Friday, March 28, 2008

Bienvenido a Miami

I'm ashamed. I was doing so well with constantly updating the blog and in the past few days, Ive gotten quite a few e-mails about my lack of posts. I'm sorry- I promise to not make a habit of this now that I am back in the U.S. One of my best friends is getting married on Saturday (Congrats Bree!) and I've pretty much concentrated my energy on that...
Basically, its my excuse not to concentrate on anything else- including the fact that the Miami Spanish consulate is basically refusing to give me a Student Visa for next year without a three month process and therefore- I'm a prisoner to the U.S. through the summer. There go all my fantastic travel plans.
I miss England already- and the simplicity of my life there. It's not as easy here. At least not in Miami- I ordered a coffee today and the woman didn't understand me. She said "que? que?" until I finally broke and ordered in Spanish. Last time I checked, Miami was part of the English speaking world.
Everyone is tiny here too. In England, I was one of the skinny ones. Here? No chance. It must be something in the water.
My hair is frizzy from the humidity (totally forgot about that part...) and no one knows how to drive. Although, its not all bad. It's warm- I'll be tan within a week. I also saw my hairdresser who finally made my head look halfway decent.
Best part? THE DOLLAR! The glorious dollar! I'm going shopping tomorrow. Although I may have to learn to speak fluent Spanish in order to be helped by a salesperson, I'll actually be able to afford things. I'm thrilled.
So tomorrow night is the rehearsal dinner for the wedding. As a bridesmaid, I'm giving a speech and therefore, must conclude this little rant of mine.
Now, if only I could figure out how to sum up a 25 year friendship in half a page, I'd be golden.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The End of an Era

Alas, my tenure in the U.K. has come to its inevitable end. I’m once again crossing the Atlantic tomorrow morning and saying my final goodbyes to this peculiar country and its people. There are aspects about England that I’m going to miss and then there are those characteristics that I’m pleased to obtain a long-awaited break from. I won’t miss the food, in the least. Nor will I miss the weather, but that’s to be expected of anyone who has spent a good amount of time over here. Even the English despise the English weather. To be honest, there is little I will miss about England itself- it’s the people who have made my many experiences here remarkable.

I know that when I get home, I’ll be eating well, driving automatics on the correct (in my opinion) side of the road, and not having to double the cost of everything I spend money on. Of course, the economy is in shambles but I can’t say that I’m unhappy about filling my wallet once again with a bunch of dirty green notes- as worthless as they may be to the rest of the world.

My day to day vocabulary has been influenced by this country. I already know that I’ll be the object of ridicule when I say “ta” and “cheers” instead of thank you or when I call my friends my ”mates.” Beer will never be just “beer” again, it is either lager or bitter or cider. Fruit juice is now “squash” (don’t ask…) and everything is “brilliant”- good or bad. “To be fair” comes before any statement and I’ll be saying “crack on” when someone asks to use my bathroom or have a bite of my food. Luckily though, unlike Madonna, I’ve maintained my American accent through it all and I don’t plan on pronouncing my r’s anytime soon.

It took a while for me to cultivate friendships beyond the few people who were immediately connected to me through circumstances. But I ultimately did meet some of the most incredible individuals. “My girls” are irreplaceable. They made me laugh more than I have ever laughed. They taught me about this country and its quirks by allowing me inside- with them as my guides. I’ve never consumed more rose wine in my life or even contemplated mixing red bull with fine champagne, but then again- I opened myself to these new practices and enjoyed them, amongst many other things. Beyond the frigid afternoons sitting next to each other bundled up at football matches or our many wild nights, I’ll always be grateful for the support they offered me without a second thought. They were always on my side. I’ll always be on their sides- even if I’m on the other side of the world. Ralph Waldo Emerson summed it up best when he said, “The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, not the kindly smile, not the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone believes in him and is willing to trust him with his friendship." …and I will be forever grateful that these beautiful women let me into their worlds.

And then, naturally, there are the boys. I now know more about British football (soccer) than any girl should know. My exterior has toughened up a bit and I can take a good “bollocking” with the best of them. I’m also proud to say that I am a fierce opponent when it comes to pizza buffet stuff-your-face-a-thons.

As for Michael’s family- there are no words. I may miss his family as much as I miss him. I’m now leaving England with not only remarkable memories, but with the knowledge that I will always have a home here- equipped with the kindest and most loving people I have ever met. Which brings me to Michael himself. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time, hard drive space, or emotional stability at the moment to even begin to list what I will miss about him. Instead, I’m going to begin packing in hopes of distracting myself from “the goodbye.”

As always, the best of experiences are measured by the people we share them with and not the places we occupy. My time in England has been one of the greatest in my life and I know, regardless of where I wind up in the future, I’ll forever look back at my period here with fondness.

So…my next post will be stateside- and after an abundance of tears are shed, I’ll arrive on American soil with a renewed willingness to make the most of whatever is thrown my way (boasting an expanded vocabulary as well!)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Slim 4 Life

Last night I dreamt of fruits and vegetables: Floating apples, sparring asparagus spears, raspberry races, dancing bananas, and conversing carrots. Before I even opened my eyes this morning, I thought to myself, “I need to buy a juicer.” I’ve never even considered owning a juicer before- blenders were as far as I’d go.

This newfound produce fascination is a result of a recent “diet” book my friend, Jo gave me. We were trading recipes over lunch one day and she mentioned the great smoothie recipes this book has in the back. I thought I would give it a shot. Turns out- it’s an entire novel that attempts to alter the way you think about everything you put in your body; it preaches a way of life. I read all 308 pages of Jason Vale (The self proclaimed Juice Master)’s book, “Slim 4 Life: Freedom from the food trap” in two sittings. Needless to say, I was intrigued.
Granted, I will never look as milk as “cow glue.”

Vale mentions a few times that falling asleep after a big meal means that “the body does not have enough energy to keep you alive and awake at the same time.” Frankly, I don’t think we would die if we stayed awake, but it is an interesting thought.

I’m not writing this as an attempt at a long- winded book review, as I know nothing about diet books. Nor would I write this much about one. However, being that I am now apparently an advocate of gaining “freedom from the food trap,” I wanted to share a few things that struck me as interesting. I keep writing emails about this stuff so I figured I may as well post it and call it a day.

To paraphrase; cakes/chips bad, fruit/vegetables good. Right. We knew that already.

What else? Well…
Organic food isn’t necessarily healthy; it was merely produced without pesticides.
Caffeine ages you.
There is evidence that suggests that diet drinks actually cause weight gain- they increase hunger- so basically, they cause cancer AND make you fat. Not good.
Nuts lose their nutrition when they are roasted.
Popcorn is bad for you; corn is as starchy as potatoes.
100,000 lives a year could be saved if food manufacturers cut the amount of salt they use.
Brown bread is often white bread that has been dyed with caramel- check the back of packages. Combining different food groups in varying proportions aids digestion (but I wouldn’t know where to start with this one.)
Fresh veggies are much healthier before they are cooked.
A can of coke contains seven teaspoons of sugar while ketchup is 27% sugar.
Two of the chemicals used to de-caffeinate coffee are turpentine and formaldehyde!

Good things to do;
Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning.
Eat natural foods.
Cook with olive oil and flaxseed oil instead of butter and other oils.
Never ever eat refined sugar again.
Don’t eat meat either.
Or milk products.
Buy a juicer.
Wear sunscreen (joking…sort of).

I think that about sums it up.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

St. Patty's Day Retrospective

Life (for me at least) is pretty much defined by memories of people and places. This poses a challenge- as my short-term and often my long-term memory are basically worthless. I barely remember anything without some kind of an aid; be it visual, tactical or sensory. One thing I’ve found is that if there is a specific day with specific elements, I can easily remember where I was and what I was doing. Like my birthday, for instance- I can remember what I was doing on February 1st 1998 as clearly as I remember February 1st 2008.
St. Patrick’s day is another one of those days.

The first St. Patrick’s day that I remember clearly was in ninth grade; I was 15 and it was 1996. I was the Feature’s editor of my Jr. High School’s newspaper and, along with two of the other editors who happened to be my best friends, I was taken on a trip to NY to take part in a “Newspaper Convention” at Columbia University. The moment we stepped off the plane, our chaperone Mrs. Guerra fell ill with a severe version of the flu or bronchitis or something. Needless to say, neither Tina nor Josh nor I attended even one lecture during the convention. Instead, we smoked cloves out of the Howard Johnson window. Alanis Morissette was in her prime and “Ironic” had just come out as a single. We listened to Alanis as MTV blasted on high volume from the fuzzy motel television while we plotted our excursions sans-chaperone. It was that trip that I first fell in love with Betsey Johnson and her store. She has remained one of my favorite designers ever since that trip (even though my mom tells me that I’m too old to wear her clothes). I remember getting a nose bleed in the dressing room in her Upper East Side store while trying to pull a hot pink leopard corset over my head. We ate at “Fashion Café” and snuck out late at night to get cinnamon coffee from the deli across the street.
What rebels?!
I suppose we could have been much worse, but according to the three of us- we had been emancipated. The last day of the trip fell on St. Patrick’s Day. We walked up to 5th avenue and lost ourselves in the parade amidst the pot-of-gold floats and leprechaun balloons. A photo of our motley crew ended up appearing in the background of a shot that was published in one of the major NY newspapers…which one? I can’t now remember. That was the only journalism related experience we had on our “Newspaper convention” expedition.
Isn’t it ironic?

This year’s holiday was far less interesting. I didn’t know it was St. Patty’s Day until Google reminded me with its shamrock banner. My day, the least interesting St. Patrick’s Day yet, began at an ungodly hour with a verbose plumber droning on and on about his money and his model ex-girlfriend instead of fixing the hot water heater. A day later, the water is still cold- but at least I can warm myself in the knowledge of the plumbers’ five (mortgage free) properties! The highlight of my day was by far in my hip-hop class when the fat woman who thinks she can dance kept stealing my spot every time I walked away to get a drink of water- resulting in an interesting altercation…I don’t think she’ll be taking hip hop again anytime soon.

Last year, St. Patrick’s Day 2007, was a bit more fun. I was living in Dubai and I went to a beach party until evening fell and a massive party ensued at “The Irish village” with Irish bands, dancers, and a profusion of green beer. The holiday ended late-night in Jumeirah Beach Hotel with caviar, champagne and the cream of Dubai society.
2006- A group of us went to the parade in Hoboken New Jersey, dressed and painted in green. I made out with my best friend’s younger roommate on the subway ride home. Made his night.
2005- Rolling 30 deep in an Irish Bar Crawl and 5th Avenue St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
2004- Rome- “Piazza Dei Fiori” celebrations. Again, no one in our entourage was Irish but we sure acted like we were.
2003- Washington DC at our “local” Irish bar, “McFaddens,” for an all-dayer and later, dinner on the waterfront.
2002- By far, the best St. Patty’s to date- DUBLIN, IRELAND!!!! (5 day festival of Guinness, green food, and parades).

Next year? I will be well into my MBA in Spain and surely doing something marvelous. I’ll doubtless look back at today and remember the long-winded plumber and the overweight bitch in dance class. I’ll be glad that I’m there- and not here.

Although, things could be worse.

Happy (belated) St. Patrick’s Day!


Monday, March 17, 2008

British Delicacies

Nostalgia is creeping in as my time in England comes to an end. I’m looking at everyday occurrences in new lights- knowing that this part of my life, yet another unforgettable segment, will soon be over. There are so many minute differences between American culture and English culture that a regular tourist would never be exposed to. Most of all- cuisine.

I’ve always considered cuisine to be one of the most interesting differences to note between cultures. A population is generally tied to their food and in some cases, is defined by it. What do we think when we hear “Italy”? Pasta, of course. France? Cheese and Baguettes. India? Naan and spicy colorful unidentifiables. Australia? Shrimp on the Barbie! America? McDonalds…unfortunately.
England, as I have come to see it, is a fish and chips, meat and potatoes, beer culture. That being said, living with two British men has enlightened me to a status of British culinary expertise. The eating habits of these individuals never cease to amaze me. Almost every day, someone comes up with a new concoction or recipe that causes me to look twice. In fact, I spend a large portion of my meals discussing the merits of two of my favorites: noodle sandwiches and beans on toast.

Pasta sandwiches: eaten on a regular basis around the flat at varying mealtimes. Originally, I thought “chip baps” (fries stuck in between a buttered bun) were bad, until I witnessed the roommate shoving ramen noodles between two pieces of bread and actually enjoying it. After speaking to a few more individuals about this incident, I have been educated about the merits of this apparently normal and accepted practice. Evidently, pasta sandwiches are “lovely” and I should really “crack on and try one sometime.” A carbohydrate sandwich…thanks, but no thanks.

Beans on toast: a great mystery to me and a dietary staple to Brits- at least the Brits that I know. Without fail, once a day, I witness someone eating beans on toast: two pieces of toasted white bread and half a can of baked beans- and if we are being particular here, the beans must generally come from a turquoise Heinz can available in all supermarkets across the U.K.. The entire meal costs far less than a pound and is apparently very filling covering two of the basic food groups- protein and grain. I’ve also seen fancy versions of beans on toast with accompaniments of foods ranging from scrambled eggs to cheese- therefore making beans on toast quite a versatile dish as well. I have indeed sampled this delicacy and although I wasn’t blown away, I didn't gag.

The oddities are endless when it comes to the diets of British citizens. Below is a list of the top ten discoveries I've made. Most I refuse to try but others I have come to love;

1. Yorkshire Pudding: Made from flour, eggs and milk. It’s a batter baked in the oven and usually moistened with gravy. Rarely used as a desert and more frequently eaten as a starter or with meat at a Sunday roast.

2. Toad In The Hole: Similar to Yorkshire Pudding but with sausages (toads) placed in the batter before cooking. One thing I learned the hard way- it is imperative to not open the oven while cooking or the batter will fall and you will end up with dead toads on a board.

3. Fish and Chips: Deep fried fish (usually cod or haddock) in a flour or beer batter with thick-cut French fries drenched in malt vinegar. Fish and Chips are typically bought at a chip shop (or “Chippie”) and either eaten on the premises or taken home. Rarely are Fish and Chips cooked in a residential kitchen.

4. Ploughman’s Lunch: A plate consisting of a piece of cheese (usually a variation of cheddar), a bit of pickled onion, and a chunk of bread, and a bit of lettuce. Ploughman’s sandwiches are also available pre-packaged at all gas stations and food stops around England.

5. Shepherds’ Pie: A thick and buttery pie crust filled with minced lamb and vegetables in gravy topped with mashed potato.

6. Bubble and Squeak: The name is a description of the action and sound made while cooking this meal. The chief ingredients are potato and cabbage, but any other vegetables can be added- usually whatever is left over from yesterday’s dinner. The ingredients are thrown into an incredibly greasy pan and fried together with mashed potatoes until the concoction is completely matted and brown.

7. Bangers and Mash: Mashed potatoes and sausages. Served for breakfast.

8. Black Pudding: This is by far the most disturbing of all the dishes I have encountered. Black pudding is blood pudding. It looks like black sausage and is made from dried pigs blood and fat.

9. Mushy Peas: Literally, mushy peas. Available across England in chip shops and most kebab shops as well. Mushy peas can serve as a side to chips (French fries) or Faggots (meatballs, believe it or not), and have even been known to operate as a base for fried eggs. I have heard whisperings about mushy pea fritters and I'd be more than willing to sample those as well.

10. Of course, last but not least, the illustrious- BEANS ON TOAST!

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Hills

The Malvern Hills, to be exact. This week’s visit to the hypnotist was not only an opportunity to explore hypnotherapy; it was a chance to discover yet another part of England: Worcestershire! (Like the sauce). My only previous encounter with anything to do with Worcestershire was of course, in Bloody Mary mix. Little did I know that it’s an entire picturesque region of England. After yet another long and scenic drive through some of the United Kingdom’s best hills and farmland, Helen and I arrived in Malvern- about an hour from Gloucester. Being a couple of hours early, I had ample amounts of time to walk around and explore the area.

The lush and rolling Malvern Hills rise over Herefordshire and Worcestershire with spectacular views of both. As I walked into town, rain started hammering down so I threw my scarf over my head babushka-style and ducked into a church. Inside, it was dark and damp but exquisite all the same. I took out a book and read under the rich light, tinted by the stained glass windows- until the rain subsided a bit and I could venture further.

The town is out of a storybook. There are no large supermarkets or chain stores, only antiques vendors, modest bookshops, and inviting tea parlors. A few hotels line the streets and I happened upon one, The Priory Inn, which appeared as though it was a Disney inspired Haunted House with sinister vines crawling up all sides of the aged stone. I made my way to The Unicorn, a local pub that has probably served resident patrons for over 100 years. If it weren’t for my later appointment, I probably would have stopped in for a “cheeky pint.” Instead, I continued on my way and found another cathedral: The Great Malvern Priory. The Priory served as a monastery on land belonging to Westminster Abbey from 1075-1540. In 1541, locals actually bought the building to replace their deteriorating parish church. Due to time constraints, I didn’t actually go into the impressive structure but I took a few good photos of the exterior. The remainder of my walk through town, breathless up and down the hilly streets, was calming. A massive rainbow appeared over the hills which left me with an intense desire to either continue walking the trek until I could venture no further or to just simply sit and do something creative.

I later learned that many artists have gained their inspiration from walking through Malvern just the same…which makes sense. In fact, J.R.R. Tolkien often strolled through the hills- as well as my good friend from last weekend, composer Edward Elgar. Evidently, during his final illness, Elgar mentioned to a friend, “If ever after I’m dead you hear someone whistling this tune (the theme of his Cello Concerto) on the Malvern Hills, don’t be alarmed. It’s only me.” I hope I can leave a tribute to someplace as beautiful as Malvern one day. W. H. Auden also taught and wrote poetry for three years in the 1930s in the Malvern Hills.

I certainly could have spent more time wandering around Malvern, possibly a short weekend trip just to get away. But alas, the hypnotist called- and I answered.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

"You're Getting Sleepy..."

Yesterday was my first ever brush with hypnotherapy. For a while now, I’ve considered hypnotism as a possible fix for my undying vegetarian status. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not unhappy being a vegetarian. If I continue to be a non-meat eater for the remainder of my years here on earth, it won’t trouble me too much. Then again, there are a few reasons I wouldn’t mind becoming a non-veg. First, there is always the health aspect of my diet- my proteins are derived mainly from beans and cheese…and there are only so much Taco Bell one can eat. Also, everyone knows about the Omegas. Needless to say, I have no threes or sixes in my diet. Most importantly, being that I'm going on my 24th year of vegetarianism, I’m running out of options. I love to eat and although I’m rather adventurous when it comes to cooking, there is only so much I can do. To put it bluntly- I’m getting bored. I want more…I want more options, more abundances, more variety, more indulgences.

I actually want to eat meat- so when my friend Helen came to me with an opportunity to see a hypnotist, I jumped on board. Helen was getting hypnotized in order to stop smoking cigarettes while under the influence of alcohol. Easy enough. My issue proved to be a bit more complicated; my vegetarianism isn’t really a moral issue or a taste thing- it’s something deeply rooted in me- almost inherent. Nevertheless, we embarked on this psychological adventure together.

Jayne, a licensed hypnotherapist, sat cross-legged on a couch across from me while I situated myself next to a fireplace in an exceptionally comfortable bean bag chair. We began with a brief history of why I’m a vegetarian and a few of the issues surrounding the incident. Jayne decided that the best option for me would be to undergo “regression therapy.” Being a cynic- I was skeptical. Jayne rationalized the process and made it clear that the “farm incident” was not the only damaging experience I underwent at that stage- another trauma was the strain of being misunderstood. When I had made the decision to cut out meat, I was so young that expressing myself was a struggle. As opposed to viewing my aversion to meat as a logical resolution, adults simply wrote me off as an immature child with difficult eating habits. Fundamentally, I felt misread and lonely. Being pushed to eat meat shortly after the incident could have affected me as adversely as the decision itself. Jayne explained that through regression therapy, we would reach the route of the problem and basically reprogram my mind from an early stage. I would then be equipped to accept myself for the decision and to let “young Morgan” know that “it’s OK” to consume animals.

Jayne had me to close my eyes and proceeded to speak to me until I was completely relaxed. At this point, she was able to fully communicate with my subconscious as I was in what can described as a half-conscious state. Jayne asked me to picture a television screen with “little Morgan” at the dinner table on the eve of the original farm visit. (My thoughts: yeah right!) But I went ahead and did what I was told. I walked up to little Morgan as my present self and had a conversation with her. I told her that I love her and no matter what she decides to eat, she will grow up to be an intelligent and healthy woman. I gave her a hug and let her know that I understand her and that she is not alone. I told her that meat is both healthy and tasty. I told her that the animals were killed humanely and that they probably lead nice lives before they were slaughtered.

At the end of my big-Morgan/little-Morgan reunion, I gave little Me one last hug and told her that she is well loved. Writing this now, I’m witnessing the encounter as an outsider would view it and to be honest, it all seems a bit ridiculous. I have to admit though; it was quite an emotional experience. I was brought to tears. Even Helen, seated behind me in the room, was reaching for tissues.

I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to little Morgan. There was so much more I wanted to tell her. I wanted to warn her about things she would experience and I wanted to remind her that like the vegetarianism thing, everything would be OK in the end. Regrettably, my session ended and I had to leave her behind prematurely.

Spending time with little Morgan may not have cured my vegetarianism but what it did do is present to me an entirely new set of issues- a Pandora’s Box of sorts. My desire to remain with little Me brought up a few concerns. For one, I seem to be holding on a bit too tightly to the younger, more innocent version of myself. Maybe I’m not yet at peace with my past and who I was then- as opposed to who I am now. I was unbelievably sad sitting next to little Me- it was actually distressing. I don’t know why, but I didn’t want to leave her. I can’t seem to decipher whether it’s little Morgan I didn’t want to leave or adult Morgan not wanting to be without her. What I do know is that another session with Jayne seems to be in order upon my return to this country in June. In the meantime, let’s see if I can have a few crab cakes with dinner.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Broken Wings

I am completely obsessed with collarbones. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment this fixation began, but I can confidently say that I think about clavicles a great deal more than what’s considered healthy. To me, beauty has become synonymous with collarbones. “You have a beautiful clavicle” is far more complimentary for me to hear than “I love your dress” or “you have great eyes.”

When I am in a clothing store, trying on dresses or tops- I don’t concentrate any longer on how big my boobs look or how small my waist appears. Instead, I check to see if my collarbones look nice. I push my shoulders forward and pull my neck back just to see just how prominent I can make my clavicle. If anyone saw me during this new ritual of mine, they would assume I was doing an impression of an anorexic bird...not so pretty.

I was watching the Oscars the other night and about an hour into them, I realized that I was paying no attention to the winners, the speeches, or even the faces of the abundant celebrities- I WAS COLLARBONE WATCHING! “She has great collarbones...hers aren’t so nice...that dress hides her neckline...she’s too skinny, she needs to put some meat on that clavicle...those diamonds look beautiful above her collarbones...that haircut looks great grazing her décolletage.” It was pathetic. I didn’t notice what I was doing until someone asked me who won best film of the year and I didn’t even know who the nominees were- I still couldn’t tell you, and I watched the show from beginning to end.

This fascination doesn’t stop there- in the gym, I check women out instead of men- I look at their collarbones! I go collarbone hunting in magazines and I no longer care how nice my hair looks in the morning- I think only of those two thin bones connecting my shoulders to my sternum. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do even before I get out of bed, is reach up and run my fingers along my collarbones. On skinny days, they are more prominent. On fat days, my collarbones hide themselves. I really don’t like those days.

I have a few ideas about my clavicle obsession. When my little sister was born, she arrived in the world with a broken collarbone. I was three years old and when I wondered out loud about the cast enveloping half of her tiny body, I was told that she had a “broken wing.” Therefore, I’ve always associated collarbones with wings. This idea was promoted further by a story I heard about my mother in Mexico when she was in her 20’s; Riding on the back of a motorcycle in Acapulco, rounding a bend near Las Brisas in the 1970’s- much to the chagrin of her parents, my mom got into a crash and broke her collarbone. This account, regardless of how many times I have heard it, always reminds me that my mom- the same mom who drove my carpool, attended my parent-teacher meetings, and made me take piano lessons every Tuesday and Thursday night- that mom was too, once a wild child. I love imagining her with her bell-bottomed low-rise jeans hanging over either side of the engine with her long blonde hair blowing in the wind, her beaded bracelets digging into her wrists as her arms were tightly wrapped around some gorgeous Latino. My mom had wings then. She may have ultimately broken her collarbone, but she was free.

So possibly this collarbone “thing” of mine is a little less superficial than I initially suspected. While I still enjoy seeing my bones in the mirror when I wake up on “skinny days,” and I can totally appreciate a gown with a great neckline, I think that for the most part, I associate collar bones with wings- and wings represent freedom- and freedom is one of the most important things in the world. Although I don’t expect my clavicle to suddenly sprout feathers and start flapping, perhaps the definition of these bones act as a reminder of freedom- the freedom to speak and act and love and simply be. Collarbones also remind me of how delicate we are- how easily we can be broken- both physically and in spirit. My mother broke her collarbone being free and my sister’s was broken before she ever even opened her eyes. I may have never broken my collarbone but I know that my freedom has cost me- because that too, is delicate...and if not handled with extreme care, it can be snapped in half just as quickly as it takes to snap a petite bone like a collarbone.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Green Recipes

Getting my boyfriend to eat green things has become one of my recent top priorities. Not particularly for his health, but because the more green things he eats, the less pizza he will consume, and that means less cheesy aromatic yummy goodness will be waved around in front of my face as I try to get all my vitamins in under 2000 calories. This is a daily struggle- And for the same reason, I made him give up chocolate for Lent.

Being an athlete, my boyfriend has the freedom to eat pretty much whatever he wants. He works out, on average, five hours a day- so an extra slice at the Pizza Hut All-You-Can-Eat Buffet (a favorite post-match day haunt here in Gloucestershire) won’t really make too much of a difference. For me however, an extra piece of pizza means a day of remorse and one less scoop of ice cream after dinner. There is a bigger problem that looms though; for me, there never is just “one” extra slice- more like four extra slices AFTER the six original slices…and I don’t even bother counting the breadsticks.

I am incapable of maintaning any form of self control when it comes to food, so my tactics of late have been to keep only healthy food around me- and this means that the individuals lucky enough to live and dine with me are limited as well. I can’t say that we have indulged in the most decadent of feasts lately, but I have been rather innovative when it comes to cooking and I now boast a decent sized menu of tasty green things.

Below are a few of the recent recipes that have been met with acceptance and maybe even an occasional “wow babe, this is actually kind of good.”
Or, on the other hand, as Michael said about the soup; “this is quite an efficient way to eat broccoli!”
I do what I can.

Broccoli Soup;


1 tbsp olive oil
1 whole garlic clove, chopped or mashed
250-350ml vegetable stock
300-400g broccoli florets (doesn’t have to be exact- I normally use about three big heads)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Crème fresh or milk (depending on the richness you desire)

Heat olive oil in a saucepan and sauté the garlic for 1-2 minutes. Pour the chicken or vegetable stock into the pan and add the broccoli florets. Bring to the boil and reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the broccoli is tender. Season with tons of pepper and a bit of salt to taste, then transfer to a liquidizer/blender. Blend until smooth adding milk, cream or water if needed. Ladle the soup into serving bowls and drizzle with cream. I also generally grill a bit of granary bread sprinkled with olive oil to serve on the side.

Baked Creamed Spinach;

2/3 lbs fresh spinach
I clove of garlic- chopped
1.5 cups warm milk
1 cup grated cheddar or gruyere cheese (or a mixture of the two)
Tbsp of olive oil
2 tbsp butter (I substituted ½ of this with olive oil and it was just as good)
2 tbsp flour
Pinch of salt and ground pepper
Pinch of nutmeg (I’ve also substituted different spices, depending on the flavour you are going for)

Trim and wash the spinach. Saute the garlic in olive oil. Gradually throw in the spinach until it all fits, sauté until wilted. Drain the excess water from the spinach. In another pot, melt the butter (with the olive oil) and add the flour. Whisk and cook for about 3 minutes. Add the milk and bring to a boil. Mix in salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Cook for about 5 minutes and then combine the sauce with the spinach and ½ cup of cheese. Spoon into a baking dish and top with the rest of the cheese. Bake at about 375C until the top is browned and crusty.

Asparagus Risotto;

2-3 lbs of asparagus
1 finely chopped shallot
3.5 oz of rice (either Arborio, Vialone or Carnaroli... oh, the things one learns living in Italy...)
2 oz butter
1-1.5 cups dry white wine
Freshly grated parmesan (I use about a cup but I think 4 tbsp is normal)

Chop and throw away the ends of the asparagus while chopping the rest putting the tips to the side. Blanch the asparagus tips in boiling water and set aside. Cook the stalks in the same water until they are soft and then puree both the stalks and the cooking water in a blender. At this point, you should have a thick stock and it should be transferred back to the pot. Add the wine- slowly simmer over low heat. In another pan, melt the butter and sauté the shallot until soft. Add the rice to the pan and once it has absorbed the butter, slowly add a ladle of the asparagus/wine stock. Stir until the stock is absorbed then add the asparagus tips and another ladle of stock. Slowly ladle in the rest of the stock (DO NOT DROWN THE RICE!) until the rice is al dente. Mix in most of the parmesan. Serve onto plates, sprinkle the rest of the parm and enjoy!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Friday Interruption

After spending a good amount of time in the Hereford Cathedral last weekend, I thought to take a little stroll into town and explore the interior of the Gloucester Cathedral today. I assumed I would enjoy a nice and quiet afternoon- a leisurely meander, relaxed coffee break, and a bit of a history lesson.
Instead, these guys showed up; Needless to say, I never made it to the cathedral.
Never a dull moment!!(There were about three more of these things but my camera ran out of battery...)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

A Novel Affair

Ever since I can remember, I have had an affinity for books- perusing them, buying them, owning, reading, admiring, sharing, saving, cherishing them, and hopefully one day- writing them. I have always read books- I have my mom to thank for that. She set rules when I was young, regulating almost every hour of every day… The only things she didn’t limit were books- I could own as many books as I liked and read until the wee hours of the morning. My mom tells me that as a little girl, she used to find me in my room, far past my bedtime, fast asleep with my glasses slipping down my nose and a book resting open on my chest. Twenty years later, I still do the same thing- sans the glasses. (Thank you Lasik!).

My mother not only encouraged me to read as a child and teenager, she has continued to do so throughout my life. She furnished me with a “book scholarship” early on and basically said that regardless of how old I get or where I am in the world, she will always pay for my books. This “scholarship” comes in handy when I am strapped for cash and the innate female necessity to shop kicks in. A day in the bookstore, resulting in the purchase of one or two new novels, always holds me over until the next paycheck.

I love bookstores and their multi-colored brimming tables and never-ending shelves of new titles. I love the feeling of being overwhelmed with possibility: which story will I discover next? Which narrative will become my subsequent journey? I love new books- the smell and feel of them. I even love peeling off the bookstore pricing stickers to reveal what the book SHOULD have cost me. I love the first page of a book- reading it is like leaving the runway for takeoff- the beginning of a new adventure. For me, this adventure is pretty much a mystery- I have a policy of never ever reading the backs of books. I don’t read reviews either. I choose books based on recommendations and authors and even once in a rare while, a cover! Books, like life, should not have previews. I know I wouldn’t have appreciated it too much if a “critic” said to me before I grew up: “Your life is a thoroughly provocative and entertaining tale. From the Latin-infused streets of Miami to the bright lights of NY City, and later the adventures as you traverse the globe- your life will be a thing of beauty. Between excitement and hardships, true strength of character as well as weaknesses are revealed. A tremendously interesting ride with peaks and dips for you to look forward to…” Come on people! Let me explore and discover without a guide! I don’t think it’s too much to ask for.

I will always choose literature over cinema. Don’t get me wrong, I like movies. Films are my acquaintances whereas books are my friends, lovers and companions. Unlike movies, books allow us the freedom to employ imagination. They give us an outline of what we should envisage- maybe the color of a shirt or the curve of a face but voices, expressions, settings, and the like are for us to imagine- they are personal. I love knowing that 100 people could read the same book at the very same time and not one of those readers will have had the same experience reading it. Books can be cherished whereas movies dictate the speed at which the stories ebb and flow. Books will never be obsolete- VHS already is and the DVD will be extinct within the next 10 years as well. Lastly, books can accompany us anywhere- on a plane, train, a deserted island. And no, a portable DVD player isn’t on a par- batteries all run out eventually.
Books never malfunction.

I love my books. They are the relics of my own history- I can look at a novel, pull it out of a suitcase and I can picture where I was when I first read it. I can see it sitting in the IKEA bookshelves of my Freshman dorm room or glimpse the top half of it sticking out of the seat cushion of the chair in front of me on a flight to Kuala Lumpur. I take my books with me. I keep them. No matter where I am going; I pack them up and drag them along.
As much as I cherish my books, I deface them. I write in the margins. If something I read provokes a sentiment- I write it down. I underline sentences- full paragraphs. I underline to remember them. I fold the corners of the pages over instead of using bookmarks- my boyfriend cringes at this- I tell him it adds character to these books- it makes them mine. He asks, “whose else would they be?” I write notes on the back pages of books. If you look, you will notice that there are always two or three full blank pages located at the back of the book. Why not make use of them? I read my books in the bath, occasionally getting them wet with a resulting appearance of shrunken and lopsided edges. There is no doubt about it, you can tell once I’ve read a book.

I go through books rather quickly because I have no patience. I must always find out what happens next. The characters, even the antagonists, become my companions- and putting a book down means putting their lives on hold. I can’t do that. I’m always sad when I reach the last page of a book; another ending to another phase- or story. I’ve never been good at goodbyes. On the contrary, it’s rare for me to REALLY love the ending of a book. I know some authors attempt to be poetic and I can appreciate that, but I like to feel like the adventure is all wrapped up by the last page- the suitcases unpacked and photos developed. I have my own adventures to live- I don’t need to wonder what happened to the characters.
Yet in the end, although finishing a novel saddens me- it ultimately means that the time has come to begin a new story- and the possibilities are endless.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A Weekend in "The Ford"

This past weekend, in continuation of my exploration of England, I made my way to Hereford. Hereford is located in the west midlands and is separated in two by the river Wye. There are no expressways leading to Hereford- In order to arrive, one must drive through windy country roads lined with farmlands, fields teeming with animals, and quaint cottages. The city itself is delightful- a typical English town with cobblestone alleyways and lush courtyards. Everywhere we walked, there were spires poking up through the clouded English sky.

Of course, before my Sunday history lesson and walk, I experienced the requisite night out on the town.
My Saturday evening commenced in a top floor stylish bar with 360 degree views of the city. If it weren’t for the English accents and view of an early 11th century cathedral, the bar could have been situated in any major American or European city. After a few overpriced drinks, we embarked on a proper pub crawl. Our next destinations consisted of bars and pubs filled with random party-goers and friends of friends of friends. Hereford is a small (50,000 pop) city and I quickly found that everyone knows everyone else. After a number of drinks, I lost track of the who’s who’s and fell into my normal “yes, this is an American accent and yes, I am really enjoying England, thank you very much” routine. A typical Saturday night out in Hereford does not differ much from the characteristic American experience- gossip, banter, jokes, vodka, Irish car bombs, bathroom trips with the girls, cab rides, losing friends amidst the crowds, meeting up with them again on the street, making friends, and ultimately, in the VIP section of the “hot” club dancing on roped off tables stacked with champagne. It was fun. My night ended at about 5:30 a.m. in my friend’s kitchen gnawing on cheese and bacon flavored (suitable for vegetarians???) chips while inspecting the multiple wrist bands and stamps extending up my left arm. It was a good night- I would do it again.

Sunday morning was painful but after two Paracetamol (British Advil) and a massive glass of water, I got my bearings. Once I made my way out of bed and into the shower, a day ensued that I can only describe as “SOOO ENGLISH.” Meaning- nothing I experienced would have ever happened in America but it was pretty much a standard Sunday in any English town with any English family (in this case, Welsh family- but that’s beside the point).

Our first stop was to meet friends “down the pub” for “Sunday roast.” Anyone who has been to Britain knows that Sunday roast is typical Sunday dinner, eaten midday, consisting of roast meat, potatoes, an abundance of vegetables, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. Here is the Wikipedia link- my description didn’t do Sunday Roast justice;

The Volunteer pub, dubbed “They Volly” by locals is charmingly rustic. Bob Dylan was playing for the enjoyment of resident diners and early afternoon pint drinkers. Surprisingly, there were ample vegetarian options- I went for the closest thing I could get to a typical roast, opting for a “nut roast,” new potatoes, and veggie gravy all dumped into an enormous Yorkshire pudding. It was fabulous- and enough to feed a family of four. See photo. Yum.

Once I shoveled in as much food as I could (and considered taking the rest home due to guilt), our party left and began a long “historic” walk through town. Hereford can be traced back to the 7th century A.D. so clearly, there was plenty of history to be seen.
I’ll record the highlights; There are a few notable characters that called Hereford home at one point or another in the past. They range from Alfred Walkins (photographer, inventor and businessman) to David Garrick and Sarah Siddons (famous thespians) to Edward Elgar (composer). A statue of Eddie and I got a bit friendly at one point during the afternoon (see photo). There was a war memorial, as my friend pointed out, “that would be our war memorial.” Which war? I’m not exactly sure- but the memorial itself was quite pretty. We eventually made it to the climax of our tour- the Cathedral. Much like the imposing Gothic cathedral here in Gloucester, Hereford’s Cathedral is not only substantial in size but substantial in historic connotation. The construction dates back to 1079 and contains the world famous Mappa Mundi, a medieval map of the world from the 1200’s. The building also contains the Chained Library and all the vital house-of-warship adornments; ornate stained glass windows depicting bible stories, marble sculptures of the deceased lying perpetually atop the tombs, a colossal organ and dizzyingly high rows of ceiling beams. The culmination of our walk was through the paved streets lined with quaint shops, pubs (one named “The Spread Eagle”!) and more pubs.
The previous nights’ antics and brisk late-winter walk left us weary and ready for a good two hour nap on the downstairs couches before our evening activity- The Illustrious Pub Quiz! This was, by far, my favorite part of the weekend.

Pub quizzes, a popular Sunday evening pastime in many of England’s liquor licensed establishments, are a fantastic way to wind down a weekend and get the brain going again for a grueling work week ahead. Therefore, we went with my friend’s mother and her “pub quiz” group of six down to “The Rose and Crown” for a dinner of fried things and a quiz challenge. I would say there were about 10 teams, ranging from two people to 10. It costs £1 to play and the first place winners receive £20. Questions range from current events, celebrity trivia, sports, history, and more. It was fantastic. The bartender/server is also the quizmaster. Once the overweight drunk woman yelling out the answers at a table in the back was forced to get into a taxi and leave, we could actually hear the questions being asked and put our minds together. I must acknowledge that I wasn’t the most useful participant, but at least I got a Reagan and a John McCain question right. Maybe having an American in the mix was useful… However, I had no idea when the Hoover Dam was built or the capital of N. Carolina. Shame.
In the end, our team won the entire quiz AND got the Hoover Dam question right! (1935).

All in all, the fusion of the history of a 7th century Saxon settled town, together with bar crawls, Sunday roasts, getting my stilettos stuck in cobbled streets, and pub quizzes, I would say that my time in Hereford was well spent. Hopefully I’ll be able to reciprocate this summer and bring my "Herefordian" mates to New York. One thing I can tell them is we will definitely not be doing any calm evening pub quizzes!
They have NO idea what they are in for…