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!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Woot T-Shirt Contest: Steamhands

My boyfriend is so freaking talented that I can't help gushing about him.  Look at this:  his latest collaborative entry for the weekly shirt.woot T-shirt contest.  The theme is robots, and this is the coolest entry out of all of them, bar none.

It's called "Steamhands", and the robot hands are repairing each other; it's beautiful, clever, and I made him center the hands so that they would be slightly above the bustline, for girls.  (Men do not ever think of these things, which surprises me, because many of them seem to like breasts a little.)

The Woot voting system is that you can vote for as many shirts as you want to, but just once, and you can only vote if you have bought something from Woot before.  It's how they stop people from spamming the votes.  The shirts are only $10, which is a great deal for a gorgeous T-shirt (hey, my university shirts have run up to $25), and you'd be helping support a really talented young man who needs to be inspired to make more of these.

In case you're curious, Release! is his last design, which I've also written about here, and...yeah, wow.  I want to wear all of his shirts.  It will get printed if it's in the top three!

So what are you waiting for?  Go and vote!  Vote like the wind!

Mediterranean Baba Ghanoush

I found myself with this amazing grocery bag of eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes this week, and I wanted to do something awesome with them.  Now, some of the best eggplant recipes I know are Greek and Middle Eastern (and believe you me, after researching Arabian culture from the Islamic Golden Age, I have a heck of a stash of recipes).

I adore non-traditional American food, and I especially admire the way Britain has embraced it so eagerly that curry sells better there than fish and chips.  Germany is embracing kebabs like nobody's business; I had the best kebab of my life when I visited my sister in Wiesbaden this summer and we celebrated my birthday with a heck of a lot of German beer and the now-traditional stumble to the all-night kebab place.

Another pretty awesome thing about this kind of food is that, while it usually does include a great deal of meat, yogurt, ghee, nuts, etc., you don't have to use those things to make food taste non-Western; that's what the spices are there for.  It's like Thailand and fish sauce, lime juice, cilantro, lemongrass, and chilies; it's Japan with quality soy sauce, ginger, rice wine vinegar, pickles, and really good rice.

So here's a lovely Greek and/or Middle Eastern recipe (depends who you're talking to!) that you can eat hot, cold, or at room temperature, and it's great with celery sticks for dipping at a party (or on an evening where four of you are eagerly playing Settlers of the Catan for four hours...).   Combines as a nut-based meal/snack with the Natalia Rose program, but only if you use the tahini.

Baba Ghanoush
Makes about 1 1/2-2 cups.

1 eggplant
1 tbsp tahini (optional; I've made it without and it's still good)
3 cloves garlic
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 tsp dried fenugreek
1/4 cup fresh parsley or sweet basil, chopped
2-3 shakes cumin
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Cut the end with the spiked stem off of the eggplant, then slice the eggplant lengthwise down the middle.  Slash cuts horizontally and vertically through the eggplant flesh like an avocado, being careful not to cut too deeply and pierce the skin.*  Place on a lightly greased baking sheet, cut sides up, and drizzle lightly with olive oil.  Sprinkle salt and pepper over each eggplant half, then bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes.

Remove eggplant from oven and let cool to room temperature.  Chop roughly and add to food processor, along with tahini, garlic, lemon juice, fenugreek, cumin, and most of the parsley, except for a pinch or a small sprig.  Pulse until combined, then add olive oil gradually until the baba ghanoush is as creamy as you like it.  Add salt and pepper to taste; pulse one final time.

Spoon baba ghanoush into a serving bowl along with crudités of all kinds, garnish with a leftover pinch of parsley or sprig of basil,** and enjoy!

*This allows the olive oil and salt and pepper to ooze down and flavor the whole eggplant, not just the surface of the eggplant or the aluminum foil covering your sheet.
**You can garnish with just about anything:  chopped kalamata olives, pine nuts, chopped sundried tomatoes, a lemon wedge, some freshly pressed garlic...

A sizzlingly savory Turkish tomato/eggplant dish, garnished with pine nuts, is up next!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Savory-Sweet Butternut Squash Soup

Crisp fall weather, bright orange leaves decking the trees, root vegetables galore in the produce aisle--what does that call for?

To me, it's butternut squash soup time.  This is one of the creamiest, most delectable, most comforting vegan soups I have ever made or tasted, and it's so darn magical that, except for about a tablespoon or so of olive oil (or butter), it's almost completely fat free.  But it's thick, warm, starchy, and really, really good!  Combines, obviously, like a starch with the Natalia Rose program.

Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 6-8

1 large to medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 1/2 large sweet onion, minced
1 32-oz carton low-sodium vegetable broth
1/2 cup original flavor almond milk (really optional)
1/2 juicy lemon, juiced
3-4 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp coriander
Large pinch of herbes de Provence
1 tbsp butter or extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Chop up the butternut squash and scoop out the pulp.  Squeeze all the seeds out of the pulp and reserve them in a small bowl.  Cut up the pulp and add to the pot when you add the butternut squash cubes.

In a large pot, turn the heat to medium-high and add the olive oil or butter.  When hot, toss in the onions, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, stir, and wait, stirring as needed, until they turn translucent.

Add in the spices:  the garlic, cumin, red pepper flakes, paprika, cinnamon, coriander, and herbes de Provence.  Toss and cook for about 1 minute, letting the spices roast a little.  Be careful not to let the spices or the garlic burn; add more oil or butter as needed.

Add in the cubed butternut squash.  Toss with the onions and spices and saute, occasionally stirring, for about 3 minutes.

Pour in the vegetable broth, about a teaspoon of salt, and at least half a teaspoon of ground pepper.  Bring the soup up to a boil, turn the heat down to simmer, cover the pot, and let cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Even a cheap blender will do this well, because the squash has been cooked through.  Either use an immersion blender to blend up the soup, if you are lucky enough to own one, or pour the soup into a regular blender and process in batches.  If you do the latter, have an extra bowl nearby so you have something to pour the blended batches into while there is still unblended soup in your pot.  Be careful; it's very hot.  Pour all the soup back into the soup pot.  Isn't that the most gorgeous orange color?

Add the lemon juice and, if you like, the almond milk; stir.  It will be hot, so keep that in mind as you season to taste.  If anything, it will most likely need more salt.  Mmmmm!

Roasted Butternut Squash Seeds
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Take the reserved butternut squash seeds and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cinnamon.  Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil, spread the seeds out on the foil, and bake for 10 minutes.  Let cool for a few minutes, then sprinkle over the bowls of soup.  Serve immediately and enjoy!

  • If you can possibly buy pre-cubed butternut squash, this recipe will be a total breeze.  On the other hand, I used to think that chopping it up was a total nightmare, but I made it last night and it is not.  
  • I also used to think that I needed almond milk to make it creamy, but you really don't.  I added it because I always have, and later thought "Huh.  I wonder why I used to need this."

NaNoWriMo Writing Frenzy!

NaNoWriMo is kicking my butt!

For those of you who don't know what that is, it stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it's a yearly period from November 1st to November 30th in which each participant tries to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days.  My goal, because I'm a chronic overachiever, is 100,000 words and at least some good bits in there to balance out the rest.  I'm right on target, but, man!  It's getting harder and harder to keep at it.  Ghirardelli hot chocolate mix stirred into warm almond milk is keeping me going.  It's just something about that chocolatey sweetness...mmm!  It makes me feel like I'm sitting in front of a fire on Christmas morning and am slipping into a lovely little state of relaxation, which, naturally, is totally nuked by the stress of writing 3,334 words in a day on top of schoolwork, but at least it neutralizes my playing field.

Additionally, it was the only hot chocolate mix I could find one chilly morning at Publix that didn't include corn syrup solids and nonfat dry milk whey garbage.  So three cheers for Ghirardelli and their straight-sugar approach (stevia, when will you enter the mainstream?) and I intend to try their mocha and hazelnut flavors next!

Shoot.  I just inhaled a huge clump of chocolate powder and strained a few muscles trying not to cough wet chocolate all over the screen.  That, my friends, is the real downside to this new addiction!

If you check out the top right corner of this blog, you can see a cute little blue box labeled "2010 NaNoWriMo Progress", and along with a miniature changeable picture, it has a bar of my progress and then the actual word count.  Now that I'm at 31,705 and well over halfway for the 50K goal, I'm starting to love that little orange progress bar.  It's got all the satisfaction of running a marathon, but, uh.  It works the mind instead of the body?  Yes.  That's it.  And it takes a month.

So why, exactly, am I running this mental marathon only to get carpal tunnel syndrome as my reward?  Because there is no actual reward.  I get a nice "winner" logo to post places, discounts on Scrivener, Storyist, and Scribendi software, and a free proof copy of my novel in paperback book from from createspace.  I also get the satisfaction of a job well done and I get a steaming pile of literary crap to be proud of and brag about on all occasions.  (Although I probably won't.)  So why all the fuss?

Well, I used to write a whole lot.  When I was 14, I got into Harry Potter fanfiction, and let me tell you, I wrote a monster of a story about Harry's mother that was well over 400,000 words by the time I'd finally realized that nothing could save it from being totally terrible and that I never wanted to look at it ever again.  So then writing fizzled out, and I missed it.  A lot.

A few years later, I still wasn't back to writing fiction, because I was now convinced that anything I wrote would be miserable rubbish since I was out of practice.  So whenever I would write anything, I never got past about five or six pages.  (Which is about 6,000 words, you know.  I write in 8 point Verdana, because I clearly want my eyes to die before I'm thirty.)

I am depending on NaNoWriMo to break me out of this.  Among other amazing tools in its arsenal, the website provides you with pep talks written by some really awesome authors:  Neil Gaiman (!), Meg Cabot (who wrote The Princess Diaries), Gail Carson Levine (who wrote that lovely story, Ella Enchanted, which Disney subsequently butchered), and Katherine Paterson (remember Bridge to Terebithia?).  I have to admit, I've kept Neil Gaiman's pep talk in a star-struck open window all week.

It is a marathon of writing anything that comes to mind and not editing, not editing at all because editing is the DEVIL and will make your hate yourself.  Editing can come later.  Right now, writing is important.  And it's amazing, because although I'm still secretly second-guessing myself at every turn at least I'm spitting out ideas and characters that were never in my first outline or anywhere in my head on November 1st, and I'm realizing that I'm better at pacing and writing dialogue than  I thought I was, and overall this story is getting way, way, way more exciting than I ever imagined!

I love my characters.  And, after several heavy editing sessions that will take much longer than NaNoWriMo did, I intend to bite the bullet and write up a few letters to send out to agents and/or publishing companies, because, damn it, I have always wanted to be a writer in addition to everything else.  Why else would I start a blog?  I had to have some outlet for the never-resting drive to bang out words.

Of course, the only drawback is that now I have abandoned my darling blog for more than a week and I have all these gorgeous pictures of detox-friendly recipes pleading to be posted!  My poor laptop had to be wiped a few weeks ago, just before the Thai Red Curry post, so unfortunately Photoshop still has to be installed.  All my pictures will have to undergo a slight delay so that they can be posted from my computer at school, but it's worth it, right?  What's a recipe without pictures?

See that monkey in the NaNoWriMo web badge to the left? That is what is going on with my life.  It's bananas.

The Five Stages of NaNoWriMo