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A dish best served cold….

HERE BE GAME OF THRONES SPOILERS FOR THE NEW SEASON:

Justice, revenge or retribution?  Which of these is really okay and which makes us less than human?  A Song of Ice and Fire (or simply Game of Thrones as it’s known to you non-readers) has made me ponder this…a lot.

Was anyone else unnerved by Arya Stark’s almost cold as ice execution of Polliver in the season opener over a week ago?  I mean—she was really, really enjoying that a little too much.  Especially since in the books it’s actually the Hound that does the killing.  Arya kills a squire and her death blow is actually a mercy since he’s dying slowly from an earlier wound she inflicted in self-defense.  The show version of everyone’s favorite tomboy is much…darker.  I’m not complaining but it’s definitely a different take on Arya than I have from the books.

I’ve done a fair amount of thinking in general about how George RR Martin handles the concept of revenge and vengeance in A Song of Ice and Fire.  Warning I may have spoilers from the series in general here as I read all the books (before the show was cool, I am the hipster of literature okay?) and make no promises to not ruin things for you if you read onward.

Final Warning.

Martin manages to set up a lot of really interesting characters in his novels.  I noticed early on that he paints most of his characters with shades of grey—characters who are entirely good (Ned Stark*) or just entirely evil (Vserys Targaryen) don’t last very long.  I’d argue that the longest living entirely evil character is Joffrey but he does eventually get his due.  Then there are the characters that all fall in the spectrum of grey—characters we initially hate like Cersei take on dimensions that we can sympathize with.  We might not ever entirely like them but we begin to understand them and it certainly makes things more interesting.

But what really gets to me is how GRRM uses this to make his readers really uncomfortable with the concept of retribution.  Cersei, as flawed as she is, eventually gets subjected to some seriously horrendous punishments by book 5—things that make me cringe as a woman.  Then there’s Theon Greyjoy.  Theon is a real dipshit.  He’s not a good guy.  He’s spoiled, short-sighted and a murderer.  I wanted him to pay for the deaths he was responsible for at Winterfell and for the slaughter of innocent farm children.  Theon never seemed comfortable with the killing he did, but he did it and definitely deserved to be punished right?

But then came Reek and the revelations of Theon’s fate in book 5.  At times I couldn’t stomach what I was reading and had to put the book down and walk away.  Theon deserve to suffer didn’t he?  Eventually I got to a point where I realized…no; this was wrong, that no matter how much evil someone had done torturing a human being like this was just wrong.  Theon may deserve death—and if you’ve read up to book 5 death is a blessing for him now—but no matter how vile he was, I don’t enjoy the image of a living creature suffering.  It’s just…too much.  I hope that this is the point Martin is trying to make with where he’s taken Theon’s character.  It certainly taught me a lot about myself.  How many times have I heard horrible real life stories about murderers and rapists and wished unspeakable things upon them?  How many times have I said that “death is too easy” for those who have been on trial and undoubtedly guilty of stomach churning evils?

But the desire for revenge comes in two flavors.  There’s the red hot act of retribution in the moment which usually results in a bloody but swift end. Joffrey’s death last week was a long time coming but the actual act was relatively swift…compared to some other deaths in the books.  It was calculated but just and poison, while painful, was chosen not to make him suffer but to kill him surreptitiously.  Then there’s justice in the form of “in the moment” murder like the upcoming HUGE spoiler:  Tyrion’s vengeful killing of Tywin.  But then, then there’s cold revenge—calculated, prolonged and…unnerving.  Ramsay Bolton does this, delivers if for the reader, upon Theon.  Now Theon hasn’t actually died yet but it’s inevitable and at this point I want him to die for his own sake.  After his betrayal of the Starks myself and others often wish a thousand agonies on this character and yet as it happened, I began to see what enjoying that level of punishment would do to me. Some men, and women, deserve to die for horrible things they’ve done and to spare the world from further horrors they would do.  This is especially true in Westeros but it should be a clean death and it shouldn’t be enjoyed.   To do that is to become like Joff or the Bastard Bolton—a disturbing mirror image of ourselves to be confronted with and I think that’s the point.  I think that’s also why in many ways it’s important Arya Stark doesn’t follow through on her death list herself.  I don’t think I’d like what it would do to her.  I certainly don’t like her savoring it as much as she did.  It’s worrisome.  Justice and retribution are not the same thing.  That has become painfully clear.

But that’s just me and how I respond to these events.  Maybe I’m the minority on this but at least I know where I stand.  Death yes.  Torture no.  I’ll stick with ice cream when I want a dish served cold.

*SPECULATIVE SPOILERS *Ned Stark is definitely a “white” character.  Some have tried to point out that he didn’t live entirely by his code of honor because he had a bastard to which I say you haven’t been paying attention.  Jon Snow is NOT Ned Stark’s son.  He’s most certainly Lyanna’s (Ned’s sister) and Ned claimed him to keep Robert from killing the child since his father is most likely Rhaegar Targaryen.

Chocolate Cardamom Ice Cream

An Olivia Original Read more

Meatless Monday: Now take a deep broth

**I wrote this blog post last week literally hours before my car accident.  Who knew I’d need my own advice so badly that day…**

Let’s start at the very beginning.  It’s a very good place to start.  

Alright you’ve decided to brave the heat, the smell and your own inner defeating voice – you have stepped into that Bikram room for the very first time.  It’s dark, some students are lying on the floor, some are doing headstands and you find the closest spot to a window in the back so you can observe and hide.  As you put down your mat and towel you fight the urge to turn tail and run.  It’s hot man.  Like…really…really…hot.  Not only is it hot but it is humid.  If you’ve never experienced an east coast summer you may never have been exposed to quite this level of moisture in the air.  If you’ve only ever been in dry climates, it might even feel like you’ve got someone pressing on your chest a little.  You vow to NEVER visit Washington DC in August if this is what it’s like.  (For those of you who don’t know DC hits as high as 80-90% humidity with temperatures near 90 in the summer.)

You almost decide to leave but then the lights come on, the teacher comes in and everyone stands still like freakishly flexible soldiers.  The teacher should (good teachers) find new students in the class.  This isn’t to embarrass you—it’s so they know to pay special attention and help with your postures if you need it.  No one else in the class is going to pay attention to you once the practice starts so don’t be shy and don’t be afraid.  You’ll be encouraged to watch each posture before you try it—almost every posture is done twice so you’ll get your chance.

Okay ready?  Now here’s the first posture the teacher calls out: Pranayama – Standing Deep BreathingStand facing the mirror and lock your hands together with your fist under your chin and elbows touching.  As you breathe in deeply through your nose you will lift your arms like a bellow as you push your chin toward your chest—you should be breathing in through your nose so that you sound like you are snoring.  Keep breathing until you almost feel like your lungs will burst and then exhale; gently pushing your head and neck back, breathing out through your mouth like you are trying to fog up a mirror and your elbows will come back together.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat…..

Yup.  The very first posture is a series of deep inhalations.  That’s it.  Easy except that with the almost oppressive heat and humidity, breathing might seem like the last thing you want to do.  It also seems kind of lame right?  I thought this was supposed to be an intense workout and all I’m doing is standing here breathing for three minutes?  But I’m going to tell you that this is one of the two most important postures you will do in the class. 

This exercise is the beginning of getting acclimated to the room.  Breathing, deep and slow breathing, has been shown in clinical studies to reduce stress.  It stimulates parasympathetic activity in the nervous system and decreases sympathetic.  If you remember from my post about sweat—sympathetic activity is tied to the production of apocrine—“fear sweat”.  So by practicing this breathing you are helping your body to switch off that fight or flight response and thus reduce your anxiety.  In this case you are eliminating any of the anxiety you might feel if you are not used to the heat and getting yourself mentally prepared for the next 90 minutes.  That’s why getting in the room in time for this initial set of breaths is so important.

The theory is that this controlled slowing of breath causes stimulation of the vagal nerve—which extends from the cranium down through your neck and is how your brain receives input from the organs.  The gentle neck movement is also meant to help stimulate activity in your lymph system so that the body is sure to increase delivery of blood to the lungs—blood if you remember from grade school bio, is how we carry oxygen through our body.   If you’ll remember it’s the stimulation of the vagal nerve which helps your body get the health benefit of an induced fever but without the heightened parasympathetic activity.  Heat and breathing–the ultimate balance to maximizing your immune system!

Finally if you are asthmatic, or suffer from serious problems with your lungs like I have, this posture may help.  There’s relatively little research and some studies conflict, but these breathing exercises are thought to help asthmatics.  I would definitely argue that they do from my own personal experiences.  The heat and the practice of taking these deep breaths literally changed how I breathe.  I used to feel like I was always gasping for air—that the only time I got a full breath was when I yawned and those always felt almost painful.  After my third Bikram class I realized that my daily breathing even outside the room had changed and I felt like for the first time that I was actually using my lungs properly.  I started thinking of my lungs during this posture as any other muscle—and by filling them to almost an extreme; I was strengthening them so that they would get stronger.  This is why I think I can run long distance now but again, this is all my own personal conjecture.

But there you have it.  The very first posture is done; your breath is under control, now just keep coming back to it throughout class.  Controlling your breath is the core of this practice—if you start to lose control of it you are pushing too hard and need to stop, regain control, and then start again.  This pretty much applies to the rest of life too.  So there’s your starter to Bikram and now how about a great starter for a spring meal….  I had some eggplants leftover and reached again for my favorite new cookbook to try another recipe.  This is loaded with spring flavors but rustic enough for those chillier nights when the weather can’t quite let go of winter.  The eggplant thickens the soup so it’s just as rich and creamy as a cream based soup but TOTALLY VEGAN.  You’ll swear this has starch or cream to get this thick but nope!  Not at all.

Broiled Vegetable Soup

from Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Plenty” Read more

SciFriday: The Einstein Ingestion

“A frond full of ham, vegetables, and spiced fruit made me stop thinking about anything except what wasn’t in my belly and I learned that a good deal of my metaphysical melancholia was hunger.  Always is.” –page 36 from The Einstein Intersection

Death!  Sex!  Rock n Roll!  Aliens!  Jesus!  The Beatles!  Bob Dylan!  Orpheus and Eurydice!

All in the same scifi novel?  Holy non-gender binary batman.

I am seriously behind on my Sword and Laser bookreviews.  I’ve been reading along so far but everytime I sit down to write up a book review something happens.  Illness.  Family Emergency.  Car accidents.  Whoops.  Okay let’s see if I can’t get caught up by May eh?  January’s pick was a laser—The Einsten Intersection by Sam Delany.

The Einstein Intersection opens up as a totally reimagined telling of the Greek myth of Orpheus.  Our protagonist—Lo Lobey—is a member of a rural-esque society of aliens who have taken up residence in human host bodies.  Humanity has at some point in the past transcended to another level l of existence that left behind their earth bound organic bodies but we’re never given a greater explanation than this.  Lo Lobey’s love, La Friza, has been found murdered (by Kid Death) and he has been sent off on a quest to bring her back.  That’s the short and dirty summary.  In reality there is so, so much more to comprehend.  The story of Orpheus is overlayed with the Jesus/Judas story—and Kid Death most certainly plays version of the Devil.  Lo Lobey will interact with all of these archetypes and further complicates things with frequent allusions to pop-culture references, mostly musicians, from the 60’s.  The aliens seem to have adopted all of our myths but mashed them together—like they are trying to smash pieces of different puzzles together to paint a picture of what they think humanity should be.  It doesn’t stop there.

The aliens don’t quite fit in right with our physiology.  Why they are in our bodies in the first place I’m not sure I ever understood, but there’s a lot of complications in their efforts to reproduce.  A number of characters have mutations—La Friza is a mute but has some telekinetic powers.  Lo Lobey has a knife that he has turned into a lute and can tap into the energy/minds of others and play harmonies only they can hear in their heads.  Some other mutations are more physical…none of the aliens are entirely “human” despite their best efforts.  The prefixes “Lo” and “La” designate males and females—a non-functional offspring, i.e. mutated to the point of being inhuman– isn’t given one of these designations and gets isolated from society.  Then there are the hermaphroditic characters, given the designation “Le” and treated with distrust and disgust by the rest.  In Lo Lobey’s small town, the very first thing you learn about someone is their gender and it seems incredibly important to him as a way of labeling and judging people. I’m ignoring a lot of aspects of the story here in this review and focusing just on the gender part now because I think this is what I found the most fascinating and new in my reading.

Along his journey, Lo Lobey leaves his humanity-striving rural community behind and ends up in a far more alien, more surreal (more what kind of LSD was this written under) city as he seeks out Kid Death.  Along the way he is advised by Spider (who serves as a Judas figure for the Christ allegory) to drop the Lo/Le in the city, lest he be seen as a sort of country hick.  Lo Lobey is disturbed by this—he doesn’t seem to comprehend letting go of this way of categorizing people.  It becomes apparent that the aliens, before taking on human form, had an entirely different way of handling gender.  Lo Lobey eventually encounters a character named Dove.  Dove’s role is to play the sort of “ultimate sexual ideal” and it doesn’t dawn on Lobey until later, that for Dove to be this figure, they must be Le Dove—or in this more alien city where gender is dropped, Dove simply is.  The novel itself is short and you don’t explore this moment fully, but it was really interesting to see presented in the book even if I found myself having to read every passage three times to get 50% comprehension of what the hell was going on.  Because along with this you’ve got Kid Death trying to kill the Jesus character (Green-Eye) who also is an Odin figure and oh yeah Kid Death also for some reason can kill anyone except Green Eye and his own father.  Lo Lobey is able to kill Death using his knife-lute, and can bring people back to life, except Friza, who can only be revived by the Kid and at some point summoned by Dove?  Like I said I was seriously confused and will definitely be re-reading this book to capture everything.  Also PHAEDRA—a reference to another character from Greek mythology who happens to be an AI that Lo Lobey encounters—alludes that this all might be a simulation Lobey is experiencing Matrix style.

So…confusing right?  I can’t say I really liked the story in the same way I enjoy other books but I did find it fascinating.  The first 50 pages left me confused more often than not but the language was compelling enough to push through and wait for things to click into place.  Delany is a highly celebrated science fiction author and brought a whole new perspective to the club in the 60’s as one of the first African American gay writers to get some real attention.  His mother was a librarian and his father was an undertaker—if there’s a better way to breed a kid with a serious imagination I haven’t heard it.  So it’s easy to see how Delany might have this unique take on “otherness” or the feeling of being misunderstood and alien.  It comes out in Einstein and will definitely challenge your perception of everything when you read it.  I’ll be keeping this one around to re-read on a rainy day (the book itself is pretty short) and maybe I’ll find some answers to my lingering half-formed questions.

Today’s recipe is pulled directly as inspired from the novel.  In an early scene as Lo Lobey discusses his destined quest to revive La Friza, a meal of ham, nuts, fruit and vegetables is cooked in some pretty serious detail.  I wasn’t sure if this would make a really good dinner or be a horrible idea but I think the result was surprisingly pleasing.  The dish definitely has a tropical feel to it and tastes like a summer luau to me.  I have no idea if that’s what Delany was imagining but it’s what I came up with.

Sweet Ham Stir-Fry

An Olivia Original inspired by “The Einstein Intersection” Read more

Should you always bake a fever?

Here’s the point that I have made 

Yogis were born to give you fever 

Be it Fahrenheit or centigrade

When you get sick and your body temperature rises what do you do?  Are you someone who reaches for the aspirin to help get your body temperature down or do you try to keep the fever going?  There’s still a fair amount of debate on this topic—the general consensus I’ve always encountered is that a low-grade fever should be allowed to run its course.  The thinking being that a fever is the immune system working to purge the nasties, be they bugs or viruses, that have hijacked your body for their own proliferation. 

Now a fever that is TOO high is going to be dangerous–DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor or medical health professional.  If you are running a fever consult your physician about what to do.  I’m simply going to ask what are the possible advantages to a low-grade fever from a biological/evolutionary standpoint.  Do not ignore the symptom of a potential illness.  A low fever may be safe but an infection definitely is NOT.

One of the reasons bacteria like to invade our bodies is that we have a very comfy climate for them.  The range of suitable temperature for a given species of bacteria can be somewhat limited—for example streptococcus pneumonia, which I’m all too familiar with on a personal grudge match level, can survive between 77-107 degrees Fahrenheit.  Its optimal temperature though is a cozy 98 degrees—gentle crooning and hair gel optional.  What else is 98 degrees?  We are.  So the idea of a fever is that by turning up the heat a bit we make the bacteria anywhere from uncomfortable to outright dead.  At least that’s one prevailing theory about why the hypothalamus has this thermostat trick.

Body temperature is regulated by the hypothalamus; a centrally nestled bundle of brain parts mmmmmm brains.  It’s sensitive to substances called pyrogens—literally “fire causing” chemicals that tell your hypothalamus to crank up the thermostat.  Pyrogens are produced both by your own body, white blood cells produce them when they encounter an infectious agent, and by some bacteria/viruses all on their own.  You might think that bacteria producing signals that they are around is a good thing.  The bacteria that produce pyrogens compensate for their lack of stealth in our bodies with a less permeable membrane making them more resistant to antibiotics.   Trade-offs happen in evolution.

Now another reason we suppose that the immune system promotes a fever is that your immune system functions faster/better at higher temperatures.  At first it was assumed this was a correlation—when you are sick and get a fever your immune system should also be working overtime.  But research is showing some insight into a potential causation—how increased body temperature is a trigger for increased innate immune activity.   But heat shock proteins are going to need an entire post of their own and I’m assuming everyone hasn’t TL;DR’d off already.  Since I’m not going to explain because there is too much, let me sum up: you can raise internal core temp without white blood cells shooting flare guns or bacteria invading.  One way is with exercise.  Oh did I not mention this was a yoga post earlier?

Bikram yoga raises your internal body temperature to a low-grade fever.  Preliminary studies show it around 100-101 degrees—but I’ll be honest with you, pretty much any vigorous cardio activity is going to cause an internal core temperature increase.  Does the heat in the room then provide any other advantages?  It all comes back to that autonomic nervous system thing I’ve mentioned before.  Since Bikram yoga is first and foremost a 90 minute exercise in controlling your breath, it balances out the sympathetic activity (stress, stinky sweat, fight or flight) with parasympathetic– that breathing stimulating the vagus nerve I’d mentioned previously.  When you get sick your body is in sympathetic overdrive—in part because of the fever.  Thus practice of [Bikram] yoga attempts to boost the body’s natural innate immune system but combats and limits the sympathetic nervous activity.  BOOM.  LawyerYoga-ed? 

Baked Cherry Brownie Bites

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking from my home to yours” Read more

Wellness Wednesday: Eat like an Egghead

Eggplant is a berry.  Sorry to rain on your parade if you’ve been thinking it was in the vegetable checkbox all these years but it’s a fruit.  The most traditional varieties are purple but the name was inspired actually by the less common white species which resemble large goose eggs.  It’s also known as an aubergine—a French name that was derived from a series of name changes throughout the Mediterranean stemming back to the greek word for black.  Kind of fitting then that the two alternate names relate to the two extremes of color!  I know me and five other people in the whole world find that fascinating.  There’s also Baingan in South Asia but I’ll move on from the name thing and onto the health thing!

The fruit itself is somewhat bitter which is probably why a lot of people don’t think of it as a fruit.  It’s also often marginalized to a few dishes: bhaba ghanoush, ratatouille and eggplant parmesan.  The latter dish often a neglected vegetarian option at Italian restaurants—and very rarely cooked well at the chain restaurants most people go to.  That’s a shame.   Western food hasn’t seemed to embrace the potential in this antioxidant powerhouse though Indian and Thai cuisine seem to use it quite more frequently.

Eggplant is especially high in a rare antioxidant: nasunin.  Why is this one so rare?  It’s an anthocyanin—a pigment specific to fruits and veggies that are blue/purple and there aren’t too many.  Blueberries, blackberries, grapes…purple cauliflower.  There aren’t a lot.  Nasunin has been shown in research to be an especially effective scavenger of free radicals that would damage the lipid lining of brain cells.  Eggplant is food for an Egghead!  It’s also been shown to reduce cholesterol—perhaps largely because of the fact that eggplant is high in fiber and relatively low in calories and fat.   The bulk of the phytonutrients and vitamins are in the skin so don’t peel those suckers unless you have to!

When shopping for eggplants you want to seek out a smooth and shiny berry.  They go bad very quickly and so any discoloring or bruising is a sign that it’s already started to turn and will be soft and mushy.  Eggplants are also very porous and have a fair amount of water.  If handled incorrectly you end up with an oil soaked mess.  One way to cut back on how much the eggplant absorbs is to cut it and sprinkle with salt, place in a colander and let it sit for about 30 minutes to an hour.  The salt will cause some water to pull out and also tenderize the flesh.  Don’t worry, you can wipe all that salt away and won’t have to worry about sodium.

Unfortunately for me Eggplant has one nasty drawback.  It’s very closely related to tobacco—and boy am I allergic to tobacco.  Cooking the plant denatures most of the allergen inducing proteins but I still try not to eat too much just to be safe.  It sucks because eggplant has SO many amazing applications and when spring hits I can’t contain my glee at the sheer number of interesting shades and shapes made up by all the different cultivars.  I mean they are just so beautiful and deeply, hypnotically…purple.

That’s why, when I saw Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook Plenty and saw the front cover featured a beautiful eggplant, I knew I not only had to have it but had to make it.  Now I don’t know what the growing season in Israel is like, but I find that pomegranates and eggplants doing coincide here in California and I had to tweak the recipe slightly to exclude those beautiful gems of the original forbidden fruit.  Instead I substituted with some chopped craisins—they were tarter and definitely a different texture but still good but I think the pomegranate would have been better.  Oh well.

Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce

Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe from Plenty Read more

My Cakey Breaky Car

Dreaming of the siren
Wishing for broken glass on the highway
It could be so easy

So.  That’s what a car accident is like.

I had an entirely different post that I intended to write for today.  I also have the post I meant to publish yesterday but as the cliché so often goes: life gets in the way.  This time it was the remarkably not amazing experience of being in a collision with another car that slammed into the driver side of my car.  Terrifying—absolutely but maybe not for the reasons you’d expect.  I’ll put a photo of the car behind the cut at the bottom of the post–hiding it so it doesn’t trigger anyone who might have some sort of accident PTSD.

All in all the experience has been surprisingly…pleasant?  I mean it sucks.  There’s the financial cost.  My car is out for three weeks.  My neck hurts.  My head hurts.  I was very narrowly crushed by a bus coming from the OTHER direction.   Another few inches and I’d probably have a broken leg.  Thankfully though I came out with all my limbs.  The other driver was a young guy who was also shaken up but relatively calm.  We even hugged!  He wants to go to my yoga studio—no really he saw my key fob and commented on how he’s been wanting to go to Funky Door to try it out.  I offered a free pass if he ever goes.  It was hilariously absurd in the moment but in a good way.  I think we both managed to show each other some respect and be supportive which kind of reaffirmed my faith in humanity in a huge way.  I mean this was a horrible day for both of us but instead of snarling and yelling at each other about who did what, it was more about making sure we both got where we needed to go.  I have also never been more thankful to be insured.

If you are driving and don’t have insurance you are an idiot.  Stop it.  Get your ass covered.  If for no other reason than it is unbelievably relieving to have a team of people who know what to do and who handle it for you when you are still shaking from an adrenaline rush.

So back to the actual terrifying part.  The crash I was in sucked but really all it did was dredge up memories of the two car crashes my immediate family have been in over the last few years.  Somehow I found myself freaking out more over those past accidents—especially the one my mom and brother were in—and those set me crying.  Several years ago my brother was injured pretty severely in an auto accident and it really was hard for me to handle.  I never even looked at photos of the car because I didn’t want to see it.  The hardware in my brother’s legs was enough for me thankyouverymuch.  In the years since I’ve had more scares with my brother for various reasons.

The hardest thing in this world for me to survive would be to lose my brother.  Nothing has ever or most likely will ever scare me as much as that.  People who are close to me will understand that this has made some events from the last few years really difficult.  It’s the one thing I’m not sure my (metaphorical) heart would ever be able to come back from.  Maybe when I’m 90 and he’s 83—women live longer and I eat better so yes D, I’m assuming I’m outliving you here—it would be different.  But nope he is not allowed to die until then.  I just…I don’t know if that’s a heartbreak that would ever be repairable.  It’s my Humpty Dumpty scenario.  I assumed that I’d be spending the next few days berating myself for the accident.  Should-woulda-coulda-ing the moments but really I just keep coming back to the fear of losing my family instead.

Aaaaand as with all stress in life—I bake!   Not feeling up to working on one of my own recipes instead I turned to a staple from Dorie Greenspan.  Simple, homey and oh so comforting the way only these kind of simple dutch cakes can be.  The smell in my kitchen was so relaxing.  Definitely make this cake on a bad rainy day if you ever need a pick me up.

Swedish Visiting Cake

(adapted from Baking, From My Home to Yours) Read more

SciFriday: Captain American Pie

I am going to have to work this weekend but I refuse—REFUSE—to let Sunday night pass me by without seeing the new Captain America film.  I genuinely think this could be the best Marvel film we’ve had in years—well for an individual character installment anyway.  The reviews have been coming in and they are generally pretty favorable.  I say this having never actually um read any Captain America comics.

Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?

Yeah okay so I’m a Marvel girl but that largely revolved around X-men and Spiderman…with some Fantastic 4 and Avengers (I mean Spiderman joined up so I had to read some of them) tossed in for a good measure.  I never really read any of the individual comic runs for most of the Avengers though.  Especially not Captain America.  He didn’t appeal to me as much in my kid/teen years… and probably for superficial reasons pertaining to my avoidance of anything seeming too nationalistic.  Captain America…just made me think of Team World Police.  I passed but I still knew a fair amount about Steve Rogers between Avengers and his crossovers/history with Wolverine.

It was the major Marvel crossover Civil War that made realize Captain America was a guy I could really root for.  To the non-comic oriented among you, Civil War is a story arc where superheroes are being required to submit themselves to the government’s Superhuman Registration Act.  Cap leads the charge of the non-compliant who think the registration infringes on civil liberties and what can I say?  I love me a rebel against the system.  Riley Finn (Buffy) had his best, most attractive moment in the episode when he punches out his [former] commander and proclaims himself an anarchist leaving behind the military Initiative.

I’m familiar enough with the Winter Soldier storyline to know it’s another story about Captain America questioning the country he’s supposed to be representing. This isn’t going to be just a traditional superhero film but should have a fair amount of political thriller (Post 9-11,  Assange and Snowden relevance) that will engage even the non-comic fan crowd.  Thus I’m super hopeful that this will be the best sequel installment we’ve had—a movie that fits in the larger Marvel world but will stand-alone as an enjoyable story.  I’m a sucker for Big Brother stories.  It has me wanting to go out and get the actual Cap comics and read them.  If I only had more time…. Now don’t mistake this for thinking Steve Rogers isn’t still very much the “American” hero.  I think it’s more that he stands for the best of what America is supposed to be; something that I think most Americans would agree, regardless of partisanship, we rarely seem to get from the people in power.

Mind you as I write this I haven’t seen the damn movie yet.  If it sucks then don’t blame me!  Like I said, most of my knowledge about Steve Rogers comes from Avengers and his past history with Wolverine.  What’s this history I’m talking about?  Okay non-comic folk here’s a brief run-down: Captain America’s Shield is what lead to the development of Wolverine’s skeletal system.  Yup!  The shield was composed using Vibranium – not to be confused with Wonderflonium (do not bounce) – a rare, possibly extra-terrestrial in origin, alloy.   Attempts to recreate the creation of the shield led to development of Adamantium—a substance even harder and stronger!  Now you can pull out that random bit if you are seeing the movie with some nerds, or non-nerds, and want a little knowledge to sprinkle in the conversation.  Now pop quiz: can wolverine’s adamantium claws scratch the shield?  J  The Captain and Wolverine have a sometimes tumultuous friendship but at the end of the day, Steve Rogers is one of the few people Logan trusts and respects.

Thanks SuperMegaMonkey.Net ! http://www.supermegamonkey.net/chronocomic/entries/captain_america_243-245.shtml

Thanks SuperMegaMonkey.Net !  — (I don’t own and didn’t even scan this image.  I’m lame and borrowed from here)
http://www.supermegamonkey.net/chronocomic/entries/captain_america_243-245.shtml

There’s one other bit of information I know about Steve Rogers despite not reading the comics: his favorite food is Apple Pie. Fitting isn’t it?  And it’s cannon!  I’m not making this up.  Seriously.  I don’t know when I became aware of this, maybe it was just an assumption I had because well what else COULD his favorite food be, but I verified it so there you go.  I make it a point to know this one piece of important trivia about all my superheroes whenever possible because I’m freakishly weird like that.  Spiderman, for example, has a love of wheatcakes and remember that post I did a while back about Superman (before he went vegetarian) and his love of Beef bourguignon with Ketchup?  Yum Yum.  Since I’m up late working I had to entertain myself so I baked an apple pie to celebrate the Captain.

 

WWII is where the America = Apple Pie association is originated; either journalists and/or soldiers, or quite possibly apple grower propaganda, coined the phrase “For Mom and Apple Pie” around this time.  Apple pie really isn’t even an American invention but we certainly took ownership either way.  Since Captain America got his start fighting Nazis in the war, I wanted to make this as authentic a recipe as possible.  I went with an apple pie you’d be more likely to see in a WWII kitchen.  What does that mean?  Well butter would have been a rarity at the time and used sparingly so the pie crust utilizes the cheaper wartime staple: lard.  Before you freak out and think I’ve lost my mind, lard is used a lot in pastry.  It doesn’t make anything taste like bacon.  In fact lard makes some of the best, flakiest pie crust you’ve ever had.  If you do want to try it out though be careful with the kind of lard you buy.  Most grocery stores have hydrogenated, chemical laden lard that is far inferior (and somewhat porkier in flavor) to what is known as “leaf  lard”—this is what you want to look for if you are baking.  Apples might have been hard to come by too but you can’t really make apple pie without apples can you?  There’s something called a “mock” apple pie using butter crackers but…no.

Captain American Pie

An Olivia Original Read more

Put your nose in the Éclair


Okay, so I missed / deliberately left out one last, perhaps most often asked question, about Bikram yoga on my post Monday.  I wanted to really explain this one so here’s the answer to your unanswered question: Yes it is smelly.

It’s a room heated to above body temperature with a bunch of people twisting themselves into positions that do actually cause your heart rate to rise.  People sweat and sweat can smell.  Some studios will smell worse than others—especially the carpeted ones.  Yes carpet, I’ll explain that later but actually you want carpeting.  The studios I go to clean those carpets at least once a week—my current place replaces the whole thing each year—so no it’s not grimy at all.  Regardless of how clean the studio is, class is guaranteed to get…stinky.  Please do not run for the hills.  First and foremost, you get used to it.  Seriously you eventually just stop noticing.  I know this is a bad analogy but did you dissect pigs in biology?  Remember how gag-inducing the formaldehyde smell was and the horrific realization when suddenly you didn’t notice it anymore?  This isn’t nearly as bad as that odor wise, but it’s the same idea.  You acclimate and just stop noticing.

Another thing about the sweat—well there are different kinds of sweat smell.  Your body produces sweat from two different glands depending on stimulation.  The eccrine glands are what cause you to sweat when you are hot whereas your apocrine glands produce sweat when you are under stress.  The former kind of sweat is heat/workout sweat—it’s mostly water and salt and smells fairly neutral.  The second kind is actually a milky fluid with fats and proteins in it.  Innocuous enough until the bacteria on your skin start to eat the fat and proteins that your body is producing when these glands turn on.  It’s the bacteria’s metabolic process and byproducts that cause the particularly rank kind of sweat smell that makes “I can smell your fear” an actual thing animals can do.   So yes it’s smelly and sweaty but it’s the GOOD kind…mostly.   I mean odds are you are stimulating that fight or flight response a bit when you work out, especially the first time in the studio, and even normal sweat is going to smell a little bit.

You might be thinking to yourself, okay so it smells but its good because you are sweating out those pesky toxins.  Which brings me to the most common mistake about sweat: you are not sweating out toxins.  Not many anyway.  Sorry to burst your bubble on this but that phrase always drives me nuts.  Most toxins are processed by your kidneys and your liver—only certain trace chemicals get pulled out in your sweat. Remember what we just said: eccrine gland produced sweat is just salt and water.  I don’t know where this mistaken idea that you can sweat out some unknown toxin ever originated but I have a hunch.  See there IS a point to the heat.  It does help stimulate an innate immune response.  I’ll get into the science behind that in another post but for now just know that increased body temperature stimulates white blood cell production.  This is where the immune boost from regular exercise, and especially Bikram Yoga, comes from.  It’s why people who work out regularly are healthier.  Since Bikram Yoga is such an intense combination of cardio and strength training, and it in particular gets your lungs stronger, I think the mistake is in the understanding what aspect of the exercise is doing it.  It’s not the sweating, it’s the heating—the sweat is just a byproduct of that.

Just plunge that nose in the air, inhale and remember that in about ten minutes you’ll be too busy worrying about how to get your arm twisted around your leg to worry about how the room smells.  Starting next week we’ll get into some of the postures. Don’t worry, the first one is just about breathing.  Until then enjoy this floral scented éclair recipe from my kitchen.  It’ll have you smelling like roses, or, er, hibiscus.

Orange Hibiscus Eclairs

Olivia Original (with an assist from Dorie) Read more

Wellness Wednesday: This Chick is feeling Pea-kish

Snack foods are my downfall; they rarely ever suffice as “snacks” and usually end up becoming second breakfast or the love handle maker known as elevensies.  I think this rings true for a lot of people who struggle with eating healthy right?  I know most of us are guilty of turning a bag of potato chips into dinner at least once.  I know I don’t need to tell you these are always high in sodium, high in fat, low in fiber, low in nutrition–and depending on whether or not you like to make slim jims a meal, usually low in protein too.  Salty carbo-loaded snacks are particularly awful because they make us thirsty and cause bloat on top of the binge.

What’s a peckish chick to do?

Nuts are a popular healthy option–but what if you are allergic to nuts or are on a reduced fat diet?  Sure almonds have good fats but still for some it’s not a viable alternative.  Plus it’s nice to get a little variety in your diet right?

Enter my favorite legume: the chickpea — also known as the garbanzo bean.    Chickpea is derived from the latin Cicer arietinum which means “little ram” and was given to the bean because it apparently resembles a the head of a ram to some old Roman.  I mean…I guess I can see it.  I tend to more heavily use the alternate spanish name: Garbanzo.  This may be some lingering connection to Gonzo in my head?  Who knows.  Either way it’s got a funny name doesn’t it?  The Garbanzo, or Chickpea, was initially cultivated by Romans and Egyptians in the Middle East with signs of cultivation as many as 9000 years ago.   Chickpeas spread throughout the Mediterranean and Asia.  In particular they have become a staple of Indian cuisine used in their solid, mashed and even powdered form.

Chickpeas are a fantastic, albeit not complete, source of protein.  1 cup of canned chickpeas will have roughly 280 calories — 8% of those calories from fat, 77% carbohydrate and 15% from protein–about 12 grams.  A significant amount of the carbohydrates are fiber–remember a happy and clean colon is essential for good health.  Plus fiber makes you feel full so you’ll find yourself snacking less if you listen to your hypothalamus!  As for the fats?  Garbonzo beans are on the fattier end of the legume spectrum but it’s still pretty low (3-4g in a cup) and almost all healthy stuff.  One cup of dry roasted peanuts, as an example, will have 4 times as many calories and over 70 grams of fat….

I imagine that most Americans get their exposure to chickpeas as Hummus–or occasionally a neglected part of the salad bar.  Not to knock hummus, which is delicious, but there’s so much more you can do with these versatile protein powerhouses.  The problem is most people don’t know what else to do with them other than toss them into a pile of lettuce or as part of a classic picnic three-bean salad.  Snacking on the stuff straight out of a can isn’t that appetizing and can’t compete with a bowl of crisps.

Luckily the slightly higher fat content of chickpeas works to our advantage–you can roast these babies so they turn into perfect, crisp snackable treats that I actually PREFER to potatoes.  Best of all they are roasted so the fat content is much, much lower because you need only a tablespoon of oil at the most to prepare.  Best yet they are ridiculously easy to make.  I think using dried beans work best BUT most of the time I use canned garbanzo beans to save time–and usually these are less than a buck a can.  Pre-packaged roasted garbanzo beans run anywhere from 3-6 dollars for the same amount.  Make them at home and you get a healthy, high protein, high fiber and cheap snack that you can feel a little less guilty about if you end up eating the whole thing.  I wouldn’t recommend it though.  That way leads to stomach aches.  Delicious but painful stomach aches.  With baseball season upon us consider putting out a bowl of these along with the peanuts and crackerjack.  You might be surprised what keeps the guests coming back ;-)

Roasted Garbanzo Beans

an Olivia Original Read more

Haulin’ Oats

I just wanna run, hide it away
Run because they’re chasing me down
I just wanna run, throw it away
Run before they’re finding me out

This is going to sound weird. As kids we romanticize a lot of different things, places and people right? Usually things that are unattainable and that we don’t understand. One thing I longed so much to be able to do, something that featured in my daydreams or served as a focal point in my escapist fantasies: run. Just run. I’m talking actual distance/endurance running. Maybe it was because I grew up watching action and scifi films where the protaganists always seemed like they were running. Maybe it was because I had a strong desire to escape a lot of the time. Maybe it was because I couldn’t do it.

See my youngest years were marked heaviest by frequent trips to pediatricians and ERs for mild to severe cases of chronic croop. How chronic? I was that kid getting sick constantly and always at the most inopportune moments. Family trip to Disneyworld? I was up in the middle of the night coughing out cups of phlegm into the hotel shower. Mom has a funeral to go to? Here comes the raging bacterial lung infection. As I got older it only got worse. The croop became bronchitis which morphed into my first bought of pneumonia by the time I was eleven years old.

The frequent infections scarred my tonisils and lungs. Inhalers were kid stuff. I had a nebulizer I was using as often as three times a day throughout sixth grade. At my worst I missed an actual third of a school year–something that would set most kids back a year but I was tenacious about my studies at least because well, what else COULD you do sick in bed. As you might imagine the one school course that I didn’t enjoy was PE. Every year I would have to explain to my gym teachers that while I wasn’t what you would call traditionally asthmatic, I couldn’t really sustain myself through intense endurance physical activity. Even on those precious days when I was healthy my lungs just couldn’t handle it. I could do short-burst activities like volleyball but that damn presidential fitness mile….

I’d get the eyerolls from some of the less understanding gym teachers and sent off to perform the lowly task of handing out popsicle sticks. Since the track at most schools was about ¼ of a mile around, students would run the track 4 times and collect popsicle sticks on each pass to mark their progress. Take too long and fail. My way of rebelling against some of the crueler gym teachers was to hand out an extra stick to my fellow unathletic freaks and geeks so that they managed to at least score a passable time and escape the snickers from our athletic peers who’d finish a good ten minutes ahead of them without my help.

So it’s weird that today, many years later with scars from those adolescent years mostly faded, I am running. Not just running but actually training for real endurance events. Hearing someone comment that I was “hauling ass” after an hour on a treadmill the other day was so bizarre that I almost laughed but slowly it has become the norm. After about two years of yoga–one year of regular practice–I found my illnesses finally getting further and farther between. Then one day I thought I’d try to just run a mile. I made it halfway and went back at the next day. I ran a whole mile in 13 minutes. I’d still have failed the Presidential Fitness test but it felt damn good to finish. Months later my time and distance both steadily improved until one day I clocked my first mile at under 9 minutes. Suddenly I had gone from the girl who was disgraced on the side of the track to the girl who broke the treadmills at her gym.

Now when I sum up who I am I can add one more thing to the list: I’m a runner. To celebrate that I’m sharing a recipe for some amazing vegan, protein packed but still oh so naughty for you oatmeal cookies. I was about to eat some almond butter straight out of the jar after a 5 mile run when I was hit with the realization: I can use this stuff JUST like peanut butter. Why not make cookies with it? A very messy kitchen a few hours later and I churned out this recipe which is one of my most often requested by friends and coworkers.

Oatmeal Almond Butter Cookies
an Olivia Original – Vegan and Soy Free Read more

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