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!