipe

Whoops, I accidentally didn't post anything through all of June. I was busy turning 22, dammit. To make up for it, have some delicious chili.

I don't know why chili gets such a bad rap. Maybe it's because people mistakenly believe that red meat is bad for you. Maybe it's because people pair it with beer and beer is terrible for you. Whatever the reason, chili - or at least, my chili - is one of the healthiest dishes I cook. Kidney beans, lean ground beef and mushrooms pack a ton of protein; tomatoes bring vitamin C; spices boost your metabolism and a couple shots of cinnamon practically elevate this recipe to the level of superfood. Eat this every day if you like. You'll get strong and healthy!

In a soup pot, cook 1lb lean ground beef, separating and stirring with a spatula to get it evenly browned. Add black pepper to taste, Mexican hot sauce, three or four shots of tabasco, 1tbsp smoked paprika, 1tsp dried parsley, a bay leaf, a pinch of salt, and some chili peppers (I used a couple of dried chile de arbol ground up in the food processor, but fresh would be great too). Add about three cloves of garlic, minced. Cook until meat starts releasing fat. Add about 1-2tsp ground cinnamon.

Add 2tbsp tomato paste and mix it evenly with the meat. Add about 1C diced or crushed tomato (more or less to taste). Thickly chop mushrooms (as many as you want) and stir them in. Fully rinse 1 can dark red kidney beans in a sieve under running water and add. Finally, add corn to taste - about half a cup. Can be frozen or fresh.

Add about 1/2tsp fresh chopped cilantro. Taste and add more spice if you like. Heat through, remove bay leaf, and serve with a little grated parmesan or sharp cheddar if you choose.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013


Whoops, I haven't posted here for a month. In my defense, I've been busy. However, I'm breaking radio silence because of a graphic that came up on my Facebook feed this morning.

Okay. So here's twenty rules plus some value judgements and arguments by authority. Let's look at them one by one.

1. Drink a large glass of water before every meal. No excuses.
True. Doing this will solve two problems at once; the chronic dehydration that many people suffer from if they don't really pay attention to their water intake, and the fact that it's very easy to confuse thirst with hunger.

2. Don't drink your calories.
False. I think what this probably means is "don't drink soda" (which is a good idea, but not for this reason) or "don't drink fruit juice" (again, has nothing to do with calories; it's just better for you to eat the whole fruit and drink plain water in addition). But it ignores the idea of drinking protein shakes, which I do in abundance and which is pretty crucial if you're planning on building muscle and not just getting skinny-fat, and which in my case account for over 600 calories a day.

3. Eat protein at every meal - or stay hungry and grouchy.
True, but rude. You should be eating protein at every meal because if you don't you will never, ever eat enough protein and you won't build enough muscle. But the tone of "eat your protein or go to bed without any dinner" is patronizing and offensive.

4. Slash your intake of refined flours and grains.
True. Refined grains contain way less fiber which is an essential component of going to the bathroom once you're actually eating the amount of protein you're supposed to. I've heard they also mess with glucose/insulin levels but I don't know enough to say whether that's actually true. The fiber intake is a good enough reason not to bother with things that aren't whole grain.

5. Eat 30-50g fiber every day. 
True. God, yes, as a minimum. See above. Bowel movements are desirable.

6. Eat apples and berries every single day. Every. Single. Day. 
True, but kind of arbitrary. Eating any variety of high-fiber fruits or vegetables every day will be good for you. Apples and broccoli would be just as beneficial. Oranges, bananas and collard greens are an equally good choice. Berries are often high in fiber and antioxidants so they're a good choice, but they're also very expensive compared to other choices. Don't feel like you have to break the bank or sacrifice other (more) important foods like chicken breast just because this dude decided to pick berries from the list of things that are good for you.

7. No carbs after lunch.
False. Especially if you're planning on lifting in the evening, but also for this reason (see #3).

8. Learn to read food labels so you know what you are eating. 
True, but with caution. Labels aren't everything, and ideally, you really out to be eating mostly things that don't come with labels. But knowledge never hurt anyone and knowing how to read the labels isn't a bad thing.

9. Stop guessing about portion size and get it right. 
False, mostly. Eating the right amount has nothing to do with portion size, it has to do with paying attention to your hunger and stopping eating when you've had enough. Measuring out half a cup of pasta and one-third of a cup of pasta sauce and one tablespoon of parmesan not only spoils any possible enjoyment of the food and reduces you to the equals sign in a math equation, but it also takes away your responsibility to pay attention to your own hunger, and therefore reduces your ability to learn about your own body and feelings.

10. No more added sweeteners, including artificial ones. 
Half false. Artificial sweeteners are terrible for you. They fuck with your insulin levels and make you crave food when you don't need it (see #5 in the article linked above). Natural sweeteners, though, are fine. Put a couple spoons of brown sugar on your oatmeal in the morning. Eat yogurt and honey - local honey if you can afford it, because it has a slight innoculating effect against local pollens and can reduce hayfever symptoms. The idea that any amount of sugar is bad for you is insane alarmism. There's nothing wrong whatsoever with using natural sugars as ingredients in meals. Of course, there is also a difference between eating plain cultured yogurt with honey, granola and sliced fruit and drinking a bottle of Mexicoke that is made out of carbonated water, caramel coloring, 23 teaspoons of sugar and pure cocaine.

11. Get rid of those white potatoes. 
Irrelevant. White potatoes aren't bad for you; just don't peel them. Potatoes are a great pre-workout food, and the skins contain a lot of important nutrients. Sweet potatoes are probably more valuable than white or red potatoes, since they contain more protein and a metric fuck-ton of vitamin A, but there's nothing inherently terrible about white potatoes and I'm honestly not sure why they're being brought up.

12. Make one day a week meatless.
False. Do this if you want to fuck over your gains and spend a day hungry, cold, and not getting nearly enough protein to support muscle recovery from your weight lifting the night before.

13. Get rid of fast foods and fried foods. 
True, false. Fast food is a waste when you could be cooking something good for yourself with much more nutritional value per energy unit, that also tastes a million times better. Fried foods, however, are fine. Demonizing an entire cooking method displays a woeful lack of imagination and assumes that healthy people are ones that live off nothing but salads and solitary laughter, rather than ones who respect their bodies and also food as an entire creative medium. Also, olive oil is damn good for you, use it when you fry.

14. Eat a real breakfast. 
True, assuming that you know what a real breakfast is. You want something high in fiber, protein and energy (calories). Don't eat a grapefruit, a bowl of special K and a cup of tea. That's not enough food. My favorite breakfast is a bowl of oatmeal with brown sugar, strawberries, cinnamon and milk (about 180 calories), a double scoop of chocolate protein powder (400 calories) with water and a little milk (30 calories), and scrambled egg whites (60 calories) with one whole egg for taste (70 calories) and a shot of espresso or a tall glass of black coffee (fresh ground). That's a crap ton of food, nearly 750 calories, and it enables me to go do my physically demanding job without getting hungry or tired, or burning muscle.

15. Make your own food and eat at least 10 meals a week at home. 
True. It's better for you, you can control exactly what you're putting in your meals, it tastes better, it tastes fresher, and it's a creative pursuit and a valuable skill. Learn to fucking cook and keep practising all the time.

16. Banish high-salt foods. 
False. There's nothing wrong with salt. It's often used to cure meats and it tastes great. If you eat more than about a teaspoon of salt a day, though, adjust your water intake so that you don't dehydrate.

17. Eat your vegetables. Just do it. 
True. After high-quality protein, vegetables are the most important thing you're going to be eating. But that doesn't mean salads. It doesn't mean lettuce. Vegetables that are high in fiber are your friend, such as broccoli, greens (esp collard greens), mushrooms, carrots, sprouts, avocados and eggplants. Find vegetables you like to eat. I don't like the last two on that list and I almost never eat them.

18. Go to bed hungry. 
False. See 7. Also, when I do this, I wake up in the morning feeling like I'm about to throw up; on a few occasions I've dry heaved in the shower as a result. Just don't overeat.

19. Sleep right. 
True. Get between 5 and 10 hours of sleep a night; more or less than that is bad for you.

20. Plan one splurge meal a week.
False. This is a bad mentality. Every meal you eat should be delicious, creative and fulfilling. You should never, ever, ever feel denied eating food, and you should get into the habit of wanting food that is good for you, rather than waiting for the one chance you get to 'splurge' and eat what you 'really want'.

Well, those are the rules. Now let's examine the blurb at the bottom.

Firstly, I'm put off that he had anything whatsoever to do with The Biggest Loser. That show is demeaning, promotes stereotypes about fat vs thin people (fat people sweating uncomfortably on the treadmill while being yelled at by aggressively slim personal trainers), and doesn't work. Practically everyone gains back, not least because their self esteem has been effectively pulverized by a season of being made an example of on national television.

Secondly, the 'skinny' rules? I don't want to get skinny. You shouldn't either. The best thing to be is 'fit'. You want strength, speed, flexibility. You want to gain abilities you didn't have previously. Body type is irrelevant. You want to improve yourself as a person, and this means gaining knowledge and gaining skills. The shape of your body doesn't fit into either of these categories.

Thirdly, "simple, nonnegotiable(sic) principles". Well, they aren't simple, for one thing. A part of gaining knowledge is not only knowing what you should do, but knowing why you should do it. You can't just do as you're told and expect to change your lifestyle. You have to acquire the knowledge yourself, and that is never simple. It might not be difficult, and it ought to be fun, but it isn't simple. Also, as I think I've demonstrated, these principles are definitely negotiable. And they ought to be. A lifestyle should be adaptable. If you give yourself rigid rules, you're going to break them. If you give yourself flexible knowledge, you can bend and adapt it to your situation, be it financial constraints, curiosity and a desire to try new things, moving to a different country or going on vacation and being surrounded by different foods, or anything else.

Long story short, don't base your value on your appearance, and don't let anyone else tell you what to do. If you want to accomplish something, accomplish it yourself. That includes acquiring the knowledge, as well as keeping up the motivation.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Shopping around

I edited this week's shopping list pretty significantly since I first posted it up, and I'm going to re-list it here, but this post is mostly going to be about the benefit of shopping around. Being a wop, I'm a huge foodie. However, I'm also married to a Jew (Writer Husband) who manages our money, including the grocery budget, groceries being something that I am obviously in charge of. It is therefore in my best interest to shop around and get the absolute best price on everything, because if I spend more money than I have to on fresh basil and imported wine, I'm going to be stuck buying the shitty 99c spaghetti from Safeway instead of the whole wheat pasta for a buck forty-nine, and fresh mozzarella is totally out of the question. So I shop around. I have prices for certain essentials (like olive oil and tomatoes) memorized for comparisons at different stores. I compare food by price per weight unit. And goddamnit if I didn't buy some fantastic food to feed a family of four for a week at only $95.89.

First off, we went to the Grocery Outlet, which is my absolute favorite store in the world because it sells imported wine at a price I can actually afford. Sure, I don't get to choose what type of wine, but the sad truth is that from the age of four I was raised by a single Englishman who suffered from severe depression and at this point, I don't actually know enough about wine to care. So I picked up two bottles of Sangiovese di Rubicone at six dollars plus tax each, and after a quick scout around the store we also got:
10lbs of potatoes
Seven bananas at 25c each, compared to Safeway's 39c (yes, I have this memorized, and if you don't then you don't care enough about bananas)
A jar of pickle chips for $1.99 compared to Safeway's $2.29 (seriously, I'm not even checking any of this. I don't even like pickle chips! They were for Vet Tech Husband!)

From the Safeway, I bought:
Two loaves of whole wheat sandwich bread
One can of diced tomatoes
Three cans of albacore tuna
Two cans of beef broth
One can of sliced black olives
A tub of margerine
Three tubs of full fat plain probiotic yogurt
A parmesan wedge from the deli
Garlic hummus
Two bunches of collard greens
Half a pound of white mushrooms
A box of whole wheat penne and one of spaghetti
1lb of fresh mozzarella at 50% off
A three-pack of yeast
Frozen strawberries and peaches
One shallot
A gallon of fat free milk

I spent fifty-six and change on that.

Finally, today before work (for which I have to carry a backpack full of cleaning supplies with me on the bus), I walked one and a half miles each way to get to an asian market in the International District in Seattle to pick up the last few bits and pieces I wanted. For $15.89 plus great exercise, I think it was well worth it.
5lbs of fresh chicken breast
1lb of ground beef
One fresh mango
1.2lbs of sweet, sweet tangerines
A HUGE bunch of fresh basil, I mean HUGE
A can of pineapple

For reference, the absolute cheapest you can buy fresh chicken breast at Safeway is $3.69/lb. Frozen, it's $2.49/lb. That means that from Safeway, the chicken breast alone would have cost me $18.45. Frozen chicken comes in 4lb bags for $9.96, but 5lbs worth of it would cost $12.45. Oh, and the cheapest you can buy ground beef is $3.49/lb. And don't even get me started on fresh basil! I'm not even quoting the price here because nobody should buy it. Get it from the Asian market like I do, or buy a basil plant.

I got home at around seven o'clock tonight, immediately got dinner started, and by eight-thirty we were eating whole wheat spaghetti with bolognese sauce (fresh onions, fresh garlic, fresh basil, fresh beef, fresh mushrooms, canned olives, canned tomatoes, red wine, olive oil), bread fresh out of the oven, deli parmesan and a generous couple glasses of red wine! Exactly what I wanted to eat after work and all that walking, and yes, cooking it myself made it taste even better.

To finish up, from the Italian-Jewish household, a flawlessly Italian-Jewish argument that was had earlier this evening.

Me: Yeesh, it's freezing in here! I guess the heat's still not on...
Writer Husband: Hey, I've been saving a lot of money by keeping it off.
Me: But it's so cold!
Writer Husband: Well, I just saved you twenty dollars that you can spend on food!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The best bread recipe ever

As someone who struggled with making bread for six years before finding this recipe, this claim is pretty outrageous. Before, I would have said there's no such goddamn thing as a good bread recipe, just different variations of frustrating and sticky and flat and crap and time-consuming. The soft, fluffy sandwich bread that rises more than a hand's width is literally made out of magic and capitalism, because nothing I've ever made with flour and yeast has ever come close.

And this isn't sandwich bread! But it does make the best dinner rolls or sandwich buns ever. It's whole wheat, it's soft and fluffy on the inside, pleasantly crunchy on the outside, and it only takes 30-40 minutes meaning you can cook it alongside the rest of the meal, start to finish. I don't remember where I found the original recipe, but I've modified it sufficiently everywhere from the ingredients to the cooking temperature that I don't feel even slightly bad posting it as mine.

Since I discovered this recipe, I have been literally baking my own bread from scratch whenever I fancy eating some bread. That just never happens with other yeast bread. You have to plan ahead and schedule it in because it's going to take you at least four hours to make. But no, with this recipe I'm just like, "I feel like some bread and jam for lunch", and half an hour later I'm eating fresh, hot bread that just came out of the oven.

I appreciate that half an hour might seem like kind of a long time for some of you to wait for bread, but given the freshness, the smell in my kitchen, and the fact that there's usually at least a half hour wait for any of the food I eat that is more complex than yogurt and honey or a piece of fruit, personally I think it's more than worth it.

Preheat oven to 425F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1C warm water, 1tbsp white sugar, 1tbsp olive oil, and 1 packet yeast, in that order. Mix with a wooden spoon and let rest for 10-15 minutes.

When yeast is frothing, stir in 1/4tsp salt and 1 egg. Add 1C AP flour and stir. Add 1C whole wheat flour and stir. Then scoop out 1C AP flour and add from the cup until dough is just barely not sticky. It's nice when it's moist in my opinion. I have rarely finished off the whole cup.

Let dough rest for 5 minutes. Then split into whatever shapes you like - I like to split it into 9 balls and put them in a square cake pan to make dinner rolls, but you can do it however you like. I grease the (nonstick) pan with olive oil and flour all the dough balls, so that the finished product comes out dusted with flour on the tops.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Enjoy with fruit preserve, gravy, tomato sauce, honey, or even just plain butter - the bread is delicious enough to make it taste sublime!

Olive oil pie crust and shopping lists

So today I really wanted to make a quiche, but we're out of stick butter and have been for a while, and it's not grocery buyin' time just yet. I do, of course, keep three liters of olive oil in the house at all times, and I thought I might as well just google to see if there was a way to make pie crust with olive oil.

Turns out that not only is there, but it's simple, takes half the time and mess of butter crust, and instead of rolling it out and laying it down in the pan you squish it with your fingers, meaning that there's no waste and none of that "flour your worksurface" nonsense that I hate so much!

The method, which I found (and modified slightly) here, is to boil up 1/4C water and 1/3C olive oil in a pan.When it's boiling, take it off the heat and add 1C AP flour sifted with 1tsp baking powder, and just stir the shit out of it until it forms into a basic ball. Put the ball in the greased pie dish and just press it down around the bottom of the dish and up the sides with your fingers. It literally couldn't be easier and it is SO flaky and light!

I haven't tried it yet, but I have a suspicion that it would be better with the liquid ingredient quantities reversed; that is, 1/4C olive oil and  1/3C water. The crust was slightly on the greasy side for me, and also tasted faintly of olive oil even though I didn't use EVOO; for a sweet recipe I think it would be too strong of a taste.

Thanks to a recent budget change, partly due to Writer Husband managing the money now, and partly due to me having a job, we now have enough money to buy the food I want to buy every week. So - this is mostly for my loyal reader Olga whom I know loves reading this stuff - here is my shopping list for the coming week!

Pre-sliced whole wheat bread
Albacore tuna in water
Beef broth
Cottage cheese (4% minimum)
Medium cheddar cheese block
Parmesan cheese wedge
Whole milk mozzarella (the wet kind)
Full fat plain yogurt with active cultures
Frozen pineapple, mango and strawberries
Canned tomatoes
Gala apples
Collard greens
Roma tomatoes
Russet potatoes
White mushrooms
Fresh basil
Whole wheat penne
Thin-cut beefsteak
Chicken breast
Red wine

And the ingredients that I already have in my fridge/pantry and won't run out of before the following week are:

Skim milk
Tomato paste
Peanut butter
Fruit preserve (strawberry and blackberry)
Whole wheat flour and AP flour (plus associated baking ingredients like baking powder/soda and salt)
White sugar
Brown sugar
Steel-cut oats
Brown rice
Spices and dried herbs including ground oregano, dried basil, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, cayenne pepper, curry powder, oriental mustard, etc.

So I have an emphasis on whole grains (rice, oats, bread and flour, pasta), protein (beef, chicken, cottage cheese, tuna), and a variety of fruits and vegetables. I use white sugar for proofing yeast and brown sugar as an oatmeal topping, along with cinnamon and nutmeg. Peanut butter is a favorite post-workout snack and I love honey and yogurt as a dessert! Also note that I just buy sliced bread for sandwiches to take to work; if I'm eating at home, I make my own bread from scratch, the recipe for which I shall be posting shortly.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Food choices

It feels like months since I've posted here, so I'm glad it's only really been a couple of weeks. I've been pretty exhausted on account of starting my new job as a housekeeper! The company I work for is called Exec. They were a big deal in San Francisco and they've just moved to Seattle this month (so if you live in Seattle, please hire us!).

As a result of making regular money now, I've been thinking a lot about food.  I have heard people refer to foodie-ism as a kind of oral fixation, and while I guess that's kind of potentially true, there's also a great deal of skill and artistry in cooking. I also appreciate food from a health point of view; things like garlic, ginger root and local honey are actually really good for you (for the immune system, the digestive system, and for pollen allergies and hay fever respectively). Eating well makes me feel well, and that matters to me!

As such, I've been thinking about what kind of food I want to keep in the house. Plenty of meat, for sure - chicken breast, venison and veal are good, as well as beef. I want to start cooking with rabbit and lamb more often, too. I want to get good cheese; we stopped buying Kraft grated parmesan long ago, but even so, we're still only getting soft wedges of parmesan and bags of grated Lucerne cheddar and mozzarella. Good cheese is a wonderful thing, and honestly, I miss getting wet mozzarella, I miss brie, camembert, halloumi, emmenthal, feta. Cheese is so damn good for you. There were years when I was so disordered and mixed up when it came to food that I wouldn't eat cheese. I was scared of the stuff. Shows how warped I was! That's what you get for buying into diet logic. Cheese is high in protein, not to mention calcium and vitamin B (teeth, bones and skin). Delicious!

After meat and cheese, fresh fruit and vegetables - a LOT of them - is my main concern. We've been poor for so long that everyone's immune systems are totally in the shitter. I'm talking grapes, oranges, apples, bananas, strawberries, mangoes, coconuts, pears, peaches - the works. Same for veggies.

As for bread... I'm a fan of bagels but honestly, I have enough quick bread recipes that I don't really feel like we need to load up on carbs. Oatmeal? Yes. I want to get steel-cut oats, which are universally acknowledged to be the best kind.

I'm buying a food processor, and I'd prefer to buy nuts and mason jars and make my own nut butter than I would to buy big jars of Skippy. Up until now we've only ever had a blender, but home made always leaves me feeling better afterwards. I want to buy jam, though, and plenty of good olive oil. And yogurt, plain probiotic Greek yogurt that I can put fruit and honey in.

I don't care about eating 'raw' or 'paleo' or about carbs or whatever the hell else. I don't count calories, I don't eat fat-free or sugar-free or calorie-free (what does that even MEAN? How is it food if it doesn't contain energy?). Fats are necessary for your body and eating sweetness without sugar will fuck with your blood sugar levels. I would rather learn to eat well, to feel good when I put the right things into myself and bad when I put the wrong things, than to cheat my way around it with things that aren't what they appear to be. I definitely don't do diet fads, never ever again.

I just want to eat as fresh as possible. I want to eat exactly what it feels like I'm putting in my mouth, nothing more, nothing less.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Perfect cop, perfect person

I love cops. My brother is going to become one. Writer husband almost did become one. I always trust them and have always been friendly with them, and I've never regretted it. Least of all now!

I mentioned in my previous post that we'd had some very disappointing trouble with a neglected dog. We found a very old Irish Setter wandering on the street with no collar or microchip, and it was in a deplorable state. Nails untrimmed, fur greasy, very severe hair loss, a rash covering its entire body, fleas, an eye infection, a double ear infection, a secondary skin infection, open wounds under its front legs from scratching, three cysts, and worst of all its canines were broken off and its teeth were all black and yellow and worn down. We brought it inside, gave it a bath (we had to change out the water twice), and took it to the vet, where we spent about $250 on veterinary care, prescription medications, flea control, dog food, a collar and a dog bed. We had its ears cleaned and its nails trimmed. We had its teeth examined. The vet told us it would probably need a full mouth extraction, or would at least need to lose most of its teeth, in order to be healthy.

This dog was utterly precious. It was sweet, quiet, wagged its tail, it was very affectionate, very loving. It knew sit, but nothing else. We named it Atlas.

Well, to avoid being charged with stealing a pet, we called up our local animal shelter, which also happens to be the authority for animal control in our city, and reported it as a neglect case. I made it very clear that I was afraid of any owner who would allow their pet to remain in this condition, that I was afraid the dog would go back to the owner, that I wanted to help the dog and the entire situation alarmed me.

The shelter gave my phone number to the owner without my consent and not ten minutes later the owner called me at home demanding his dog back. We immediately booked a cab that we couldn't really afford to get to the shelter and have the vet there look at Atlas, since the shelter couldn't legally withhold a dog without seeing it first to determine its condition.

We had to sign Atlas over to the shelter in order to have it examined - this was, at the time, our only recourse to prevent a neglected animal from going back to its original situation.

The vet, to put it bluntly, did not give a fuck. Phrases that were used included "Well, it's not normal in terms of a dog you or I would own, but..."; "Oh, the teeth aren't broken, they're just worn down. You know, from chewing on rocks and stuff."; "Your vet says the teeth are rotten? That's a matter of opinion."

As our vet pointed out, if a dog is chewing rocks, it's hungry. Plus, the owner had already said the dog had a flea allergy (and yet he did not have it on flea control), and that its skin condition was entirely an allergic reaction. The unpaid shelter vet refused to acknowledge the secondary infection that the vet we paid to make an assessment said was definitely present. The shelter vet then walked away from us as we were speaking and refused to commit to either educating the owner on dog care when he came in, or setting a checkup visit for the dog. Basically, she saw a neglect case, but she could weasel out of it and she just didn't want to do that much work on a Sunday.

Atlas went home with his neglectful owner the next day.

That day, we called the shelter to ask: has the dog gone home; was the owner educated on dog care; did you give him the prescription medications that we paid for and show him how to use them? We were told "we took care of it" three times in a very clipped tone, and then hung up on.

We called the owner back and left him a voicemail offering to buy his dog flea control. 24 hours later we hadn't received any response.

The day after, I was pretty much sick of it. Neither of us could get over the fact that we had taken a neglected dog to the people who are charged with protecting animals and nobody had bothered to make sure it was comfortable and living happily.

I spent all day on the phone. I called the county police. I called state patrol. I called just about every major shelter in the state. Four hours later I had nothing. I was transferred and redirected so many god damn times and half of those transfers were to the shelter that had blown Atlas off and sent him back uncared for.

Every time I called a law enforcement office, I received the same automated message: If it is an emergency, or if you want to report a crime, please call 911. Okay, I thought. Is it a crime?

Hoo, boy, yes it is. The full law is here, the relevant parts are as follows:

(2) An owner of an animal is guilty of animal cruelty in the second degree if, under circumstances not amounting to first degree animal cruelty, the owner knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence:
     (a) Fails to provide the animal with necessary shelter, rest, sanitation, space, or medical attention and the animal suffers unnecessary or unjustifiable physical pain as a result of the failure.

Suddenly, I had a crime to report. I called up Everett Police to make sure it was all right, and after hearing the story, I was advised to wait until the shelter was closed so that the case wouldn't be sent right to animal control, i.e., the shelter, and then call 911 and ask an officer to go out to the owner's house. We found his address by checking his number in the directory, and I made the emergency call and explained the situation.

Pretty soon the officer on duty phoned me directly to ask me to tell her the whole story again. She commended us on the "phenomenal" effort we put in to making sure that the dog was all right, and went straight to the owner's house to check up on Atlas.

She took my concern for my privacy seriously and simply told him "I understand you've been involved with the animal shelter recently". She told him that if he continued to neglect his dog, the police would have to intervene. She educated him on the basics of dog care, and told him that that care had to be ongoing.

She then called me back, related this to me, and told me that the animal neglect (second-degree animal cruelty) law works a lot like trespassing or child neglect - the offender has to be warned first, before any action is taken. She gave me the incident number and her name, and told me to call back in a month, and she would personally go out and check up on the dog to make sure it was doing better.

The moral of this story is that just because a place says it's an animal shelter, says it has the best interest of animals at heart, just because a person says they're a vet, or that they care for animals, it's no guarantee of anything. And unless you live in New York or New Jersey and you have the ASPCA at your disposal, your best bet is the find the relevant legislation FIRST, and get the cops involved at the first sign of mishandling or irresponsibility.

Sunday, 10 February 2013


I always try to stay optimistic, but to be quite honest, I'm having a terrible day. Between an abusive dog owner, an animal shelter who gave out my phone number without permission to that owner, and the shelter vet who walked away from me as I was speaking and said that it was a 'matter of opinion' as to whether or not the dog's teeth were rotten, I am pretty much ready to just go and be a hermit for a little while and avoid the public because they're just so fucking frustrating.

After all of that, the fact that the Comcast website tells me that their agents are available by phone 24/7, but when I call up I get an automated message telling me that they're only 7am to 8pm, Monday to Saturday is making me want to kill people and break things.


Thursday, 7 February 2013

Garlic and cheese soda bread rolls

It's always a huge shame when you're cooking dinner, realize you're out of bread when bread would be delicious, and then realize you don't have three hours to make yeast bread. For those moments, I have prepared this recipe! These puff up like muffins in the pan with big puffy domed tops. They come out soft and fluffy on the inside, and when vet tech husband tried one (fresh out of the oven!) he split it perfectly in half with just his hands, saw the soft inside and picturesque steam rising out of it, and declared it to look "like food on TV". That's good enough for me!

Preheat oven to 425F.

Sift 2C AP flour, 2C whole wheat flour, 2tsp baking soda and 4tsp baking powder into a large bowl. If the bran bits in the whole wheat flour get stuck in the sieve, just pour them back into the bowl - you're sifting it to get air into it.

Add at least 5tbsp garlic powder, more if you like garlic, and about 1-2tbsp of mixed dried herbs (I used mixed Italian herbs and some parsley), and 1/2-3/4C shredded cheese such as mozzarella or cheddar. Pick the herbs and cheese depending on what you want to pair them with - if you're making a chicken dish, rosemary and thyme might be a good choice!

Mix in 3C water until fully combined. Prep a 12-cup regular-size muffin pan, either with Pam or with oil and flour, and fill each cup right to the top. Bake for 30mins.

These are seriously delicious as snacks or as rolls to go with dinner and you don't have to start them three hours before everything else!

Gainful employment

I have some good news for today: I got a new job! I work for a maid service company as an independent contractor. I make $13-$16 an hour, depending on the work volume, I work four days a week and pick my own shifts. I'm really looking forward to having a job that will keep me active! I have to commute an hour or two into Seattle every morning but honestly, I can read in that time, so I'm not really complaining. I'd rather have an extra hour than how up to work right after I've showered and gotten dressed - I'm very slow to wake up.

What I find interesting is that just the fact of having a job is boosting my self-esteem. I'm getting more done. I have more energy. I take better care of myself, too - instead of cleaning my teeth every day, I'm also putting my whitening trays in for half an hour every night and rinsing with mouthwash twice a day. I'm exfoliating with natural products and taking better care of my skin. The whole time I've been jobless I've been thinking to myself, "boy, better remember to whiten my teeth tonight!" and then I forget. Somehow now I'm remembering every night!

This happened the last time I had a job, too - I got so much more done despite having less free time. I think part of it is definitely just that I know I have to go out and make a whole lot of first impressions on people, but another part of it is the self-esteem boost that comes from actually getting stuff done outside of the home. I feel that in terms of motivation and energy, knowing that I'm going to go out and do things is basically critical. It could be the same for you too!

Anyway, I'm going to go and clean my face with yogurt and olive oil.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Perfect Chicken Pizza

I made pizza for my family tonight. I've tried a bunch of recipes that involve rising the crust, but I found a crust recipe that didn't involve any rising at all and goddamn if it wasn't the best pizza I've ever had. Crispy, but super soft once you bite into it. This pizza is better than any takeout you will ever get, and it's a damn sight cheaper, too.

I used this crust recipe, with a few changes. I added a whole bunch of garlic powder and a little ground basil, and I subbed in 1C whole wheat flour. I also changed the preparation - I mixed the yeast, sugar and water in a bowl and let it froth up, poured it into the flour, stirred until it became dough and then added the olive oil. I just like it better that way. I've heard it's better, though I have no idea why, and it does seem to make tastier crust! I do it that way for bread too.

Then I heated a can of plain tomato sauce, added mixed herbs, paprika and about nine or ten cloves of garlic minced in the garlic press (mincing by hand wouldn't have gotten them fine enough for me).

I rolled out the crust - I like thin, Italian-style pizza crust and this crust made one big-ass pizza. I put it on the pizza tray, drizzled a ring of olive oil around the edge and spread it around the crust, especially the edges, with my fingers. I ladled some of the sauce on and spread it with the back of a spoon until it was even, and then sprinkled on some chopped mushrooms and bell peppers. Then I put a ton of shredded mozzarella, probably a good cup and a half of cheese. Then more mushrooms and peppers, and some shredded chicken - then a sprinkle more mozzarella and some red pepper flakes.

Bake at 425F for 25-30 minutes and let the mozzarella crisp up - even if it gets a little black it'll taste divine! The cheese came out gooey and perfect, and the crust wasn't in the least bit oily. This is way better than takeout pizza that leaves the box see-through with grease, and there's no irritating rising time either!

Saturday, 2 February 2013

α and β

I went to the bank yesterday to close my account. They've been charging me for all sorts of things without telling me beforehand which I wouldn't have minded except that the charges resulted in me being overdrawn. So I threw on my workout clothes, walked down there with writer husband, told them I was sick of it, got them to refund me all but four dollars of the money they'd taken out, and closed down my account.

While I was having my account closed, a woman came up to our counter. Her hair was undone and her clothes were shabby. She was glaring and pouting. She huffed and said to the cashier helping me "I'm going to go because I've seen four people get served ahead of me and now I'm late for an appointment" in the teeny tiniest voice. I mean, I know I'm a little deaf, but seriously, her voice was teeny tiny.

The cashier apologized for the delay and offered to book her an appointment. A not-really-argument ensued in which the woman complained in that quiet, whining voice of hers that she had to cash a check right now to pay a bill that was due Monday, complained that the bank was about to close and just said "oh" when she was told that it was open for another hour, and finally consented to doing what the cashier suggested which was to make an appointment.

All the time I was thinking, holy smokes, if it was that important to her why didn't she make more of a fuss about it? Why was she talking in such a tiny voice? Why was she pouting at the cashier and looking to her to do something about the problem? Why wasn't she taking charge of her situation in any way?

This is pretty much a perfect example of the difference between alphas and betas. I got the bank to pay me money, got an appointment twenty minutes after I asked for it and had everything I wanted done without trouble. She got nothing and left dissatisfied.

This is another big reason that I always disliked the "how to care for your introvert" stuff that goes around every so often on social networking sites. Because, yes, drunken club parties or whatever it is that "hipsters/nerds" complain about on the internet are boring for some people (introvert and extrovert alike), but introverts are also often betas. Not speaking up, not being clear in what you want and backing away from fights are major attributes of introverts and betas alike. And, frankly, alphas get shit done. Alphas tend to be more successful in their endeavors than betas because they are effective.

I'll say it again: it has nothing to do with social rules, bullying, or dominating. People who are clear, self-assured and firm get stuff done better and more efficiently than people who don't. This would hold true under any social climate.

People should not be encouraged to be inefficient, passive, ineffectual and timid, because it will damage them. Even if it's difficult for some, people should be encouraged to get their shit together and build confidence. Whether or not it comes naturally is no excuse for not practising a skill.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Dessert Hummus

I didn't modify this recipe at all, so I'm just going to link to the original: Snickerdoodle Cookie Dough Dip. I made this for writer husband whose two favorite foods are cookie dough and hummus, and that's what this recipe is. Cookie dough flavored hummus. The site says it's skinny and I guess it is, compared to real cookie dough - the whole batch worked out to a little over 1000 calories (with fat free cream cheese, which was all they had at the store I went to), and split in four there was still quite a lot of hummus in each portion. I don't actually count calories myself, though - that's my writer husband's schtick - and what I like about it is that instead of the butter-sugar-sugar-flour nonsense that cookies have, this dip is all peanut butter and old-fashioned oats. Along with the chickpeas, that makes it super nutritious. Tons of fiber and protein! I made it with dark brown sugar instead of the light brown used in the recipe, because I prefer the richer taste of dark brown - it's also less processed if that bothers you.

I also used fat free milk because that was all we had, but I'd love to try it with almond milk. I'd also prefer to use reduced or full fat cream cheese instead of fat free because it would be creamier and richer, but if you do count calories, it tastes just fine with fat free!

Monday, 28 January 2013

Time-wasting VS Time-using

I've gotten rid of a lot of the time-wasting sites that I used to spend so much time on, but I'm still a little in awe of how much time it's freed up. I deleted Tumblr a couple of months ago but I still find myself casting about for things to aimlessly scroll through on the internet. I barely use Livejournal at all any more, and my Facebook is just a way to keep up with a small handful of people, literally about three or four, that I don't have any other way to talk to. They only update with about 8-10 new posts every day so at worst, I'm just wasting ten minutes.

The funny thing about it is that after I've exhausted every other site, I usually just come here to doodle around and write something, and then I end up being productive because I'm updating my blog. I don't consider this cheating - running a blog properly is something I've been wanting to do for years, and I typically end up dropping (too busy refreshing Tumblr), so every post is a victory as far as I'm concerned. If I'm not writing here, maybe I'll play a bit of a video game that I've been working on, which again is productive for me since I have wanted to get better at video games for years.

What I'm seeing from this is that it is worth putting thought into picking the things you do. Going to Tumblr or Livejournal becomes a habit, but really, just about anything can become habitual. If you want to be productive, pick sites and activities that are purposeful and valuable to you and relate to a goal that you have.  At the end of the day you aren't going to just sit and blankly do nothing - you're going to find something to occupy your time with, and it's going to be the things that are most immediately accessible. If you make sure that those things are valuable, and put purpose and thought into choosing them, you're going to end up doing those things as regularly as you did Plurk and Pinterest. Except that you're also going to progress, instead of spending all afternoon scrolling through image posts and other people's personal updates, and realizing that you're in the exact same place and you're the exact same person that you were three hours ago.

Think about it: in three hours you can work out, write a blog post, drink a cup of tea, make pretzels, and defeat a level of a video game. You can get hooked on a new novel. You can clean your entire apartment; watch three documentaries; complete a chapter of a Teach Yourself language course. If you keep these kinds of things beside you on the table or the nightstand or your purse while deleting Tumblr and Facebook from your favorites bar or your app list, you'll turn to the things that are valuable to you in order to occupy your time just as easily.

Now I've written a blog post, and I'm going to go and make pretzels.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Gatsby's House

Another little thought I had regarding The Great Gatsby is the symbolic significance of Gatsby's house. Nick goes into the history of it at one point, talking about how it's designed to look like an old castle with turrets and such, and how the original designer offered to pay five years' worth of taxes on the surrounding properties if they agreed to thatch their roofs with straw (which they refused because, as Nick said, Americans don't take to being peasantry).

Given that this was written during the 1920s, which was the time of Art Deco and Bauhaus modernism, I feel that this is very telling. The design and history of the house is representative of the absurd archaism of the upper classes - the way they clutch at the past and pretend at being nobility when the time for nobles has long since passed.

The fact that this is the house that Gatsby buys is in itself metaphorical, of course, but so is the lifestyle he operates out of it. His famous parties which everyone in the city attends are a closed world to Daisy, full of life and opportunity, the height of Jazz Age culture. Gatsby doesn't belong in the world he tries to occupy - but that is a credit to him.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Whole Wheat Walnut and Oat Bread

I made this bread as a complement to my carrot and coriander soup, and also as a way to use walnuts up in recipes so that I would actually enjoy eating them. I can say with the full support of my three husbands that it was a wild success on both accounts! I hope everyone enjoys making and eating this delicious bread.

Preheat oven to 435F.

In a small bowl mix 2tsp yeast and 1tsp white sugar, and add 1/4C warm water. Leave for about 5-10 minutes or until frothy.

Put 1 1/4C (one and a quarter) warm water in a large bowl, and stir in the yeast mixture. Add 1tsp dark brown sugar, 1/4C old fashioned oats, and 2C whole wheat flour. Stir to combine.

Mix 2tbsp olive oil to dough and stir to combine. Finely chop 1/2C walnuts and toast; stir walnuts into dough. Make sure they're distributed evenly!

Then, begin adding all-purpose flour (between 2 and 3C) by the half-cup until the dough is soft and no longer sticky. Knead as you incorporate, and slap the dough a lot while you knead.

Put in greased or floured bowl, cover with a towel and let rise for an hour or two, until doubled in size. Knead it down, shape it into a loaf and place it on a greased baking tray (I put foil on my trays and spray the foil with Pam). If you like, you can wet the top of the loaf and top it with more oats (or poppyseeds!). Cover loaf with towel and let rise for 30-45 minutes.

Bake in oven for 30 minutes, and make sure to tap the bottom to make sure it sounds hollow! If it doesn't, put it back in and check every 5-10 minutes.

Carrot and Coriander Soup

When I was little, my father bought these delicious fancy soups that came in paper tetra-paks and were absolutely heavenly. I don't think they were organic, but they were fresh as hell, and have always been my standard for seriously delicious soup. I actually forgot about it for a while - how tasty fresh pea soup, tomato and basil, and carrot and coriander used to be before I switched to canned tomato and forgot that soup could be delicious.

When I remembered, I had to look up a recipe. I tried making carrot and walnut a little while ago (one of my mother in laws bought us a bag of walnuts, and I dislike walnuts on their own so I try to find recipes to make them taste good. Unfortunately, that soup didn't turn out right at all in my opinion, although my husbands loved it.

This soup, though? This soup is perfect. It's like I could have poured it out of the packet back in 1997, except that I had the satisfaction (and got the credit!) for making it myself.

In the bottom of a large soup pot or stockpot, chop and fry 1 shallot in some olive oil until translucent. For reference, the shallot I used was about the size of my palm. In a mortar and pestle, grind 1/2tsp caraway seed, and add to shallots. Add 2 medium white potatoes, diced, and fry for a few minutes.

Add about 700g carrots, chopped, plus 3C beef broth and 3C chicken stock. Stir and cook on medium-low heat for an hour.

Remove from heat and liquefy the soup in a blender, along with 1 bunch fresh coriander (cilantro). I just chopped the leaves off and used those, but you can use the stems too if you like a stronger coriander taste. You might need to blend it in two batches depending on the size of your blender - just pour the first batch into a large bowl.

Return the soup to the pot and put over low heat. Add chicken broth (or water) to thin it to desired consistency, and then serve with delicious bread!

The Great Gatsby

---Spoilers for The Great Gatsby---

I always knew Fitzgerald as someone that associated with Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, and as a result I've avoided reading any of his books because I really cannot stand Hemingway or Gertrude Stein. With the movie coming out, though, my husband gave it a try, and he liked it so much he persuaded me to read it. I was seriously taken aback.

As far as I understand it, it's a fantastic criticism of wealth and status for wealth and status' sake, and of the historical upper classes. Class is an interesting English invention, and what has happened to it in America is even more interesting, but this isn't the place to go into that. As I understand it, here is what ought to be taken from the book:

The concept of the "old money" upper class is a self-referential standard of success. It has no criteria or standards for value except the fact of its own existence. As a result, it has become a ruinous, greedy, shallow way of life, lived by spoiled, immature, self-absorbed people who view anyone that does not belong to their class as existing for their pleasure and will treat them accordingly. Additionally, as a broader criticism of (1920s) society, the "old money" class is held up as the highest and most refined of people, when due to their lack of ethics, compassion, direction or responsibility they are in fact the worst and most worthless. 

There is a passage in which Nick describes Gatsby as "the son of God" in that he had no desire to follow in his parents' footsteps but had a dream of his own perfect happiness that he was willing to do anything to pursue. The young Gatsby sees himself as unlimited, and essentially as transcending class. He's willing to fish and clam for food and money, but he detests doing janitorial work to pay his way through college (while, presumably, surrounded by boys who are not working class and do not have to be subjected to the 'humiliation' of working for their education). Gatsby takes risks, retains his integrity, conducts himself honestly and never loses sight of his goals or his dreams.

Daisy, on the other hand, looks to others to define her life (to use Nick's words) and doesn't even have the redeeming feature of being loyal. While Gatsby's love for her is motivated by his "incorruptible dream", Daisy's love for him is transient and inessential to her happiness. She personifies the fickle immaturity of her class, not understanding Gatsby's devotion to her and not wanting to either. She has no goals or dreams, and looks to others to define her and give her life meaning (a metaphor, I decided, for the upper class's lack of definable value beyond that which everyone has decided to give it), but as a result of her lack of dreams, she doesn't actually care how it is defined. Her happiness is not important to her - her way of life is.

Her husband, Tom, is an appalling man. He cheats on his wife, he hits women, he bullies, and he has no ambition of his own except to retain power over others. From beginning to end he is portrayed as a racist and white supremacist in the most ridiculous ways possible. I have heard that people refuse to read Fitzgerald because of racism in his early works, but I can certainly say that he has lost his racism by the time of Gatsby. Tom's hysteria over whites and blacks marrying and the dilution of the "dominant Nordic race" is painted in such an absurd light that it's completely impossible for anyone to sympathize with.

What is really interesting to me, though, is the character of Meyer Wolfsheim. He is a Jewish mobster, and he helped Gatsby make his fortune. Meyer never goes to Gatsby's parties or to his house, but he is always there for Gatsby - at Gatsby's request, he sends him a full staff of servants so that Gatsby can keep the lid on the rumors about him and know that he is surrounded by people he can trust. But given the time period, he couldn't be less acceptable in polite society. Now the most negative interpretation possible is that Meyer is there as the "dirty Jew", the stain on Gatsby's reputation that prevents him from ever becoming truly respectable. But set against the very deliberate pantomime of Tom's hysterical racism, I can't think that it was intended that way.

Throughout the whole book, we see people we have grown to love being torn apart by Daisy and Tom's frivolity and aimlessness left and right. Throughout the story, Nick berates Gatsby for trying to repeat the past, for trying to find himself in the past, for trying to live in the past - and yet by the end, Nick is completely consumed by the past. He was constantly being forced to stay in situations that he didn't actually want to be a part of by Daisy and Tom - constantly being forced into getting involved. As a result, he ends up chewed up and spat out by the same vortex that consumed Gatsby - that is the tragedy of the book.

Yet there is Meyer, in the background, the only character who gets a good ending as a consequence of making the right choices. Meyer is portrayed as sensitive, loyal and obliging to Gatsby, very honest but also very self-assured. It is obvious that he loves Gatsby, but he refuses to go to his funeral. It is slipped in between Nick's frantic attempts to get a hold of all the other high society people who didn't truly care for or love Gatsby, and at first glance it is easy to write Meyer off as one of those. But if you read what he's saying, it doesn't quite seem that way. He tells Nick that he won't go to the funeral because he doesn't want to get involved. When Nick tells him that everyone's dead and there's nothing left to get involved in, Meyer simply repeats that he doesn't want to get involved. I believe he was referring to not wanting to get involved in anything of that upper class world - very sensibly, given where involvement got Nick and Gatsby.

He also tells Nick that he hates funerals, because he believes that one should honor friends in life, not after they're dead. This is the only time in the whole book that a person doesn't dwell on the past, and instead focuses with integrity on the future. Nick and Gatsby end up both obsessed with people who are no longer there, and in her final betrayal, Daisy cries that Gatsby should just be satisfied that she loves him now - in other words, erasing her mistakes and absolving herself of responsibility for her actions. Between these people, Meyer's solemn, ethical, private approach to friends and to Gatsby's affairs are like a few flakes of moral gold in the silt and mud left behind in Daisy's selfish wake.

I think that Meyer's unrespectable status was that way on purpose, to invert the standards of respectability, as a part of demonstrating how odious the old upper classes were. Those who were supposed to be great are in fact the scum of the earth, and those who were supposed to be low, tacky and untrustworthy are the moral, loyal, dependable ones.

Personally, I got very emotional about Gatsby because I identified very strongly with Jay. His wanderlust, all of the different lives he's lived, his dreams, his patience, his devotion, and the intense way he loves everything all struck very close to my heart. He is one of the protagonists that is most 'like me' in anything I've read. So I couldn't help but be sad when I finished the book - I wished that Nick had taken Meyer up on that "business gonnegtion" and Jay had ended up falling for Nick and the three of them had gone off and been successful and rich together, instead of being all torn apart by shallow, superficial Daisy. But ultimately, even if it was very sad, the book was a masterpiece and will always be very close to my heart.

Drugs, Exercise and London

An acquaintance of mine blogged about medical marijuana being especially good for Crohn's disease, which is apparently a fucker to treat with other medications (which often cause bowel distress - I have this problem a lot and I don't even have a bowel disorder). I've heard other things about it being a good pain reliever for chemo patients, and the like. And it occurs to me that perhaps if idiots with their 420 nonsense would stop cluttering up the debate, marijuana probably could be cleared for medical use. The simple fact of the matter is that it is incredibly hard to take a product seriously when it is more famous for its associations with white people that carry Jamaican-flag-print lighters, wear weed-shaped belt buckles and tell any captive audience they can find about their last wild trip or how acid totally doesn't have any side effects than for its associations with actual medical patients who need help.

inb4 "not all potheads are like that", yes, as with all social groups there are exceptions to the rule. But the fact remains that the vast majority of outspokenly pro-weed people (I refuse to use the term "420" in a serious context because it is just so stupid) are twats who, if they do raise the medical benefits, typically do it to talk about how The Man is oppressing people because He won't admit how, like, totally okay weed is, man. When cancer and Crohn's disease patients are the most vocal demographic in favor of legalizing weed, call me.

Unrelatedly, I went for a run today after contracting bronchitis in November and staying sick until early January (and then being too cold to move for a few weeks after that), and it was agony. I was out for about ten minutes and when I got home I was asthmatic, gasping, had an excruciating headache and was shaking all over. Two months of lying on the couch can ruin a body, my friends.

I don't think exercise ever actually becomes pleasant for anybody. Pushing yourself past your limits is a fundamentally physically uncomfortable activity. Yes, your tolerance will rise as you become fitter, just as an averagely unfit person has a perfectly fine tolerance for walking around town whereas a morbidly obese person may not have the tolerance even for that, but the whole point of working out is to push yourself all of the time so that fact is kind of moot.

I think the people who say they enjoy exercise have simply retrained their minds to interpret those uncomfortable chemicals that exercise releases as positive, even if they feel unpleasant. People do this all the time - for example, skydivers, who reinterpret the physical feelings of fear as something positive that will encourage them to jump out of the plane, instead of something negative that will keep them inside it - so it's hardly a big jump. But the fact still remains that unless you do eventually reinterpret the unpleasant feelings like that, exercise is still going to wring you out and make you feel like shit.

That isn't any excuse to not exercise, because there are much worse shitty things that you put up with doing every day, that don't protect you from disease or improve your physical and mental health in any way.

Finally, I'm blogging at seven in the morning because I can't sleep. I got thinking about London and I'm too excited.

My father owns an apartment in Tufnell Park that has just been empty for literally more than twenty years,  half-finished, gathering dust and storing some of his old crap that should really be thrown out. The other day my husbands and I decided that I should call him up in a few months' time and tell him to sign the property over to me. I will then go over with writer husband, do the place up and rent it out, splitting the rent with my father. My father will then get to see me relatively regularly as my family and I will have a place to stay in London, the property will be making money instead of lying fallow, and I'll be getting some of that money. Since it seems pretty likely that my father will only have a year or two more of tenure at the University (if that), now would seem to be the perfect time to do it, and I won't have to pay 40% taxation on the property when my father dies (legal loophole in England that says if you signed it over more than 7 years before your death, the beneficiary doesn't have to pay death duties).

I can't sleep because I'm mentally picking out furniture for the apartment and making checklists of things that need to be done there, like sanding the floors, cleaning the chimneys and getting a fire escape put in.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Gatsby and Banana Slicers

I will have you all know that I turned on my laptop today to find that vet tech husband had left this on my offline IMs:

For those of you who don't know me too well, cats and deer are my favorite animals. This brightened my day immeasurably.

I finished reading The Great Gatsby this morning in preparation for the upcoming movie and oh boy, was I blown away. Long post to follow about that. 

I had a homemade chocolate muffin of vet tech husband's own personal creation for breakfast (he somehow unintentionally recreated a chocolate muffin recipe that I used to love when I was a kid), and then for lunch I had oatmeal with brown sugar and sliced bananas. Writer husband bought me an amazing gift a few days ago: the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer.

Click on that link and go to the Amazon page. Read the reviews. Do it. They are all hilarious. I read through about eight or nine pages (of 245) before I had to call it a day, but holy shit, they're funny. And then because I browse Amazon on writer husband's account, of all the things I had looked at, Amazon sent him an email about said banana slicer recommending that he buy it. He then had to turn around, this being the first he'd ever heard of it, and actually ask me if I had been looking at banana slicers on Amazon. 

It showed up in the mail a couple of days ago and I am still laughing about it. He bought bananas today and I had to slice one. 

In other news, I got a second job - some ritzy cleaning company that pays a minimum of $13 an hour (with a max of $16) hired me full time. I have training the week of February 4th, and I start work the week after that. I'm a little nervous since this is the first time I've properly worked, but the money's good and I'm fed up with being so tight for cash so on the whole I'm excited for it!

We're going out to a burger place by the mall that we haven't been to before, so I guess I'll be writing a review of that pretty soon. 

Mini Collie

I am a huge fan of Rough Collies. I think they are beyond adorable, with their elegant faces and stupid shaggy coats. They are so pointy.

They are also big.

Vet tech husband informed me today that there is a breed of basically miniature Collies. They are called Shelties (Shetland Sheepdogs) and they are literally miniature fucking Collies, pointy faces and shaggy coats included.

Collie on the right, Sheltie on the left. 

These dogs are pretty much the Corgis of Collies

and even though I'm sure their legs only look that stupid and short because of their coats, I don't care. They look like Collies with Corgi legs. They have little cone faces and like three dogs' worth of fluff. What more could you want? 

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Adaptation of a Portuguese Orange Cake

I grew up with Brazilian Portuguese food, since my mamma's restaurant was taken over by Helios, a Brazilian, after she died. But it wasn't until Skyfall came out and I discovered Raoul Silva (portrayed so flawlessly by Javier Bardem) that I became interested in actual Portugal.

Be fair: aren't you a little more interested in Portugal now? I love rice pudding and custards, which are two of the most popular Portuguese desserts, but when I found out that the Portuguese have an orange cake, I had to try it. Orange cakes are one of my absolute favorites.

I was out of milk at the time so I had to scout around for a recipe that I could actually make, and then I ended up adjusting it anyway because I'm me. 

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Separate 3 eggs and beat the whites until stiff. In a large bowl, beat 2.5C white sugar and 1/2C brown sugar with 1/4C olive oil and 1/4C yogurt. Stir in the egg yolks. Juice 1 orange and zest it. Add the juice and the zest to the mixture. Stir in 2.5C flour and 3tsp baking powder - batter will be really stiff, almost like dough. Fold in the egg whites until batter is smooth. 

Pour into a greased 9" cake pan (springform is best - this is a sticky cake) and bake for 40mins. Remove from oven, cover with foil and bake for another 20mins

Juice 1 orange, mix with 1/4C sugar and pour over cake as soon as you take it out of the oven. Let cool, and serve on its own or with whipped cream, or dulce de leche. 

Friday, 18 January 2013

Orange Chicken

While riding the bus past the mall the other day, I noticed an industrial-looking store kind of set back from the road. It had a parking lot out front and a big no-nonsense sign that said GROCERY OUTLET. Now, being an immigrant and only having lived here for a couple of years (and broke-ass, too, so I haven't done much exploring), I had never heard of the damn grocery outlet.

So we finally went a couple of days ago, and it was magical. Imported Italian wine for five bucks. Frozen half salmon fillets for three bucks. Cans of soup for 56c.

One of my husbands has wanted orange chicken every day for a week, but Chinese takeout is pretty unhealthy and let's be honest, when you want to eat Chinese, you want to eat a lot of Chinese. That's where the 8lbs of oranges I bought for $4.99 and the 3lbs of chicken breast I got for $3.80 came in.

I based this recipe on one I found online, and tweaked it to make it healthier/more orangey.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Put 1C of orange juice (about four oranges' worth for me) in a measuring jug and top off with water to 1.5C. Pour into a medium saucepan and add 1tbsp michiu/mirin (rice cooking wine), 1tsp rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar, and 3tbsp soy sauce.

Put on heat, and add 1C dark brown sugar, 1/2tsp minced ginger root (or a good shake of ginger powder) and 3 big cloves of garlic, diced. Zest one of the orange peels (two halves) and add that, with a couple shakes of red pepper flakes to taste. They will make it spicy, so use your judgement.

Cut up a bunch of chicken breast if you want to (or just leave them whole, it's totally your call), and bake in the oven in a greased oven dish (I used Pam) for about 40 minutes, depending on size. The original recipe breads and fries the chicken which is more Chinese takeout, but I prefer my meat healthy and au naturale.

Mix 3tbsp cornstarch with 1/4C water, add to sauce and stir until it thickens.

Serve with jasmine rice and steamed vegetables. We had carrots and broccoli; pak choi and baby corns would be delicious too!

Staff Sgt. Max Fightmaster

I never read comments. I downloaded a special program called Herp Derp for Youtube so I wouldn't have to look at the comments. When I browse a character tag on Tumblr (as I do rarely, and when I do, it's usually just Raoul Silva refreshed over and over again) I skim past every text post rapidly and only screech to a halt when I see some fanart. I have friends for a reason - it's because I'm picky about who I like to talk to and am usually dissatisfied by just striking up a conversation with random strangers.

Yesterday, I felt completely validated in this approach. My best friend, whose name is Sierra, IMed me to tell me that she had looked up her name on a baby names website. So far so good, I thought, until she told me she was looking at the comments section. There, she found that someone had left the following comment:

Personally, I despise the name "Sierra." I merely feel that it is very default, very generic... it greatly lacks professional qualities, as well as being pretentious-, pompous-, uneducated-, and infantile-sounding. It is terribly pageant-baby-- certainly not the definition of brains.
The manic accumulation of spelling-variants cannot save "Sierra," for it is neither attractive to the eye or to the ear.-- Francesca  1/30/2012
So after learning that the name Sierra is pretty much responsible for world hunger, the majority of baby rapes, and probably the extermination of the Jews, my friend then went on to glance at the commenter's profile.

Now, on this website, people with accounts list their top five baby names for boys and girls. And according to the list, Francesca's favorite boys' name is Severo.

Yeah. It gets worse from there. Her third favorite boys' name is "Sylvester/Silvestro", which aside from the ridiculous faux-Italian spelling variant which would be out of place literally anywhere in the world except for the Old Country itself, just makes me think of Sylvester the Cat.

On top of that, her favorite girls' name is Marie, which is hilarious to anyone who's seen Goodfellas, not to mention eye-gougingly generic, which wouldn't be a problem unless you were the kind of person that went around slamming names for being too generic. Her second favorite is "Susana" (spelling variants, anyone?). And her third favorite?


Wait, what?

Yes, apparently that is a girls' name that girls are actually named, on occasion. Luckily for those chosen few, it is a name both incredibly professional and refreshingly unpretentious, not to mention it personifies maturity. This is a name for a future CEO, or even the first female President. And as if that weren't enough, it is wonderfully feminine and attractive. On the page it is a tiny work of art in itself, and it melts like butter on the tongue.

And best of all, it is most definitely not generic.

American Horror Story

So last night me and two of my husbands were sitting around, kind of hungry at two in the morning, and I said I wanted to watch some horror. We looked through Netflix and didn't find much of anything, and eventually settled on something called American Horror Story. It had a promising summary, something about the depths of evil or whatever.

Hoo boy, was it a mistake.

Let's get something straight: American Horror Story is hilarious. I'm not even sure how to begin summarizing what a clusterfuck it was, and by 'it' I mean the first episode. There was more. It was episodic. More than one episode of this nonsense was produced and aired and watched by people who had a choice over what to do with their time.

To begin with, when I first saw the picture in the list, I honest to God thought it was Twin Peaks. A pale woman in a black negligee arches against a red background in some kind of interpretative ballet as a black rubber bondage suit does a handstand over her in mid-air. I'm not sure who is afraid of kinky sex and ballet, but it seems like a niche audience to start with.

The show itself was just.. bizarre. It focused on this family of a mother, a father and a teenage daughter, and seemed to be predicated upon the idea that Southerners are spooky, as are unpopular kids who shop at Hot Topic and Irish people. There was an old Irish housekeeper who was apparently a ghost and/or the Black Widow from Avengers (?) and whose name was literally Moira O'Hara. Then there was an elegant Southern woman who keeps letting her Down's syndrome daughter get into other people's houses, presumably because she knows it's haunted, although why she'd let her disabled kid go in there I can't figure out. Elegant Southern woman ("prouhd Vahginyan") gives the mother a box of sage "to get rid of the bad juju", hisses ominous threats at Moira O'Hara O'Grady O'Leary such as "don't make me kill you again", and steals some of the silverware during her very first scene.

The main driving force of the plot seemed to be the extremely hot father's desire to ever get laid. His only moderately hot wife had a miscarriage a year beforehand, and instead of going near her husband she bought a yappy dog and basically refused to touch her husband ever again. Then she got angry when he cheated on her and refused to touch him even more. In order to save their relationship they move into a haunted house on the other side of the country, and then the father is assailed by various hot women, and the show is interspersed with scenes of him jerking off and then crying because he is so sexually frustrated.

Also there's something about a fire that occurred in the house (although it seems fine now) and the father being stalked by the arsonist, and also hearing voices telling him to set fire to things and/or himself, as is demonstrated by him striking matches and staring at them longingly, or turning on all the burners and slowly putting his hand near them, in a kind of trancelike state. The mother may or may not have had sex with the house while believing it to be her husband wearing a rubber bondage suit and refusing to talk, and there's also some kind of possibly homophobic subplot about gay people living in the house and killing each other and also more bondage?

Aside from the adults, there's also the subplot with the daughter who is named Violet (and thank goodness they didn't go with their second choice of name, Sunshine, because she is in such a permanently terrible mood ha ha teenagers). She is assaulted by unfriendly black hotties who try to make her eat a cigarette butt because she smokes and one of their grandfathers died of lung cancer or something. She then befriends another social outcast who is seeing her psychiatrist father because he fantasizes about killing everyone in the school. He subjects one of the unfriendly black hotties to some kind of demon assault. He sits in a chair in the basement, wearing a shirt that reads "normal people scare me" or something that only fourteen year olds still think is cool. The lights flash on and off and a demon rolls around on top of the hottie and scratches her face.

This is terrifying stuff, you guys.

Sunday, 13 January 2013


I got my Perceforest book, and it is one of the most fascinating books I have read to date. I just finished reading the introduction, which is written by an extremely meticulous and learned translator who explains the main themes of the book, and I am completely enthralled already. I have been having some nice quiet time on my own in the movie room with my book and my laptop, but I've also been running out into the living room every twenty minutes or so to read my husbands another passage from the book and rant about how fascinating it is. I will be making a Perceforest post soon, but not tonight; I need time to absorb what I've read.

My father told me about some people he knew as a grad student, who had decided that they would only talk to each other about important things, and wouldn't discuss trivialities. It's interesting because I have come across people like that too in my life, and it's always annoyed me. I like discussing trivialities, I like fun and silliness and joking around.

But I've also been very conscious of my mortality - I think everyone around my age begins to be aware of that. And more and more I find that I want to spend as much time as possible doing worthwhile things. I want to fill every minute of my day with things that I love: reading, writing, painting, drawing, blogging, watching tutorials, learning languages, doing work that I enjoy for money that I spend on things I love, like good food and dates with my family. Ultimately, I want to spend every minute I can learning.

The motivation to learn comes from love, and I want to indulge that as much as I can. I can't get a job yet because I don't have a social, but I have freelance work lined up editing a sci-fi series for a client that I genuinely like as a person. The stories are compelling and the work is fulfilling and fun, and even though I'm not working every month, when I do work I get the same kind of money that I would if I worked in retail. I want to keep this a pattern, if I can; I want to keep doing work that I find fulfilling and fun.

Ultimately, I want to spend all of my time on love, in one way or another. I have wasted an awful lot of time on various forms of hate, and I want to expand my world and feel fulfilled in every moment now.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Breadsticks and wine

Being an immigrant, there are a lot of chain restaurants and fast food joints that I've never been to. Wendy's, for example; also Dairy Queen, Denny's and Bonefish Grill. Tonight, though, I got to strike one off the list: Olive Garden.

My husband and I went out to see Les Mis today. I like the movie far, far more than the musical; I understand all the little nuances so much better and the movie made quite a few changes in terms of both musical delivery and characterization that I think make so much more narrative sense.

After the movie finished, we snuffled all the way across the street to the Olive Garden. The boy has been wigging out about Olive Garden breadsticks for years, and yet we just never got around to going. I admit that this is partly because I see it as a whitebread restaurant and have been more interested in going to more authentic joints, but today I relented and said I wanted to go and try the breadsticks.

They were, in fact, divine. I ate them Bugs Bunny style, nom nom nom. I had about six with my meal, that's how good they were.

We had the set menu, at $25 for two people. It came with unlimited salad (we finished off a big bowl between us, complete with lettuce, red cabbage, onion, olives, tomatoes and carrots with plenty of grated romano) and unlimited breadsticks (which we took full advantage of), and then we each had an entree, and split a dessert. I ordered ravioli bolognese and my husband had chicken with smoked mozzarella. Honestly, given that it referred to the bolognese as "meat sauce", it was actually incredibly good. It definitely wasn't the same as authentic Italian food, but I wouldn't really say it was worse, just different. Of course, it might well depend on the dish (I have a sneaking suspicion that their pizzas would probably be all-American, for example), but for the food we ordered? It was damn tasty. For dessert we got zeppoli which were a little more ehrzatz, but still seriously delicious in their own right.

What really impressed me, though, was the wine I ordered. I have been trying to find a red that my husband would like for about as long as he's been trying to get me to eat at Olive Garden. I ordered a carafe of house red, which was officially 9oz, but the waiter gave me close to 10 or 11oz because he was a huge sweetheart (seriously, we had the most bubbly, excitable, attentive waiter I've ever known and it made the meal so much fun), so I gave a little to my husband. As it turned out, it was very smooth, and very light, and my husband actually liked it. We ended up sharing the carafe pretty evenly because he enjoyed drinking it.

I asked about it. Turns out it's made just for the Olive Garden. If I want more, I have to go there, buy a fucking bottle with my meal and take it home! And the bottles are really expensive! I'm so furious, but I guess it just means we'll have to go to the Olive Garden more often so I can enjoy watching my honey drink red wine.

All in all, it was a perfect date and a great restaurant. All the food was yummy and I would absolutely go back there any time to eat. So begins the Americanization of Sofia!

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Under The Red Umbrella

I went out with one of my husbands last night to a cafe in our neighborhood called Under The Red Umbrella. I had meant to take him for his birthday in November, but I got sick four days before, and stayed sick for a month and a half (!).

Red Umbrella is only open for dinner on Friday nights - the rest of the week, Monday through Saturday, it closes at 4. On Fridays, it's open until 9:30 and live music starts at 7. Last night was a blues band called Ravinwolf who played a kind of steel-string guitar schtick, it would have made great driving music! It was a little loud but not disruptively so.

The cafe itself is pretty small, very cute on the outside and very homey on the inside. Tables around a deli counter, and couches and armchairs facing the stage. There's a little bar with a coffee machine and so on. The barstools weren't quite tall enough for either me or my husband (I'm Italian-Irish and he's Mexican, what are you gonna do) but it wasn't so bad.

We ordered hummus tapenade to start. I was super excited because I've been craving olive tapenade for months, and it was SO worth the wait. The hummus (served with fresh basil) was delicious and the tapenade was even better. The pita bread wasn't that great - it tasted like it had been warmed up in the oven about an two hours beforehand, cold and a little too dry, but luckily there was more hummus and tapenade than would even fit on the bread so I ended up eating the rest of it on the side of my  knife once the bread was gone. The waitress recommended me a red cabernet which was delicious.

For the entree, we both ordered the same thing, the dish we'd gone there for in the first place: bison burgers. Neither of us had had bison before, and it was so very, very worth it. The meat was perfect, pink on the inside, brown on the outside. The bun was soft and light as air and I ordered it with tomato, lettuce, horseradish mayo and a side of ketchup. Fucking delicious. One of the best burgers I've ever had, by far: light, healthy, not at all greasy, and the bison tasted approximately one million times better than beef. It came with a side of potato salad that was a little too oniony for me but still really good, and better with ketchup.

Dessert was mixed berry pie and vanilla ice cream. We ordered one to split and it was still almost too much; it had to be about a quarter of a pie. I don't know what 'slice' means to them. It was also totally fucking first class. Sweet, sticky berries, perfect vanilla ice cream, flaky crust. That crust must have had about two cups of butter in it, it was so damn flaky. The pie pushed us into eating too much and no regrets were had by either of us. I finished off with an 8oz hazelnut latte - even the coffee was above par. It was complex but light, and not at all bitter. The syrup helped, of course, but the espresso itself was delicious.

A++, would go again, especially in summer for lunch when we could sit outside at those nice outdoors tables and eat tomato basil soup and olive tapenade, cookies and coffee. Or maybe just a bison burger and a carafe of red wine to share.

Friday, 4 January 2013


It is 0425 and I have finished my editing project. Everything is packaged up and sent to the client just four and a half hours into the day of the deadline. My timekeeping is improving. It was 474 pages by the end, and I feel incredibly accomplished. Now all I have to do is hope that my client likes it enough to give me the contract for the next five, haha!

I've been missing Europe again, everything in it: London/Oxford/England/Europe. I miss having history that was right there. I've been really interested in Tristan and Isolde for one of my writing projects, and I have a burning desire to visit Cornwall. Not that it helps now, but knowing that for years it was just a few hours away on the train is very frustrating now that I'm cut off from everything. It's more than that, though; it's the British Museum, the Bodleian, the Ashmolean, the British Library. There's no Greek and Roman art here to speak of, which is frustrating my desire to see that too. The rule is, the bigger and more important the city, the more good stuff there is in it. The art museum here is nice but it isn't very fundamental and that just frustrates the hell out of me.

It just makes me look forward to living in Virginia even more. Richmond's got a better culture scene going on and there's some real history out there too. It isn't even so much that the history itself is important, as that it makes people care, and a place that is cared about is like a magnet for interesting things.

Not to mention it's five hours away from NYC, by car. When this guy has a plane, you better believe I'll be flying out there every other weekend.

Staying up all night to finish my work means that I get to take tomorrow off! I'm going to finish another writing assignment for my other client over the weekend so I can deliver it by Monday, but the important thing is that I can finally start doing other stuff again, like reading my Arthur storybook, which I am going to do now.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

And you wonder why I forget your birthday

Yet another demonstration of why I had to leave my relatives. My dad has actually gotten a little better, despite the occasional guilt trip that I shrug off easily now, but my cousin is out of control.

I've explained my poly to her, and that I am in love with these boys and that that's why I moved out here, to get away from my father's guilt tripping and to be with the people I love. And yet for New Year's, she sends me an email wishing me happiness and prosperity and so on, and ending with the words:

When are you coming home? You've had your fun, we're all waiting for you!

God. I just--

These fucking people. 

Tuesday, 1 January 2013


Okay, I know that I'm going to get really close to burning out over the next four days, so I'm going to lay out my reward here:

I'm going to buy my art stuff, my binder, and Beginning of Infinity
I'm going out for dates
I'll download the Iliad and the Odyssey, and Symposium and Euthyphro for Kindle
I can finish my Arthur storybook
I'm going to the library to pick up Perceforest and put in an order for Mary Renault

If that's not a perfect reward for four days of work, what is???

Torta di cioccolata e arancia

This is the cake I used to ring in 2013! Served with carbonated cider for my non-alcoholic household and some sparklers on the side.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Mix 1/4C olive oil and the juice of 1 orange in a small bowl; set aside.

In a big mixing bowl, beat 3 eggs together with a pinch of salt until they're frothy, and then slowly add in 1.5C white sugar until the eggs become thick and pale.

Sift 1C flour, 1tbsp baking powder and 2-3tbsp cocoa powder together and gradually mix into the eggs. Then add the oil/juice and combine.

Melt 4 squares of dark chocolate and fold into cake batter. I think I used Ghirardelli 60%, but you could use anything bittersweet or dark.

Stir in candied orange peels. (I used the peels of 3 oranges - maybe about 1/4C? I'll put in a recipe for this later.)

Pour into cake pan and bake for 50 minutes.

This cake bakes up very heavy and sticky, almost like brownies. In fact, when I made it, it had that kind of brownie-like crust on top. I think it's the melted chocolate that makes the difference. But seriously; I sprayed the cake pan with Pam and dusted it with flour, and the cake still stuck to the bottom and I had to kind of squish the bottom back into it. Use a springform pan, and also use baking parchment on the bottom or you're going to have a cake tragedy on your hands. I did neither and it completely fell apart when I was trying to pry it out of the pan. It'll taste delicious, but if that happens you might consider breaking it up and serving it in bowls with some vanilla, chocolate or orange gelato.

As an aside, I got good news today! My awesome Perceforest book came in at the library! I have 9 days to pick it up, and my deadline is in 4 days, so I'll finish up my Death Of King Arthur storybook that I got last time and then go in for some Perceforest goodness!

I'm also thinking of picking up some Mary Renault books to satisfy my Alexander the Great craving until I have the time to actually read Greek literature. I hear the interactions between Alexander and Hephaistion are adorbs.

Happy New Year and kisses for everyone!