Creamy Eggplant Soup


In all the years that I ate my Granny’s cooking in south Alabama, I only saw her make eggplant soup once.  It seems to be something she’d throw together to eat by herself for dinner (that’s the noon time meal in the Deep South). Years later, I tried it at home, tweaking it just a bit until it suited my taste buds.  Audrey, age 4, had insisted I buy an eggplant for her, so I fried half of it (with a little flour, salt, pepper, basil, and oregano) and turned the other half of it into this soup, hoping she’d like one or the other. She liked both versions. Please pardon my inability to write specific amounts for the ingredients since I tend to cook by sight and taste rather than measurements.

Using the saucepan in which you plan to make the soup, saute over medium heat:




Remove the onions.  Add to the remaining butter:



Stir constantly to make enough light-colored roux to cover the bottom of the pan, adding more butter or flour as necessary. Slowly add in the following while stirring (in equal quantities):




Add back in the onions along with the following to the cream soup base:






Cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is cooked through and not bitter. It will be about the same texture as cooked mushrooms.  The soup should have thickened. Add during the last 3-4 minutes of cooking:



Recipe: Chicken and Cashew Butter Rice


My mom has this habit of buying food items, deciding she doesn’t like them, and then bringing them to us.  This weekend, it was a lemon pepper whole chicken. She’d nibbled a bit off one side and then decided that it had satisfied her craving.  I recently bought an arepa-maker to make arepas to freeze for quick breakfasts.  But I ran out of room in the freezer for more arepas (curried arepas with chicken and cheese this time around), so I needed something else to do with the rest of the chicken. Fortuitously, I hit upon a real winner:  Chicken and Cashew Butter Rice.  It has the flavor of one of those family recipes handed down from generation to generation.  The cashew butter adds a sweet depth to the dish and makes it more than your average chicken and rice.  It will certainly get added to the meal rotation around here.  

Chicken & Cashew Butter Rice


In a medium-sized pan, cook the following over medium heat:

  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon butter

When the onion becomes translucent and/or starts to brown, add to the pan.

  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped

After a minute, add to the pan: 

  • 2 1/4 cups water
  • 1 cup basmati rice, double rinsed and drained
  • shredded cooked chicken or raw chicken cut into cubes (1/2 cup or more)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup whole milk or half and half
  • 1 cube chicken bullion or equivalent
  • 2-3 tablespoons cashew butter
  • 1 teaspoon parsley, dried or fresh (optional)
  • salt & pepper to taste

Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 12 minutes.  Then remove the pan from the heat.  Wrap a cloth napkin, tea towel, or kitchen towel around the top of the lid and cover the pan with the wrapped lid.  Let the rice sit, covered, for about 10 minutes. Serve. If you managed to get a nice golden crust at the bottom, you win.  

Intuition vs. Reason


I heard someone make this statement yesterday: “Feeling may not always be based on truth, but intuition is always correct.” Several people nodded in agreement. But I bristled up like a porcupine. What? Intuition is always true? How could that ever be a true statement? Intuition by its very nature is experiencing a feeling without any fact attached to it.  So you have a “bad feeling” about this? Why? 

Perhaps I’m more of a cynic about the validity of intuition because I once let my feelings govern everything. I imagined that my mind was actually governed by some type of extra-sensory force that secretly knew the future and would lead me on the right path.  I imagined a world in which I was fulfilling some type of predestined path.  Every decision was momentous. The future was something that could be revealed by precognition or vision. Anything could be a sign. Everything was symbolic.

But there was a moment when that façade of “intuition” crumbled for me. And maybe it was because I’d exploited it so much that I was looking for signs and feelings about how to conduct my life when there honestly was nothing there. So when I hear someone say that they have a “gut feeling” about something, I can’t take any more seriously than I would if the told me that the Easter Bunny just called them on the telephone. I lump it in the same category as I do superstitious beliefs.  Perhaps this is because I don’t find that my gut feelings are reliable in the least. The only feelings that I find to be reliable are those that I can verify or reason. Give me facts to analyze. Don’t give me an unfounded feeling to rely upon.  

Perhaps my definition of intuition and others’ definition is different.  For example, I might have a suspicion that a new student is going to be a bad student. But that feeling is based on comparing that student to other students who have come before him who have similar traits or educational records.  I might guess that a student isn’t going to be happy at our school and transfer out after a session because the first time they walked into my office they had a litany of complaints about their previous school, hotel room, the city, etc. Unhappy people are unhappy wherever they go, and I’d reason that they’d not be happy at our school either. So perhaps my reasoning and analyzing is more on the surface level and at the forefront of my mind while others might not consciously analyze such things but come to the same “intuitive” conclusion. I call it logic not to get in the car with someone who doesn’t have insurance while someone else might call it intuition not to get in the car with the same person … who subsequently has a wreck. When it comes to relying heavily on intuition or not, could it really be it a different in the semantics of how people think and how much people notice consciously versus unconsciously? 

Do you rely on intuition or reason?




The Chemistry of Love & Attraction: A Review of Romance in Thomas Hardy’s “The Well-Beloved”


The Well-BelovedThe Well-Beloved by Thomas Hardy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After watching Tess of the d’Urbervilles, I decided I’d have to read more by the author Thomas Hardy. What truly impressed me was Hardy’s ability to create such interesting characters and to explore human nature, especially within the confines of the social mores and expectations of Victorian British society. Interestingly, rather than focusing on the wealthy of the period, he focuses on the more common rural class. I love how he gently but harshly criticizes the expectations of Victorian society by placing his characters in unpleasant situations caused by these expectations.

One small bit that I found interesting along these lines is that a young man invites his fiance to a specific place for the island’s traditional consummation of the engagement.  However, she leaves him a note saying that, because of her “modern ideas”, she has decided not to meet him because she’d rather save her virginity for marriage. Upon this moment, the rest of the young man’s life hinges.  But I found it interesting that some of the “modern” ideas of Victorian times were a turn toward a more conservative view of premarital sex. And Thomas Hardy spins the results of this one “modern idea” to an extreme that spans 40 years.

I love that this book’s full title is The Well-Beloved: A Sketch of a Temperament. Within, the author explores of the extremes of a certain type of personality through his character Jocelyn. Jocelyn is prone to falling in and out of love constantly. However, nearly as soon as the person he’s fallen in love with takes interest in him, he falls out of love with them and in love with someone else. Jocelyn’s excuse for this phenomenon is that he’s only ever been in love with one entity (which he calls his “well-beloved”), but this entity flits from person to person. He hopes that one day this entity will fall on one person and stay there. How interesting the stories we tell ourselves to excuse ourselves from our actions.

I have a hard time believing Jocelyn’s prognosis of being in “love” with all these women. After all, he often loves them before he even really gets to know them or even meets them. I’d go only as far as to believe that he was addicted to feeling of yearning after someone. And I’d call that state “having a crush” rather than “being in love”. But I well know that feeling. One of my untold secrets is that, until I was in my late 20s, I always had to have a crush on someone, even if I was in a relationship with someone else. It was far more exciting to want and obsess over someone than to actually have them. I think it was when I realized I was addicted to this feeling that I finally was able to shed it. But I didn’t go to the extreme of being a serial heart-breaker like Jocelyn.

Being a scientifically-minded person, I had to research the chemical stages of attraction, love, and relationships after reading of this person who was unable to stay in love.

1. LUST — caused by TESTOSTERONE (plays a major role in the sex drive of both men and women) and OESTROGEN
2. ATTRACTION — PHEROMONES (smell) can play a role here as well as APPEARANCE which can be a subconscious way of determining genetic compatibility
3. INITIAL GIDDINESS — caused by DOPAMINE (a pleasure chemical) which produces a feeling of bliss, euphoria, craving, and addiction. This neurochemical appears to be associated with mate selection.
4. EXCITEMENT AND FOCUS — caused by NOREPINEPHRINE (similar to adrenaline) which results in a racing heart, excitement, heightened attention, short-term memory, hyperactivity, sleeplessness, and goal-oriented behavior.
5. ELATION — caused by PHENYLETHYLAMINE (the product of mixing dopamine with norepinephrine) which produces elation, intense energy, sleeplessness, craving, loss of appetite, and focused attention.
6. OBSESSING OVER NEW PARTNER — caused by lower levels of SEROTONIN
7. BONDING — caused by OXYTOCIN (released as a result of physical touch and at sexual climax) produces feelings of satisfaction and attachment
8. MONOGAMY — caused by VASOPRESSIN (antidiuretic hormone) continues to play a role in attachment
9. LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIPS — assisted by ENDORPHINS (the body’s natural pain killers released during sex and physical contact) which produce a general sense of well-being including feeling soothed, peaceful, and secure.

So I’m going to say that it was a sort of chemical addiction that Jocelyn and I had: an addiction to dopamine, norepinephine, and phenylethylamine . Unfortunately, Jocelyn stays addicted to these chemicals from his 20s through his 60s. But he never stays in love because he never allows himself to get to the point of developing any type of bond or long-term relationship. He’s no longer interested once the pursuit has ended.

Something else interesting about Jocelyn’s love addictions is that he’s attracted to the same genetic mix over and over again. There’s been research done that says that we are attracted most to those who are the best genetic matches to us. Our pheromonal attraction supposedly leads us to those who are the best genetic matches for our immune systems. There has been research showing that there is often a correlation between couples and their lung volumes, middle finger and ear lobe lengths, overall ear size, neck & wrist circumferences, and metabolic rates. Supposedly for the sake of genetic evolutionary purposes, we are attracted to people who look like our parents or who look like us. According to this, then, there’s a reason couples often look alike. They don’t look alike because they’ve been together so long; instead, they’ve been together so long because they look alike. So it would make sense that, if the attraction is a genetic one, that you’d easily find yourself attracted to several someones from the same genetic pool. That same something that attracted you to the first person would attract you again on a base level.

Anyhow, Hardy didn’t set out to write about the genetics and chemistry of love, but his personality sketch of Jocelyn nods in such a direction. It makes you wonder how a person could continue on such a loathsome path for so long and whether there’s ever a chance of redemption for them. Or are they cursed for a lifetime because of the way they threw away “love” so easily in their youth? Do the decisions that we make early in our lives follow us throughout a lifetime? Can we change? There are so many questions to ponder from a simple character sketch.

While not as complex and wrenching as Tess of the d’Urbervilles, this work will still keep me reading more works by Thomas Hardy. I have a feeling it’s going to be a very Thomas Hardy year for me. This is an author with whom I would love to have been a contemporary of and with whom I would have liked to have been able to strike up a philosophical correspondence. While I’m not generally a fan of realist authors, this one strikes a mental chord with me. I’m rounding up to 4 stars from 3.5 and plan to read everything of his I can get my hands on.

View all my reviews

A few pop sources on the science and chemistry of love and attraction:

The Naughty Pirate in the he Kids Meal


My daughter got the strangest toy in her Kids Meal at Charlie’s Chicken this weekend. This shirtless pirate has something behind his back.


But what is it?


A loaf of French bread? A billy club? A rolling pin? A sex toy?

Just … odd. Now I’m curious about what nefarious deeds all the other pirates in the collection might be up to.

Kindle Worlds For Fanfic Fiends


ImageMaybe I’m the last person to have heard of’s fanfic venue, Kindle Worlds. I find it both horribly wrong and wonderfully fascinating.  On the one hand, there’s quite a lot of drivel fanfic out there. But, on the other hand, there’s the possibility for as-good or better stories than what the original author wrote to continue fan’s love of a fictional universe.  Once a book, book series, movie, or television series fizzles out, those characters and places are still able to live on and don’t merely become silent trees falling in forests where nobody can hear.

I only discovered Kindle Worlds this morning when eReader IQ suggested that I might like a bargain Kindle book set in Hugh Howey’s world of Wool … only … it wasn’t written by Hugh Howey.  No. This book is Silo Saga: Great Fall:  The Complete Silo Novel (Kindle Worlds) by Jason Gurley.

What makes this really intriguing to me is that I read the Wool series and liked the premise quite a lot.  The world has been annihilated with the only remaining humans left in underground silos created to sustain humanity for countless generations.  We assume there was a nuclear holocaust, but it’s never made 100% clear.  So depending on what exactly happened and its effect on nature, it could be hundreds or thousands of years before the earth is safely habitable again.  This opens up quite a lot of opportunity for fanfic for all those countless generations.

Even though I liked the premise of the novel, I found that the author was lacking in basic common sense knowledge for creating believable story lines.  For example, it shouldn’t take 2 days to go down 100 floors of stairs. People who have been dead for 30 years would no longer look like “bodies” and would not be smelly anymore.  Emergency lights aren’t going to last for 30 years, especially if they’re submerged under water.  A random body is not going to float past you in the water after 30 years dead.  And you cannot hide a whole passel of babies and/or children in silence for 15 years.  And let’s just forget altogether about the lifespan of computers, machinery, and clothing over hundreds or thousands of years without raw materials.  So, I’d like to see how a fresh author would write another book in the series without making such grievous mistakes.

Amazon has secured the rights to several titles for fanfic within Kindle Worlds:

Admittedly, I’ve not heard of most of these. But what a brave and daring venture for these authors. There’s the chance for people to write something horrendous in the world you created and there’s the chance that someone’s going to come along and write your world even better than you did. But, I think what would bother me most would be someone misunderstanding the world I’d created or my characters and having them veer too far off the path I’d set them on.

Anyhow, I continue to be impressed by’s forward-thinking business model.  They’ve got people in their company with ideas that work, and they’re not afraid to try something new.  Another item I’m impressed with is their Whispersyncing that even syncs with Audible to allow you to continue the book you were reading on your Kindle last night before bed as an audiobook in your car on the way to work the next morning. Unfortunately, some of the Audible versions cost more than I’d like to pay: sometimes the same or more than the original book price. But I might not mind paying a couple of dollars to be able to listen to a free Kindle classic in the car to supplement my limited night time reading time. I might be doing that quite a lot in the future since I have a feeling there are going to be quite a lot of Thomas Hardy novels in my future (that’s a story for another blog altogether).

Life After (Boring) Life: A Book Review


Life After LifeLife After Life by Kate Atkinson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When I first heard of the premise of this book, I like so many others, was instantly keen to read it. What would happen if a person had to repeat the same life over and over until they got it right? This idea has the potential for greatness. Unfortunately, the young lady of many lives in this story, Ursula, has no discernible personality. She’s an empty vessel that empties out over and over, leading the same boring life over and over with minor variations. The only excitement happens when she entangles herself with abusive men (the only people besides Izzie with any glimmer of a personality in the whole book). And even those entanglements are too short-lived to be interesting. Just when you think the story is going to take a turn for the interesting, the plot line fizzles out. I would suggest that if you read Ursula’s first 2 or 3 lives and find yourself bored with them, it’s not going to get better. Just put the book down quietly and run far, far away from it. The ending is as anticlimactic as the book (if one could actually call it an ending). Don’t be fooled by the blurb that says that the “fate of civilization” rests in her hands. It doesn’t.

Now, there are plenty of people who like this book. Perhaps they have a higher tolerance for prolonged boredom than I do. Or perhaps their fascination with the idea behind the novel kept up enough magic for them to enjoy it in all its 529-paged glory. I personally found it a chore to read and actually developed a phone game habit as an excuse not to read it. Yeah, I liked it that much. It took me over a month to finally kill the thing. And still Ursula lives on. Die and stay dead already.

I’d love to read a book created with this idea in mind by an author with more imagination. I’d love to see this idea written by someone who writes strong characters and who could write each life to be wildly different than the life before it. It’s a 5-star idea that needed a 5-star writer to do it justice.

View all my reviews

Time Travel to Viking Iceland In Larissa Brown’s Beautiful Wreck


Imagine that you’ve lived your entire life in a world where virtual reality was the best form of reality. You yearn for skies where you can see the stars and for open expanses where you can be alone with your thoughts and nature.  Yet you have no choice but to live in a crowded city, searching the past for small glimpses of the beautiful world that was.  Most of these glimpses are from the smart lenses that you wear in your eyes constantly. But some people, like Jen, get a chance to touch, feel and read remnants of the world that were. In fact, she’s read one diary from the past so many times that she nearly has it memorized.

ImageA meadow would have been lovely,” Jen thinks.  “I’d come into the tank every day if I could feel lush, slippery grass between my toes, the gentle nudge of a breeze at my frothy hems. But the programmers couldn’t accomplish the immense reach and power of outdoor scenes. Not yet.ImageHowever, one day, something strange happens during a virtual reality session, and Jen finds herself in a place more real than she’s ever experienced before. She’s half-drowned and nearly hypothermic, but she’s luckily been rescued by a handsome Viking.  At least to her eyes, he’s handsome.  To others, his fiery birthmark makes him taboo, and any romantic liaison with him is forbidden.

ImageAs time passes, Jen (or Ginn as she’s come to be called) comes to believe that she’s physically traveled back in time. She immediately falls in love with her surroundings as she settles into life in a Viking longhouse.

ImageShe forges a strong friendship with Betta, learns to spin yarn (kind of), enjoys hot spring baths, learns how to sheer sheep, and learns to cut grain.  ImageEverything about the past in Iceland is picturesque and beautiful. “A thousand wisps of papery bark curled to reveal blush and orange and copper under the trees’ white skins.

ImageBut the one beautiful thing that Ginn wants, she cannot have. “I want forbidden things,” Ginn says. The object of her affection shows her soft moments of beauty and shares with her all his favorite places. They spend quiet moments in the forest and in the snow. He teaches her how to ride a horse and confides in her like no one else.  Yet, time and again, he pushes her away, afraid of the curses that seem to befall her every time they get close.  “To be so close, and stay away from you.” Always “[n]othing made sense,” she thought. “He wouldn’t touch me, but he couldn’t let me go. Even as he admitted his desire, he took it away.”  If the universe has allowed her to travel across time to meet him, why can’t she be with him?

ImageLarissa Brown’s Beautiful Wreck is now available to purchase. Experience the beauty of Viking Iceland and Larissa’s prose for yourself. Ginn and her world are beautiful wrecks.  You will find within it both pleasure and peril, beauty and pain.  Don’t hesitate to pick this gem of a book up and experience one of the most gorgeous reading experiences of your life.  I read scores of books each year, and this one is sure to be the best I will have read this year … possibly the best I’ve read in a decade.

What others are saying:

Beautiful Wreck is a book so imbued with stark beauty and raw emotive power that as you read it, your internal topography is rearranged – it’s the kind of book that shifts everything you knew, or thought you knew, about writing and love. The world just looks different when you’re done.” ~Heather

I am very much not a romance novel person, but if they were all as well-written, well-researched, and well-constructed as this one, I’d be tempted to change my mind.” ~Alex Tinsley

The best novel I have read in years. Grabs you from the very first page and won’t let you go…” ~Shannon Okey

Images from Wikicommons, Flickr (Larissa Brown, dgjones, Oli Jon and vicmontol), and Deviantart (koalalalala).

A Magic Phrase to Get Your Child to Actually Do What You Ask


I have a 3-year-old who is extremely sweet but doesn’t respond to punishment very well when she’s not so sweet.  I do follow through with my threats of taking away favorite toys or privileges, giving her time out, etc. So that’s not the problem.  It just doesn’t seem to really phase her most of the time.

A few days ago, I stumbled upon a website called Positive Parenting Solutions and signed up for a webinar. Then I realized it was scheduled for an hour before my child’s bedtime because of the time difference and that the browser required to participate in the webinar was free during the day but required a $1.99 payment to use at night. Bah. Too much trouble. But it turned out that there are YouTube videos from the Positive Parenting chica, Amy McCready.  I watched a couple of her short videos and decided to give what I’d learned a whirl this morning. I was dubious … very dubious.  This magic phrase sounded like a marketing gimmick to get me to pay $70 to have full access her website. It wouldn’t work on my headstrong child. But it did. I’ve never had such a pleasant morning getting ready for work and preschool.

Normally, I panic if Audrey wakes up before I’m ready for work because she tends to be underfoot causing all sorts of chaos.  The first thing she did was dump her sock box all over the floor in search of warm fuzzy house socks to wear since the non-carpeted floors were so cold on this freezing winter morning. I couldn’t fault her with looking for socks to wear, but I certainly wasn’t happy for it to add to her bedroom mess.  She then ran into my closet where she spied a doll and bear that had been taken away for some long-forgotten punishment. “Oh, can I have that doll?” she asked.

Here was my chance to use my magic phrase. Would it work? Certainly it wouldn’t work.  But it’s just a sentence, so nothing’s lost if it doesn’t work.  “WHEN you pick up your socks, THEN you can have your doll back.”

She ran lickety split out of my closet and came back a minute later saying, “MoMah, I picked up the socks.” Shocked that this voodoo magic actually worked, I handed her the doll and the bear.

“Pick me up. Pick me up. I want a hug,” she said.

“WHEN you go potty, THEN I’ll give you a hug,” I said wondering if the magic phrasing would work yet another time. She ran to the potty and then came running back for her hug.

Hmm … how could I put this to work for me again? I went to her closet and found some clothes for her to wear. “WHEN you put on your clothes, THEN I’ll find something for first breakfasts.” (She usually gets a small snack at home and then breakfast at preschool.)  Soon she came running to find me with her pants on but shirtless. “MoMah, I couldn’t put on my shirt.” I was happy to help with that small task before giving her first breakfasts.

So what have I been doing wrong before now? Rather than using a When/Then statement, I’ve been using an If/Then statement. It makes all the difference. “If” offers a choice while “when” suggests a confidence that it’s actually going to happen.  And the “then” part of the statement related to something she already wanted.  Rather than nagging over and over for her to get something done, I gave her a When/Then statement and then walked away with the confidence that she would do what I’d said. And she did. No begging or saying it 50 times and then getting upset and resorting to punishing her. It really was that easy.

I watched another of the Positive Parenting Solutions videos last night on YouTube that suggested a way to keep your kids from needing external positive reinforcement to feel good about themselves.  It was very interesting.  It posited that if kids learn to feel good about their own abilities on a personal level that they won’t need external awards and constant external positive reinforcement to feel good about themselves.  “Wow, you should feel good about how fast you were able to pick up those socks.” vs. “Good job picking up those socks so fast.” Or .. “It must make you feel good about yourself to be able to go to the potty alone.” vs. “Good job going to the potty by yourself.” I tried using this this morning and she was so happy that she was able to do these things for herself.

She swore to me this morning that she’s going to be completely potty trained soon. WHEN she’s completely potty trained for a week, THEN she gets to wear panties everyday, go to the doll museum, get a new doll, and go see the dogs and cats at the pet store. Let’s see how this goes. I hope the prize is big enough for Little Miss Does What She Wants to want to do it. Only … upon further inspection, the doll museum probably doesn’t exist anymore because its aged caretaker died in 2010.  The city’s Convention & Visitor Bureau’s new-this-year website apparently has information that’s 4 years out of date. Now I’ve got to break this to a 3-year-old. Oh well. I think she was more excited about going to the pet store anyway.

Anyhow, I’m definitely going to watch more of Amy McCready’s YouTube videos, and I’ve put her book on hold at the library: If I Have to Tell You One More Time …: The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging.  I’ll report back later about what ends up working and making my sweet child extra super sweet.

In Case of Caffeine Apocalypse: Roastaroma



I’ve always had a weakness for hot drinks: coffee, tea, chai. Unfortunately, my hot beverage center in my kitchen has started to be used less and less these days. There are still plenty of teas and such in my stash, but I just can’t tolerate the caffeine as much anymore.  I’d cut back to 1 cup of caffeinated beverages per day, but I’m thinking of cutting it even more. I’d think it was a blasphemous statement except that I did a little research on non-caffeinated coffee alternatives today and found this jewel: Roastaroma. It contains roasted barley, roasted chicory, roasted carob, cinnamon, allspice and Chinese star anise. The spices don’t stand on their own. Instead, they bring the drink to a close approximation of a smoothly roasted coffee made with non-burned coffee beans.

I made mine like tea with hot milk and brown sugar added.  My 3-year-old thought it was the best drink she’d ever had.  And I can see it standing in for coffee for me quite well and becoming a requested weekend non-caffeinated morning breakfast treat for my little girl. There’s certainly no guilt in offering her chicory and carob.

In case of apocalypse when all coffee is yanked off the shelves by the end of day 3, I’ll be yanking Roastaroma off the shelves to both hoard and  sell at a nice price to those who still crave coffee long after it’s disappeared. Eh. Maybe it’s the lack of caffeine talking …