Roman Wisdom

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I’m reading this brick of a book called “Rome” by Robert Hughes in preparation for my travels to Rome, Italy(!). It’s an amazing and in-depth book about the history of this magical city.  I thought it would be nice to share here a quote by Leon Battista Alberti:

“Some admire a woman for being extremely slender and fine shaped; the young gentleman in Terence preferred a girl that was plump and fleshy; you perhaps are for a medium between these two extremes, and would neither have her so thin as to seem wasted with sickness, nor so strong and robust as it she were a Ploughman in disguise, and were fit for boxing: in short, you would like her such a beauty as might be formed by taking first what the second might spare. But then, because one pleases you more than the other, would you therefore affirm the other to be not at all handsome or graceful? By no means…”

You sir, Mr. Alberti, are awesome. I love that this ancient Roman is talking about how women come in different shapes and sizes and must be loved as they are and just because she doesn’t please the eye of one person it does not mean that she is not beautiful. Now, of course, we know that looks are not as important as a person personality and inner beauty, but in today’s society so much importance is placed on the exterior of a person. What would the economy of today be without all those products that are meant to make us look like a better version of ourselves? Women didn’t have as prominent place (or voice) in ancient societies as we do now, and that’s not the point of this post, we know we don’t need to please anyone but ourselves. But I think that we should remember that regardless of what kind of body you were born with, you are beautiful!

Ruby Sparks

Ruby Sparks (2012) Poster

“Any writer can attest: in the luckiest, happiest state, the words are not coming from you, but through you.”

This past weekend I saw the movie Ruby Sparks directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, starring Paul Dano and Zoe Karan (who also wrote this movie). It had languished unwatched on my DVR for weeks; this viewing was long overdue. A super quick synopsis: main character Calvin is a writer struggling to write new material when…bam! He starts writing about fictional character Ruby and she magically comes to life. I enjoyed this movie very much because I could relate to Calvin. There is a scene where Calvin sits down in front of his typewriter, determined to whip out some pages, and all he does is stare at the pristine sheet of white paper. I’ve been there (several times) and it’s terrifying. What if you don’t come up with any good ideas? As soon as you think of something the nasty self-editor in you shoots it down. You’ve got nothing. Luckily, there are many different ways to get around this and get the creative juices flowing again (go for a walk, people watch, eavesdrop… er, I was just kidding about the last one!). The key is not to give up or beat yourself up too much over your writing, or lack thereof.

The concept of the movie is very intriguing as well. Calvin’s character comes to life! It’s like “what the heck?” And he’s basically in control of her existence because whatever he writes about her becomes reality. Although none of the characters I’ve written have come to life, when I’m writing a story the characters in it live with me and follow me around all day. They are with me as I eat, shower, sleep, and read… you get the picture.

One of the reasons the relationship between Calvin and Ruby doesn’t work is because as soon as Ruby starts to do as she wants and explores her desire and interest, Calvin writes a change in her, manipulating her to remain attached to him. This is a no-no in real life (no manipulating, people) and in writing. As the writer, your role is to give your characters a voice, paint a picture of their world with your words and allow them to live and grow organically. You’d be surprised but characters really do have a life of their own. If you try too hard to manipulate them to do exactly what you want regardless of what the character wants, the writing becomes stressed and can seem forced.

At the end of the movie, Calvin finally comes to realize he needs to give Ruby her freedom. And he does. At a reading for his newest novel, he says the quote at the beginning of this post. When I heard him say this I (internally) yelled “Yes! Exactly!” Sometimes it seems like an idea rocket just explodes on your head and you’ve got this story and you need to write it down right now… “the words are not coming from you but through you”. This is why you should have a writing utensil and paper or if you are all techie, an electronic device, to jot down those completely unexpected ideas. You never know if you’ve hit a gold mine and your own Ruby Sparks comes to life…

I hope I haven’t ruined the movie for those of you that haven’t seen it yet. Watch it, think about it, and maybe share what you thought about it here!

Story of my life

The back of my legs stuck to the cracked, red leather seat of the barstool, the smell of breakfast in the air. The sound of the bells chiming as you pushed open the diner door reached me before you did. A black coffee and a plate of hash browns, that’s what you ordered. Hello, you said as I took a sip of my strawberry milkshake. I turned my head to the right to take you in for the first time and I saw it, our future together. We went to movies and dinners and I moved in with you. Dad asked if you were serious and willing to take good care of me when you asked for my hand in marriage. Yes, you said and I squeezed your fingers. Mom smiled quietly in the corner. It was a beautiful day and I felt like a princess in my white wedding gown. You were ready long before I was for children and when the day came that I found out I was expecting I stopped sleeping. When I gave birth you and I cried but for different reasons. She became the center of your world and I drifted away until I was too lost to find my way back.

Blink.

How are you? You asked as the waitress served you coffee, the steam rising lazily. I didn’t answer, just smiled a closed mouth smile and nodded in your direction once as I stood and walked away. I never saw you again.

Hollow

The colorful images from the old box TV reflected light off our faces as my heart silently froze. You both laughed. I knew it from the moment I walked in. The way your bodies moved, close enough to touch yet not. I sunk into the too soft couch which I shared with a stranger, while you two sat together. Oblivious to my stare, the tension of your hands moving together maddening, a marriage of your fingers and hers, I clenched my teeth. Laughter at the TV. It made no sense to me; none of the happy images of that fantasy life were attainable for me. The heat of the alcohol in my drink burnt my insides as it blazed down my throat. My hands remained cold. Distant like a lonely planet on the edge of the universe, I floated away, the sun no longer the center of my world. Lost, I turned inwards for solitude and comfort and I found, with no surprise, that I had become hollow.

Southwestern Veggie Fritatta

Veggie Fritatta

Southwestern Veggie Fritatta

I’m not so sure what qualifies this fritatta as “Soutwestern” necessarily, except that it’s darn great and tasty as I’m sure many southwestern meals are. Whip this up real quick-like when you want a healthy and delicious breakfast to start the day.

Ingredients:

4 eggs

1 small onion, chopped

1 small green bell pepper, chopped

2 tomatoes, diced

1 tsp butter

1/2 tsp garlic powder (note: not garlic salt)

1/2 tsp dried parsley

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350. Melt the butter in a non-stick skillet, add the chopped onion and the bell pepper. Cook until the onion are translucent, about 5 minutes over medium-high heat. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, adding in garlic powder, parsley, salt and pepper and any other spices you’d like. Add the egg mixture to the skillet and stir gently, mixing all the ingredients well. Allow the eggs to set a little bit and lift the edges when they are slightly cooked to let some of the runny egg to go underneath the cooked layer. Put the skillet in the preheated oven and cook for 20 minutes, or until set. Remove from the oven and cut into wedges.

This recipe would be a perfect opportunity to be creative and own it, make this fritatta your own. Add this, add that, take out some of the ingredients I have, put some meat into this if you’d like. Have fun!

Sunday Brunch Day

I love Disney movies, it’s true. I grew up with Disney movies and they formed the earliest sparks of my imagination as I placed myself in the shoes of Belle from Beauty and the Beast or Meg from Hercules. They inspired in me dreams of one day meeting my own prince charming. It’s always so fun to geek out with friends that are as equally in love with Disney as I.

It was really nice today to get to have brunch with two good friends and talk and eat and watch some Disney movies. I made a nice fritatta, Sarah made amazing cake pops and Hayley made wonderful monkey bread.

Spending time with friends is a nice way to get outside of the everyday, work and school and allows me to reconnect with people that make me happy. Too many times we think “oh, I’ll call that person later” or “I’ll text them later to hang out” and it never happens. Soon, it’s months later and you realize “Man! I really miss that person”. Now with the advent of social media, we get contented with virtual friends and don’t even make an effort to have face to face interaction. Make an effort to keep in touch with those you care about. It makes life better!

Here are some pictures of the day!

Recipe for the frittata will be up tomorrow.

Our movie selection!

Our movie selection!

Monkey bread

Monkey bread

Cake pops

Cake pops

Veggie Fritatta

Veggie Fritatta

Our food spread!

Our food spread!

 

 

 

 

Gianduja

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When life gives you hazelnuts, what do you do? Make gianduja, of course! What is gianduja you ask? Ok students, this might be the best history lesson you’ve ever had.

Gianduja is a sweet hazelnut paste invented in Italy way back when Napoleon was still hanging around. This paste takes its name from a marionette character who represents a native northern Italian, the region where this paste was invented.

In Italy, as far as I’ve read, gianduja is extremely popular as a spread on toast. The most popular brand is Nutella.

I was extremely happy to get hazelnuts in order to try this recipe and I also see this as a training for all the possible gianduja tastings that I’ll be doing in Rome with my friends when I go later this summer.

This recipe is super easy, except all the cracking open of the nuts does hurt the fingers of the nutcracker (thanks, Mami for all your hard work!). Try it and you’ll fall in love and feel good about making something with less preservatives and additives than the stuff you can buy at the store.

As the Italians say… “buon appetito!”

Ingredients:

2 cups raw hazelnuts

1 1/2 tbsp pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup milk

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400. Roast the hazelnuts for about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool for a few minutes. Rub them together in a paper towel to rub the skins off. In a food processor, blend the nuts until they are creamy. Add the other ingredients and blend until it’s smooth.

Now you can use it to smear on toast, as a dip for strawberries or simply lick it off the spoon 😀

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Creamed hazelnuts

gianduja

Gianduja… we’ll see how long it lasts!

I wasn't kidding about eating it by the spoon!

I wasn’t kidding about eating it by the spoon!

Stumbling

 

In the glow of the TV, nearing midnight on a Saturday like any other, phone in hand, fingers ready to dial the 800 number to order a boyfriend pillow, Jayne decided that enough was enough. She wasn’t going to spend anymore nights alone. For too long she’d stubbornly held onto the idea that she would stumble upon the love of her life, metaphorically or literally speaking, whichever actually became true. Her sister had gotten married young, her friends had all meet significant others, even her grandmother had met a nice old guy recently. Each day that passed felt like she was getting past the “cute, single girl stage” into “spinster” stage.

Jayne turned off the TV and went straight to her workshop out back and went to work. For three days she lived off Rockstar Energy drinks, black coffee, bananas and Pop Rocks candy.  She did not shower. When she felt satisfied with her work, she pushed the power button, hidden behind his ear. The robot opened its eyes and sat up. It looked around. It looked at Jayne.

“Hello,” it said.

Pleasured with her work, Jayne began to giggle uncontrollably. “H-hi. Hi… Colton. Yes, your name is Colton.” She helped him off the wooden table he was on and led him inside the house. Colton was polite, held the door for her, served her coffee and even massaged her feet. For a while, she was content and felt that this was as good as it was going to get.

Every day, Jayne would leave her house for work. Colton would stay sitting on the couch and he would have dinner on the table when she got home. After a particularly terribly stressful day at work she walked through the front door, dropped all her stuff on the floor and threw herself on the couch, burying her face in a pillow and started bawling.

Colton was in the middle of serving her Coq Au Vin, which he learned to do after watching a Julia Child video once.

“What’s wrong?” he asked and sat by her.

“A patient of mine… she was so young.” Jayne sat up and looked at him. “She died.” She wiped some snot off her nose.

Silence.

“I guess you wouldn’t understand.”

“I understand that all beings must die.”

“What?” She stood up and stared at him. “How can you say that?” He stared straight ahead, into the distance. She began pacing in front of the couch. “You know what, I’m so stupid. Of course you wouldn’t understand. You can’t feel!” Jayne whirled to face Colton and slapped him across the face. His face only slightly budged and her hand was red and in pain. “I hate you! I hate you!” She lunged at him and beat his chest until her fists were numb. Next thing she knew she was kissing him while he sat unresponsive and unblinking. She pulled away from him and looked into his eyes, her vision blurred by her angry tears. She pushed the little hidden button behind his ear that had animated him and felt the whirring of his body beneath her stop. His eyes remained the same, expressionless.

A week. Two weeks. A month passed and she went through the motions of life without thought: sleep, eat junk food, work, and watch TV. Repeat. Who cared if she didn’t shower or shave her legs? Even her coffee maker gave up on her and died. Jayne picked up the machine, went out her backdoor and dumped it in the garbage bin. The sky was gray and rain had begun to fall. Her breath materialized in front of her. The chill made her fingertips hurt and burn. She walked to the café three blocks from her house and walked to the counter to order. Her thin black shirt was soaked and stuck to her skin.

“Coffee. Black.”

“What size?” asked the man behind the counter.

“The largest you’ve got. To go.”

“Dollar eighty-nine, please” he said. Jayne reached into her pocket and took out a dime.

“I don’t have my wallet. Forget it,” she said and turned to go.

“Hey, wait! How ‘bout you pay me next time?” He turned and poured the coffee and slid it across the counter toward Jayne. She looked up at him. His green eyes were magnified behind his thick glasses. He had a mustache and a gap between his two front teeth, but she liked that about him. She felt frumpy suddenly and wanted to disappear.

“Thanks.”

She went back the following morning, freshly showered and dressed, with her wallet this time. She figured she’d do this every day until she got around to buying a new coffee maker. After several weeks, she bought enough cups of coffee to have paid for a nice coffee maker and a few pounds of coffee but she enjoyed watching Nico, the barista at work. She enjoyed his company and that he listened to her.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Nico,” Jayne said one Sunday morning after she’d finished slowly sipping her coffee.

“Wait.”

Nico came around the counter and asked Jayne quietly if she’d like to watch a movie and go to his house for dinner afterwards. Jayne said yes.

They went to see an action movie the following Saturday afternoon. It wasn’t a very good movie mostly special effects and lame dialogue but Nico let Jayne have the armrest, he whispered funny commentary in her ear and they would look at each other out of the corners of their eyes and try stifling their laughter. It was still light out when they left the theater.

“My house is just a block from here, would you like to walk?” Nico asked.

“Sure,” Jayne replied. Halfway between the theater and Nico’s house, he shyly grabbed her hand in his and she smiled. His hand warmed hers.

His house seemed big for just one person; it was a three bedroom two story house with a cellar.

“I inherited it from my grandparents. I’m an only child and was their only grandchild, so… no contest.”

“I always wanted to be an only child and be spoiled. I’m the oldest of four. All sisters,” Jayne said.

“Well, I don’t know that I was ever spoiled” he chuckled. “Please make yourself comfortable,” he gestured towards the red faux suede couch in the living room, “I’m going to start on dinner.”

“I’d rather help you, really.”

“Ok, sure. Let’s get started,” he clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “I don’t know about you but I’m really hungry, must have been all that blowing stuff up in the movie. Worked up an appetite.” They laughed and he put an apron on. “Let’s put on some music.” He turned on his radio and put on a 70s music station. “Hope this is ok?”

“Yeah, that’s great.” She stood by the kitchen island, hands behind her back, not sure what to do.

“Would you like to sip on some wine while we work?”

“I think that’s a good idea.”

Nico opened a door for the pantry. “Oh, man. I’ll have to go down to the cellar and get a bottle.”

“I can do that,” Jayne said.

“Ok.” He led her to the cellar door and told her the bottles were against the wall. “I’ll get started cooking.”

She walked down the creaking wooden stairs. It was much cooler down there then up stairs and goose bumps rose on her arms. Finding the wine was easy, Nico had several bottles and she picked the one with the prettiest label.

Jayne turned to go back up with Nico but something behind the staircase caught her eye. She put down the bottle on the first step and went to look. It was the pale shape that poked out beneath the floral sheets edge that drew her in. It was too dim to tell what it was until she has right up to it. She put her hand up to her mouth. It was a pale, stiff hand. She stood there, frozen. A few moments passed and she found herself reaching for the edge of the sheet, pulling it away from the hand in order to see exactly what was underneath.

The figure lay on a bed made of plywood on wooden crates. It was dressed in a simple blue dress. Its eyes were open. It was Colton. Or at least a female version of him, as she could tell by the long black hair and perky breasts. Jayne swallowed. Slowly, she reached towards the face and her fingers touched the cold, plastic feel of fake skin. She reached behind the ear and felt the discreet button to turn it on. With a swift movement, Jayne backed away and threw the cover over the figure.

Nico was by the stove, sautéing onions when she walked in. She held the bottle in her hand. He didn’t notice that she’d walked in. She walked up behind him and hugged him. Felt the warmth of his body radiating from him. His scent: a mixture of coffee, mint and faintly of pine. She felt his inhale of surprise and his exhale as he laughed softly.

“You scared me!” He turned around to face her and she looked up at him. His green eyes looking into hers and she knew. She had stumbled the one she’d been looking for. He smiled and kissed her fully on the lips. When he pulled back he tucked a few strands of her hair behind her ear.

“Did you find wine?”

“Yes.”

He served them both a glass and continued working, Jayne mostly sat and watched and talked. They both had a nice time that day and they saw each other outside of the café several days a week. Then after a while they saw each other every day and she moved in. Jayne never asked about the figure beneath the staircase in the cellar. One day she noticed that it was no longer there. And she was happy. And that was all that mattered.

 

Photo courtesy : ace-bgi.deviantart.com

Metamorphosis

White and perfect, at first I didn’t understand. A pearl earring on his earlobe, this man who wears  tan slacks and a brown plaid blazer and sensible brown shoes. I tugged on my un-pierced earlobe, hidden behind my thick hair. I didn’t see the man for a few weeks. When I did see him next the earring was still there and now he wore a pink cable knit sweater. The blush on his cheeks was a stark contrast to the black stubble of his facial hair. Days later, there he was in the lunch room, wearing a stylish blond wig. The long hair was tucked behind his left ear, the pearl earring pure and beautiful. His floral skirt touched the ground as he walked, the tips of his brown shoes sticking out from underneath.  I did not see him again. I wonder at times what became of him. If that single pearl earring still graces his rather large earlobe. Lovely and alone.