Meaty Matters

Surf and Turf?

First, thanks you guys so much for all of your love and support regarding my last post. USC peeps, I fortell a Yogurtland meetup, what say you?

I’m really loving the Crossfit! I haven’t been so inspired to work out since last summer. Those promo videos with someone sprawled out on the floor and wheezing? Totally true. But what I love about this gym is that you are always encouraged, not drill sergeanted at.

Ok, onto the meaty matters of this post. This isn’t a pun.  When I look at food blogs I see plenty of recipes for vegan fare, a decent amount of great chicken recipes, and a smattering of good seafood. Oh, and bacon sneaks in when somoene’s feeling frisky. What I rarely see is my favorite meat of all: beef. Ok, maybe my real fav is duck, camel, or venison, but I’m sticking to something that’s easily buyable. Why? Because once I’m done with this post, hopefully some of you will be racing out to grab the closest sirloin.

Looks like Texas. Coincidence? I think not.

For those of you abstain from beef for ethical reasons, I won’t argue. I find factory farms disgusting and try my hardest to buy grass-fed. But those who abstain for health might want to look a little deeper than the vegan website that claims meat rots in your guts. Cuz no, it doesn’t. Red meat is a highly nutritious food that contains iron, zinc, phosphorous, B vitamins, protein, and if the source is grass-fed, some CLAs and Omega 3s. Fattier cuts like roast are not bad for you either as long as you remember fattier = more caloric.

No one said getting dinner was easy

The one caveat against health I have is corn-fed beef. Corn-fed cattle are pumped up with hormones to grow faster and antibiotics to keep them alive until slaughter, since corn slowly kills them. I don’t see hormones as a problem, as they don’t pass the blood-brain barrier. Antibiotics are another matter. The overuse of antibiotics in America have and are leading to resistant strains of bacteria. We don’t need to be helping out future plagues.  Or winding up with antibiotic-resistant salmonella because some dumbass at the meat packing plant let some bad pork get by. That said, if you are eating a variety of animals, the exposure should be minimal. If you’re eating grass-fed, antibiotic-free beef you’re in the clear.

Another argument against beef is the cost. I’m not rolling in filet mignon all day. I almost always go for cheaper cuts of beef and keep an eye open for sales. Stew meat tastes amazing if you put it in a slow cooker with tomatoes, peas, and Guinness.  Tough fillets can be softened with an acidic marinade and cut thin for fajitas. And, ultimately, I put a lot of stock in the phrase “Pay the farmer or pay the doctor.”

But I want to talk about one of my favorite incarnations of beef — steak. I don’t usually buy sexy New York strips or manly ribeyes. I tend to go for sirloin and other more economical cuts. Thing is, sirloin can be tough if prepared improperly. When I want a steak dinner, here’s what I do:

Stuff of the Gods. More specifically, Yahweh.

Salt the beef. To make tough, cheap meet nice and juicy, coat it in kosher salt (or any other flaky, chunkier salt — NOT table salt). A better explanation of this is found here. I’ve used this trick since I was old enough to use cast iron. Coat the steak in 1/2 – 1 tsp of salt per side and let it hang out for awhile. A 1-inch steak can sit for an hour. Up the time for thicker steak. Basically, the salt draws out excess moisture and breaks down the proteins. After the steak has rested for the allotted time, rinse well and pat dry. Get that thing DRY. The rest time also allows the steak to get to room temperature so it cooks more evenly.

Your grandma's version of a non-stick pan.

– Sear. You know how restaurant steaks have that crunchy seal on them? It’s because they have been seared. First get a pan on the stove and get the heat up high. Cast iron is the best for this — if you have a non-stick pan, please make sure it’s built to withstand heat. Also, crack open a window and turn on the fan in case it gets smoky.  Get some high-heat cooking fat like coconut oil or tallow and rub a bit into each side of a steak. Once the pan is hot, drop those steaks in. You will know it’s hot enough when the steaks sound like they are being cooked in the fires of hell. Sear for about one minute on each side. This also burns off all the outer bacteria so you can cook your steak rare and not be concerned with contamination. You can skip this step and still have a nice steak, but I like the crust.

That's the look you want

– Oven Prep. There is a great debate about broiling verses baking. I prefer to broil because it’s closer to grilling (the real man’s way to cook beef). But before you stick your meat under a broiler, disable your fire alarm…oooh wait, you might not know how or you might be worried about filling your apartment with smoke. Here’s how to prevent that!

Take a broiling pan (the pan that has a slitted covering), line with foil, and pour salt in the bottom. It doesn’t need a ton, just enough to evenly cover the bottom. If you don’t have a broiling pan, you can use a muffin pan. I’m not joking. Fill the cups with salt and be careful not to let the steak fall in. The salt catches the drippings and doesn’t let them burn. Granted, you won’t be able to make a gravy, but you save yourself smoke or explaining to a landlord why the fire alarm looks abused.

Not a bit of smoke to be seen!

– Broil. Get that broiler on high and move the rack six inches from the top. Take the chance now to season your steaks as you wish. Go easy on the salt since a little bit now lives in the meat. Once the oven’s raring to go, slide in your steaks, but leave the door ajar. Broil times do vary based on thickness, cut, and if it’s grass-fed or corn-feed. Corn-fed beef takes longer because it’s fattier. Here is a timetable guide (this is for corn-fed, to take a minute or so off for grass-fed).

– Rest. Do NOT dive into these meaty wonders just yet. The juices are hopping and will drain right out if you cut them now. Instead, take the steaks out, burn off broiler, and gently put the steaks on a plate. Tent with foil and let sit for 5-10 minutes.  Make some broccoli or something.

Tell them to STFU for a few minutes and set the table.

– Feast. Savor the deliciousness of Bos primigenius.

Sauteed onions and mushrooms go really well.

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Operation Recalled to Life

Yeah, I’ve been a neglectful blogger. Luckily I don’t owe my blog child support. Backsies?

When I let myself go, I really let myself go. I ride that pony until it dies. I fall off the wagon, set it on fire, and shoot at all the escaping chickens. When I go south, I go with the fervor of a depressed lemming. I don’t know why I get so many self-destructive tendencies. But from destruction comes creation and life goes on, as do my crappy metaphors.

It’s great being back in LA. I love my new roommate. She the combination of all the things I’ve missed from my last semester. She’s clean but not obsessive, she’s super friendly, she’s not batshit crazy, and I can carry on a complex conversation with her in English.

I have something else that’s put a pep in my step — responsibilities. All play and no work make Mimi a depressed, bored, and self-destructive girl. Now I have an internship with TLC that’s enjoyable so far. It’s interesting to be plunged into the world of publicity, as it’s truly the other side of the fence. I think back to when I was ordering screeners, cursing slow-ass publicists and butting heads with some of their ridiculous terms (“She can only see you for 15 minutes.” “Fine we’re not interested.”). Now I wonder if my afternoon-as-opposed-to-morning delivery was just because some new intern didn’t know how to use the UPS site. But if you’re curious about my job, here are a few things I do as a publicity intern:

  • Find media outlets to pitch our shows to
  • Screen shows for promo material
  • Send shows to journalists and media outlets for coverage
  • Write press releases
  • Update our press site
  • Soak in how a television network operates

This guy sometimes pops by the office

I wish this girl would pop by. *girl crush*

I think I am bound by professional fondness to say, “Check out Hoarding, My Strange Addiction, Freaky Eaters, LA Ink, and Toddlers & Tiaras!” 

You don't want to piss Mackenzie off.

But getting back to getting back on track. It’s hard. It’s frustrating. I despise going down to the gym and lifting wussy weights. Being that, it’s hard to admit it hurts. It hurts if I decide to start doing plyometrics. My wrists give me hell if I start doing pushups. It’s a real suck fest knowing no one is checking me out. Or that my clothes are stupid and matronly. Or that stupid, ridiculous excuses pop into my mind like “well if they are offering to let me order whatever drink I want when I make an office coffee run then surely I should treat myself.”

You can probably see why my blog posts have been less than bloggy. I’m ashamed. Not “omg people will hate me!” — I just feel silly with an About page depicting an epic transformation and don’t have the heart to add the anecdote “btw, yeah, I got teh fatz again.” And of course it’s a real ball of suckitude that this will be last year of my life where it will be easier to meet people, sleep around, keep ridiculous hours, and not be fully responsible for my incoming finances.

But sometimes when life gives you razorblades, you have to hit life back with a baseball bat studded with them.

It’s hard. But I’m determined to get back on track. What terrifies me is when I think back to the first time I lost weight. How it took me a school year to lose it even though I was working out for hours every day and eating very restricted calories. As I never plateaued, I don’t think I ever metabolically adapted, which means it was probably pretty linear. Which means another year of super suck.

What I’m hoping is that I can hack it through my superior knowledge. I can hope that I can lose at somewhat the same rate while eating better and not killing myself with overtraining. It’s hard too, balancing the desire to lose weight at a pace I can maintain it with the scathing hatred I have every time I look in the mirror.

Yeah, it creeps in. Sometimes I want to take a sledgehammer to my mirror. The task is working past that.

And we all know how that ended...

I fucked up. It’s my fault. There’s nothing to fight against because it won’t do a damn lick of good.

I should have taken better care of myself. Let’s take it back to last winter. I was still, the wuss I can sometimes be, really shaken from my housing experience. I have no idea what rocked me so badly about that. I guess it was the passive-aggressiveness, the enemy I couldn’t fight that I still, deep down, wanted to like me.

To take it even further back, perhaps I cycled myself off my antidepressants too quickly. The psychiatrist warned me. He handed me a prescription “just in case.” I didn’t listen. At that point, before last summer, I was on top of the world. I was in fucking amazing shape, had a great boyfriend, and had an awesome internship to look forward too. Of course I felt good. Then what life dealt me a slap, it cracked me to the core. Not so tough and triumphant after all.

Then there’s my problem with making choices that I make out of practicality and not desire. I don’t think there is a problem with making practical choices when you want to. But here’s where I royally screwed up.

I picked London.

Shit, I can hear all the amazing British peeps I met taking a breath. Please darlings, understand, you were the best part of London for me and I don’t regret a second of that. London is an amazing city.

I'm not saying don't go here. Go here.

But I didn’t choose London because it was an amazing city. I chose London because it was a study abroad option that gave me credits and got me back to the States in time to get an internship. To secure my future and all that proactive shit.

What future? The future is a fun-house mirror of your dreams and desires. It’s a maya, an illusion. Or possibly a projection. But it’s sure as hell not set in stone.

I wanted to go to New Zealand. But Kiwi land wouldn’t get me back to America until July….waaaaaay too late to start a new internship. Or so I thought. A friend of mine who went to London with me is just now starting an internship. And I so beautifully forgot that there are schools on the quarter system just now getting out.

How the hell could I have passed on this?

I didn’t want a cold city that exacerbated my seasonal affective disorder. I wanted the outdoors. I wanted a place where I knew virtually no one (unlike the herd that went to London), where I took the time to take a fucking break, get my shit together, and enjoy developing myself. Did I want to run away? Yeah, but I always had the intention of coming back. I wanted a chance to really explore the outdoors, to hike through crazy territory, take a spring break trip to Asia, and discover a new world. Yet I settled for something that would do me some hazy, possible good years down the line. That choice led to meeting many awesome people and seeing interesting things…but ultimately, it wasn’t the path I wanted.

A city I will never see...

I am such a dumbass.

This will be the most cliche thing I ever say on this blog. Listen to your goddamn heart. Or else you might get fat and depressed. I sure as hell did.

Am I blaming my plight on a rooming fuckup and a mishandled study abroad? No. When my mom one time suggested I go back on antidepressants, was my first thought “oh my God yes.” Um…yeah. I’m not on anything beyond a tyrosine supplement. More because I’d have to tell my dad and I’m not so psyched about that.

Right now I think I’ve hit a spot where I’m more stable. Not exclusively happy, but stable.

Stable enough to take my life back.

Daenerys Targaryen style. Rawr.

That, on the flipside of my hippie speech earlier, requires a little logic.

First, diet.

I need to create a caloric deficit that keeps me nourished (and restores some of the knocking I took back when I was eating way too much junk). I do not want to closely track calories, at least not until I find out I can’t lose weight otherwise. So something filling and satiating. I also find it easier to cut stuff out then obsess over having “just a teeny amount.” I need to get over my sugar addiction, which can reach heights so disgusting I want to puke gummy bears.

The answer? I’ve taken up a Paleo/Primal eating plan. I eat plenty of protein, healthy fats, non-grain starches, and lots and lots of vegetables. I am including some dairy (which makes it more Primal), but ix nay on the grains and legumes (I feign ignorance on a bit of peanut butter). Some Paleo folk like rice. I’m trying to create a deficit so my starches are more in the lower calorie variety like kabocha, but it’s a good option if I have to eat out.

It’s not a religious fixation for me. Sophia and I still dine out and I don’t bother to stick to it if something looks really good. When Sophia goes out of her way to make me brownies, you betcha I have some. But at home 90% of the time, it’s a Paleo pantry. Luckily the food is really good. And I still get plenty of use out of my vegan cookbooks. Just not the tofu parts.

A diet is all you need to lose fat, technically. But exercise makes you healthy. It also increases metabolism and burn…something I desperately need in my state of unfitness and a desk job.

-sigh- Not me anymore.

Know thyself. I’m externally motivated. I also like to feel like a special snowflake. And I’m educated enough in fitness to roll my eyes when I see people doing shoulder presses on a bosu ball.

So what did I do?

I signed up for a Crossfit intro class. 

You may remember I tried it in London. I had fun but it was at a horrible time for me. And I was a bit put off by my class being comprised of dudes carved from Grecian marble. My self-confidence was at an all-time low at that point so I backed off to wallow in self pity.

Screw that. I was terrified going to my Crossfit intro class last Wednesday. I am so unfit right now it’s not even funny. In my most masochistic of mindsets I envisioned myself getting laughed out of the box. But Sophia sassed me and I sucked it up.

Thank God.

My intro class was amazing. I did more physical stuff with more intensity than I’ve done in…too long a time to admit. After showing me the moves my coach put me through a basic workout. A timed 500 meter row, 50 step-ups, 40 squats, 30 situps, 20 pushups, and 5 assisted pullups, with no rest. He guessed I’d finish in between 13 and 15 minutes. I finished in 11.

I feel ya.

Not to say I rocked it. I had to scrape every ounce of self pity, rage, and vitriol to fight back and get myself healthy again. I had to scrape it all into a mad blast of “I’m getting through this fucking workout.”

Stopping? Like that Nightwish song, seven days to the wolves.

Then I found out the monthly fee and felt defeat sink in again. It’s expensive. But as he tends to be, my dad’s an angel. As long as I swore on my future grave I’d stick to it, I could sign up. I’m taking the free introductory week offered, but if I’m sold, I’m signing up faster than you can say Rabdo.

As some may know, Paleo and Crossfit are bosom buddies. Extra incentive and support — I’m not complaining.

Goals. I haz them.

So here I stand. I’m knocked around, I’m struggling. But I have to let the anger go. Cuz when I want to take a sledgehammer to a mirror, my usual second reaction is to cry and fly to Yogurtland.

That’s not anger with a purpose. That’s dawdling suicide.

As hard as it is for me not to rail against myself, it’s something I have to master. Martha Beck was spot on when she said weight loss was impossible unless the body and mind are in agreement.

And yeah, it’s not just about the weight. It’s never just about the weight, just like it’s never just about food.

Within those cardboard confines is a frozen block of psychological drama. Writhing behind ribbons of corn syrup.

It’s time to live again.

 

Film Bites – June

Willkommen! I have not died/run away/stumbled into another dimension. A more personal post is coming soon. I’ve been a bit blogged out lately. Or rather I have a job where I spend most of the day glaring at a computer screen so after work I’d rather play video games and watch movies.

Go to USC and you run into a lot of film people. Some are yuppie film snobs who pontificate over obscure art films and get into bloody rows over film versus digital. But despite stereotypes, a lot of people at USC are just really like movies.

Back in LA and now subscribed to Netflix, I’m watching more films these days. I’m actually contemplating a film column for the Daily Trojan this semester.

Anyhoodle, I think I’ll do an occasional post just on films I’ve been watching. Because everyone needs some good cinema. Since most movies are bad, I’ll stick to the ones I liked.

Trick ‘r Treat
2007

Yes I watch Halloween films in high summer. This film was a direct-to-DVDer. Most films like this suck. Trick ‘r Treat, however, is awesome. Four stories loosely intertwine on All Hallows’ Eve. They are not Halloween stories in the vein of Nightmare Before Christmas (which is really a Christmas story set during Halloween). Instead, we have werewolves, serial killers, and creepy hooded ghouls.It’s a funny, creepy, refreshing look into the spirit of Halloween.

 

 

Black Death
2010

The Bubonic Plague was a terrifying time in Europe because people had no concept of germ theory. It was just a wave of death crashing down and it led to fear, paranoia, and fanaticism. Black Death takes this idea to its twisted core. A knight (Sean Bean) has been charged to find a necromancer,  said to dwell in a village untouched by plague. He and his men recruit a young monk who knows the area. The monk joins to find his lady love. It’s a dark trek across Europe and it only grows more vicious when they find a village populated by atheists. The film does not make arguments for or against religion. Instead, it’s a look at the misery brought by fanaticism and fear. This is not a date night movie (though I’d totally dig a guy who liked it), but it’s a very good one.


Kung Fu Panda 2
2011 

Those of you who scoff obviously did not see the first Kung Fu Panda. The sequel is more epic in scope and story but still has all the charm of the first. The voice acting is top notch, especially Gary Oldman as a villainous peacock and Dustin Hoffman as Shifu the red panda kung fu guru. And Jack Black, love him or hate him, is awesome as the titular panda, Po. When he’s honed in he’s fabulous. The story is a classic hero’s journey that works as a great summer afternoon flick with action, fun, and a lot of gorgeous cinematography and animation.

How to Train Your Dragon
2010 

Aye, I eyerolled at the trailer of this film. Then I saw it and realized I was a dumbass. It’s a cute story of a timid boy in a village of dragonslaying vikings. When he finds a dragon, however, he befriends it, and uses what he learns from the dragon to rise to fame in his clan — even though that means eventually slaying a dragon. If you have a bigscreen TV, you owe it to your cinema-loving soul to get this. The flying scenes are spectacular. That, and the characters are charming, especially the dragon Toothless. I would not rank it among my favorite animated films (Spirited Away, Lion KingMillennium Actress, and Princess Mononoke reign supreme) but it’s a solid flick with a lot of love crafted into it.

Game of Thrones
2011 

Buahaha, not a film, but definitely cinematic. This television series takes place in a world called Westeros, with parts of it are reminiscent of medieval Europe. It’s not your old fashioned sword and sorcery though. I have to sweetly borrow Alison’s description: “Holy hell — a Medieval zombie political intrigue sex romp. It sounds so awful on paper, and is just so amazing in reality!” Best description evar. But yes, the show, based on the books by George R. R. Martin, is a brutal but emotionally searing epic about war, love, honor, and a whole lot of lack of it. That, along with The Borgias and Justified, were some of the best television gems of the season.

Cookery & Bookery: Indian in 6

Here you have it, the first of my Cookery & Bookery series! This is a work in progress, so I’m open to suggestions for content.

I’ve have a hankering for Indian food since I left London. When I came across this gem while unpacking, I knew it would be the first book I played with.

Indian in Six, by Monisha Bharadwaj 

The premise of the book is Indian food made with six ingredients or less. This statement does not prove true — apparently salt, pepper, flour, butter, and sunflower oil are only 1/3 ingredients. But regardless, the quantity of the ingredients is still pretty small.

The quality is not always the case. In London it would be quite easy to pick up some of the ingredients she uses throughout the book — ginger-garlic paste, black mustard seeds, silver leaf, chilies, and fenugreek seeds. In America, not as much. Luckily I live next to a Mexican grocer that supplies a lot of chiles and seed-spices. I made the ginger-garlic paste myself. Bharadwaj  also doesn’t specify what kind of chiles to use; she just says red or green. I consulted my Bobby Flay cookbook on the heat index but couldn’t tell which ones she was referring to.

But what I like about this book is the variety. Bharadwaj  explores the cuisine of different regions — forget a few simple curries or tandoor dishes. She has sections devoted to poultry, seafood, eggs, veggies, and other odds and ends. I chose three:

Kolmi til Kebab – Chili tiger shrimp with sesame seeds

Aloo Mutter Jeerawala – Potatoes and peas with cumin

Gujar Kobi nu Shak – Guijarati-style carrot and cabbage stir fry

I actually made these at the same time. I almost never make this many relatively complex dishes at the same time. Aye caramba! But they came together surprisingly well, and the fire alarm stayed quiet.

Kolmi til Kebab

3 Tbs white sesame seeds
10 oz. tiger shrimp, tails on (mine were cheaper and tailless)
1 Tbs garlic paste
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp red chili slivers (I forgot to get a red chili so I used chili powder)
Salt
Sunflower oil for shallow frying (I never use seed oils; I subbed coconut)

  1. Dry roast the sesame seeds in a pan and set aside.
  2. Combine all other ingredients (except oil) with the shrimp.
  3. Add oil to pan and fry those suckers up.
  4. Drain shrimp and toss with sesame seeds.

I forgot to snap a pic but here's the idea

These were easy to prepare, though of course I had to forget this was from the appetizer section, and thus the serving size was too small. Though it’s originally for 4 people, a dinner portion would be around 2 people.

The coconut oil added a nice bit of sweetness. However, the recipe was lacking in a bit of kick, so I tossed in some extra turmeric and chili powder.

Aloo Mutter Jeerawala

2 Tbsp sunflower oil (I used butter)
1 tsp cumin seeds (I had no seeds so I used powdered)
2 tsp ginger-garlic paste (I smooshed together 1 tsp each of grated ginger and garlic)
1 fresh green chili, ground (I used a fresh pasilla and diced it)
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp turmeric
2 large potatoes, peeled and cubed (I used one white and one sweet potato)
1.25 cups green peas (I dumped in a small frozen bag)
Salt

  1. Heat up the oil and add the cumin. Let darken, then add the ginger-garlic paste and green chile.
  2. Stir in tomato paste and the turmeric. Add some water so the oil can seperate.
  3. Toss in potatoes. Add the peas now only if they are fresh. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Add 1 1/4 cup hot water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat. If you used frozen peas, dump them in now. Cover and cook until the vegetables are done.

The water suggestion was too much. I could have reduced it to 3/4 cup. As it was, I used a slotted spoon.

This dish is really comforting. It has some grounding potatoes but the peas keep if from getting too heavy. The tomato paste adds a bit of tang. Yum!

Gujar Kobi nu Shak 

2 Tbsp sunflower oil (I used coconut oil)
1 tsp black mustard seeds
2 green chiles, slit down the middle (I used a fatass pasilla)
1 tsp fresh, shredded ginger root
1 tsp turmeric
2 1/2 – 3 cups (10 oz) cabbage, shredded (I used a 10 oz bag of cole slaw shreds)
2 cups (10 oz) carrots, shredded
1/2 tsp garam masala (it needed a bit more kick)
Salt

  1. Heat up the oil and plop in the mustard seeds. Get them to pop then add the chiles and ginger. Stir, add the turmeric and stir again.
  2. Add your veggies, season with salt and pepper, and stir until things start to wilt down. Then add 1/2-2/3 cup of water.
  3. Cover and cook until the vegetables are done but not geriatric.
  4. Serve and sprinkle with coconut if you want.

Served on top of steamed kale

YUM! Best dish out of the three.  But whatever green chile she wanted it sure as hell wasn’t passila. The dish was a wonderful marriage of sweet and savory but needed more bite, hence the addition of the garam masala. You can probably leave it out of you used a ballsier chile.

This dish can do a lot. I was sticking it in omelets, in lettuce wraps, having it plain…it’s very versatile. It tastes amazing drizzled with a bit of tahini or Trader Joe’s Tahini Sauce. So yeah, this one’s staying in the rotation.

Parting Shots:

This book didn’t lead me back to the kitchen of Aisha’s mom, but it’s a good intro into Indian flavor profiles. I wish it was more specific but there are a lot of interesting options. Still, considering I’m known as Baby Spice in some circles, I was really surprised I had to add heat. Keep your chili powder handy.

Who says office lunches have to be boring?

So, any requests for the next edition’s theme? I have so many cookbooks I could supply a culinary army.

The Game's Afoot: How to Research

Sometimes I like to blog about things I do. Other times I prefer to blog about things I know. This is one of the latter. Once I get settled in at my new internship I’ll write about it. But for now, it’s made me happy I know how to research.

Knowing how to research gets you instant street cred. Think about two kinds of people who always garner respect: those who know a lot, and those who can get shit done. Researching combines these. And any student knows what a relief it is to find sources to support a thesis.

In the internet era research has never been easier. But it baffles me that some people have no idea how to research.

Good researching skills have little to do with knowing the subject (though it can give a good base). It’s not about the amount of information either — a plethora of bad information does not convert to good information. Good research comes down to knowing who to ask and how to  ask it.

If you find want to improve your research skills, read on.

Remember how to use a phone. Never before have I seen so many people scared to pick up a phone. I promise you won’t accidentally hit 911. But seriously, I’ve seen people spend hours puttering around the internet when they could have just picked up the phone and asked.

Ask an expert. You want to make someone’s day? First, learn his or her name. Next, as his or her advice. Almost all people like being asked for advice. College professors are my favorite sources. You don’t need to be a bother. A polite email will suffice. It’s very, very rare I’ve ever had a professor not even recommend me sources to check out. For a research paper, professors can be invaluable in suggesting journals.

Learn to use Google. If there’s one program I suspect will be used in world domination, it’s Google. It can be used to control security cameras! (No, I’m not going to tell you how, as I wouldn’t want the popo pounding on my door). But no one utilises its full potential or indexing capabilities anyway. This is a quick intro to better Googling. This is an intro for using search strings. As for that link, I assume you will be searching for pdfs on the French Revolution and not the new Lady Gaga CD.

Join forums. If it’s a topic I know nothing about, I find a forum on it, sign up, and post my question. This gives me leads, even if the responses don’t have the exact answer I need. At the very least I have something to go on. It’s far easier to verify information than find it in the first place.

Yes, even Fox can sometimes be useful.

Check out newspaper and broadcast news websites. Even if the story’s not scholarly, you can usually use it to find sources.

Utilize university databases. Even if you’re out of school, uni databases can be invaluable. Here are “100 Extensive University Libraries from Around the World that Anyone Can Access.”

Get it from the horse’s mouth. Don’t try to find info on a company or publication if you can just ask it directly. Need to know when Entertainment Weekly hits newstands? Ask it on their Facebook page. Many companies have very active Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Finally, if people ask you how you found your info (and it’s not an issue of you getting sued or your honesty in question), be vague and nonchalant. As Sherlock Holmes says of the science fo deduction, it’s much less impressive when you explain how you did it. Keep yourself a mysterious vault of knowledge. Effortless talent is always impressive.

So You Want to be a Writer? Writing 101.

I’ve seen plenty of posts ’round the web on how to be a blogger. Those are certainly interesting and encompass everything from photography to posting quantity. But to me, the most compelling part of a blog is the writing. I want to hear an interesting voice tell cool stories. When you have an interesting voice, everything can be a cool story.

Tell me, would Fight Club have been half as cool if Edward Norton and Brad Pitt hadn’t been such hilarious conservationists?

With that said, there are a lot of blogs (yes, even “popular ones”) that I never read because the writing bores me. Writing has been on my mind lately as I start my new internship with TLC. As a publicity intern, I doubt I will have as much writing as my previous Chron job. And that leaves a glorious window of possibility. I might -gasp- have energy for creative writing again. Glory be!

My creative well is looking rather desert-like these days.

Anyhoodle, I’m a shoddy photographer, too lazy to post every day, and can’t be bothered to buy my own domain. But I do think I have some small talent in the way of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Don’t expect any tips for capturing better food porn, but here are a few nuances I’ve found improve one’s writing.

– Ax the adverbs. Blame your middle school English teacher for this. Contrary to what the old biddy said, adverbs do not improve your writing, except in rare cases. I don’t have the “adverb allergy”  some writers have (*cough*StephenKing*cough*), but 85% of the time, the sentence would benefit from a stronger verb. She landed noisily on the ground. She yelled shrilly. -yawn-. English is a language where verbs are king. So how about she slammed into the ground, or she screeched at the bloody rat. Reversal: As I said, this is an 85% rule. Sometimes you want to draw more attention to the subject than the verb. The best example I can think of is from Game of Thrones. When Sansa is struck to the ground by a douchey prince, the prince’s bodyguard, a hulking scary mofo, pulls her to her feet “not ungently.” It’s a great detail to his character and foreshadows a later encounter they have. It works. But that’s an uncommon occurrence.

This is one of the few chances you'll get to use an awesome verb like "keening." Waste not!

– Gussy up your verbs. Now that you have cut some of the fluff, what do you replace it with? Badass verbs. Verbs add far more color and tone to your writing than adjectives or adverbs. He wailed, he cried, he keened, he roared, and he howled paint a different picture. Find the most precise verb to paint your story and everything becomes more colorful. Reversal: don’t pick ridiculously obscure verbs, and “said” is almost always the best speech tag. Anne Rice only stays in business because she writes hot vampire porn.

This young lady is showing us all why lunges do a booty good.

Show, don’t tell. I bet you just remembered the voice of your high school teacher. Yet in school I never had a teacher give a good explanation or example for this rule.I found one on the net a few years ago that stuck with me. To paraphrase: A wanted serial killer murdered a cheerleader. Eh? You just wrote about a murder and it’s boring? Try this. A serial killer crowbarred his way into the cheerleader’s home, kicked down her door, and split her open from brain to breasts. Reversal: Sometimes brevity is better part of valor. If it has no bearing on the rest of the story and you have a lot of more information to cover, it’s ok to sum up. 

– Don’t play passive-aggressive. I was sort of angry with her. This isn’t a confession to the popular kids at recess. If you have to pussyfoot around on your own blog, you need to buck up. Oh wait, this was a writing lecture. Well, qualifying your sentences makes them boring and flimsy. Reversal: it’s fine when you’re being tongue-in-cheek. Just know how to get that across. 

Oh noes! How EVER will you describe this picture if you can't tell his hair or eye color?!

– Be sensual. We were not just born with sight. Unless you just got back from the battlefield, chances are you have ears, fingers, a nose, and tongue. Describe more than just size, beauty, and color. If you’re describing your latest smoothie-in-a-champagne-flute, why was it so satisfying? Did it slide like cold velvet down your throat? Did the cardamom-chocolate-pistachio flavor profile send you into foodie bliss? A writer’s job is to put the reader in the story. I don’t remember what my old babysitter’s eye color was. I do remember her breath smelled like nachos. Reversal: None. Learn to observe. 

– Proofread. Spelling, syntax, and punctuation all count. Proofreading is the difference between helping your uncle Jack off a horse and helping your uncle jack off a horse. 

London, I Love You

Or perhaps London, main tumko pyaar karta hoonwo ai niik houd van jou; minä rakastan sinua; je t’aime; ich liebe Dich; amo-te; aš tave myliu; or mai tumse pyar karathi hun.

I heard all these languages while tromping around the City of Fog. Houston and LA have diverse populations but they have nothing on cities like London. Old cities. Cities with real history that have seen centuries of blood, death, work, and love.

Sometimes, walking through South Ken, I’d picture Victorian London. Then in another part of the city I’d spot a Roman wall and remember those classy Victorians were just a breath before my time.

Little do they know the Playstation is just around the corner...

Enough with the metaphysical. London is a kickass city. Standing in line to see Thor, I realized just how prettier people sounded there, Cockney accents and all. Of course, London’s just like most big cities. Plenty of people are fat, overworked, stressed, and gripe about everything from politics to potato prices. But London is a magnificent city. A few things I’m already missing…

  • Feeling completely safe walking home alone at 2am
  • 20 kinds of potatoes to choose from
  • Being able to get anywhere with public transportation…in a timely fashion
  • Being able to walk to most places
  • Great turns of phrase like “proper [insert whatever],” “Bob’s your uncle,” and “alight for [insert destinations]”.
  • Pretty accents
  • A real respect for just chilling in a cafe to read
  • Amazing Indian food
  • People with good fashion sense
  • Snakebites
  • Jeremy Kyle, the more badass version of Maury.
  • Endless theatre options with cheap tickets
  • Being only a few hours from my BFF from high school
  • Delicious weather
The last one may make some people pause. Guess what? The stories about London being a city of fog and rain are bull. It rains more than in Los Angeles…but LA is a freakin’ desert. As I’m from Houston, I was surprised it didn’t rain more. The cold was not nearly as bad I feared either. Any city in the Northeast is far colder. Unfortunately I acclimated. Houston’s taking some getting used to. As I’m rather a porker now, the heat’s a bit fiercer. 
Most of all I miss my London peeps! I had way more fun hanging out with Aisha, Caitlin, Jess, and Alison than some of the folks I came with.

That said, I’m being harsh to my schoolmates. I couldn’t have been the most interesting person to hang out with, given my bouts of depression and moodiness that plagued me for a good chunk of the time. I probably would have done far more otherwise, but wallowing in self pity and non-menstrual PMS has a funny way of cutting into fun time and making you about as adventurous as a WASP-righteous granny. 

I wish I looked half that good when I get the blues.

Anyway, back to London. Here are a few things I’ve noticed are not true about London:

Not the plat du jour..but where the hell are the peas?!

  • Everyone eats fish ‘n’ chips, all the time. No, people I ran into seemed to eat curry and hummus all the time.
  • London food sucks. No more than any other country. If you go to crappy restaurants you get crappy food. I had some lovely fish ‘n’ chips, pies, and haggis. For good food in London, check out Chris Pople and Malcolm Eggs‘ blogs.
  • English people always have tea and scones. Nah, biscuits — aka cookies — are the more common choice. Smart Brits, given my dislike of scones (which I had proper incarnations of and still disliked).
  • English people have bad teeth. Eh, some do. But plenty of Americans do too, we just slap our kids in braces quicker, as mine did. As a Weston A. Price supporter, I think a lot of it comes down to London having similar eating habits as America. Genetic momentum ftw.
  • Crappy weather. Naw! It’s sunny a great deal of the time. And when it’s overcast, it’s still rather pretty. It was cold when I got there but nothing crazy. I never saw any notorious fog either. Which made me sad, as I’d love to pretend I was in a Gothic Victorian romance novel.
My last few days in London were spent with my dad and stepmom. Well, first Aisha and fetching James saved my butt by helping me drag my suitcases from my flat to my hotel on the other side of London. Then Aisha and I roamed South Kensington, popped through some fun shops, and had a hug-filled goodbye on the bus.
Then I beat it up to my dad’s room and half beat the door down. I’m a daddy’s girl, after all these years of fights, rows, and bad report cards. Thing is, my dad’s seen London. Multiple times. So I had the task of finding places he had not been to. First stop was Borough Market, one of my favorite places in London. We shared a half-pint of raw milk, snacked on cheese, and sussed out sugar-free chocolate. It was nice just visiting my favorite places one last time.

Can't believe I got this shot at a curry house.

Not my dad's choice of eats. But he was a good sport.

My dad also succeeded in dragging me to Mass at the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  An exceedingly rare event, but I was willing on account of the history and beautiful interior. The Mass was in pretty Latin and the priest had a nice accent. He was pretty adamant we were stupid sheep, which I don’t argue with. I still feel no compulsion in religious situations but I can respect it. Anyway, we headed to Simpson’s right after, and dined on solid proof that English food can be delicious. It was a lovely few days.
So without ado, a few of my favorite spots in London…

The Natural History Museum has some verrry interesting exhibits. This was part of the Sexy Animals exhibit.

And as this blog still clings by a thread to its food roots, here’s a shortlist of my favorite restaurants:
  • Tayyabs — authentic Pakistani food
  • Cinnamon Tree — delicious London Indian food
  • Moro — glorious food based on the 15th-century fusion of Spanish and Moorish culture

    Roast kid!

  • Caravan— creative general menu and fantastic coffee

    Coconut French toast with rhubarb!

  • Inspiral Lounge— yummy vegan food and great atmosphere. Even my carnivorous dad loved it

    Right at home in pot-ridden Camden

    That ice cream is badass

  • Byron— these hamburgers kick ass. My stepmom was in love with the courgette fries

    There's a fun old-school vibe.

    I need to replicate that caper sauce.

    Corgette fries, aka zuchinni fries. I dislike most fried stuff, but England has a few fried things I like. I'd love to make these in my oven with coconut oil.

  • The Icecreamists — best ice cream in London. Yes, they were the shop with the Baby Gaga ice cream. I recommend their Sex Bomb flavor. I promise you won’t start raping pigeons.

    Right behind the Adelphi Theatre

    Nomnomnom

    Cute service!

    A chocolate-covered sex bomb? *note to self: do not make a joke that might be considered racist*

  • Amorino — yummy gelato. Get the Nutella one
  • Simpson’s in the Strand — for kickass English food when you want to feel luxurious
  • Aisha’s House — ok, this place is strictly invitation only, but it’s the best Indian food in town!
Was London as exotic as I wanted my study abroad destination to be? Not quite. I did want to go to New Zealand. But London offers something different. It’s a great bridge to an older, more cultured world, and a gateway to the rest of Europe. Anyone with a respect for history should hit it up.
Finally, I end with a small list of stuff you absolutely have to do if you ever go to London…at least the off-the-beaten-path random stuff.
  • High Tea at The Orangery. If you want High Tea but don’t want to get all dressed up, hit up this lovely place at Kensington Palace. No reservations and it’s very casual — but still an awesome afternoon tea.
  • Get out of the city and visit Bath, Brighton, or even Scotland. The UK’s a vast land.
  • Score free food at London’s many food expos. Natural food, allergy-free food, gourmet food — food shows are everywhere. Get on the press list and you can get in for free. It’s a fun way to try new products and get a free meal’s worth of goodies.
  • Visit a farmers market. The Islington Farmer’s Market is lovely and not too touristy. It’s great just to visit and get a feel for older times. It just feels different than an American farmers market, but still familiar.
  • Try Indian food! Most of it isn’t authentic Indian…but London Indian food is in itself unique.
  • Explore the theatre scene. London has the best collection of theatre in the world. Yes, better than Broadway.
  • …and hit up the Stage Door afterward. Most actors are lovely people and are more than happy to chat for a second. Even actors who are normally walking down red carpets.

John Owen-Jones and I, outside Her Majesty's Theatre. He is an awesome Phantom!

Yeah, London’s awesome. I think, just to be an annoying ponce, I’m going to keep my fries and chips and my chips as crisps. Unless it would screw up a restaurant order.