Sunday, February 20, 2011

Loss and Food

So.  I've been gone for over a month.

And a lot of things have happened.

One:  the boyfriend and I moved to a gorgeous loft overlooking the Oconee River, and while my cat is licking himself bald in the attempt to deal with the stress of moving, we are delighted.  We've been eyeing these for ages, and it's so wonderful to find one we could afford.  We've even got a trail that winds its way along the river, and I've gone running for the past few days.  It's too beautiful not to!

Two, and on a much more solemn and sad note, one of the nine members of our Graduate Acting Ensemble, Lynwoodt Benard Jenkins, had a heart attack in his office on January 24th and died.  I think to say "it was horrible" is putting it lightly, but it hasn't been a good time for any of us.  We were all in shows with him (he was my father in Eurydice, in the picture below), we had most of our classes together, and it's a huge loss.

Lynwoodt Benard Jenkins: The Father in Eurydice, directed by Heidi Cline
Photo by John Kundert-Gibbs, 2009

I want to talk a little about the effects loss can have on a dietary lifestyle.  I'm still struggling with this a bit, but I needed to put it down in black and white (well, black and grey) so that I can take a good long look at what's going on, and hopefully get better about this.  I won't go into much of the emotions surrounding this, not because they don't exist, but because I just cannot share them, and they still need to stay private for me.

After we found out that Lynwoodt was gone, and witness statements, etc. were filled out and the detectives no longer needed us, we were eventually released from our huddled state of shock and tears to go home.  The boyfriend took me back immediately, and I spent the rest of the afternoon between sobbing fits on the couch, watching reruns of Frasier and eating two bags of my boyfriend's Doritos.

The morning after, when I realized what I had done to myself (and yes, eating that much garbage when you're not used to it feels absolutely awful later), I freaked.  I utterly and totally freaked.  I've never been obsessive about weight, but I keep myself strictly at a size 2-4.  I was horrified of slipping into what I'd heard so much of:  people experience grief/loss/depression, turn to food, and the next thing you know, they're on Heavy and weigh 400 pounds.  For me, that is not okay.  It partly has to do with my choice of career, but also with who I am.  It is not okay for me to weigh over 135.  It is just not okay.

So I made the conscious decision not to eat when I wasn't hungry.  And for about eight to nine days after Lynwoodt died, I was not hungry.  I lost a pound a day.  (No, that is not cool; that is scary.)

I sort of ate; I didn't go completely cold turkey.  Not really, though.  I'd juice a grapefruit, have a branch of grapes, make myself some tea, have some Campbell's Healthy Harvest soup--the vegetable kind--and then eventually that dwindled down to me adding some extra water to the soup, throwing in some cumin, cayenne, and some herbs, and then eating the broth and leaving the vegetables.

I need to emphasize that this was not a losing-weight fad with a good excuse; this was an honest reaction to something horrific.  I slept so much; our couch probably has a serious dent in it from all the hours I spent sleeping on it.  And eventually I stepped on the scale, saw that I was at 121, and was distortedly proud of that weight loss.

Fresh from the scale, I headed to do something I hadn't done in years, and that was to go browse some livejournal anorexia communities, because clearly I hadn't done enough harm to myself.  I joined two.

About a day later, when I started thinking that I couldn't have grapes because of the sugar content, I realized what I'd done, and what I was in serious danger of slipping into, and had the sudden urge to just slap myself as hard as I could.  I nearly did.

I talked to some wonderful people, went to Trader Joe's that night, and came home with armfuls of fruit, vegetables, a few multigrain crackers, and a wedge of cheese.  I was not hungry, and I was nearly sick several times, but I made myself eat things:  small salads, a few crackers, a bunch of grapes, baked sweet potato chips, and a lot of guacamole.  It helped.

A few days later, I was eating again, and I think I'm eating normally.  I'm a bit below my normal weight, but not scarily so.  And I picked up running a few days ago:  just 15-20 minutes a day, but it's teaching me to be grateful for the wonderful things my body can do, rather than curse it for having a body fat percentage.

The thing is that sometimes you cannot listen to your body; you have got to listen to your mind.  If I had gone on thinking that just because my body wasn't sending me hunger signals, I wasn't rapidly starving myself, I'd have found myself in a whole lot of trouble.

The other thing is that it's so easy to channel your emotions into either food or the lack thereof.  It has got to be a separate thing, otherwise we're never going to work through our feelings; we're just going to bottle them into repressed unhappiness.

Emotional eating always means something else is going on, always.  Stop for a moment.  Figure out what's going on, or try to.  Then take a deep breath and step away from the food you were about to mindlessly dig in to, because it will not help your problems go away, and try to work on your real problems, not suffocate them with food.

It's hard.  Of course it is.  We're so terribly used to using food as a comfort.  But pressing the mute button won't stop your mind from feeling your struggles.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Breakfast Thing

Disclaimer:  no, I'm not a doctor.  So don't take my word as gospel and then sue me if it isn't to your liking.  You'd get nothing out of it, even if you did sue me for everything I'm worth, except for a cat.

The breakfast thing.

We've all heard this twenty thousand times over, especially if we're women.  Eat breakfast.  Every day.  Include lots of lean protein.  Otherwise, you will be sluggish all day and you will get fat.  Eating a healthy breakfast may contribute to losing weight.  Thank you, every magazine for women ever created.  Thank you, government-regulated health mandates.  Thanks.  Yeah.

This is a problem.  Honestly.  I have watched dozens of commercials for things like really sugary kids' cereal, saying that they're "part of a healthy breakfast" or "contain nutrients for a healthy breakfast" or heaven knows what.  Or that commercial for Nutella that's on TV right now--that Nutella helps a busy mom make her kids eat in the morning.

Nutella on white bread toast.  Yes.  That is the perfect thing to feed your kids, because it's not as though they'll have a sugar crash later or anything, or be so ridiculously hyper that you'll find yourself in a situation where teachers and doctors will be recommending ADD drugs.  Or sugary cereal!  Make them eat something!  Anything!  Just throw factory-manipulated, hard-to-absorb vitamins and minerals over the sugar on that cereal and it's better than nothing!  It is!  It is!  Just eat your breakfast!

Don't get me wrong; I adore Nutella, possibly more than any chocolate easily available in Georgia.  I eat it with an espresso spoon sometimes.  But you've got to admit that this "breakfast" rule that allows companies to push their sugary, processed product as mandatory for the health of children is pretty screwed up.  Just look at those waffles!  In what universe is that healthy, ever, never mind appropriate to set the nutritional tone for your entire day?   Ew.  Seriously.  Ew.

(Not to mention all the overprocessed white flour, sugar, and antibiotic-laden dairy it includes, anyway.)

Me?  I don't eat breakfast.

Sacrilege?  Yes, probably.  But, see, here's the catch.  I don't want to.  Moreover, I don't need to.

On vacation, or on weekends, I usually don't eat till between twelve and two in the afternoon.  On average, when I don't have to get up early, I wake up around eight or so.  So that's four to six hours of me not putting food in my body, and yet--and yet--I am not, nor have ever been, overweight.  And except for one class for which I showed up one minute late one time too many, I've had straight As in graduate school.

Which means that, contrary to the usual "wisdom", I don't feel deprived when skipping breakfast.  At all.  I drink a lot of green tea in the winter to warm up, and cool down with straight water in the summer. Maybe, if the grapefruit on the counter are calling to me (as they are now), I'll juice one or two of them into a wine glass.  Occasionally, about once a month or so, a cup of Greek coffee.  It's all I need.  If I had the money, I'd juice every morning.  But I wouldn't eat.

And, no, I'm not anorexic, for potential skeptics out there.  Not at all.  Check out the blog's recipe history:  what I post is mostly vegan and mostly low-fat, but there's a lot of it.  Those recipes, especially the ones that say "serves 4-6", are ones I make in bulk and just for myself.  Really.

You see, if I eat breakfast in the morning, it's like a trigger that turns on my appetite.  I want to eat more during the day.  If I have a bowl of blueberries and almond milk, I suddenly want lunch much earlier than usual.  Then an afternoon snack.  Then dinner.  Then something else before bed.  Suddenly, even if everything I eat is healthy, I've eaten way, way more than I feel comfortable with, and I go to bed feeling miserably overstuffed.

And, yes, I do realize that what I just outlined is what most American nutritionists would recommend as a healthy lifestyle.  But they'd also recommend treadmills or weight training, which, frankly, are too boring for me to deal with.  30 daily minutes of yoga I can do.  Jogging on a piece of plastic and metal and trying not to kill myself from boredom and the thought "IS IT OVER YET?!?!?", no.  And I danced for six years; you can't tell me that I had no energy because I didn't eat breakfast.  Especially one that has FRIES in it, for heaven's sake!

I think we eat too much.  I honestly do.  I think we are being bombarded from all sides with information telling us to eat too much.  Three meals a day?  Five small meals?  Really?

I just don't see the need to keep something in my stomach at all times.  You feel better, lighter (no matter what you weigh), when your give your poor body a break once in a while.  And I honestly believe that, for some people, the addition of food in the morning makes you feel inclined to eat more during the day.  Why would you want to take in more food if you haven't even eliminated most of what you ate the day before?  Why load yourself down like that?  You're not a Mack truck, for heaven's sake.

I know a lot of people who just don't eat breakfast, either because they don't want to, because it makes them feel queasy, or because they don't have time.  And it's not the death threat that very aggressive marketing wants you to think it is.  It's a wee bit liberating, actually.

I'm 5'5".  Never in my life have I weighed over 135 lbs and my usual waist size is 25".  You cannot tell me that not eating breakfast will make you gain weight.  It's absolutely untrue.  Eating too much of the wrong foods will make you gain weight; that's all.  As a matter of fact, I weigh more and I'm more unfocused when I do eat breakfast, because I'm too busy thinking about what I'll eat next.

Isn't your body something more than a food processing machine?  Let it be, occasionally, and give it a break.  When your energy isn't devoted to breaking down food, maybe you'll be able to use more of that energy.  Just maybe.

Think about it.  And look at the picture of that pretty parfait:  it looks lovely, small, and I'd have it around 1 PM.  Without the sugary granola, and with Greek yogurt and a small drizzle of honey or agave.  And every blackberry and raspberry would be a kiss of heaven.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Melodic, Snowy Procrastination

The snow is coming down in a constant feathery drift outside, and I sit here in front of my blog, guiltily thinking "I have so many unposted but written blogs!  What is wrong with me?!"

The answer, of course, is that I am dreading Photoshop, because of the millions of pictures I have to edit.  Seriously.  I did some awesome cooking over the holidays, you guys--a beautiful recipe for mussels in a tomato-cream sauce is just begging to be posted.

But, until I can use tomorrow's snow day to properly waste my time, recipes will be up...later.

Still, I wanted to share something not entirely unamusing.

I was recently browsing through a lovely, warmhearted detox community of which I'm a member, and one of the journal entries was a question--what's your theme song?

Well!  I answered this question, after a lot of googling, and after deciding that I didn't have one.  However, I did realize that there are a few songs that will never, never, never grow old for me and most of which are so embarrassing that I have got to share them, because it makes me a wee bit happy to portray myself as somebody at whom people can laugh.  (With love!  Seriously.  With love.)

So.  What, exactly, are the songs that make my heart sing?

1.  "Venomous Poison" by Alice Cooper.

I offer no apologies.  But you should probably know that I first came across this song in high school, while I was irrevocably addicted to reading and writing Harry Potter fanfiction, and that someone had set this song to a video montage of Lucius Malfoy and Severus Snape giving each other seriously dramatic, mournful looks, combined with a lot of sweeping out of the room with a lot of billowing cloak action.  So I cannot take this song seriously.  But it makes me giggle.

Also, I should not ever, ever venture into clubs that play this song.  I made the mistake of doing this in Britain, and the very tall, thin, and extremely spotty boy dancing with me did not deserve being faced with a dance partner who burst into laughter and nearly fell backwards into the cage dancers because this song came on.

2.  "Too Sexy For My Shirt" by Right Said Fred.

This, I feel compelled to admit, is also from my Harry Potter fangirl days.  I think it's from 2003.  Someone called Sherbet Lemon made a fanvideo of Kenneth Branagh prancing around to this song and I love it.  Yes, the clips repeat a lot, probably because of the repetitive lyrics, but the horrified expressions of disgust the boys wear in the middle of the video makes up for it.

I am never going to be too sexy for this song.  Or too dignified.  Not ever.

3.  "Taylor, The Latte Boy" sung by Kristin Chenoweth.

Or me, either in the shower or while dancing around the living room holding a Starbucks coffee cup.  Or not.  Or all the time.  All the time.  Except, naturally, in public.  I am so ashamed, you guys, but I sing this one more often than anything else.  And I grew up in a household flanked by opera, symphonies, ballet, and two professional classical musicians as my parents, and a few more as grandparents.

Taylor, the latte boy.  I love him, I love him, I love him.

4.  "Sweet Georgia Smile" by Johnny Rodgers.

Honestly, I think this is the sweetest song ever written.

'Cause I'll keep you smiling as time takes its toll,
Kissing your lips when they're tender and old;
And when day becomes night and the night becomes cold,
You'll never notice, 'cause I'll still be holding you...

I melt.  Every time.

5.  "Before He Cheats" by Carrie Underwood.

Yes, partly because I was dealing with aftermath of a cheating boyfriend when this one came out.  Mostly, though, it reminds me of an awesome opera singer who was being fitted for one of her costumes up in Chautauqua, NY, when her phone went off with this as her ringtone, and it was magical; all the girls felt magically bonded and magically happier.  Magically.  Without even one Louisville slugger.

6.  "Who Knew" by Pink.

Lost love and all that.  I know that this isn't what she originally wrote the song about, but I don't really care.  Music means so many different things to different people.  Although a couple of men have made the "U + Ur Hand" chorus ring loud and clear in my head on several occasions.  Loud and clear.

(Loudly and clearly, the grammatical bluestocking inside me insists.)

7.  "Toxic" by Britney Spears.

See, this was hugely popular my senior year of high school, right when my class was taking our IB exams.  We had to go off campus for these, because of an IB rule about everyone being required to sit two meters apart from everyone else, and no classrooms in our high school were big enough.  So we'd wait in the Wesleyan College parking lot, in the warm April sun, blasting "Toxic" from a friend's Jeep and dancing like crazy people right before going in to get our butts kicked by IB English for three hours.

And you know what?  It worked.

My pretty IB diploma is hanging over my fireplace in my room at home.  I actually think it means more to me than my undergraduate diploma.

Which songs make your heart sing?

Friday, December 17, 2010

9/11 First Responders

Last night, Jon Stewart, after weeks of talking about the inability of Congress to separate and pass the bill to help 9/11 first responders pay for healthcare, brought four of them onto his show to get their reactions to the holdup in the Senate.

Stage four inoperable throat cancer.  Heart disease.  Lung disease.  Back problems.  Brain problems.  Other cancers.  Over  two hundred 9/11 first responders cannot walk anymore.  Workman's comp is apparently fighting them every chance they get, because "how can you be sure that those illnesses were a result of 9/11?"

No.  They worked in that toxic cloud of rubbish for months on end, were proud to do so, and now an inordinate number of those first responders are horribly ill, and some have died; the first was James Zadroga, who died of a respiratory illness "attributed" to the toxic environment he spent so long working in.  The House of Representatives, years after 9/11, passed the bill for the first responder healthcare in September.  Now it's being held up in the Senate, where the Republicans are refusing to pass anything until their tax deal goes through, no matter how much people are suffering, and no matter how often they used 9/11 to stir up emotions in voters when they wanted something.  As Stewart said,  “You know what, Republicans? You use 9/11 so much, if you don’t owe 9/11 first responders health care, at least you owe them royalties.”  The entire clip is here.  

Fox News is a media machine.  Remember the outrage over the mosque built two whole blocks away from Ground Zero?  Yes.  Remember every other time they've invoked 9/11?  Yes.  Not one word has been uttered about the Republican filibuster of this bill, and only one person at Fox, Peter Johnson, even covered the Zadroga bill.  CBS, NBC, and ABC have not covered the bill at all.  At all.  What is wrong with the media in this country?

This week, the Senate finally split off the 9/11 first responders bill from the tax cut package.  It still hasn't been passed, which is an outrage in itself, but an even more staggering outrage is that Senate Minority Leader Jon Kyl insisted that working during the week between Christmas and New Year's would be "disrespecting one of the two holiest of holidays for Christians."

To get some feedback from Christian ministers about that statement, check out Faith In Public Life.  

But, honestly, I think the best response to that pile of steaming excuses is from the Jon Stewart show, on which New York fireman and 9/11 first responder Kenny Speck said: “It just goes to show the disconnect between those who we elect to represent us. Because you won’t find a New York City fireman who considers it a sign of disrespect to work on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.” 

It's a bit much to insist that you'd rather celebrate your Savior's birthday with a family dinner rather than do as he did and help people who are suffering and desperately in need of help.  

Yes.  That's exactly what Jesus would have done.  Exactly.  

I do hope, and I am restraining myself when I say this, that those opposed to doing any work around Christmas wash down their Christmas dinner with a pitcher of guilt.  Because if they don't, then I shudder to think of how selfish and self-absorbed they really must be:  enough to blot out any tinge of humanity from their souls.  

To send a donation to the 9/11 first responders, to help them while the Senate tries to decide whether it's worth their time to work during the week after Christmas, check out the FealGood Foundation, whose primary goal is to get 9/11 first responders healthcare and whose secondary goal is to raise awareness about the problems they face.  They take all major credit cards and Paypal.  It's the least we can do.

Teriyaki and Dijon-Garlic Marinades

You know you've been under the weather for too long when you realize you have to do laundry because you have no towels left, do three loads of laundry, and realize afterwards that you have not done one single load of either cool wash or delicates.  Whoops.  Glad that's almost over!

I felt very sluggish, and realized that I should probably stop curling up on the couch with a cold and a sweatshirt.  After a good bout of staring in the mirror, I compromised by curling my hair and snuggling up with a book, figuring that it was okay to wear a perpetual sweatshirt the way movie characters wear pajamas:  makeup and hair intact, and they still look cute.

However, the boyfriend and I reached an enormous turning point!  We, er, left the house for the first time in a week, excepting my two trips to the grocery store on foot because he was terribly sick and needed crackers.  I finally felt like a person again, and despite the snow flurries outside (which were heavier than the last time!  Check it out; they're actually visible!), made an enormous bowl of salad and stared at it with the same spirit of a soul having just escaped being dragged down to Hades by its ankles.

This magical plate of elixir was my version of Natalia Rose's Turkish Three-Pepper Salad:  three diced multicolored peppers, a pint of quartered cherry tomatoes, half a cup of chopped parsley, half a minced sweet onion, the juice of half a lemon, salt and pepper, some herbes de Provence, some garlic-infused olive oil, and two minced cloves of garlic.  It was gorgeous, decidedly un-wintry, and after two days of that salad, I woke up without sniffles!

I also thought I'd share two recipes for something I tend to make fairly often, just not for myself:  an Asian-style marinade and a marinade with garlic, white wine, and Dijon mustard.  The boyfriend and I are polar opposites as far as food goes, so this makes my job just a little easier, because of course he doesn't eat all of this at once--it sits in the refrigerator and gets better as it marinades.  

Teriyaki Pork (and/or) Dijon-Garlic Chicken
Serves 4 per marinade recipe

4-5 pieces pork or chicken, between 1.5 and 2 lbs total, per marinade recipe
Optional:  use portobello mushrooms, which I did, and they're amazing.

Teriyaki Marinade
1 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 cup sake (or dry white wine)
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 tbsp soy sauce, preferably nama shoyu
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tbsp honey or light agave nectar
1 tsp red curry (or chili/garlic paste, or crushed red peppers if you have nothing else)

Dijon-Garlic Marinade
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp herbes de Provence
1 tsp country-style Dijon mustard

Additional Materials
1-quart ziplock bags and a permanent marker

Label the ziplock bag with the kind of marinade, the type of meat, and the date.  If you choose to freeze this, or make a different batch of marinated meat, this will be an immeasurable help--plus you'll know when to mistrust the meat if you accidentally leave it in the back of the refrigerator for too long.

Into the bag, add all of the marinade ingredients for your choice of marinade, ziplock it tightly, and shake it up, making sure to mix all of the ingredients up well.  For the teriyaki marinade, you will have to massage the honey or agave into the rest of the ingredients; it tends to like to just stick to itself.  It's super easy this way and you don't have to clean an extra bowl or two.

Take your pork or chicken pieces, poke them several times with a fork (or, clearly, sometimes a knife), and place them inside the bag.  Zip the bag almost closed, then try to push all of the air out of the bag and close it up completely.  The less air in the bag, the better your meat can marinate and the easier it is to handle and the less room it takes up.  Massage the marinade thoroughly into the meat, then place in the refrigerator and let sit for 30 minutes to several days.  

RealSimple says that you can freeze raw chicken pieces for up to 9 months and raw pork chops for up to 4-6 months.  That seems a bit excessive to me, but it's good to know that the freezer is your friend.  
When dinner time rolls around, you have several options:  you can grill the meat as is, you can cut the teriyaki pork/chicken into pieces and make a stir-fry, you can sauté in the pan, and you can coat it in Italian-flavored or panko bread crumbs and bake or sauté.

Both marinades work exceptionally well with the breadcrumb coating, especially the Dijon-garlic one, according to the boyfriend.  Just a drizzle of olive oil and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, depending on thickness.  Voilà!

To all you meat lovers out there, I hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Oh, Christmastime Is Coming

Oh, I'm positive that Christmastime is in the air!  Want to know why? 

We had flurries of snow!  In Georgia!  In mid-December!

Yes, you have to look very closely to see them, but they are totally there.  It's the one picture on which a few specks of snow dust showed up; it stopped about two seconds after I got out on the balcony to take these.  Exciting!

And it inspired me to get my butt moving on Christmas decorations!  The boyfriend and I have both been so miserably sick that we haven't done anything Christmasy at all except for finishing our last 15-page papers as part of the end-of-semester finals thing.  But first let me explain about Christmas and me.

All right.  I'm an absolute atheist in the sense that I tried very, very hard when I was younger to believe in something, anything--my sister believed in the Greek gods at one point--and it did not work.  Nothing worked.  We had a serious forage into Judaism, because of ancestors who came here in, I think, 1907 from Austria, and I was the kid who sat in services with a little notebook and tried to learn Hebrew from the prayer book--but at some point I had to realize that I was kidding myself.  I like this world, and I do not consider it unfair that I only have a short stint on it.  

Clearly, this should mean that Christmas is a bit of an idiotic thing to celebrate, being the Christian way of trying to get rid of pagan festivities.  But, you see, I also come from Germany, and they do Christmas very, very well.  So for me, this time of year is much more about tradition than anything else.  Seriously, we had some old-school Christmases when I was younger.  My grandparents had actual white candles on their tree, and my grandfather had a gorgeously intricate Nativity scene he made himself.  

You celebrate on the evening of the 24th, and during the entire month of December, Christmas markets spring up in just about every town.  Artisans show up to sell gorgeous wood carvings, leatherwork, amazing candles (my father has a stunning handmade candle that looks like a surprisingly lifelike cobra), and, of course, Bratwurst inside a Kaiser roll (or occasionally on a small cardboard plate with curry sauce) and Glühwein, which is mulled wine with spices.  My father always put up our tree while my mother and her friends played in an orchestra in one of the multiple beautiful old churches around Mainz or Wiesbaden, and we would watch.

Traditional German sweets around this time are Lebkuchen, which are plain, glazed, or chocolate-covered gingerbread rounds about 1/2" high and the size of your palm, and Stollen, which is a (surprisingly vegan!) marzipan fruitcake covered in powdered sugar.  Surprisingly, I found them this winter at Trader Joe's, and my mother and I have pretty much cleaned them out.

But another thing that you do is celebrate the four weeks of Advent with an Advent wreath along with the calendar.  The wreath has four candles, and every Sunday you light another one until all four are lit.  In Germany, you can buy these with the candles, which sit on candleholders with spikes in them to hold the candles, but here I made do with a bronze plate and a wreath I decorated with glitzy stuff, pinecones, and holly.  It makes me happy, and it smells like vanilla.  =)

Another thing my mother, sister, and I used to do was to make our own tree decorations,  Thankfully, I have grown out of the age during which I made strands out of threaded popcorn and made colored paper chains, but the love of the pretty tradition of making gilded walnut ornaments is, I have discovered, still beating strongly in my heart.  

As many whole walnuts as you like
Short knife you do not particularly care about
Gold and silver spraypaint
Hot glue
A few yards of thread; try finding gold or silver
Wire coat hanger

Put a Christmas movie in the DVD player and curl up with a short knife, whole walnuts, and a plastic grocery bag.  The base of the walnut will usually have a small hole you can wiggle the knife in and out of until the two halves pop apart.  This step may take some practice.

With the knife, scoop out the insides and let fall into the plastic bag.  Set aside, but make sure you keep the walnut halves together; finding the two that fit together perfectly is not very easy if you have dumped them all into a heap.

Heat the hot glue gun and cut the thread into lengths about 6"-8" long.  Fold the thread lengths in half and set aside.  Run a thin line of glue along the edge of one walnut half, press a length of thread into the pointy top of the walnut half, and press the other half on top.  Set aside to dry.  Repeat until all the walnuts are glued.

Take the wire hanger and unhook so you can slide the walnut strings onto the hanger.  I used fifty walnuts, and slid twenty onto the hanger at a time.  Hook the two ends of the hanger back together.  This is an absolutely bootleg way to save time.  Take the hanger outside, and, making sure the nuts are not touching, spray paint either gold or silver.  Hang up somewhere outside (I used a planter) and let dry for 20-30 minutes, or until completely dry.  Repeat with the second color.


Results:  gold and silver walnut ornaments!  I left a few plain, because I think they're pretty, too, but do as you think best!  When I go home to see my mother, these will go on the tree there.  =)
Merry Christmas!

What are your favorite holiday crafts?  Or just holiday traditions in general?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Garlic-Infused Olive Oil

My week of being sick has involved a very determined cat on a serious mission to paw at the television screen whenever he is not distracted by yummy unfortunate moths.  This is what we have had to do to him, in defense of the television.

On a more culinary note, I keep meaning to post this recipe, but unfortunately I had to get rid of all my infused olive oil first before I could make any more!  I have been putting a leetle too much into pasta water lately, just to make that level sink a little more.  All in the name of blogging.  ;)

What do you do when you experiment with a new brand of extra-virgin olive oil (or any other kind of oil) and find that it just isn't good enough to sprinkle over salads, and that you wished you'd spent a little more money on some extra-expensive olive oil you'd actually use?  Well!  That's when you can infuse your own oil with very tasty results!

Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 bottle for the olive oil with a drizzling stopper top
1 funnel

Extra virgin olive oil, enough to fill the bottle.
2 cloves garlic
3 small Thai chili peppers (or 1/2 tsp chopped hot peppers of your choosing)
5-6 peppercorns.  I used sweet red ones, but feel free to go with white or black.
1 tsp herbes de Provence
Optional:  stalks of rosemary, lavender, thyme, basil, dill, a few cubes of ginger, Thai basil, etc...

Clean the bottle and its stopper well; dry upside down for awhile.  No one wants watery oil.

Lay your knife over the clove of garlic, flat side up, and bring your fist down on the blade to crack the garlic out of its shell.  Remove the shell; you should be left with a moderately smashed clove of garlic.  This is good; it will let the flavors infuse more quickly.  Pop the garlic cloves into the bottle.  If they do not fit easily, break or cut them.  DO NOT force them inside; this will make too-big cloves impossible to get out later.

Toss in the chili peppers and the peppercorns.  Place the funnel over the opening and add in the herbes  de Provence; it's much less messy this way.

Then, take the extra virgin olive oil and pour into the bottle through the funnel, leaving enough room for you to put the stopper in.  The olive oil will shake up the herbs, infusing everything with an amazing aroma and an even more luxurious taste.  Voila!

Use to drizzle over bread or to dip bread in as an appetizer, for salad dressings, for pasta water, for savory soups--for anything!  Except sweet things; don't use it with those.  It's too savory for that.

The brilliant thing about this recipe is that you can literally put in just about anything.  Last summer, I picked stalks of rosemary from my porch and put it, along with its pretty blue flowers, into the olive oil. You can put in anything from thyme to basil to dill to oregano to lavender.  You could even put in ginger, Thai basil, and Thai chilies and give yourself an option for a Thai-themed salad or stir-fry.  You could cheat with the chilies and throw in crushed red pepper flakes or just ground paprika or cayenne.  I'm sure you could toss in a bay leaf, a piece of star anise, or even a cinnamon stick.  You could add some toasted or raw walnuts for a flavor reminiscent of walnut oil!

You don't even have to buy gourmet olive oil for this to taste great; that's the beauty of it.  I usually buy about 54 oz. of the most inexpensive extra virgin olive oil I can find (in this case, $5,49 from Trader Joe's) and leave whatever I don't use at the back of my cabinet.  Do leave it in a cool, dark place, so it doesn't go rancid.

The best part is that it takes so little time:  all you need is olive oil, a funnel, and the insides of your pantry.  And it adds nothing in terms of fat/calories; you're still only enjoying the flavor of everything you put in, while the actual ingredients (except for ground herbs) stay safe and sound inside the jar, to be cleaned out when the oil is gone.  So easy.

When I don't add avocado to my salads, I love drizzling this over the top of mixed greens, bell peppers, raw fennel or corn, and fresh tomatoes, topped with some cracked peppercorns. and lemon juice.

Then, when you have gourmet olive oil infusing away on your countertop, take a moment, if you have an overenergetic kitty, and introduce him to the marvels of a slippery ice cube.  He will chase it like a chipper little chipmunk, and send you into some serious giggles.

ETA:  A lovely lady just suggested that these would make great Christmas gifts--infused olive oil in bottles!  I heartily agree, and they'd be even prettier with real stalks of the herbs inside the bottles instead of just crumbled herbs.  Food for thought!

Filibustering His Way Into Twitter Heroism

Over the past two days, I developed a staggering respect for Bernie Sanders.

To explain this properly, let me explain filibustering.  (Or just watch Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.)

The point is to stop a vote from passing, in this case, in the Senate.  Historically, even as far back as Cato in the Roman Senate, who had a few issues with ceding more power to Julius Caesar, what you do is this:  you gain the floor and then you talk as long as you are physically able, thus preventing anyone else from doing so.  This procedure didn't change much until the 1970s, when, after a few modifications earlier on by  Woodrow Wilson, suddenly all that really needed to happen was that one senator had to stand up and say "I AM GOING TO FILIBUSTER".  At this point, all that really needs to happen to stop a bill from passing is that 41 senators put up their backs against it, which represents as little as 12.3% of the United States population.  Cool, right?

Yes, if you're on the side of the 12.3%.  The other 87.7% of the country can spontaneously combust for all it matters to this method of filibuster legislation.

Well, Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, took the floor at 10:25 AM Friday the 10th, 2010, and spoke nearly nonstop for eight and a half hours.  (The record is 24 hours, although that senator apparently sang a bit so as to pad his time.)  Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Senator Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) spoke for 45 minutes and 30 minutes, respectively, to support him and give him a bit of a break, but Bernie Sanders had to remain standing, could not leave the floor, and could not take a bathroom break or eat anything.  Apparently, he sipped a bit of water.

Y'all.  That is hardcore.

What was he championing, you ask?  That is an excellent question.

Senator Bernie Sanders was protesting Obama's recent decision to extend the tax cuts for all earning classes temporarily, as a result of well-known shall we put it?  Ostriches.  That's a temperate word.  Republican ostriches with their heads firmly in the sand, insisting that it's much better down there for everyone else, too.  Senator Sanders insisted, for eight and a half hours, that this scheme would essentially damn the poor and the working class, whose taxes would apparently actually rise slightly under the tax extension proposals.  He brought in letters from constituents, reading them aloud and giving pride of place to those letters from people who could not pay their heating bills in the Vermont winter.  He pointed out that these new tax cuts will cost us $900 billion that we do not have, that we will have to borrow from China, and that this whole mess will, while enriching billionaires and impoverishing the poor and the working class, drastically increase our national debt and put us under the thumb of another country.

The only advantage here is that a lot of very rich people will be able to stay extremely rich, instead of being a little bit less than extremely rich.  Trickle-down economics?  Right.

If I made an incredibly large amount of money and did not feel like giving to charities, I'd salt my money away and the money that I did spend would go towards things like an expensive library, a nice house, and gorgeous clothing.  Maybe some gourmet food, too.  None of it would go to the most massive employers in the nation, because I happen to despise WalMart and most of the restaurant chains that employ so many.  (For example, Chili's corn chowder tastes more like corn syrup than soup.)  Not a cent of my money would go to buying anything from the meatpacking industry or the commercial food industry; I'd stick with local and organic.  And the rest would go into my bank account, real estate, and into the stock market.  The people who stay rich for generations are not those who spend all of their money.  You give the very wealthy more money, and that much more will go into either savings or services that low-income or middle-class people do not provide.  At some point, this money will get stuck, somewhere between the wealthy and the upper middle class.

Trickle down, my foot.  If you want to make sure that money goes to the people who need help, then give it to the people who need help, not people who are not guaranteed to give them help.

Does this sound like a fair compromise to you?  Never mind fair, actually; does this sound ethical to you?  Does this sound like a process that will enrich the entire country and knock our 10% unemployment rate down to nothing?

If it does, please explain this to me, because even after listening to hundreds of arguments from many, many Republicans, I cannot understand how they pass this kind of legislation and live their lives without even the slightest twinge of guilt, nay, with the conviction that they are doing the best for their country.

All of this, of course, is coupled with the firm belief that they should not be responsible for others, and that coldly calculating millions of people out of their homes is what's best for the country's free market.

Senator Bernie Sanders?

Thank you for being the only senator who will speak up so passionately against something that is a disgrace to us as a nation and as a people.

As one of the lower-income citizens you were fighting for, I was cheering for you.  As someone who hopes to make a very comfortable amount of money someday, I was still cheering for you.

And you're the most awesome Twitter sensation I've ever seen.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sickly Shenanigans

The thing about messing around in the kitchen when you are sick is that your brain starts whirling around inside your head without paying any attention to logic, reason, or, heaven forbid, basic culinary or human decency.

I soaked a whole small bag of chickpeas a few days ago, and, as is the way of chickpeas when they engorge themselves, now have enough to feed a battalion.  I thought "Aha!  I can post a hummus recipe!  It will keep until I am well, so I do not even need to eat it today, and all can be well."  It really is an exceptionally good hummus recipe when done properly, so I cannot explain what came over me this morning.

First of all, I feel that I should mention that sesame oil, while it theoretically has the same origin as tahini, which is sesame paste, does not taste the same.  Even if your brain is crazy enough to think that this is, in theory, quite possible, all such delusions dissolve when you taste your hummus made with four cups of chickpeas and find that your hummus tastes strangely Asian in this disturbing way in which it is also Mediterranean and wrong.  And nothing can save it.

It is sitting in my fridge now, in shame.  There is so much of it that throwing it away would be like starving an entire third-world country.  Please note that nothing can take the place of real tahini.  Especially sesame oil.

Another idea that is not of the best is to make bread with leftovers in your pantry and to believe that a loaf made of 3 cups of flour and 1 1/2 cups of ground flaxseed will hold together once baked.  I have crumbles on  my cutting board.

However, however, the absolute worst idea when you already have tangible proof that your brain is going off the goofy end and that it would probably be a better idea to boil electricity in your mouth, you should NOT start emailing your professors about why it is a bad idea for you to come in.  I give you these two emails, because I still cannot believe I clicked the "send" button.

I feel that this may be a result of running through the cold, with a cold, on Tuesday morning to catch the bus so as to get to school twice, but said cold has bloomed into a pile of something pretty sickly and disgusting that should not be exposed to other people lest they run screaming from the feverish snot-monster.  I think I am going to stay home, with your permission, and groggily contemplate the prospect of yet another pot of tea in hopes that this one, THIS ONE, will magically clear everything up.  

If this persists and keeps me away from school for a really unreasonable amount of time, I want to wish you and all the shop girls a very merry Christmas/cheerful winter vacation/happy nondenominational holiday.

Fine, as far as it goes.  A little crazed, but not actually, you know, certifiably insane.  I could come back in to work and pretend, with a winning smile, that this was me trying to be funny.  However, my dearly beloved boss responded very kindly and said something about the feverish snot-monster.  Against all good sense, I thought that it would be polite to reply.

I feel more that the feverish snot-monster is taking over me rather than the opposite:  I am writing goofy things I do not think I would ever write in a normal state of mind, like "feverish snot-monster" instead of "I am ill yet inexplicably dignified and by no means completely ludicrous as well as disgusting".  

And then, then I actually wrote something that I just reread and realized could sound like an actual threat if taken the wrong way.  Like, the threat that I would show my disgusting and ludicrous face.

<3 Miss you.

I am considering holding seminars on what not to do when you are sick.  It will involve a lot of amusingly edited clips from a camera that will just follow me around for about three days straight.  

Now, I think a soothing thing to do might be to combine wine and codeine.  

What horrifically ridiculous things have you done when you are sick?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

NaNoWriMo Winning Exultation!

Heaven help me, I won my self-imposed National Novel Writing Month challenge!  100,031 words in 30 days.  The last day was the worst--dress rehearsals and performances of Endgame did me in, as did hanging out with family for Thanksgiving, so I wrote nearly 6,000 words on Monday and 9,000 on Tuesday!  I wanted to slit my throat a little, but pushed through it at the last minute because I could not have borne missing my self-imposed goal by only about 100 words or whatever it was at 10 minutes till midnight.

So it's done!  I have this huge manuscript safely locked away on several backup discs, and now I'm off to read as much Arabian and Islamic history as I can.  It'll be a fun Christmas!  I will freely admit that while writing my research was by necessity confined to hallowed halls of learning like Wikipedia and, from which I grabbed names, a few phrases, and recipes.

But, while researching Arabian horses of the 9th century, I found out something completely fascinating that I am GLAD many people do not know about, because, uh, this information would probably have been used in Twilight and then it would be more ridiculous than it already is.  Want to guess what this is?

No.  You couldn't.  How could you?  I could not believe it and had to go over the cited pages a few times to make sure I was not hallucinating.  But.

The now-extinct Turkoman horse, slender like a greyhound and with hooves small enough to traverse rocky mountainous paths, was covered in a coat of hair that glittered.

I saw that sentence and burst out laughing so hard that only by the grace of an instinctual hand clap did I escape spitting tea all over the computer screen.

Suddenly I feel that I may have done the Twilight vampires a bit of wrong by mocking their glittery skin so much.  Clearly, uh, it is possible?  Glittery hair, at least.  Glittery like the tinsel wigs you find at party stores.

I am still torn between snorting with laughter and wanting a Turkoman horse of my own.  But come on, world.  This is a clear gift to Mary-Sue authors and nobody, nobody needs to give them more ammunition.  Nobody.  Not even you, history.

But after finishing at midnight on Tuesday, I could not go to sleep--guess I was too used to staying up ridiculously late to finish my daily quota!  So this was that morning's sunrise.  Beautiful, isn't it?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Oh, so sick...

Oh, the onset of winter and the looming doom of final exams!  I'm curled up on the couch right now, hating life, hating my scratchy throat, and especially hating the knowledge that I have a three-page paper to write by tomorrow at five, that I have to present a Shakespeare history scene at 9 AM, and that I have another 15-page paper due in a week.

But three things I don't hate, not at all, are the adorable kitty curled up on my lap and making it impossible for me to move, the existence of College Inn culinary broth, and the boyfriend who is lovingly beetling back and forth from me to the stove to refill my cup of soup.  

My mother discovered this broth last year, when I was miserably ensconced at her house for 11 days of a bout of swine flu that lasted all Thanksgiving week and royally ticked me off.  I was not okay with eating anything, and tea was getting boring after about day 4, so she scoured Publix for something more interesting that did not involve actual pieces of food that I would have to eat.  (No, this is not nutritionally sound.  At all.  But when you're down with swine flu, all you care about is unstopping your nose with steam and not giving yourself more food that will just nauseate you.)  

She came home with two magical cartons of broth.  I had always thought that cooking broth came in four different varieties:  chicken, beef, fish, and vegetable.  (Apparently also turkey, though.)  However, College Inn has taken this to a whole new level and has created 32-oz cartons of savory goodness called, respectively in order of awesomeness, Thai Coconut Curry and White Wine & Herb.  

Yes, these involve a lot of sodium, and their base is chicken stock, so they're not vegan or even vegetarian.  But for anyone even the smallest bit flexible, they're amazing when you're flat on your back with a cat on your head and wishing you could fast-forward to a week later, like DirectTV.  But I water them down by half, heat on the stove, and clutch cup after cup of this like they're liquid gold, because I'd be just as upset if I accidentally spilled either.  

The Thai Coconut Curry includes coconut, curry, garlic, soy sauce, and coriander.  Other ingredients are listed on the website.  It's got a fun kick at the back of your mouth that's a little spicy, even when it's watered down, but it doesn't hurt a sore throat unless you are drinking gallons of it. 

The White Wine & Herb has Chablis wine, oregano, thyme, rosemary, apple cider vinegar, onion extract, and a decent amount of salt.  Yes, there is an unhealthy amount of sodium in both.  But I tell myself that if I'm watering it down with a lot of filtered water and a whole lot of tea, things will be fine.  You know, you hear that you should not drink too much or you will flush necessary salt reserves right out of your system?  Same idea.  Sort of. 

These two, combined with quite a lot of Temple of Heaven Gunpowder Green Tea, make being sick quite bearable.  However, the presence of a warm cat on your feet does quite a lot to lift your spirits, too.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Endgame Closing and Fall Photography

Greetings from a long-absent blogger!

Want to know why I was gone?  Oh, simply lots of things!  For starters, check out the NaNoWriMo light blue box in the top right corner of the blog...

76,277 words, and I've got through November 30th to hit 100,000!  I'm pretty much on track, and the characters and plot are running leaps and bounds away from me, saying things like "WE WANT AN EXCITING LIFE; HERE, HAVE SEVENTY SUBPLOT BUNNIES"and occasionally making me want to tear my hair out because it is totally bloody implausible to be married to someone for a thousand and one nights and bear him three children without him noticing anything!  This is what I get for trying to bring morbid realism into fairy tales.

And, you guys, Endgame and Act Without Words II went so well!  We had to turn people away the first night and only had about three seats or so open the second night, which is amazing, and most of us agreed that it was and was probably going to be our favorite thing that we would ever do at UGA.  It's can't compete with a great play, and that's what Beckett writes.

On a really entertaining side, would you guys like to see how creepy I looked?  My ash-can  husband and I are pretty good at stage makeup.  Check out the About Me page to see what I look like's a pretty drastic difference!  And yes, I am the one on the right with the terrifically ratty black wig.

It was a pretty wonderful experience, especially since I very probably won't be cast so wildly out of type for years and years if I get lucky, never if I don't.  It's also probably one of the few plays in which I could fall asleep during the performance and it was totally okay.  Except for about 10-12 minutes, I was either on my knees inside the ash-can, and my cue to poke my head up was a really loud banging on the lid just over my head, and for the rest of the time I lay behind the cans reading The Other Boleyn Girl or Seabiscuit (best-written nonfiction book I have ever read, bar none) and the cue to get me out of the cans was darkening lights and applause.  Baby powder was everywhere, though.

I have discovered one great thing about makeup removal lately.  Usually, we use Vaseline, face scrubs, soap, and a lot of washing to get that heavy, cream-based Ben Nye makeup off.  However, a few months ago I started getting interested in coconut oil, and found Nutiva's Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil.  The theory is that if it's safe to eat, it's safe to put on my skin to be soaked up through pores and all that good stuff.

So aside from using it as a cooking oil that oxidizes only at very high heats (and tastes great with Thai food...), it's serving as an all-around magic potion:  it goes in the cat's food mixture of ground chicken, fish oil, grated celery, pumpkin purée, and water, I use it as lotion all over my body and moisturizer for my face when I go to bed (the coconut smell fades after awhile, luckily for me, my love of great perfume, and the boyfriend who does not really want to kiss a coconut), it can be used to protectively oil my bamboo cutting board, and if you smear it onto whatever waterproof or crazy heavy makeup you are wearing, the makeup and the coconut oil wipe right off.

Yes, it may take a few applications (never more than three for me with the heaviest cream-based makeup), but it's so, so, so much gentler on your skin than just washing and scrubbing, and it's never made me break out.  In fact, if I put it on my face just like moisturizer before going to sleep, I wake up with dramatically better skin.  It's pretty awesome stuff, and it's a huge savings in gazillions of horrendously expensive products that I'm slowly weeding out of my bathroom--there is suddenly so much more space!  It's a pretty great thing.  It's also the only thing I've found that is organic, edible, and took off my heavily applied waterproof eyeliner from The Arabian Nights.

Finally, I thought I'd provide something pretty to look at.  =)

You know, I am perfectly aware that it is the end of November, but Georgia does not seem to agree with me.  About a week ago, I went out and finally took some of the most beautiful fall photographs I've ever taken, and that evening, a rainstorm decided that Georgia was finished being pretty and that people should just wander through ankle-high drifts of crackling yellow leaves instead.

I took all of these on the five-minute walk to the Publix around the corner.  They're pretty magical.  Don't you just love the gorgeous contrasts between the red, orange, green, and yellow?  I actually saw a few purple leaves the other day, so they're spanning all the colors in the spectrum except for blue...

Look at these two trees against the sky:  it's like the least dangerous leaping orange flames that are utterly consuming every single branch...

This one I find utterly fascinating, because when I look closely at it with the help of a pair of squinted eyes, it reminds me of a slinking red dragon coiling its way up a tree.  Look at that gorgeous, undulating red and gold against the still bright and dark green background!  And to think, that lovely beauty bloomed on the corner of an incredibly busy street.  No matter how hard we try, it's pretty hard to force nature into submission...

This one makes me hungry.  I am embarrassed to admit it, but it is so.  I look at it and think "This is so red and luscious and gorgeous that it must have something to do with food!"  Clearly, I need to retrain my appreciation for eating to approach the world in general.

Look at this one:   a yellow-gold canopy that I can imagine hanging over a bed...specifically, the gold and apple-green canopy that hangs over Marie Antoinette's bed in Versailles, surrounded by its golden railing to keep the crowds a few feet away during royal births and just normal things like...getting dressed.

 A fountain of green dotted with fall!  I love this tree; its underside was surprisingly so much more dramatic than its top, which usually doesn't happen--the leaves closest to the sun turn red and drop off first.  This one is a pretty little anomaly!

Look at the poor nude branches after the rainfall--reaching out to each other as if to say "We had a good thing going there; stay in touch, friend!"

I won't be seeing them next year, though, unless I make a special trip with the camera, because...and this is one of the most exciting things of the past few weeks...the boyfriend and I signed a lease for a historic loft by the river!

More on that later.  It's a dangerous thing!  I'm scouring Anthropologie for chandeliers, trivets, wallpaper, and herb bowls that would work so well in that gorgeous old space...

Sunday, November 14, 2010


My Photoshop / poster design skills are getting better!  Check it out:  the poster for Endgame and Act Without Words II, running November 17-18 (Wednesday and Thursday) in the UGA Fine Arts Building at 8 PM.  It's going to be an amazing show; great scripts, great directors, great casts, and all the proceeds go to the Graduate Acting Ensemble's third-year showcase in Atlanta and NYC.  (And elsewhere, if we can get enough money together!)  So put it on your calendars if you're in town, and come out for an incredible show.

Another Graduate Acting Ensemble show coming up soon is our Voice class's rendition of Twelfth Night.  Running in the UGA Fine Arts Arena Theatre at 8 PM Saturday, December 4 and Sunday, December 5, it is not only going to make you fall off your seat laughing but, since it's a class project, it's free!  We are gratefully taking donations, though, because we do want to have an awesome showcase and do that thing where we succeed as working actors.

So that's the rest of the fall Graduate Acting Ensemble season!  Come out and enjoy yourself; you'll have two fantastic evenings to remember.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Turkish Tomato-Stuffed Eggplant

Man, you guys, I'm cold.  Like, permanently cold.  It is November in Georgia, the night temperatures have only started to dip down into the forties, and my fingers are so cold they make the boyfriend yelp and shout "Gah!  Cold!  Get them off of me!"  So, of course, I do it to torment him.  This is how our relationship works:  we pretend to be snarky and terrible to each other, burst out laughing, and end up cuddling on the couch with the cat.  It's disgustingly cute.

I have some awesome mementos of these snarky moments, like when I was in Arabian Nights and wore a belly dancing outfit--he took me out to eat at Cali-n-Tito's, a fantastic local Cuban restaurant, and I ate so much that he tore off a corner of my napkin and drew a picture of a monstrously obese me in a sparkly bra, skirt, and belt, wearing a huge smile and waving a ham in one hand.  It was titled "Sche-HAM-ezade.  I tried to be offended but ended up laughing myself sick.
Despite the laughter, though, my toes are trying to freeze.  I see two solutions to this:  one is to warm myself up, the other is to cut them off.  I like my toes, and feel like option A is the way to go.   

So!  Do you remember this stack of eggplanty tomatoey vegetables I posted the other day with the Baba Ghanoush recipe?  I still had one eggplant, the zucchini, and a load of tomatoes left over.  The zucchini went towards a simple but amazing raw spaghetti, but the eggplant needed something special.  Something very special.  Something that used the oven for an extended period of time so that the apartment would warm up.  And voila!  It combines neutrally, unless you sprinkle pine nuts or almonds on top.

Turkish Tomato-Stuffed Eggplant
Serves 2-4 (makes two large, stuffed eggplant halves)

1 eggplant
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 large sweet onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3" piece lemongrass (optional)
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1/4 cup chopped parsley or sweet basil
A few almond slices or pine nuts to garnish (optional)
1 tsp fenugreek
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Take the eggplant and slice off the spiky green stem.  Slice in half lengthways, then take your knife and score it in a criss-cross pattern like in the picture.  BE VERY VERY SURE not to cut more than 1/4 close to the edge of the eggplant and DO NOT pierce the skin with your knife.  Place on a lightly greased baking sheet, drizzle lightly with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake for 45 minutes.

Remove from oven; it should look like the picture on the left.  

With a spoon and a sharp knife, scoop out the insides of the eggplant to leave two eggplant bowls; do not remove so much of the flesh that you can see the purple skin.  It will tear and leave you with a mess.  Chop the insides of the eggplant into bite-sized pieces and reserve.  Turn the oven heat off and slide the eggplant bowls inside to keep warm.
Drizzle a pan with a little olive oil and heat to medium high.  When the oil is hot, toss in the chopped onions, garlic, the stalk of lemongrass, sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss, and let saute for 2-3 minutes until the onions are translucent.  

Add the two chopped tomatoes, all the spices, and the lemon juice.  Bring to a boil and then add in the eggplant.*  Simmer for 5-7 minutes, then fold in the chopped basil or parsley and green onions.

Take out the lemongrass stalk.  Remove the eggplant bowls from the oven and spoon the tomato-eggplant mixture into each bowl.  Transfer to plates.  Garnish with a few more green onions and some herbs, or with pine nuts (as is tradition) or almonds (as I did).

Serve as is or with a side of couscous; enjoy!

*If you like, you can add anything to the dish at this point; you could toss in some shrimp, maybe some bell peppers, maybe scallops, maybe sauteed pieces of's pretty versatile!